Travel: New Orleans and bananas foster

A culinary travel adventure to New Orleans included a stop at Palace Cafe, which is owned by Brennan's, the restaurant that invented the flaming dessert: bananas foster.

Mario Villafuerte/Special to the Christian Science Monitor Monitor/File
A waiter at Brennan's waiter in the French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, La., prepares Bananas Foster for brunch diners,

I just got back from a short culinary tour of New Orleans. I've always wanted to go to New Orleans and my main criteria was timing: I knew I didn't want to go during Mardi Gras, Superbowl Week, jazz festival or hurricane season (either too crowded or too risky, weather-wise). So when I saw a trip advertised in the Sur La Table catalog as "Tasting New Orleans" and that they were offering the 4-day, 3-night tour in January, the timing was perfect and I jumped at it.

It was actually more like a 2.5 day tour. Our first event was Monday night as a meet-and-greet at St. Marie Hotel's Vacherie Restaurant. We got a horse-drawn carriage ride around the French Quarter from our hotel on Bourbon St. to Vacherie where Elizabeth Pearce, a culinary historian, told us some good local stories.

Afterward, we were on our own and I met up with a friend who lives in town. I had e-mailed her a list of foods I had to try (mostly desserts, of course) while I was in New Orleans and one of them was Bananas Foster.  Her husband suggested Palace Cafe which was owned by Brennan's, the restaurant that invented Bananas Foster in 1951. How could we go wrong?

Turns out we couldn't. We met at Palace Cafe on Canal St and got a front table by the window overlooking the street. Later on, we saw some of the Mardi Gras floats being transported in preparation for the upcoming parade. I got a steak and shrimp entrée but truthfully I was looking forward to dessert. 

It didn't disappoint. The waiter prepared the Bananas Foster table-side – heat the skillet, melt the butter and brown sugar, add the banana liqueur then the bananas until they caramelize but are still firm.

Of course, the whole point of getting Bananas Foster is setting the dessert on fire once you add the rum.  Although alcohol's not my thing, I have no problem with it being set aflame for a cool-looking dessert. 

The Bananas Foster was amazingly yummy. It was a great way to start off a culinary adventure.

Brennan's Bananas Foster

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter  

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup banana liqueur

4 bananas, cut in half 

 lengthwise, then halved

1/4 cup dark rum

4 scoops vanilla ice cream

Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over low heat either on an alcohol burner or on top of the stove, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan.

When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.

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