Dozen Best Garlic Bread, Crostini, Bruschetti, And Kin
Garlic bread is a cheap thrill. Yes, but it's such a thrill that even when it shows up in the best restaurants (i.e., #2 below), you use inordinately more than you should of your appetite glomming it down . Some restaurants have noted this and created garlic bread with college degrees, adding other ingredients like goat cheese and fresh herbs, and giving it alternative names like "crostini" and "bruschetta." (If only the waiters would pronounce it correctly: "broos-KET-ta.")
Although we think of garlic bread as quintessentially Italian, it's actually an American invention. (Toasting the bread and adding cheese are purely American.) Or, for the sake of argument, you could say that it's a takeoff on pizza.
It is a certainty that the idea is spreading and becoming much more varied. Here's my list of the best garlic breads and such like served around town.
1. Lilette. Uptown: 3637 Magazine. 504-895-1636. The best of the class is both mouth-filling and subtle at the same time. White truffle oil, parmesan cheese, wild mushrooms and marrow in full (not demi) veal glace. Insanely good.
2. Commander's Palace. Garden District: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. My wife's favorite dish at this perennially great restaurant here is its garlic bread. She doesn't mean that as an insult to the rest of the menu. She goes through several plates of the oozy, toasted French bread crescents with invisible but tastable garlic, dill, and parmesan cheese. I keep right up with her.
3. Carmelo. Mandeville: 1901 US Hwy 190. 985-624-4844. At his original place in the French Quarter, Carmelo Chirico introduced New Orleans to the Calabrian idea of topping bruschetti with diced tomatoes, olive oil, basil, and a dash of balsamic. It's still a great starter at his new restaurant in Mandeville.
4. Sylvain. French Quarter: 625 Chartres St. 504-265-8123. Sylvain is as much a bar as it is a bistro, so it makes sense that they have two excellent appetizers-on-bread. The roasted beet bruschetta with goat cheese and a sherry vinaigrette gives--if you need one--a new appreciation of beets. The chicken liver crostini, meanwhile, it given textural contrast with sprouts and a thick syrup made of reduced dandelion wine. Get both with the first cocktail.
5. Brennan's. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711. The garlic bread appears in whole baguettes doused with the same herb-and-garlic butter they sizzle with escargots. Plus a little Parmesan cheese.
6. Andrea's. Metairie: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583. Bruschetta with tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil, oregano and other herbs on toasted ovals of French bread. Like everything here, it's a little inconsistent, but usually very fresh and appetizing. Served complimentary at dinner for special customers, or anyone who asks.
7. Slice. Lee Circle Area: 1513 St Charles Ave. 504-525-7437. ||Uptown: 5538 Magazine St. 504-897-4800. Slice bakes its own bread and makes crostini from it. All that's left is for them to top it with the tomato dice, fresh basil, and EVOO, and for you to dive in.
8. Mandina's. Mandeville: 4240 La 22. 985-674-9883. ||Mid-City: 3800 Canal. 504-482-9179. Simple: garlic and butter, on hot rounds of French bread. The Mandeville location's version is better by a nose.
9. Blue Plate Cafe. Lee Circle Area: 1330 Prytania. 504-309-9500. "Breakchetta" is a morning version of the idea, with thick, whole-grain toast topped with scrambled eggs, goat cheese, tomato and basil relish, and some light greens as a garnish. As tasty as it is healthy.
10. Leonardo's Trattoria. CBD: 709 St Charles. 504-558-8986. Classic bruschetta: toasted Italian bread rounds with tomatoes and enough olive oil to drip a little. It can substitute either for a salad or a pizza as a first course.
11. Lebanon's Cafe. Riverbend: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200. Za'atar bread is the Middle Eastern equivalent of garlic bread, substituting olive oil for butter and a seasoning mix (za'atar) combining oregano, thyme, marjoram, sesame seeds, dill, sumac, and salt, but usually no pepper. It's toasted on pita bread and served hot.
12. Nirvana. Uptown: 4308 Magazine. 504-894-9797. Garlic naan probably can't be found in India, but it was inevitable here that the bread--baked on the inside wall of the super-hot tandoor oven, then buttered--would at some point have garlic added to the formula. And here it is.
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