The French Market will be transformed into a foodie’s paradise this weekend as the New Orleans Roadfood Festival returns for its fourth year.
But what is roadfood?
“Authentic, regional eats,” said Emily Valentino, the festival’s project lead. “This is the type of food you find in restaurants across the country, kind of off the beaten track, that become part of the culture and the identity of the region or city in which they were born.”
The restaurants that serve roadfood “always have a special place in the heart of the locals,” Valentino added, “a place that they go when they come back home, or before they leave to go out of town, they have to get that last-minute roast beef po-boy or that final praline or beignet before they head out for a long time, those are the roadfood items that we cherish.”
But it’s more than po-boys and pralines and other southeastern Louisiana fare that we know and love. The festival celebrates roadfood from all over the country. Fest goers can look forward to Rochester steak sandwiches, red and white hots from LDR Char Pit in Rochester; Santa Cruz tamale, Green corn tamale from the Tucson Tamale Company in Tucson; fried cornbread from Big Daddy’s Hotwater Cornbread in El Dorado, AR, and dry rub ribs and a pulled pork sandwich from Central BBQ in Memphis.
Of course, the local flavor will also be well represented amongst the over fifty different food offerings. Revelers will be able to enjoy soft shell crab po-boy from Oceana Restaurant, fried catfish, smothered okra and shrimp over rice from Dunbar’s in New Orleans, and shrimp roumelade and baked Alaska with chocolate sauce from Antoine’s, among others.
Don’t worry about filling up too fast. “One way that we make sure that everybody has the opportunity to take advantage of all these foods is to encourage all of our vendors to serve sample portions, not full meal portions of everything, and to keep the prices in line with that,” Valentino said.
The fest also features book signings, live music, and cooking demonstrations. On Saturday and Sunday at noon, “Chef Joe” Smith from Café Reconcile will be “serving up their bananas foster bread pudding and their miraculous roast beef debris po-boy which has been a hit at the festival in past years,” Valentino said.
“One of the best parts about the Roadfood Festival is that we benefit Café Reconcile,” Valentino added. “They’ve been partners with us since year one, from birth. We’ve been growing up with them in New Orleans post Katrina, and they are participating in the festival this year in more ways than ever before.”
Everything kicks off Friday night with a party at 6:30 in the Grand Ballroom of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, featuring open-bar cocktails and a presentation of Big Easy hors d’oeuvres for all. Guests can meet Poppy Tooker, host of public radio’s “Louisiana Eats!” and Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of “the Splendid Table.” Lynne and “Splendid Table producer Sally Swift will be signing their book How To Eat Weekends, Dough Sohn of Hot Doug’s will be receiving the Blue Plate Award, and Jane and Michael Stern will be signing the newest edition of their book, Roadfood.
Tickets for Friday night’s event are $50 and can be purchased at www.neworleansroadfoodfestival.com.