Festival food, by and large, sucks. We all know this. When you’ve grown hungry from spending all day baking in the sun, you’re typically forced to choose between many-days-old pizza or a litany of fried items, each more questionable than the last.
Luckily, this is Louisiana, where food is taken just as seriously as music. As such, a festival’s success is often determined not only by how they select their artists, but their restaurants as well.
Seeing as French Quarter Fest bills itself as the largest free music festival in the United States, it’s unsurprising that they advertise their food booths as “The World’s Largest Jazz Brunch.” Yes, this statement is hyperbolic, but not by much: FQF has a size and selection surpassed only by Jazz Fest.
As with most local festivals worth their salt, none of the vendors are hawking corn dogs or funnel cakes. They’re all local restaurants who are usually serving a festival-friendly version of a dish for which they’re famous.
It should come as no surprise that Brooke and I make a food schedule for FQF before we make a music schedule. Where most people would map out their way from stage to stage, we plan the shortest routes from one food vendor to the next.
And so we began with Boucherie, who were serving a 12-Hour Roast Beef Po-Boy topped with horseradish cream and pickled red onions. A slight variation on a sandwich served at the restaurant (the original uses Wagyu beef, which I’m assuming wasn’t wasted on the festival version), this sandwich has become something of a signature item for Boucherie since they joined the festival. Maybe that’s because it’s cheap. Maybe that’s because it’s easy to make. But most likely, it’s because it’s just freaking delicious.
I’ve got major love for my go-to po-boy place, Parkway. But Boucherie’s roast beef blows Parkway’s out of the water. The meat was smoky and perfectly seasoned, not too salty or spicy. Meanwhile, the pickled onion and horseradish sauce worked perfectly, balancing the heavy, umami flavors of the beef with the bright acidic notes. Lastly, the bread was perfect, remaining resilient against the roast beef gravy and not getting soggy until the very last bite. Quite simply, if you walk into FQF with only $6, you’d have to be out of your damn mind to not order this sandwich.
The next stop on our route was Jackson Square. A fair warning to future attendees of FQF: the square is almost categorically reserved for the old-school New Orleans joints serving up the classics, like K-Paul’s, Galatoire’s, and Court of Two Sisters. This means that the square gets crowded quick, mostly with tourists who don’t want to pay full price at the restaurant itself. Indeed, the only vendors that didn’t fit this mold were Trey Yuen, a Chinese place out of Hammond, and Crepes a la Cart, which sells, well, crepes.
Anyway, we braved the enormous crowds in order to go to Antoine’s for some Baked Alaska. Being that it’s typically quite hot at FQF and Antoine’s is one of the most famous restaurants there, they sell this thing quick. The portion is enormous, almost making a meal itself. There aren’t any flavors that truly stand out here, just a general flavor of sweetness, and that’s not a bad thing. It stops short of being too rich and decadent, which is a great quality for festival food. For a hot day, it’s a toss-up between this and WWOZ’s Mango Freeze when it comes to which one I’d buy first.
After the Baked Alaska, we kicked around for a while, essentially killing time until it was an appropriate hour at which to eat dinner. We headed to the Old Mint, where we ordered a Korean beef po-boy from Three Muses, which came with fries topped with Feta cheese, lemon zest, and cilantro.
There’s so much I want to like about this dish, but at so many points it was just too much. The beef itself was well-spiced, but over-salted. There was far too much sauce, making a bread puddle on our plates. The veggie slaw was too earthy and bitter. The one area in which it did beat Boucherie was size, as it was about twice as large as the roast beef po-boy.
The fries were excellent, and we’d highly recommend ordering them on their own, which would only set you back $5 (the sandwich-fry combo was $10.) The lemon zest, cilantro and feta were the perfect topping for the fries, making the dish both satisfying and light. Although we weren’t fans of the po-boy, these fries were good enough to make us add Three Muses to our FQF food list for next year, where we’re hoping they’ll swap out the po-boy for something tastier.
Much to our delight, French Quarter Fest seems to be focusing as much on its food as it does its music. Not surprising, given that most the costs of the festival are absorbed by food and beverage sales. But for a free festival to host cuisine this good, and this cheap, is truly a wonderful thing. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s worth your time and what isn’t worth anyone’s. And even if you order the worst food (I’m looking at you, Restaurant R’evolution), you’re at a festival in New Orleans. If you have a bad time, you’ve got no one but yourself to blame.