Although I arrived too early to hit the drive-through daquiri stand on the way from the airport, I did stop to take out my first meal back home from New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Co.: a half-shrimp/half-oyster po-boy. My tastebuds tingled with delight as I realized my battered wedge fries were brushed with garlic butter, a recent development from what I could remember.
But the highlight of this particular po-boy experience was (and always is in a positive po-boy experience): the bread. A true po-boy is not on a baguette, nor a hero, and god forbid a wrap, pita, or some other sorry excuse for a bread. A true po-boy sandwich is only made with crusty, flaky, soft and chewy French bread, made with the kind of water that makes it snap like an eggier portuguese roll but has the dry flakiness of a water cracker. Is it even possible? New Orleans French bread is the only bread like it in the world.
My hosts, spectacular foodies, home chefs, and longtime friends Paul & Chris greeted me with homemade cold-brewed iced coffee spiked w/Amarula that I’d brought them from South Africa a year earlier. Among friends and family, I always get a kick out of enjoying the presents I gift. At any rate, after that colossal po-boy I napped and tried to prepare my stomach for the evening’s main event, the event I’d been drooling and dreaming about for years by then… dinner at Drago’s.
Drago’s is a sublime seafood restaurant opened in 1969 by the Cvitanovich family, of Croatian heritage. One of the most beautiful aspects of New Orleans is its diverse heritage, in that it is a true melting pot – over generations of “settlement” – of African, French, Spanish, Italian, Irish, Creole, and American Indian cultures. You’re likely to find colorful people from cultures flung all across the globe in every corner of the metropolitan area. And although you may not be able to share in or even agree with each others’ religious or political beliefs, you can always revel together in praise of a sublime meal or a rousing song. This is the glue that holds the community of New Orleans together, the fuel that fires the passion of resiliency and holds so many rapt in the sway of the city’s charm.
Drago’s is home to what has been voted “the best single bite of food in New Orleans”: the chargrilled oyster. Oysters in the half shell are lined up on a hot grill until they stew in their own juices, seasoned with little more than butter, lemon, and breadcrumbs, maybe a bit of parmesan but I’ve never asked. The first time I had one, a single tear slid down my cheek as the flavors played around my mouth, then I ate 11 more. These beauties are served with the finest in French bread for dipping into the juices that usually pool in the plate below the shells. Between the three of us, Paul, Chris and I ate 2 dozen as a first course.
We followed up with the lobster (stuffed with seafood dressing), crabcakes, and shrimp Ruth, an interesting mix between chargrilled tomatoes and breaded shrimp. To drink, we split a bottle of Riesling and I had an Abita Purple Haze for good measure. I trekked back home full and happy, ready to face the next day of… eating!