A few weeks ago, before the Mardi Gras madness kicked in, I visited one of my best friends, Rachel, in New Orleans. A fellow food enthusiast, Rach started planning what and where we would eat the moment I clicked “confirm” on Expedia. While there were a number of spots we knew we had to hit up for the sake of saying we went, including classics like Café Du Monde beignets, she confidently proclaimed New Orleans to be one of the most interesting, dynamic cities to live in and eat in right now. And she isn’t the only one saying so.
Every year, Bon Appétit magazine, the crown jewel of the food writing world and of my heart, releases a list of the top 50 new restaurants of that year. Senior Editor Julia Kramer and Deputy Editor Andrew Knowlton embark on an epic foodie road trip, crisscrossing the country researching, scouting trends, critically assessing and, of course, eating at all of the potential restaurants for the list. Sounds like a damn dream, right? I’m currently trying to figure out how we can refinance the Daily Cal so I can partake in a similar gastronomical adventure. The prospects are not looking good (Side note: donate!!)
This year, Bon Appétit proclaimed Turkey and the Wolf, chef Mason Hereford’s nostalgic and funky sandwich shop in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans, the best new restaurant of 2017. A sandwich shop. Like not even a crazy gourmet, aged salami from Italy, lettuce from a rooftop organic garden, bread from a French bakery sort of sandwich. If it’s any indication, the star of the menu is a fried bologna sando with potato chips on it. Essentially, Turkey and the Wolf serves elevated stoner grub really, really well.
Naturally, our first stop after I landed in NOLA was to go see what the fuss was all about. Walking into Turkey and the Wolf, I immediately understood the appeal. The restaurant is small and filled with a colorful, eclectic mix of pictures on the wall and salt and pepper shakers that were probably Happy Meal toys in another life. The staff was young and hip-looking, all tasting a new tequila that they had just received for the bar and cracking jokes. It felt more like a high school “kick back” in a hot skater boy’s transformed garage than a fine dining establishment. To be clear, that was a sincere compliment.
So, about the food. Despite the craze around the bologna sandwich, we decided to split the lamb neck roti, served with crisp veggies and a dollop of lemony yogurt, and the collard greens melt — a double-decker wonder with pickled cherry pepper dressing, homemade coleslaw and the crispest rye bread you ever did consume! While both were insane, the roti stole my heart. It’s impeccably crafted so that the luscious lamb, cold cucumbers, fresh dill, fried roti and bright yogurt dance together in every single bite. It’s everything I want Urbann Turbann to be but isn’t. Oh, yeah, and the sandwiches were served on a mishmosh of curated plates that undoubtedly were found at your crazy aunt’s yard sale.
Was Turkey and the Wolf the best restaurant I’ve ever been to? Probably not. Was the sandwich the best one I’ve ever had? Also hard to say. As Knowlton and Kramer explain in their piece about their No. 1 pick, however, this restaurant pushes us to rethink our normalized notions of what good food should look and taste like. Sometimes, an amazing restaurant doesn’t just mean exceptional food. Through the experience of slipping into an alternate universe in which teenage boy food cravings are elevated into something remarkable and Ronald McDonald plates are ironically repurposed, we are reminded that food is and should be inventive, unexpected and, most importantly, fun. If you have the pleasure of visiting NOLA anytime soon, I highly recommend checking this place out for a fun drink, decadent meal and cool vibes.