Mini Café au Lait Crème Brûlée
La Madeleine, $1.99
A stop at La Madeleine cafe and bakery is a great way to ease into a New Orleans visit: you get a few sights and a light snack under your belt before the bingeing begins in earnest. Take in all the architecture as the St. Charles streetcar trundles down the Garden District's grand boulevard, then hop off just when it makes a sharp right onto Carrollton. To one side people jog, cycle and walk their dogs on the top of the steep, grassy levee that blocks the Mississippi River from view. To the other, you'll see La Madeleine, tucked into the crook of the road.
Although the bakery is part of a chain, the cheerful din and full tables are proof that it has been thoroughly adopted by the neighborhood. Founder Patrick Leon Esquerré grew up in the French countryside and wanted his cafes to provide the fresh, healthy, hearty food and communal experience he enjoyed at home. You can get omelettes, salads, soups and baked goods to eat there or take away.
Combining a popular dessert with a ubiquitous beverage, the café au lait crème brûlée is an inventive mashup of New Orleanian flavors. The buttery pastry cup is filled with an eggy custard tinged with coffee, the top caramelized and crowned with a flake of dark chocolate. If your New Orleans agenda calls for eating 4-5 meals a day, you'll appreciate that La Madeleine offers many of its desserts in "mini" sizes.