Noelle and I spent last week volunteering with Hands On New Orleans. It was the first Cheesiest road trip. We said to ourselves, "New Orleans is in the South. Mac-n-cheese is a Southern specialty. We will have to find the best mac-n-cheese in New Orleans while we are on this trip." Ah, innocence...
First lesson learned: New Orleans is not the South. New Orleans is a different universe.
Second lesson learned: When searching for mac-n-cheese in New Orleans, you want to look for "baked macaroni".
Once that was established, I hit up Google and found that Verti Marte (1201 Royal Street, in the French Quarter) got several mentions. It was also on the list of must-eat places we were given by a New Orleanian we met in Seattle. When we asked around for word-on-the-street recommendations, we were directed to VooDoo BBQ, a New Orleans franchise. With addresses in hand, Noelle and I (joined by Erin and Nora, two of our fellow Seattle Works volunteers) found a taxi and the Great N'awlins Mac-n-Cheese Adventure was on.
We started at Verti Marte. It's a hole-in-the-wall deli (and I mean that in the best way possible), in the tourist-free part of the Quarter. The kind of place you know and love if you're a local but outsiders would never look at twice. We were a little unsure how to open the door, leading us to wonder if it was open. Once inside, we made our way through cramped aisles to the deli counter at the back. We giggled and took pictures, to the amusement (we hope) of the staff.
Our order: baked macaroni for five, a small container of potato salad, and a slice of pecan pie to go. Total? Under $10. We think they threw in an extra portion or two of macaroni, too. Super nice people.
I told the woman who helped us that we were volunteering with Hurricane Katrina clean up. She asked if we did drywalling. "Sure!" I burbled, "We'll do anything..." "I have a friend," she said, "She's older and she needs help drywalling her house. Can you do that? Please?" My heart sank. "We're working with this organization and they arranged projects... You can contact Hands On New Orleans..." But no, we would not be able to help this woman's friend.
Outside, we waited for a cab on the corner. A man rode up on a bicycle and asked if the microwave on the curb worked. Next thing we knew, he was singing to us-- first a hymn, which segued beautifully into "(Don't Know Much About) History", and finally "Stand By Me", by which point we had lost our shyness and joined in with him, harmonizing up to the moon.
A neighbor pulled away in her car, thanking the man for the song and singing along. It was a perfect French Quarter moment.
Once in the cab, we headed to Voodoo BBQ on St. Charles. Our order: five servings of mac-n-cheese, one order of potato salad, one serving of bread pudding, and two sweet teas. Total? $25.
Back at the Hands On bunkhouse, we eagerly laid out our feast. The verdict? N'awlins mac-n-cheese is really different from what we were expecting. It's made with spaghetti and American cheese. It's not quite comfort food. It is rather bland and definitely benefits from the addition of salt. (It does not benefit from the addition of hot sauce, an experiment I gladly abandoned later at Serio's. Maybe their muffaleta is better?)
That said, Verti Marte's was easily better than VooDoo's elbow macaroni version or Fiorella's (which friends kindly brought back for us later that night). It was so good that a crew went back on Thursday for lunch, but I wasn't part of that, so I'll let Noelle tell that part when she gets to posting her version of our adventures.
Much love to Verti Marte!