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Jazz Fest food and drink: What’s new, what’s returning 

Your old favorites have some new competition this year

click to enlarge New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival fans enjoy fried chicken and jambalaya.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival fans enjoy fried chicken and jambalaya.

Local musicians aren't the only ones who dream of getting a spot at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The owners of Squeal Bar-B-Q were very excited to get a food booth this year.

  "It was like winning the lottery," says Patrick Young, who co-owns the restaurant and catering business, which serves barbecue and smoked meats. "When you sit in a room with the other vendors and most have been there for over 30 years, and some for over 40, you know it's a pretty good gig."

  Squeal, which also made its debut at French Quarter Festival in April, is the only new vendor to get a food booth at Jazz Fest this year. But while the owner of the Carrollton eatery is excited to be among the festival's roughly 70 food vendors, Young realizes he has big shoes to fill.

  Squeal, replaces Lil's BBQ, a vendor that for more than 40 years served pulled chicken sandwiches and citrusy pound cake.

  Squeal will serve its version of pulled chicken, topped with its house sauce and horseradish-based coleslaw, on a roll from the New Orleans East bakery Dong Phuong. Also on the menu are beef brisket sandwiches and smoky bacon collard greens.

  The restaurant's three dishes are among nine new menu options. While the entire list runs the gamut from sweet to savory, and gourmet to casual, there seems to be an overarching theme this year, according to Jazz Fest Food Director Michelle Nugent: cold foods.

  "When it's hot and sunny, people appreciate it," Nugent says.

  Along with raw oysters, J&M Seafood will serve a Louisiana crawfish salad roll, available in the Grandstand. The soft yeast bun stuffed with crawfish salad is a variation on a traditional New England lobster roll.

  Also new is Food For Thought's shrimp remoulade po-boy, served on a sesame seed bun, and a pineapple coconut smoothie served by Gallo & Marks, a vendor that's made its name with icy strawberry smoothies.

  Jazz Fest doesn't often add new foods "because there are over 200 food items and only so much stomach share," Nugent says, but some veteran vendors are experimenting this year.

  Vaucresson's Sausage Company, which has participated in every festival, will introduce an Italian chicken sausage po-boy dressed with sauteed peppers and onions and cheese sauce. Loretta's Authentic Pralines will sell praline-stuffed beignets, filled with cream cheese and fried with soft praline on top.

  In the food area near the Kids' Tent, Linda Green, who is best known for serving beef and vegetable-based yakamein, will offer a throwback to her time spent as an Orleans Parish public school chef: her Sloppy Jeaux.

  "The kids all loved it," says Green, who won an episode of the Food Network TV cooking competition Chopped. "And the grown-ups love it, too."

  Jazz Fest also is evolving to become more vegetarian-friendly, offering at least 29 meatless items, including a vegetarian muffuletta and couscous with yogurt sauce and Mona's Cafe's vegetarian plate.

  For gluten-free eaters, po-boys are being transformed into salads, Nugent says. There's turkey giardiniera, featuring spinach, artichoke hearts and red onions.

  Those craving tried-and-true Cajun and Creole favorites won't be disappointed. Festival classics include seafood-stuffed bread, jambalaya, alligator sauce piquante and pecan crawfish meuniere. Patton's Caterers offers its signature oyster sack, oyster patties and crawfish beignets. The combo plate with all three has made the company famous, says owner Tim Patton, who adds that his company pulls in up to 10 percent of its annual gross revenue at Jazz Fest.

  Patton's has been using its family recipes since 1954, Patton says, and he doesn't see the business changing anytime soon. The crawfish sacks are based on his grandmother's crepe recipe, replacing mushroom stuffing with a Creole-Cajun crawfish mix.

  "It's an old French recipe," Patton says. "Because nothing's really new in the cooking world, you know."

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