Jamila’s Cafe


Two weeks ago, I went to dinner with a friend and we were deciding on where to go. We couldn’t decide on what to eat but we could agree we didn’t want Mexican, typical diner food, or Chinese.  I googled restaurants in the area where we were driving, and a place called Jamila’s Café popped up. It was listed as Tunisian cuisine. It was right around the corner, so we headed over.  

The place is a small, quaint building in the middle of a residential section. You could drive right past it if you were looking. It took us a few minutes to find the front door because it’s not too obvious. The doorway opens up into a long hallway that end up in a small back room. Well, THAT’s not the restaurant. We did pass another doorway in the hallway that had windows and curtains but we didn’t see a hostess stand and the doorway opened in front of a table so we didn’t think that was the right door. So we walked back outside and around the side, looking for another entrance. All we found was a backdoor to the kitchen so we wandered back to the hallway side door and went in. Upon entering, a man greeted us right away and seated us. Whew!

The place was wafting with aromas that set my stomach to rumbling. It is a small, intimate restaurant, with minimal decorations but had a “welcome home” appeal. There were white clouds painted on a blue ceiling and lace curtains in the windows. And if you are so inclined, they have belly dancers on Saturdays, though I am not sure where exactly they dance because the tables are so close set together. It’s worth another trip back just to see how this is accomplished. Within a few minutes of being inside, it was obvious this was a place where regulars frequented often enough that the waiter knew them by name and chatted about family and events. The waiter later turned out to be the husband of the chef, and both of them were the proud owners of this establishment. Throughout the evening I watched him personally escort every patron out the door and outside, wishing them a good night and making plans to see them again, or wishing them success on a future endeavor.

His name is Monsef and the joke in the family is he is the busboy. I will let you have the pleasure of telling you that story himself. His wife is Jamila and they have two boys. The boys were 4 and 5 when they decided to start this adventure together. He delighted us with the full story but, again, I do not want to take away from hearing it personally. I feel I wouldn’t do it justice by trying to repeat it here. I will tell you that when his wife exited the kitchen to personally visit every table, I initially thought it was his daughter.

We ordered Mechoui en Brochettes, which is grilled marinated lamb skewers, and Couscous Royal which is served with lamb, merguez (homemade seasoned lamb sausage), chicken and vegetables au jus. The flavor of the marinated lamb skewers was simply delightful. I cannot say enough good things about it. The Couscous Royal reminded me of a flavorful stew. We kept swapping out food between the two dishes because we couldn’t get enough of the meals. At one point, we ran out of the bread and Monsef apologetically asked us if we could wait just a few moments until fresh warm bread exited the oven before he brought it to us. He didn’t want to serve cold bread. When you put it so eloquently, how can I decline?

The evening was getting late and we were late for another engagement so we (reluctantly) declined dessert. But I will be back Jamilla’s, mark my words! If the dessert is anything like dinner, I know I won’t be disappointed. After dinner, and before we left, Monsef asked us if he could perform a traditional post meal hand wash with us. He poured a small amount of fragrant water/cleanser on our hands, which cleanses away the meal. It was a nice finishing touch to the meal.

Just before we left, a party of three people arrived. This was shortly before closing. Monsef was just as pleasant, warm and inviting and I could tell these patrons would receive the full royal treatment without any hint of the approaching closing hour. Monsef insisted on walking us outside as we exited. Once outside, we stood outside chatting for a moment more. As he was talking, he broke off two small twigs of fresh rosemary growing under the restaurant sign and sent us away with our parting gift. This is a man who loves his job, and it shows. The food alone will make you want to come back, but if that’s not enough, the small, friendly personal touches will have you coming back for more.

Maypop is a Maybe

My son is down visiting for the summer, waiting to go back to school. I wish I could say he took a job simply because he is a good son and knows couch potatoness in the house isn’t allowed. I’d also like to take full credit for his desire to be a productive member of society but the fact is, he has a passion for cooking. A passion that is obvious just listening to him speak about food. So while he is whittling away his time here in NOLA, he is putting his time to good use and found a job working in the kitchen of Maypop Restaurant.

Being the great and supportive foodie mother that I am, I just had to drop by unannounced one night and try the place out for myself. I brought a friend along to keep my bias in check and help sample the flavors. We didn’t go all out, ordering everything off the menu but instead sampled/shared a few different items.

First off, I want to give kudos to the wall map decoration. I truly don’t know what style you would call the design, but it is similar to 3d illusion. Imagine triangular wedges all grouped together with two of the sides representing two different maps. When you view from one side, you see one map and when you view from the other side, it is a different map. It is better viewing from a distance because you get the whole picture when your eyes blur the individual wedges together to make one picture. Am I making sense here? I hope so. Better yet, go view for yourself!

Everyone on the staff was pleasant and the atmosphere was friendly and inviting. There was a gentleman standing near the bar who could have been either a bodyguard for some important VIP or a bouncer to kick out the unruly. He was keenly aware of everything happening within the restaurant, without making you feel like you were being watched and I’ll wager nothing gets past him. I could view the kitchen from where I happened to have been seated (strictly a happy coincidence, I assure you). From my vantage point, the kitchen staff worked efficiently and cheerfully.

We ordered the bread service, which is simply four pieces of annatto sesame rolls served in a small cast iron type dish with coconut butter and shellfish pepper jam as an accoutrement. I am a huge fan of delicious bread but I have to be honest, this just didn’t do it for me. The bread was too hard. I think it was left in the oven a little too long so instead of crusty bread with a soft interior, it was closer to a rock hard crust with a dense thick interior. The coconut butter didn’t have even a hint of coconut in it and didn’t taste any different from regular butter, except maybe creamier. The shellfish pepper jam was an interesting combination of flavors though. If you have been following me, you’ll know I don’t do spicy. However, this was flavorful but I was sure happy I was eating it with bread! Whew!

The second item was a Roasted Bone Marrow and Louisiana Crawfish in smoked paprika curry. I was hesitant to try this because I have never had bone marrow and it just sounds like something Hannibal Lector would dine on BUT you only live once so why not try something new? There was a warm, roti bread served with the dish and I am a huge fan of roti. I am almost completely won over to bone marrow by this dish. The hesitancy isn’t due to taste at all but the texture for me of the marrow. It is gelatinous in nature once cooked. I tried eating it straight off bone and the jelly texture didn’t do it for me, but after I scraped it out and mixed it with all the wonderful flavors of the curry sauce, I was a fan.

Next we tried Black Cardamom Glazed Beef Belly with cheesy curried potato stuffed roti (again with the roti, I know! But I like what I like). The flavors in this dish were delicious and the stuffed roti was a knock out of the park. A real winner to me!

For dessert we tried the Mousse Rouge and Dark Chocolate Cremeux. I had to send the chocolate dessert back but the Mousse was delicious. Full of flavor without the heaviness an overpowering sugary dessert would have. The mousse is housed in a circular tower of white chocolate. The red and green strawberries are floating in a summery marinade of interesting herb-infused flavors. The greek yogurt sherbet, which sounds like an ice cream imposter, was a splendid accompaniment to the mousse. A perfect way to end a meal.

I ordered an Espresso Martini to go with the dessert but the waiter only heard the word espresso and brought a cup of that instead. It took me a few minutes to gain his attention again but once he learned his mistake, he quickly corrected the order.

Overall, there are many great qualities of Maypop and still many items on the menu left to explore. I didn’t leave the restaurant feeling “wow, I can’t wait to go there again!” Though I am not totally sold on the place, I believe it deserves a second go ’round, and not just because my son is working there!

Strolling through NOLA


When people think of New Orleans, usually, the first few things they think about is Mardi Gras, Beads, Bourbon Street and women’s bared breasts. I’ll admit, it’s what I used to think too. The few times I visited before moving down here gave me an insight to a beautiful city, whose inhabitants were fiercely proud, loyal and full of life. Since moving New Orleans, my initial reaction to this beautiful city hasn’t changed. Quite the contrary, it’s been enhanced by the sights and sounds I have experienced in my short time of being here. 

New Orleans isn’t just about delicious food, beautiful artwork, naked breasts and endless parties. There is so much history here! When you stroll down parts of the city, it feels like you time warped to a different bygone era. There are Victorian houses with porch swings and tassled lampshades in the windows. Trees so large and majestically lumbersome, overhanging the sidewalks and looming out over the streets. I have seen street lamps taken over by Honeysuckle vines, becoming fragrant giants towering over their domain. Fronts of buildings covered head to toe in Ivy. Lawns recreated to become picturesque zen gardens. As you stroll down the sidewalks, if you look carefully around you, you’ll see intermittent memorials in the form of perhaps a plaque, a statue, or a bell, seamlessly blending into the surroundings. A gentle reminder of loves and lives lost but not forgotten. There are beautiful balconies, adorning historic buildings, handcrafted to reflect the personality of the crafter. 

Have I told you I love this city? I passed by a storefront that sold crowns… CROWNS. What King or Queen of your household doesn’t need a crown! And just outside a different storefront I saw a large regal lamp. Anywhere else it would have looked out of place but here in this city, anything goes. So many different artists set up outside Jackson Square. Each week you can view it’s someone new and something different. I don’t have the space or the money to purchase everything I like but if I did, I’d be broke already. 

I am still unsure if New Orleans will be my forever home, but I’ve lived here nearly a year now and it hasn’t lost it’s appeal yet. There is still so much more that needs to be explored. You are welcome to stay with me on this journey and feel free to let me know your favorite places to visit. 

Nolé in NOLA



We are a foodie family. It all started with my dad (more on him another time) and I continued the trend with my children. The love of food has blossomed with my son so much that he is now a culinary student. So when he came to visit me here, of course we HAD to go out to eat at different places. A week before he came down, I had lunch at a place called Nolé. I had read about it on a blog called LetDatGirlEat and she made it sound so delicious that I wanted to go try for myself. Well, she wasn’t lying! The food was delicious. And the waitress, Shaile, was so gregarious that even if the food was less than stellar, I would have returned just to have her as my waitress again! We struck up a conversation and I told her about my son visiting and looking for a job in between semesters. Turns out her fiancé is also a chef, who happened to graduate from the same school my son is attending. She told me she would talk to her fiancé and get a list of places for him to apply to for work. She also said to bring him by when he came in town and she would have the list ready. 

Needless to say, we went to Nolé for lunch. I enjoy listening to him critique food mostly because I because it validates that my palate is every bit as stellar as his own. LOL Shaile was there and true to her word, she had a list of places. I was not expecting this because I truly thought she was just being kind and would forget me as soon as I left. She was just as gregarious as the first time and offered many suggestions and insight into NOLA, things to do, and Jazz week which was upon us. She is an almanac of ideas and stories. If you haven’t made her acquaintance, I suggest you go and ask for her. You won’t regret it. Note** I say this with all honesty. I am not being paid to say nice things about her, we are not related and she is not getting any kickbacks from her referrals. I know someone out there is naysaying me but she is sincerely genuine. It’s rare to find these days. 

The restaurant offers small plates and entrees. The small plates are shareable, akin to tapas dishes. Two of the small plates I ordered this time, were what I had previously eaten on my first visit so I waited until now to discuss. No need to repeat myself! We ate Blue Crab street corn which is a tasty dish but isn’t what you would imagine when you hear the name. It is small pieces of corn on the cob, standing upright in a shallow, chunky puddle of cream sauce flavored with shredded blue crab. The corn itself is covered with a sauce and spices and roasted to bring out the flavors. We also ate Duck confrit empanadas. I am picky about my empanadas because it is easy to make the crust thick and hard but these were filled just perfectly with the duck and the crust was flaky. Both visits wielded delicious delicacies that didn’t disappoint. 

The first time I went I was interested in the Latin Nachos, but Shaile warned me they were stacked high and quite a lot of food for one so I held off until my son was with me. I must say, she was right. The Latin Nachos were tall and overflowing with layers upon layers of flavor. We were impressed that there were very few naked nachos, and they were hidden deep. We also ordered Pecan encrusted carnitas tacos. The flavoring was inspirational, causing my son to almost lick his fingers! Instead, he used a small piece of the shell to wipe the last remnants of sauce off the plate (don’t judge us here). We didn’t have dessert during this visit because we were saving the opportunity for later. But I will mention that on my first visit I ordered the olive oil chocolate cake and it did not disappoint. It was so filling and decadent, I had to take half of it home to finish another day. 

I like that the restaurant hands out printed recipe cards with the check. It’s a nice personal touch. 

There were just two things that were a little annoying…. in one of the stalls in the women’s bathroom, the toilet paper roll is mounted so low that I had to bend so far over while sitting just to reach it.  If I didn’t have good balance I would have toppled over. It might be okay for people shorter than five feet tall, but if you are like me and taller than 5’8”, you have been warned of the difficulty. The other annoying little factor is if you sit on the patio, the chairs are metal and small. The backs are attached narrowly at the side and anyone who is larger than size 4 or who has hips will not fit comfortably. Otherwise, Nolé, we will meet again!

Beginnings

I am a foodie! But not fanatical to where I over analyze the ingredients or just HAVE to learn how to cook the dish I am eating. I simply love good food. I love all types of food. And, I recently moved to New Orleans…the town synonymous with good food, good music, the arts and the Saints. What better place to live and eat! Though I am not sure if I will retire here, I know I am here for at least a few years so I am going to make the best of it. I’ve decided to start blogging about my experiences, and write about the places I have seen and the food I have eaten. I welcome you to share your experiences with me or ask me questions about what I have seen. Feel free to suggest places to visit and restaurants to enjoy. I’ll make sure to write about it.  

One of the things I love about NOLA is the vibe. I like to say you can be anything you want here, dress any way you desire, and walk down the street wearing a tutu, or a three piece suit, and no one will bat an eye. There is no awkward gawking or judging of you for just being You. Point in case, I was eating dinner one night and the restaurant was full. In the back, there was a man who was wearing the most fashion disaster of an outfit, well at least in my eyes, one could imagine. I mean to tell you, the shirt was a loud obnoxious print of some sort and the pants were a batik type print. It looked like he was wearing a cross between pajamas and a suit. The colors couldn’t have clashed any brighter if a two year old picked them out. He was leaving the restaurant, saying good bye to the staff and as he passed by tables filled with people eating, not a single person looked up or gave a sideways glance as he passed by. You know the look I am talking about. The glance people give after someone walks past them, oogling behind their back in disbelief. That moment is when I knew I was going to like living here.

I have eaten at several restaurants already, before I decided to start this blog, so I will just mention a few and what I enjoyed about them. I will make sure I revisit them in the future and give a proper review.

1-      Bear Cat Café is an excellent little place who has given breakfast new meaning for me. They offer two sides to their menu for a dining experience that will satisfy even the pickiest of diners. The “good cat” side is vegan fare, while the “bad cat” side is for carnivores. They offer paleo options as well. Their Bison sausage is flavorful. It has ruined “regular” sausage for me. I am not sure how they cook their potatoes, but the taste is wonderful enough, I do not dare use ketchup. Their grits will make a believer out of those who turn their nose up at them. I have not had a bad meal off the menu yet. They offer a lunch menu also, with delicious sounding options, but I cannot attest to the flavor because I stick with breakfast.

2-      The Company Burger has a simple menu with different varieties of burgers. My favorite so far has been the lamb burger. So juicy and delicious!

3-      Gris-Gris Restaurant offers several dining options: the upstairs outdoor patio with a view of the street, inside either at a table or at the upstairs bar, or downstairs at a bar type seating arrangement where you can watch the chefs prepare the food. That is my favorite spot to sit. I confess to going more than once and every time, the staff is friendly and helpful. Always willing to answer questions about the food they are preparing while you watch. The first time I went, the owner was also preparing food and came around and struck up a conversation. I learned the inside scoop to why he has a BBT (Bacon, Basil and Tomato) sandwich on the menu. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you…. Instead, go learn for yourself! 

Thank you for taking time to read my blog. If you enjoyed it, please share with others. Let me know your favorite places to visit when you are here. I will be posting another one this coming week so make sure you come back for more!

Lisa