Big Easy moves north

December 12, 2009

Met some friends/business acquaintances in Little Rock today to have lunch and go to the Memphis State-UALR game (Tigers finally woke up at the end, 7-1 now but of course we haven’t played anyone but Kansas, who just barely beat us, so there’s hope for this year). Lunch was a winner, albeit an accidental one.

Friends knowing damn little about Little Rock, it fell to me to pick the venue. I suggested either dim sum (Lilly’s), barbecue (Whole Hog) or general American (Loca Luna). We opted for Loca Luna. It was closed. So we moved a block and a half over to Maddie’s, which I think is relatively new, between Buffalo Grill and Faded Rose, on Rebsamen Park.  Home run! (or three-pointer, as it were.)

Maddie’s is a little slice of New Orleans in Arkansas. It may be cold outside, but the gumbos, jambalayas and po’boys there will warm your heart, and won’t take much off your wallet, either.

Two of us started out with chicken and andouille sausage gumbo. Wonderfully peppery and tomato-ey, more tomato-ey than lots of gumbos I’ve had, loaded with shreds of chicken and half-moons of house-made Andouille sausage, over just enough rice to give it some substance. Have mercy! A $4 cup is really big enough to be a bowl, and I scraped every bite of it out. Which meant I was too full to eat all my marvelously rich and succulent, if a tad bit heavy on the lemon, crawfish risotto. The lemon seemed to reside in the crawfish, leaving me to wonder if the little buggers had been marinated in lemon juice. There was also a bit of a cream sauce over the risotto, which is sort of a gilding-the-lily thing, it seems to me. Don’t get me wrong; good stuff, but a couple of small tweaks would have made it outstanding.

The Andouille sausage, though….that was as good as Andouille sausage gets. I bought a pound to bring home; half of it is going to go in a sausage and chicken paella (like it was chorizo), and the other half is going to combine with some shrimps in Creole mustard sauce to go over angel hair pasta. I am unconscionably excited about the prospect of both; just not sure when I’ll make ’em.

One of the party stuck to potato soup, as she’d just had major dental work. The other went whole hog with pork loin over cornbread pudding, with green beans and homemade Worcestershire sauce.

Honey. I sampled that. It was to die for.

The pork loin was two broad slices, about 3/8 inch thick, breaded in something like panko, and flash fried. Unimaginably crispy outside; still moist inside. They formed a roof over a healthy sized pile of cornbread pudding, which is something like cornbread dressing, and something like polenta, and I don’t have a clue how they made it but I’m going to experiment until I can figure it out because this? Was GOOD. It’s almost as if they made the cornbread, then reduced it to crumbs, and then cooked it again like you would polenta, but added some milk and egg? Or something like that. I don’t know. I just know it was really, really good. Not heavily spiced; it depended on the third significant element of that plate for its flavor, and that would be the homemade Worcestershire.

It sorta-kinda TASTED like Worcestershire, or at least more like Worcestershire than anything else I can think of to compare it to. But it was a light golden color, and its taste was lighter and more subtle than Worcestershire. It was thin, like Worcestershire. And it was liberally doused over those pork …. cutlets? and the dressing, and it was one of the most amazing flavor experiences I’ve ever had and I will SO go back there. Like maybe this week sometime.

Dessert was bread pudding. Good, dense, rich, New Orleans style bread pudding. None of your nasty raisins. Decadent, sinfully rich brandy sauce.

Best impulse restaurant choice I’ve made in a long time.

Beyond that..

Pot-luck dinner at the boss’s house last night was most excellent. Really, really good brisket and pork loin. Good sides. Desserts looked great, but I was too full to enjoy any of them.

My German potato salad was a hit, albeit I cooked the potatos a bit too long and also didn’t have as many redskins as I thought, so I did a mix of white and redskins. Whites are always crumblier. But I used the recipe in New Best Recipes, with the addition of some caraway seed because German stuff just NEEDS caraway. And I used cider vinegar because it was what I had, although the recipe called for white. All in all, I thought it was pretty good stuff. The recipe:

  • 5 lbs potatos (preferably redskin)
  • 1 pound bacon, small dice
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 tsp. sugar or honey
  • 1 tsp caraway seed
  • 1/2 cup white or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup reserved potato-cooking water
  • 2 tbsp whole-grain brown mustard or spicy German mustard
  • salt and pepper

Scrub potatos (do not peel) and cut in bite-sized pieces; boil in salted water until barely tender. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water; cover and keep warm.

While potatos are cooking, make sauce. Saute bacon over medium heat until crisp in a large skillet; remove and drain on paper towels. Saute onions and caraway seed in bacon fat for about 5 minutes; add sugar and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add potato cooking water and vinegar, and return to boil to reduce liquid by half. Remove from heat, and whisk in mustard and a few grinds of black pepper. Pour sauce over potatos, add the bacon, and toss.

I used about a teaspoon of salt in the potato-boiling water, and didn’t add any more, depending on the bacon and the vinegar to provide enough. I thought when I first tasted it that it wasn’t salty enough, but after it sat, it was just about right. It’s best served still warm or at room temp; if it’s left over, you need to rewarm it enough to take off the chill and let the bacon fat do its bacon fat thing.

This is a really good, savory alternative to mayonnaisey potato salad, which I also love. But I didn’t have room in the fridge to make regular potato salad in advance and chill it; thus, Deutschland uber alles.

Anyway, it was good stuff. My cranberry salad was a hit, too. And I’ve had three bowls of it (one last night, one this morning, one just now) since I brought the leftovers home. God, I love that stuff.

And I have a kitchen to clean and some blues to go listen to tonight, so I’ll see all y’all later. You and y’mama ‘n ’em stay warm.

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