What to Eat (and See and Hear) at Taste of Orleans at CA Great America
This past weekend the second annual Taste of Orleans festival at California’s Great America kicked off. If you didn’t make it down, the festival continues this coming weekend (July 30-31), and it’s definitely worth a trip. Many of the attractions at this years Taste of Orleans are similar to last year’s, with live music, lots of Big Easy style decorations, and of course a wide range New Orleans style food to eat. You can read our review of last years event here, but this year the food items were mostly new, and I think there was more consistency in the quality across them. The event offers six tastings of food for $25, and the tastings were all generous and tasty.
What to Eat At Taste of Orleans
In the morning I had a chance to watch a demonstration from Chef Erick Ponce, executive chef at CGA, and hear him talk a bit about the food. Chef Erick demonstrated both the blackened catfish slider with a tangy slaw, and the praline bread pudding, both new items for this years Taste of Orleans.
The catfish is rubbed in a seasoning blend made in house by the Great America culinary team, and Chef Erick pointed out that actually all the rubs and sauces used are developed by them in house. He actually told us he’s not a big fan of catfish, but this version came out really well. I’m not a huge fish lover, but it didn’t have the strong fishy (and muddy) taste you get with a lot of catfish; it was much more mild, and really nicely seasoned. The slaw on it he marinated in pickling spices, which gave it a nice tang, more like a vinegar based slaw you’d find in German style food. The park actually just shared the recipe (and a demo of how to make it) on their blog if you want to try to make it at home!
The praline bread pudding might have been my favorite thing at the fesival. Chef Erick demonstrated making the buttery, carmely sauce, which of course was wonderful. But unlike typical bread pudding made with stale bread, Chef Erick decided to use croissant for the pastry itself. This made it an extra buttery bread, with a little flakiness. It meant it was both delicious, and a unique take on bread pudding.
Later in the day we were able to sample the rest of the dishes at Taste of Orleans. Also new this year were crispy fried frogs legs with a creole aioli, and a “hush puppy shrimp skewer”. The frogs legs were nicely fried in a crispy batter, and, like with the catfish, they didn’t have as much a fishy flavor as I’ve had with frogs legs in the past. If you’ve never had them before, they actually do have a similar texture to chicken (especially fried like this), with a slightly more seafoody taste. But, again, these were pretty mild. Oh, and if you want the recipe for them, the park has shared this recipe on their blog as well.
My friend tried the shrimp skewer, which Chef Erick described as like a Cajun, shrimp corn dog. It had a corn dog like outer coating, but the inside was filled with shrimp and sauce. My friend said it was surprising, and generously packed with shrimp. It was another example that showed the CGA culinary team is taking advantage of these festivals to be a little experimental with their dishes.
The final two dishes are ones that were on the menu last year, a chicken and sausage gumbo and the crawfish etoufee. The etoufee was a nice tasty stew, but particularly good on it was the crispy outer crust, almost pastry like. It made it kind of like a pot pie. The chicken and sausage gumbo was my favorite dish at last year’s Taste of Orleans, and again it stood out to me. It felt like maybe a little bit less hearty this time (I may have just been unlucky in how much sausage I got), but again it was well seasoned and had the perfect amount of spice. I cleaned my little cup of it (and considered going back for seconds, replacing my dessert).
The tasting card included classic beignets as an option for dessert instead of the bread pudding, as well. The beignets were good, but they weren’t really anything special. Definitely to take advantage of the unique flavors of the festival, the bread pudding is the way to go. Not on the tasting card was a muffeleta style pizza offered at Pizza Orleans. We didn’t try it, but the concept sounds intriguing.
Along with the food, there was also a mix of beer and wine available, either as full pours or six tastings for $25. The beer options included a mix of local northern california beers (overlaping with ones we saw at Red, White and Brews earlier this summer), and several from Abita Brewing out of New Orleans. Several of the Abita beers paired great with the cajun food.
The Sights and Sounds of Taste of Orleans
While the food is the main highlight of Taste of Orleans, the decorations and music throughout Orleans Place are a welcome attraction. Live music played throughout the day on two stages, from about 2 in the afternoon until just before the Fireworks display at night. The bands covered a range of New Orleans music, from brass bands to zydeco, and of the ones I got to listen to were all good. I wish the Redwood stage had been a little further towards the main midway to feel a little more in the middle of things, but the bands helped add to the lively atmosphere for sure.
Along with the music, there were lots of games for kids (or adults) to play, from giant checkers to corn hole. There was also the return of one of my favorite things from last year, a bunch of amazing sidewalk/chalk artists. We’ve posted a full album on our Facebook page showing the progression of all of the pieces throughout the day, but below are some of my favorites from the day I was there.
As night falls Orleans place lights up beautifully, with lots of great projected images and wonderful purple, green, and gold lighting on trees and buildings. The festival ends every night with a great Fireworks show that is worth sticking around for.
All in all it was great to see CGA bring Taste of Orleans back this year, and it seems they’ve stepped things up at least a bit. The food was good across the board, and the entertainment was a great atmospheric addition. I can’t wait to see what Chef Erick comes up with next season, and to see what are festivals the park might offer in the future (it’s been hinted a few times they want to do even more going forward).
Some Coaster and Construction Notes
We explored the rest of the park as well, and it looks CGA is having a solid summer. All the rides were running well. Patriot reminded me how much an improvement it is over Vortex, feeling mostly smooth on our ride today. It’s still not the most thrilling coaster, but definitely worth a ride. And the bold, pretty blue seems to be holding up in the sun so far!
Flight Deck was solid, and thanks to our morning demonstration I got to see it from a few new angles, which was fun.
Gold Striker was running fantastically. I swear it feels like it gets faster every season. I took a lot of rides on it throughout the day, and it never let me down. One odd note, one of the seatbelts in car three on one train wasn’t working, so that row was for single riders only. Kind of odd, hopefully they fix it soon.
Mass Effect remains fun, and both actors I got on the two rides during the day were good. I love the fact that the experience isn’t ever quite the same, as each guy has a different banter he has both with the guests and with the animated characters and narrative. As my friend described, it’s like a more exciting Jungle Cruise (I think the jokes are better too).
I even took a ride on Grizzly. It was surprisingly smooth, and didn’t feel quite as sluggish as usual. The operations remain agonizingly slow, though, mostly because of the old trains it’s using. I’ve got to think something needs to happen to it, whether it’s a major overhaul, or getting replaced, sooner rather than later. The ops are too slow to keep it around. As one of my colleagues pointed out on twitter, it doesn’t make sense that CGA hasn’t invested in new PTC trains for it, unless they don’t expect it to be around too much longer…
Finally, I did my best to check out the construction site for the new coaster coming to Great America. The site is actually pretty open despite the construction walls, and there’s clearly some work going on outside the construction walls. Oddly, the Invertigarden is not surrounded by walls yet. Most of what’s happened so far appears to be clearing trees and tearing up the ground, but it’s exciting to see how much has already been done.
The space blocked off is pretty big, but I still think there’s a good chance that when the summer season ends the construction area might expand out even further. If any of you have good eyes, definitely let us know if you see anything from the Star Tower view of the construction site (which does give a good sense of how big the work currently is). We’ll of course have official confirmation on things when the announcement comes on 8/16, but still fun to try to guess!
Alright, that’s all we’ve got from Taste of Orleans and California’s Great America. If you didn’t make it last weekend, you should definitely try to make it to the festival this weekend. The decorations for the festival were as great as last year, the live music makes for a great atmosphere, and the food was good across the board. If you do (or did) make it, let us know in the comments what your favorite dish from the festival was! If you need any more details on the event, check the CA Great America website. And be sure to stay tuned to Coaster101 for the upcoming details on California’s Great America’s new 2018 attraction (definitely follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook for the latest)!