Food For All
Road Food Festival Celebrates “Folk Food” in New Orleans.
by Erin Z. Bass
Asked why New Orleans was chosen as the location for the annual Roadfood Festival, “Roadfood” creator Michael Stern didn’t hesitate giving an answer. “New Orleans is a natural place to have a food festival,” he says. “I think you can argue that it’s kind of America’s culinary capital, in the sense that it has more unique, interesting, diverse things to eat than almost anywhere in this country, plus when you’re in New Orleans you feel like having a party.”
While the Roadfood Festival, scheduled for March 26-28, was created to honor American food, the fact that eating can be a form of entertainment hasn’t been lost on its founders. Assembling of the world’s longest po-boy and celebrating foods like pecan pie and cracklins is far from stuffy. Just as the diners, delis and roadside stands featured in Stern and his wife, Jane’s, “Roadfood” guide most likely don’t have a dress code, the festival strives for that same informal way of eating. Admission is free, and any person standing around can walk up and taste a piece of the po-boy or walk down Royal Street and purchase a sample of seafood chowder from Maine or BBQ brisket from Texas.
“These are places that we kind of know and love,” says Stern, but he hesitates in calling the festival’s vendors “stars.” “One of the great things about the kind of people that we like is they’re not stars. What they do is folk food, rather than celebrity chef food, but we wanted to bring in people that represent terrific regional dishes that are just simply not available elsewhere or available in really second-rate versions elsewhere.”
A great example of this is seafood chowder. Yes, New Orleans has plenty of fresh, delicious seafood, but the city is not known for its chowder, so Roadfood went straight to the source. Maine Diner in Wells, Maine, is famous for its award-winning version and has been voted best chowder at the Ogunqit Chowderfest for the past seven years. In addition to serving up a New England classic, Stern says the Henry brothers, who own the diner, will also be bringing their knowledge of regional cuisine with them. “Their goal is to really preserve and enrich traditional Maine food, so they love to talk about it and they’ll have the opportunity to do that at the festival,” he says.
Festival attendees will also have the opportunity to meet several other food characters and talk shop. Bud Royer of Royer’s Round Top Cafe in Round Top, Texas, will be offering tastes of his pecan and buttermilk pies, and if you like what you’re tasting, ask him about his pie of the month club. There’s even the option to be a member for life. And Lasyone’s, home of the famous meat pie in Natchitoches, can tell you about the restaurant their dad started in 1967 and the celebrities who’ve stopped in to try the local delicacy.
OK, so what about New Orleans’ food? Well, the festival’s first Blue Plate Award is going to New Orleanians Anthony and Gail Uglesich, who ran the beloved Garden District restaurant Uglesich’s until it closed in 2005. They’ll be serving up their “Shrimp Uggie” (pictured right) at the festival and receiving the award at the opening party. Lovers of Big Easy cuisine will also be able to sample French bread from Parkway Bakery, oyster po-boys from Antoine’s and flavored ice from Plum Street Snoballs (pictured below).
But New Orleans’ shining festival moment happens at 11 a.m. on Saturday, when the World’s Longest Oyster Po-Boy will be assembled. Because of the logistics involved in this feat, Roadfood partnered with New Orleans Convention Company to carry it off. Project Manager Christine Gourgeot explains that all restaurants in and around New Orleans are invited to participate in making the 340-foot-long sandwich. Bread and fried oysters are provided, but restaurants must bring their own ingredients for dressing.
“We’ve had restaurants use barbecue sauce, caviar, their own special sauce. We’ve even had a Chinese restaurant participate and do like a tangy sweet and sour sauce,” Gourgeot says. Once the po-boy is dressed, it’s cut into sections and devoured first-come, first-served in the 300 block of Bourbon Street. Gone within minutes, the wreckage is quickly forgotten as a second line heads down Royal Street to the main festival area.
Can’t make it this year? There’s always next. Stern assures the Roadfood Festival will stay in New Orleans and is donating all profits to Cafe Reconcile, a Central City restaurant that provides job training to at-risk youth.
2010 Roadfood Festival Schedule
March 26: Opening Reception & Blue Plate Award Presentation, 6-8 p.m., Boucvalt House, French Quarter. Tickets are $75 and must be purchased in advance.
March 27: World’s Longest Po-Boy Assembled, 11 a.m.-noon, 300 block of Bourbon Street, French Quarter; festival runs until 7 p.m. between the 300-700 blocks of Royal Street. Cochon de Lait and Crawfish Boil, 6-10 p.m., swamp country. Tickets are $95 and must be purchased in advance.
March 28: Festival runs 11 a.m.-6 p.m. between the 300-700 blocks of Royal Street, French Quarter.
2010 Roadfood Festival Vendors
Antoine’s Restaurant (New Orleans) – Oyster Foch Po-Boy & Crawfish Pasta Salad
Cafe Reconcile (New Orleans) – Roast Beef Debris Po-Boy & Strawberry Shortcake
Chef Joseph Faroldi Catering (New Orleans) – Red Beans and Rice
Deli at the Cellars (River Ridge, La.) – Shrimp Remoulade Po-Boy & Shrimp and Ham-Stuffed Pepper with Corn Maque Choux
Lasyone’s Famous Meat Pie Restaurant (Natchitoches, La.) – Meat Pies & Crawfish Pies
Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor, Texas) – BBQ Brisket & German Hot Sausage
Parkway Bakery and Tavern (New Orleans) – Complementary French Bread
Plum Street Snoballs (New Orleans) – Regular, Cream & Sugar-Free Snoballs
Prejean’s Restaurant (Lafayette, La.) – Chicken & Sausage Gumbo
Que Crawl/Boucherie (New Orleans) – Hand Cut French Fries & Pulled Pork Po-Boy with Purple Cabbage Coleslaw
Royer’s Round Top Cafe (Round Top, Texas) – Pecan Pie & Buttermilk Pie
Turtle Alley Chocolates (Gloucester, Mass.) – Caramel Pops, Turtles & Peanut Butter Cups
Uglesich’s (New Orleans) – Shrimp Uggie with New Potatoes
Vaucresson’s Sausage Co. (New Orleans) – Hot Sausage Po-Boy & Crawfish Sausage Po-Boy
World Famous Maine Diner (Wells, Maine) – Seafood Chowder
Note: Additional vendors serving food at the opening night party include Camp Washington from Cincinnati, Ohio, with 5-Way Chili; The Brick Pit of Mobile, Ala., with Pulled Pork; and T-Boy’s Slaughterhouse from Ville Platte, La., with cracklins.