Reality Bites: Turtle Power!

Published  December 2015

ANTIGRAVITY-DECEMBER2015-WEB_Page_09_Image_0001Turtle soup tastes like Christmas; it’s my absolute favorite Reveillon dish, and is one of the few soups I enjoy. Turtle soup is such a fun, vintagey dish. I did a little research, and my beloved soup hasn’t changed much in the past 300 years. There was apparently a bit of revision to the traditional recipe by Paul Prudhomme in the 1970s, but other than that, the turtle soup you eat today isn’t so different than the one that was being enjoyed in the 1700s. I love that and I can’t think of a better way to get in the holiday spirit than to eat all the turtles around! Also, apparently, you aren’t supposed to accept the sherry at the table that everyone offers, but who can resist? I always demur and say, “Ah, just a touch.”


Commanders Palace  (1403 Washington Ave.)
I had never been to Commander’s before I went for the purposes of this review. Isn’t that so sad? I remember a friend  whose parents took her there  for her high school graduation and I was so perplexed.  In my mind, you weren’t even allowed in the doors unless you were fancier than  fancy (meanwhile, my dad took me to Deanie’s of Bucktown for my kindergarten, 8th grade, high school, and college graduations— no complaints). In grad school, I interned for Save Our Cemeteries and worked, for months, literally  right across the street in the Lafayette Cemetery #1. And I still never managed to eat there. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, because I had so much fun at the Jazz Brunch! Everyone told me to request the windows room, which was the right choice. It feels like you’re in the conservatory in Clue! There was a trio wandering around serenading everyone with tunes  (they take requests so I asked for my fave: “Blue Bossa”), and the bandleader was wearing a wine- colored velvet suit. Can y’all tell I had fun? Okay, so on to the soup. This is arguably the best-known turtle soup in the city, and rightly so; this soup is bright and complex. There’s spinach, there’s eggs, there’s a veal broth! And, of course,  you can spend the rest of the day wandering around the cemetery. Sigh. I am such a fancy lady now. 10/10 Games of Clue


Arnauds (813 Bienville Ave.)
This is a nice hearty, tomatoey soup. And when I say hearty, I mean hearty. This soup is loaded with turtle meat. I would definitely recommend this one if you’re in the mood for a seriously deluxe chili (there’s none of the bright citrusy overtones you find at Commander’s). What this soup lacks in complexity, though,  it makes up for in sheer robustness. Also, you need to go there because  there’s a creepy nightmare showcase upstairs. It’s called the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum, but it’s so much more terrifying than it sounds. Maybe lavish Mardi Gras costumes from the ‘40s and ‘50s aren’t scary on their own, but there’s something “Carnival of Souls” sinister about  mannequins with vacant, dead eyes peering out of their cracked and peeling faces, wearing costumes made of tarnished sequins, velvet, mold, and glitter. There’s the faint odor of decay, everything is overwhelmingly lit, and an aura of a rather depressing faded glamour  hovers inelegantly around the room. In other words, it feels like you’re being sucked into a Poppy Z. Brite short story. Definitely recommended! 9/10 ‘90s Goth Horror Clichés


Café Adelaide (300 Poydras St.)
Café Adelaide is where you go to get Commander’s turtle soup if you don’t want to go to Commander’s. Everyone says it’s the same recipe, and I think they’re right. I literally  couldn’t tell the difference.  Adelaide has a nice happy hour, though, so this is a great alternative if you need the soup, but you’re not trying to break the bank (also, you have to try the shrimp & tasso corndog, so good). 10/10 Budget Friendly Alternatives


Liuzzas By The Track (1518 N Lopez St.)
Liuzza’s is famous (at least in my mind) for making roast beef poboys that taste exactly like the ones I ate growing up. That is to say that Liuzza’s roast beef poboys taste the same as Domilise’s; they’re interchangeable, and I ain’t complaining. I was so excited to see turtle soup on their menu. But as soon as they brought it out, I knew something was wrong. This soup was so greasy! It had literal pools of grease floating on top of the surface. Ew. The soup was thin, watery, and barely tasted like turtle soup. Don’t bother. Also, I want to note that I really wanted to include low price options, since a lot of turtle soup peddlers are of the fancy variety, but all I could find was Liuzza’s and Café 615 (a.k.a. Da Wabbit), which is on the Westbank. I even went to Da Wabbit with a friend whose parents had their first date there; isn’t that  cute? Unfortunately, they’re closed for renovations! Whomp whomp. 0/10 Pools of Grease


The Red Maple (1036 Lafayette  St., Gretna)
The Red Maple’s turtle soup was different than all the other  ones I tried. It was served sans the otherwise ubiquitous tableside sherry, and instead came with little pots of hardboiled eggs and green onions. The soup veers close to the Arnaud’s chili variety, but there’s something else in there that  I couldn’t place. It wasn’t lemon, but it was tangy, and was definitely unexpected and welcome. This is a fantastic turtle offering. And the surroundings are unexpectedly fun. The Red Maple feels like a  steakhouse from the 1960s, because  that’s exactly what it is. I appreciate that they roll with that. The decor here is straight up Mid-Century cozy: wood paneling, dark bricks, and Christmas decorations that  would feel at home in grandpa’s den. Also, they’ve decked out the courtyard for the holidays—there are twinkly little lights everywhere and the foot bridge has been wrapped up to look like candy canes. This is obviously the place to go if you want to take some fun Mad Men-esque winter wonderland selfies. 9.5/10 Grandpa Dens


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