Postcard From Tom: New Orleans

Sunday, April 2, 2006

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

While Katrina wiped away some of the best eating spots in New Orleans, the resilience of the city's food community since the storm has been nothing short of heroic. Among my favorite reintroductions last month were these three survivors -- standard-bearers all:

CENTRAL GROCERY (923 Decatur St., 504-523-1620)

The fixings for an Italian meal -- pasta, Parmesan, clam juice -- line the shelves of this century-old French Quarter market, but the biggest line forms for the signature muffuletta. Built with layers of Genoa salami, provolone, mortadella and a heap of garlicky olive salad, the classic New Orleans sandwich is served on a round loaf of bread available by the half ($6.50) or whole ($11.95). Dig into your order, tightly bound in butcher paper, at one of a few stools, or follow the lead of departing visitors and ( try to) save the muffuletta for the flight home.

LILETTE (3637 Magazine St., 504-895-1636)

The tile floors and pressed tin ceiling bring to mind a cozy Parisian bistro, and so does much of the cooking. Blood sausage with homemade mustard and hanger steak with fries are two delicious destinations on John Harris's appealing menu. Yet the 34-year-old chef of this Uptown gem demonstrates his range with Italian and other accents. One of the best starters in the city: toasted bread arranged with herbed mushrooms and Parmesan, then gilded with white truffle oil, marrow and (Stop! More!) intense veal glace. Entrees $19.50-$28.

LIUZZA'S BY THE TRACK (1518 N. Lopez St., 504-943-8667 )

Music lovers know this scrappy Mid-City dive as a hangout during JazzFest's two-week run every spring. Food fans gather here for zesty bowls of gumbo, heaping plates of fried oysters and shrimp, and messy roast beef po' boys ignited with horseradish (and aptly billed "Breath Taking Beef"). Beers are poured in schooners; horse photos tip you off to the nearby racing track. Sandwiches and specials $6.95-$12.95.

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