Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mardi Gras in Boerum Hill/ Lent begins...and of course I want steak or fried chicken

Here's a guest blog from "Monktapus," who partook in the Mardi Gras festivities on Tuesday...

Stan's Place, 411 Atlantic Avenue

Let me begin this by saying that I am admittedly a New Orleans groupie. I have always been fascinated by the distinctive blend of cultures that penetrate the music, architecture, and cuisine of the 504. From creole and crawfish, to Cash Money and French Colonial, my love affair with the Crescent City is unrivaled.

That being said, I have actually only stepped foot in the city for a brief birthday weekend (post-Katrina, if you’re wondering). Upon the recommendation of a native, I decided to check out Stan’s Place in Bourem Hill for Mardi Gras. Needless to say, a night involving a crawfish boil and live brass band is bound to arouse a little excitement in me.

I went into Stan’s knowing little to nothing about the elements of the cuisine of the Crescent. Hell, I didn’t even know how to break open a crawfish. As a matter of fact, I’m still learning.

But I did leave with a basic understanding of the foundation of N’awlins cooking. That is thanks to the restaurant’s proprietor Stan, who broke it down for me. According to Stan, the basis for most New Orleans/Cajun/Creole dishes involves the “Trinity” of celery, pepper, and garlic.

Browsing the specials menu, I ordered a lb. of boiled crawfish and an order of the boudain balls, basically deep fried sausage and rice balls (mmm…). Actually their consistency reminded me much of my aunt’s legendary rice balls. Crispy on the outside, yet tender and moist on the inside.

These particular balls were spiced with a house Cajun seasoning, and filled with andouille sausage, white rice, okra, and the “trinity.” They were served on a bed of lettuce with grilled onions, a perfect complement. Being the Sultan of Swine that I am, I ferociously ate up the boudain balls with heavy intent.

The crawfish was somewhat of a slower process. Unsure of just how to de-shell and eat these magnificent creatures, I enlisted the help of the bartender, manager and owner. I was rather embarrassed, but I figured I had to learn sometime. Apparently you pull the tail while simultaneously squeezing the body. It sounds easier than it actually is.

A little practice, however, and I was starting to get better. Then there was the question of what to eat and what to leave. My general rule is to leave nothing, so I sucked it all up, guts and all. Stan later informed me that the crawfish were imported that morning from New Orleans.

A pleasant surprise were the chunks of corn on the cob served with the dish. Corn normally bores me to death, much like that dastardly chicken. This corn, however, was so sweet and juicy, I had to inquire about the flavors.

Apparently the crawfish, corn and potatoes are all flashed into a boil consisting of bay leaf, garlic, lemon, peppercorn, cayenne, and a house seasoning. The sweet meat of the crawfish was perfectly contrasted by the fiery boil in which it was cooked. Served on a plate with a sheet of newspaper, this appeared to be as close as I was going to get to authentic N’awlins style crawfish in the County of Kings.

To satiate my thirst, I had a few Abita’s lagers (3 dollars a piece) available on draft, out of a beer cooler. Nice touch. I also tried a Hurricane (5 dollars), which I learned is a combination of dark and silver rum with pineapple and orange juice. While the drink did not seem very strong, it was light and fresh without tasting watered down. The liquor base seemed decent enough.

Still hungry, I ordered a bowl of Chicken and Andouille gumbo. Now, a few weeks back, I had my buddy Devin’s gumbo, which he slaved in front of for over 24 hours (I thought I was obsessive about my Sunday “gravy”). Stan’s gumbo had the same darkish brown hue, which I took as a comforting sign given Devin’s LA pedigree for making gumbo.

The gumbo came out hot, but not scorching, with a small heap of rice and scallions in the middle. Floating in the mix was the “trinity”, as well as some delicious okra, The broth (if that’s what its considered) was neither too thick nor too thin. Stan told me quite logically, the longer you cook the Gumbo, the browner it gets. They cook theirs for about 45 minutes.

Overall, my satisfaction was met, and I will definitely be back to try their “famous” brunch, as I am still feenin’ for a good po’ boy. Sunday brunch features different Creole-inspired music from zydeco, to soul and jazz, yet another reason for me to return.

A few words about the band, the Underground Horns. While they were not a brass band in the traditional, funeral-like sense, they were a talented group of musicians that weaved seamlessly through straight-ahead jazz standards, a little Ethiopiques, as well as some traditional New Orleans brass. Check them out at or by the 42nd St. “S” Train.

Ciao for now,

Monktapus of the Blogs


Today is Ash Wednesday, meaning that I can't eat meat today and every Friday until Easter. I also have to give something up. I decided upon my beloved sweets and Dunkin Donuts coffee. In the spirit of meat-free dishes, here's the recipe for my spinach and artichoke dip:


1 box frozen spinach
1 can artichoke hearts (or a box of frozen)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 package of low fat cream cheese
1 cup parmesan, provolone and asiago cheese shredded
1 tablespoon dry ranch dressing mix
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of paprika
squirt of lemon juice

Mix everything together in large bowl. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread mixture in a shallow baking dish and bake until lightly brown around the edges.

I fancy this a meal when served with pieces of pita bread or, hell, sun chips...

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