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Where Y’Eat: In Thrall to the Fall in New Orleans

Pumpkin gelato is a highly specific flavor of the season at Angelo Brocato's Ice Cream in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty
Pumpkin gelato is a highly specific flavor of the season at Angelo Brocato's Ice Cream in New Orleans.

You can't really count on the calendar to tell you when seasons change in New Orleans. Balmy and temperate one day, you know we can still plunge right back into humidity the next. You’ve got to be on your guard. But there are other cues that let us know where we stand.

The sun is setting sooner, and the shadows stretch longer. There’s the thunder of high school marching bands practicing in the streets, talk of the Saints playoff odds, even when they’re longer than a Tom Dempsey field goal.

And then, there's just something inside you, rumblings that come from a different part of the belly. These are cravings triggered by time of year, the cycle of harvests, the impending holidays and local habit.

Instead of a fresh tomato salad, it might be tomato gravy ladled up at a Creole-Italian joint. If you’re a hunter, or happen to love one, fall stirs suggestions of ducks and maybe even venison. This shows up far from the deer blinds, as these cravings of the countryside turn up all over restaurant specials boards in the city with dark, dark autumn flavors.  

Craving something cold and raw as the weather cools might seem out of sync. But not when we're talking about oysters. It's the season and the associations are undeniable. Autumn means Gulf oysters are inching back to their prime, and the taste of their salty chill is as welcome as a cold front.

Some cravings aren’t for flavors, but for settings. The urge to eat outdoors in New Orleans isn’t just a whim. After our long hot summer, it can feel like an obligation. You’re compelled to comply with the opportunity, lest you feel some kind of weird guilt from denying your own pleasure. Hey, it’s just part of the complicated cultural life of this town. The good news is, the options for dining or even just a drink out in the open air have really opened up.

At our farmers markets and better grocery stores, the season registers in a greater bounty of crops and more excited of chatter over them. As more local food comes off the farms, there’s a lot more to talk about with the farmers and purveyors and more inclination to linger and catch up there in the marketplace.

And there’s pumpkin. You can’t talk about fall flavors these days without bringing up pumpkin, which goes into everything from beer to muffins in search of an autumn marketing angle. It can feel pretty far from the pumpkin patch. But, one local example always resonates for me. That's the pumpkin gelato that makes its annual appearances at Angelo Brocato’s, the city’s century-old ice cream parlor. So what if it's a frozen dessert? A frozen fall craving is a pretty good hedge against New Orleans weather anyway.

This is the time of year when cravings can catch you off guard. So if you find yourself licking the gumbo roux off your spoon while also wiping the sweat from your brow, just consider it a warm up round for winter. Even when true sweater weather feels like a distant fantasy, in Louisiana, you know you can count on your cravings.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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