Boudin. Bourbon. Beer. Few words make any Southerner, wanna-be Cajun, or incessant sipper of Buffalo Trace happier. A night honoring all three just seemed too good to be true.
Last weekend, as I made my way through the streets of New Orleans, I began to question if it would, in fact, be too good to be true. In the descending dusk, I wondered aloud to my compatriot, “Should we have eaten before? It’ll probably just be a bunch of tiny little bites and we’ll be starving.”
Was I wrong, you ask? Oh honey…
Situated in Champions Square, Boudin, Bourbon & Beer is an impressive sight to behold. The Superdome is lit up with vibrant, purple lights as if beckoning foodies to the Mother Ship. Live music, the vaguest, sweet scent of cigars, and a certain indescribable energy filled the air.
I, of course, made my way straight to one of the many bars pleasingly sprinkled around the venue. Neat bourbon tastings? Don’t mind if I do.
Cocktail in hand, I meandered over to Donald Link’s table (leading off with one of the event’s co-chairs is always a good strategic move). He was serving duck boudin with pickled onions and mustard, and I figured it would be a good place to begin my culinary journey…
It was a bite I’ll never forget. The succulent boudin was utterly flavorful and so rich, it’ll probably buy me a few extra days in purgatory. Resisting the urge to tackle everyone who neared his table and hoard it all for myself, I decided to see what other offerings there were to enchant my palate.
My original strategy was to eat a little here and there throughout the evening, but after that first bite, all self control went out the window. Once I started, I couldn’t stop; this is the stuff culinary dreams are made of. There were servings of Chicago-style boudin hotdogs, bologna-style boudin sandwiches. I ate boudin sliders topped with rich black pudding; smiled while I munched on light and almost airy white fish boudin; gorged myself at a cracklin bar; and swooned over creamy, perfect collards. There was oxtail and venison and pork and alligator. I never wanted to stop eating the decadent duck meatballs, and I admired the love and soul put into a whole roasted pig. I’m still dreaming of the rich broths and sauces that, given the opportunity, I would bathe in.
With 5,000 attendees and a myriad of famous chefs, you’d imagine people would be clamoring over one another. You’d think the lines would be unbearable. And with all that bourbon and Abita beer, you’d think the people would be unbearable. But that simply wasn’t the case. At this festival, there’s a certain joy in the air—a happiness amongst the crowd that you simply don’t see at other events. Graciousness and hospitality are abounding. As soon as Emeril Lagasse and Stephen Stryjewski take the stage, there’s no longer a question of where the benevolence, hospitality, and cordiality originate. Their joy and their love of what they do are authentic and genuine and powerfully hang in the air. Everyone in the vicinity feels like they’re Emeril’s personal guest, and you get the sense that’s the goal of his life’s work: to make the people around him happier through his generosity and his food. At Boudin, Bourbon, and Beer, you’re not just a ticket holder. You’re family.
The night continued, and my head was spinning in delight (and it wasn’t just the Au Bon Climat and Stagg Jr).
Although I was about to burst, the smell of coffee wafted down the stairs of Champion’s Square and called my name. Never one to resist a caffeine jolt (or dessert), I mustered everything in me and made my way up, what can only be deemed, the stairway to heaven. There, I found perfectly brewed coffee—not too mellow, not at all bitter. Smooth and rich and the antidote to every bad cup of coffee I’ve ever endured. But what came next was a dessert that made all my life’s previous sweet tastings pale in comparison. The richest, most perfect sugared donut filled with bacon-persimmon rice pudding and topped with smoked brown butter bourbon glaze, a candied saltine cracker, and candied mustard seed. It was the kind of dish where the deliciousness of each bite hung in the air. I’m pretty sure I sighed in pure delight.
Although I had my fair share of that Bourbon they so lovingly shared, it’s as if I’ll remember this whole day of my life better than others because of each decadent, savory, and sweet bite. Magic happened beneath the twinkling lights of Emeril Lagasse’s Boudin, Bourbon, and Beer … and you better believe I’ll be there next year.