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QUICK TAKE ON ICONIC NEW ORLEANS FOOD FAVORITES: CENTRAL GROCERY, CAFÉ DU MONDE, AND PARKWAY BAKERY

Choosing places to eat in New Orleans that will satisfy everyone in your party who are familiar with that great foodie city's diverse restaurants is more than a difficult task. It's impossible. After spending several days with family, celebrating the 95th birthday of NOLA native Aunt Yvonne, the list of places that we didn't visit but wanted to visit far outstripped the few that we could fit in. We didn't have time for Casamento's or Mandina's or Mosca's, much less Arnaud's or Commander's Palace. Even so, we managed to have a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Here are three New Orleans destinations that we visited that deserve mention. They ain't exactly upscale. And a couple of them are in the middle of the tourist crunch. But they are each New Orleans landmarks for the true foodie.

CENTRAL GROCERY
Just a few steps from the epicenter of tourism that is Jackson Square and across the street and down the block from the French Market and Café du Monde, Central Grocery isn't at all flashy. It looks just like what it used to be back in the day, a neighborhood grocery/deli where you can buy staples or a take-out sandwich. But this is New Orleans. The staples include jars of  their signature olive salad and the sandwiches are muffulettas. (At least that's the way that Central Grocery spells those local delights. So what if others have taken to calling them muffalettas? The ones that come from Central Grocery are the Gold Standard.)

What's a muffuletta? Well, you take a round Sicilian loaf covered with sesame seeds, split it horizontally, and layer on salami, ham, Swiss cheese, mortadella, provolone, and Central Grocery's brand of marinated olive salad. You can buy whole loafs, halves, or quarters. Every New Orleans native knows them and (mostly) loves them. If you are in the neighborhood, get in line and try one. The hype is true. Many imitations. Never duplicated.

CAFÉ DU MONDE
Speaking of Café du Monde, what's a morning in the French Quarter without a cup of Café du Monde's signature coffee/chicory blend and a plate of beignets, those little rectangles of fried dough covered with enough powdered sugar to stun a buffalo? Between Jackson Square and the river, there are bound to be lots of tourists. Often a line. But the line moves quickly and the hot, sugary beignets are worth the minimal wait.

I have to admit that the coffee was a bit disappointing this trip. All four of us agreed. Weak. Whether we received a badly brewed batch or whether the brew has been watered down to suit less robust tourist taste buds is a matter for further investigation. But the beignets were as remembered - as hot and as doughy and as sugary as ever.

PARKWAY BAKERY
Speaking of lines, we had the honor of being first in line on the day that we visited Parkway. By the time that the doors opened about ten minutes after our arrival, the line had stretched down the block and folks just kept on coming. Mostly for the poor boys - not po' boys as many now call them. At Parkway, they were and they definitely are still poor boys.

You take a soft French loaf, split it, and add your choice of fried shrimp, fried oysters (only available on Monday and Wednesday, for some reason), hot sausage, roast beef, or lots of other good stuff. You can order the sandwich dressed or not, dressed meaning with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and sauce. A favorite for 100 years, a German baker first put poor boys together for shift workers at a local factory that can still be seen from the front door. The rest is NOLA history.

And like Central Grocery muffulettas, while others may have imitated, even changed the name a bit, Parkway is still the Gold Standard. (Unless you prefer the po' boys at Casamento's or the Parasol. Those two, and perhaps one or two others, are acceptable alternatives.)

We ordered poor boys with hot sausage links, hot sausage patties, shrimp, and roast beef. Yum. Ate 'em right up. Just like we remembered them.

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