New Orleanians take their tomatoes seriously. The words “Creole tomato” mean a very particular thing – a knobby, vine-ripened, bright red tomato grown in Louisiana’s alluvial soil, sprinkled with Mississippi River water, and brushed by hot, late spring air. Some even call it Louisiana’s own “tomato terroir.”
To get super technical, these tomatoes, with the aforementioned “soil chemistry,” are grown in St. Bernard or Plaquemines Parishes, just down river from New Orleans, though it is also common thought that any homegrown, vine-ripened tomato in the metro area is a Creole tomato.
Ripe, juicy Creole tomatoes are super sweet, with a distinct taste of earth and sunshine. Fat slices sprinkled with coarse salt are best eaten out of hand, over a sink, or layered between slices of soft, white bread, heavily slathered in Blue Plate Mayonnaise and a sturdy shot of black pepper.
The easiest way to experience Creole tomatoes in many guises, and all in one fell swoop, is at The French Market’s Creole Tomato Festival, on June 13 and 14. This annual French Quarter event (in its 29th year) offers live music, food booths featuring Creole tomato-laced dishes, cooking demos by well-known local chefs, and farmers selling boxes of tomatoes straight from their fields.
Ripe, juicy Creole tomatoes are super sweet, with a distinct taste of earth and sunshine.
Make sure to sample Quintin’s Natural Creole tomato sorbet, and hit Crepes a la Carte for an easy walk-and-eat, freshly griddled tomato-and-basil crepe. Want to take away something spectacular to use in cooking or cocktails? Stop by chef Emily Marquis Vanlandingham’s table for a jar of her Locally Preserved Creole Tomato Basil Jelly.
Not limited to the festival, restaurants city-wide are whipping up simple yet creative dishes to showcase the stunning flavor of homegrown tomatoes. Here are a few places giving Creole tomatoes a loving squeeze…
Where to Find (and Eat!) Creole Tomato Dishes
Carmo – Tucked into the Warehouse District, Carmo, helmed by Chef Dana Honn, has a dish of succulent and savory smoked chicken with Creole tomato sauce, collard greens, and rice.
GW Fins – Newly appointed Executive Chef Mike Nelson digs in to the seasonal tomato love with several varieties of heirloom and Creole tomatoes specially grown for the restaurant. These multi-hued beauties wind up in a number of dishes including a cool and crisp cucumber and tomato salad with small, silky mounds of tangy goat cheese.
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse – Pop in to the Steakhouse, grab a table in the bar, and order a cocktail and the stunning Tomato and Bleu Cheese Napoleon – a tower of fat Creole tomato slices layered with crumbles of pungent Danish bleu cheese with a heavy drape of tangy Remoulade sauce. Heaven.
Brigtsen’s – At the New Orleans Cooking Experience, chef Frank Brigtsen teaches local cookery, and right now his class menu includes a show-stopping crabmeat Creolaise with Creole tomatoes. At his eponymous Riverbend restaurant, ripe, in-season tomatoes star in salads, sauces, and entrées that change daily and are among the finest examples of Louisiana cooking.
Company Burger – It’s that time of year, the time when chef-owner Adam Biderman breaks with his tradition of BYOT (Bring Your Own Tomato) to offer farm-fresh Creole tomato slices on any order for 50 cents. Keep eyes peeled for his sometimes-on-the-menu special: Creole tomato sandwich on white toast with mayo and black pepper.
Cake Café & Bakery – Each week, sometimes more, chef Steve Himelfarb creates a tart, salad, or other delectable bite featuring local tomatoes. For a quick, one-handed breakfast, nothing beats the Creole tomato-stuffed bagel, with basil from New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) garden, spinach, and a local yard egg.