Where to get the flavours of New Orleans in Vancouver
If it weren’t for the view of downtown out the window of Vancouver FanClub (1050 Granville Street), you’d swear you were in New Orleans. A pianist in the corner is playing a jazzy tune, and some of the room’s design elements were literally shipped in from the city also known as NOLA: a fancy ironwork balcony, wooden shutters, leather barstools, and old-fashioned glass light fixtures. And you can drink a Sazerac, the official cocktail of the city, which features cognac, Peychaud’s bitters, and absinthe. FanClub, along with some other places in Vancouver, caters to those seeking the food, drinks, and joie de vivre of the Big Easy.
FanClub offers nightly live music inspired by New Orleans’s raucous Bourbon and Frenchmen streets. The club’s menu also features nods to the southern city, including a range of house-smoked meats, from pork ribs marinated in a smoked bourbon barbecue sauce (tender from hours in the smoker) to brisket and pulled pork. “There’s a lot of smoking going on here,” jokes chef Josie Dib during a chat at FanClub.
Richard Chew, co-owner of Chewies Steam & Oyster Bar (2201 West 1st Avenue), adores New Orleans and wanted to bring an authentic sense of its food to Vancouver, along with NOLA’s laid-back, fun-lovin’ vibe. “Food in New Orleans encompasses a lot of flavour, a lot of heat. The food definitely isn’t bland,” he says. As Chew explains, it’s a celebration of Creole and Cajun cooking, the former a complex blend of French, African, and Spanish cuisines (to name just a few) and the latter a more down-home style of cooking originating from the Acadian settlers who migrated to Louisiana.
At Chewies, Chew enjoys devouring a plate of Parmesan cheese grits topped with shrimp and a Creole barbecue sauce that incorporates about a dozen spices, including cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder. Another NOLA classic is the gumbo, a rich stew that has a spicy roux (an oil and flour mixture cooked until it’s dark in colour and deep in flavour) as its thickening base. The dish also features prawns, andouille sausage, and southern fried chicken bits.
If you have room, fit in a slice of pecan pie with whipped cream and chocolate sauce, or the beignets: deep-fried choux pastry in the style of those served at the famous Café du Monde in NOLA’s French Quarter. (Don’t ask how many Chew sampled while in New Orleans.) This summer, Chewies is slated to open a second location (1055 West Hastings Street), as well as add new menu items like hush puppies (fried cornbread balls) and boudin (seasoned pork and rice sausage).
Ouisi Bistro (3014 Granville Street) offers Louisiana gator bites that are marinated in chili oil, pan-fried, and served with Cajun tartar sauce. You’ll also find another NOLA classic, jambalaya, the cooking of which involves simmering together tomatoes, onion, green pepper, celery, smoked ham, chorizo sausage, andouille sausage, prawns, and rice. And don’t forget the divine bread pudding. “Someone once said, ‘Don’t tell my grandma, but your bread pudding is better than hers,’ ” says general manager Aimee Braun over the phone.
Jennifer Phan, co-owner of Cray Kitchen + Bar (2470 Main Street), has one piece of advice for those new to crawfish. “Suck the head,” she says during an interview at the restaurant with her co-owner and sister Sandra Phan. Why? Because it’s full of flavour. Sandra describes crawfish as a cross between a shrimp and a mini lobster. Phan’s relatives from Louisiana schooled the siblings in the art of the seafood boil, which involves boiling ingredients in water flavoured with oranges, lemons, celery, butter, and spices such as paprika and cayenne.
After it’s cooked, the seafood is tossed in seasoning (Cajun, garlic butter, lemon pepper, or a mix of everything) that can be made mild to crazy-hot. The sisters recommend the “Cray-ving Crawfish” combo (for a minimum of two people), a gargantuan feast of crawfish, shrimp, clams, mussels, andouille sausage, corn on the cob, and red-skin potatoes. Otherwise, individual seafood is available by the pound.
Of course, gorging on NOLA cooking isn’t complete without a po’ boy—a submarine sandwich on French bread. Chewies offers po’ boys with pan-fried Fanny Bay oysters, blackened chicken, smoked pulled pork, or grilled vegetables. FanClub has a battered, fried prawn version, and Cray offers three kinds: Fanny Bay oysters, shrimp, and andouille sausage. At Cray, the oysters and shrimp are lightly coated in spiced batter and then deep-fried until crisp and golden. Their po’ boys come dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, ketchup, Louisiana hot sauce, and yellow mustard. Open your mouth wide, and take one big chomp of the bold spirit of New Orleans cooking.