Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Second Annual New Orleans Roadfood Festival This Weekend

c/o Serious Eats

By Rebecca R. Ruiz

It's Roadfood Festival time once again, and though I won't be attending this year it definitely looks like this year's model is going to feature even more serious deliciousness compared to last year's.
Not only is there just more of everything, but the fest also marks the return of legendary New Orleans cooking family the Uglesichs. Yup, you heard me—the Uglesich family is coming out of retirement to cook up a mess of their justifiably famous "Shrimp Uggie." Here's a little taste of what's going to go down this weekend, courtesy of Serious Eater Rebecca Ruiz. Ed Levine


Jambalaya at the Tabasco Country Store stall at last year's Roadfood Festival. [Flickr: Eating In Translation]

The world's longest oyster po' boy will be on display, and on the menu, in New Orleans this weekend., a website with a vibrant food community dedicated to finding "the most memorable local eateries along the highways and backroads of America," is planting its feet in the Big Easy this Friday to Sunday, March 26 to March 28, for the second annual Roadfood Festival.

The site launched ten years ago (allegedly as the first restaurant review site with pictures), and is an offshoot of food writer duo Jane and Michael Stern's Roadfood, a book first published in 1977. In 2000, the Sterns partnered with Stephen Rushmore, Jr., a hospitality consultant, to develop the brand's web presence and grow it into an interactive enterprise.

Since then, the company has conducted annual eating tours around the country, bussing participants to a dozen restaurants in one day to sample regional fare, "non-franchised, sleeves-up food" made by "America's culinary folk artists."


Plum Street Snowballs at last year's Roadfood Festival. [Flickr: Eating In Translation]

Recent events have included a Hill Country barbecue tour of Austin, a fried clam tour of New England, and even a food tour of upstate New York, featuring stops at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que's Syracuse flagship and a fire station cookout (adjacent to a junkyard) for a taste of slow-cooked Cornell chicken, a regional staple.

But the tours, with gustatory and experiential value alike, have had their limitations, and the upcoming festival, set in the French Quarter, seeks to address them.

"We can only bring so many people on our eating tours because we don't want to overwhelm the restaurants," said Rushmore. "We've wanted to have a get-together where we could invite everyone, and New Orleans is perfect for the event."

"The Super Bowl certainly gave the city a lot of attention, but there's still this perception among some people that New Orleans is a wasteland since Katrina. We have to get the message out that it's not," he added, explaining the logic behind New Orleans' selection as host city for a second year. "There's a lot of fun that can be had down there, and a lot of good food."

Last year's festival had about 15,000 attendees and featured only restaurants from within Louisiana. This year, some of Roadfood's top picks across the country will be traveling to participate, including Camp Washington of Cincinnati, Ohio, whose five-way chili—with meat, spaghetti noodles, beans, cheese and onions—earned the restaurant an invitation, and the Maine Diner of Wells, Maine, which will serve its seafood chowder.

In addition to the giant oyster po' boy—roughly two city blocks long and measuring "hundreds of feet," according to Rushmore—the 2010 festival will feature a shrimp and crawfish boil out in the bayou, a beignet-eating contest, and a special award presentation to Anthony and Gail Uglesich, long-time proprietors of Uglesich's, a New Orleans institution that recently closed but will come out of retirement for the street festival.

Rushmore praised the couple's signature dishes, including barbecued oysters.

"Most people think of barbecue, and they think of something done over coals, or smoked. But their barbecued oysters are actually pan sautéed with a tremendous amount of olive oil and garlic, served with potatoes and red pepper flakes. They've really turned on a trend, and we're giving them recognition."


Outside the Uglesich's restaurant. [Photographs: CanadaGood]

The Uglesiches' son, John, expressed the family's excitement over the festival and their role in it as honorees and vendors. "This is my parents' first time cooking and serving food since having closed the restaurant around the time of Katrina, so it's a huge event for us," he said.

John, who published two cookbooks of his parents' recipes, said that at first his parents were "really nervous." "But they got over that," he continued. "This is really amazing for them because it honors all the hard work they've done for all those hard years."

He said that his parents have been cooking all week in preparation for Saturday and Sunday, readying their "Shrimp Uggie"—named after John himself and featuring hot sauce, lemon juice, paprika, onion, and meat and potatoes on the side—and "Shrimp Gail," a re-imagined debut dish. "The shrimp are sautéed with a special horseradish sauce that has never been served before. My parents have tinkered with former recipes, and this has outstanding taste."

The festival is free, you just pay for food as you walk along. Proceeds from the sales go to participating vendors and Café Reconcile, a nonprofit restaurant located in the Central City region of New Orleans that trains underprivileged youth in food service, while providing case management and counseling services to help them gain stability and practical skills in hospitality. (They're also known for having great soul food.)

"We want to help New Orleans, and we want to help this organization," said Rushmore.

"The food festival is the next chapter of Roadfood," he concluded. "We're taking an online community and getting everyone together to share their love and passion for food." If you're interested in barbecued oysters and the company of like-minded foodies, find out more about the event here.

About the author: Rebecca Ruiz lives in New York and works on the national desk of The New York Times. She is a graduate of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.

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