Trombone Shorty’s Guide to Eating in New Orleans
The acclaimed musician tells us where to eat in his hometown and how food is an integral part of life in NOLA.
You can’t talk about New Orleans and not talk about food. “Absolutely. I wish I had some gumbo now.”
I remember going to Vaughn’s to hear Kermit Ruffins play and between sets he was cooking sausage on a small grill on the back of his truck. “That’s what New Orleans is about. It’s about joy and just having a great time. No matter the occasion. We play from the heart and soul in New Orleans. And that’s what makes it a very magical place. To have Kermit Ruffins playing and then he’s cooking for everybody during his set break; I don’t think you’re going to find that anywhere else in the world. I’ve eaten a lot of his barbecue as a kid. Sometimes when I get to town I’ll call to see if he’s going to cook. Sometimes I go over to his bar and he’s cooking.”
Do you cook? “I can’t cook. I’ve never learned how to cook. I just go over to people’s houses and eat. And I take all their food to my house, so I can eat it for the rest of the week. I’m not sure if my siblings or any of my cousins know how to cook because of my grandmother, she cooks every day. It’s like a family reunion every day.”
That’s amazing! “Talking about how important cooking and food is in New Orleans, my cousin’s girlfriend once pulled my grandmother to the side and said ‘could you not cook today, so he can eat at home?’ So, it’s one of those things.”
What are your favorite dishes that she makes? “Of course, I love her red beans and rice but I think she has some of the best gumbo in the world. Maybe because I grew up on it but I’m always looking forward to those two dishes.”
Before you leave for a tour do you stock up on food from New Orleans? “You know what? Some of my band members cook. They take great pleasure in cooking. So, we have a few crockpots and sometimes we’ll stop and put them outside and cook up some red beans and rice or jambalaya. Some of them are Italian and we eat a lot of pasta and different things. I’m the one that pays for it all, so I don’t do much. Sometimes I might put a little salt and pepper [on a dish] just to feel like I did something.”
Louisiana is, of course the home of Tabasco. Are you a hot sauce fan? “Oh, yeah! I got to have some hot sauce, Louisiana hot sauce, Tabasco hot sauce…Actually I’m pretty sure in each one of my band members’ suitcases, including my own, we probably have a couple of little Tabasco bottles. We brought them with us all the way to Japan, Australia…We travel with it everywhere.”
Besides Kermit’s bar what are your other top New Orleans restaurants? “I like to go Li'l Dizzy’s. That’s in my neighborhood in the Treme. There’s also Willie Mae’s Scotch House. They have some of the best chicken. I also like Emeril’s, which is owned by my friend Emeril Lagasse. Everywhere you go…in New Orleans we have some of the best food.”
I’m a big po’ boy fan, where should I go? “If you ever get to New Orleans, go to the Verti Marte. That’s the best kept secret. (Probably not now that I’m saying it!) They’ve got the best po’ boys in the French Quarter. They have a thing called All That Jazz, it’s grilled shrimp, grilled turkey, grilled ham, some kind of special sauce and it’s just incredible.”
Every year I try to eat at Commander’s Palace. “You got to put your good sport coat on.”
What I love about New Orleans is that there are so many influences from around the world. “Everything is a gumbo. The music from New Orleans is gumbo. Gumbo is gumbo. And I think that’s just the way we do it.”
Trombone Shorty’s new album, “Parking Lot Symphony,” is out now.
We got caught up with Trombone Shorty at the recent Bourbon & Beyond festival.
Interview has been condensed and edited.