You simply can't go to New Orleans without enjoying the food. Taking a food tour is a great way to get a literal taste of the dishes the city is famous for, and satisfy your passion for local food at the same time. On our recent Gulf Coast Road Trip, we included a stop in The Big Easy, exploring the Garden District, French Quarter, and Gretna neighborhoods through the fantastic food. And we started it all off by taking a food tour with Doctor Gumbo, a New Orleans food tour of the French Quarter. Doctor Gumbo Tours runs several different tours: the Food History Tour, the Cocktail History Tour, and the Combination Tour. Since we wanted a mid day tour, we opted for the Doctor Gumbo Food History Tour which runs from 1-4:00pm. Our guide for the walking tour was Ben Wisdom (yup, that's really his name) who educated and entertained us, and kept us well-fed along the way.
Creole vs. Cajun Food?
A big question that often comes to mind for those of us from outside southern Louisiana is what's the difference between Creole and Cajun food? - two terms that we'd heard before but weren't sure what the context of either one was. The term Creole refers to the food found in the city of New Orleans with French, West African, and Spanish influences. The word Cajun stems from the original term Acadiana, for the French Canadians who settled in the area, and the food is generally rustic and more "country-like" as in rich stews with rice. This food tends to be cooked longer, often until it's falling apart...real stick to your ribs cuisine. Doctor Gumbo helped us discover the answer to that question in the most delicious way. They advertise themselves as “The Cure for the Common Tour”, and we were anxious to see just how well their food cure really was.
Doctor Gumbo New Orleans Food Tour
Stop #1 - SoBou Restaurant
We met our small group of around 15 at SoBou Restaurant (short for South of Bourbon) in a meeting room off the main dining room. It was a perfect space for Ben's introduction to the tour and our first three dishes. He gave us an overview of the foods, an entertaining history of New Orleans through the ages, and a little history of how the foods came to be so famous. We sampled fresh pork cracklins, fried boudin balls - the famous cajun sausage - and savory sweet potato beignets with duck pate sauce and chickory sauce. Honestly, I have yet to meet a beignet I didn't like, and these were savory and unique. If this was any indication of what was to come, we were certainly off to a great start.
Stop #2 - Pepper Palace
Billed as "The Planet's Number One Hot Shop" there is something here for any hot sauce lover from those who prefer just like a little zesty flavor to hardcore hot sauce fanatics who can literally take the heat and become a fire breathing dragon. The shop has a staggering number of award winning sauces, marinades, and barbecue sauces, many of which are made in handcrafted small batches. We were welcome to sample all of the products on display and we took full advantage of this challenge. The endless hot sauce tasting here will set your mouth afire if you let it, but in the best possible way, and you'll find some really tasty products amidst all that heat!
Stop #3 - Leah's Pralines
What could be better after sampling a dozen or so hot sauces than something sugary sweet like New Orleans pralines? It's the perfect combo. Pralines - pronounced PRAH-leens in south Louisiana - are famous in New Orleans, and in the French Quarter it has to be Leah's. It's like walking into an old fashioned candy store with big glass display cases filled with their house made confections - it smelled so sweet inside. In business since 1944, Leah's specializes in gourmet Creole candies, pralines, and chocolates. We sampled the pralines, of course, and each got a full size one to take home or nibble on the way. But the real show stopper was tasting the bacon pecan brittle. Sweet. Salty. Oh, it was heavenly and I gave a lot of thought as to how much of it I could actually take home. If you have a sweet tooth, you have to stop here.
Stop #4 - NOLA Po Boys
If you're looking for fancy, this ain't it. But if you're more interested in a great sandwich and don't mind a sub shop with booth seating, this is the place. This top-rated po boy restaurant serves a variety of over 45 po boys along with authentic Cajun cuisine and a New Orleans staple - the traditional po boy with roast beef and gravy. We sampled their famous muffuletta - olive spread on a cold meat sandwich - and their catfish po boy. NOLA Po Boys is one of the best places for po boys in the city so bring your appetite.
Stop #5 - Tujague's
Originally named Madame Begue's, Tujague's is the second oldest restaurant in the French Quarter. Order a drink at the original cypress wood stand-up bar - the longest one in the United States - and admire the huge ornate French mirror behind the bar. The mirror was shipped here from France in 1856 but had already been hanging in a Paris bistro for 90 years.
Tujague's has a colorful history with the ebb and flow of world events over nearly two centuries, as well as a string of colorful characters who frequented the bar. Today however, it's a fine dining restaurant that specializes in melt-in-your-mouth beef brisket served with cocktail sauce, and that's just what we tasted on the tour. I wasn't sure about the combo but after my first bite, I'd go back for more in a minute. And to have a Sazerac at that bar in front of that mirror...sweet.
Stop #6 - Dickie Brennan's Tableau
Looking for a fine dining experience with great food and elegant ambience? We found Dickie Brennan's Tableau as comfortable as any restaurant we've ever dined at. You can enjoy dinner in the courtyard, the main dining room, the Drawing Room lounge or on the balcony overlooking Jackson Square. Their menu showcases fresh regional ingredients with a modern approach to Creole cuisine. The traditional gumbo we tasted on the tour was arguably the best we'd had during our stay in New Orleans. It was rich, aromatic and absolutely delicious. From now on, whenever I think of gumbo, I'll remember the cup at Tableau. I only wish we'd been more hungry, but this was the last stop on the tour and we just couldn't indulge ourselves more. We were stuffed, but next time for sure.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Doctor Gumbo Food History Tour, and Ben Wisdom couldn't have been a better guide. He's a big man with a booming radio-ready voice, bright smile, and warm sense of humor. The way he wove together the history of the food, its evolution and the cultural significance surrounding it was truly entertaining. He always included the history of each building or restaurant where we were tasting, captivating us with hilarious tales and anecdotes along the way. The walking tour through the French Quarter wasn't at all rigorous with only a few blocks between stops, and he kept us flowing in and out of the busier parts of the city. For New Orleans, the crowds were tolerable, even with Jazzfest going on. I'm not sure I'd want to attempt this during Mardi Gras when the French Quarter swells with thousands of people, but for our small group Ben did a great job at keeping us herded together and moving.
The food tastings were all impressively prepared and delicious, as was the progression of food types from place to place. Ending the tour at Tableau - at Happy Hour no less - was a stroke of genius. Great planning Ben! Overall, the Doctor Gumbo Food Tour was one of the most well organized, seamlessly executed, and entertaining food tours we've ever been on - and we've taken quite a few. In our opinion, it's easily one of the best food tours in New Orleans.
Thank you to Visit New Orleans who hosted us on our food tour. As always, all opinions about this tour are our own, based on our first hand experience.
If You Go
Doctor Gumbo Tours, New Orleans, LA, Contact: DoctorGumbo@DoctorGumbo.com
Doctor Gumbo Tours are rain or shine. Wear comfy shoes for your tour, and bring a bottle of water and an umbrella if the weather looks like rain. Book tours online. Food tours feature a set menu and do not have a gluten-free, pork-free or vegetarian option. But you can notify them of any food allergies (not aversions) during check-out.
Doctor Gumbo Food History Tour - Cost: $55 (includes tour and 10+ food samples), 1-4pm
Doctor Gumbo Cocktail History Tour - Cost: $65 (includes tour and 4 cocktails) or $32 (includes tour only), 5-8pm
Doctor Gumbo Combo Food & Cocktail History Tour - Cost: $120 (includes tour, 10 Louisiana dishes/samples and 4 full-sized cocktails), 2-5:30 pm (Tues & Thurs)