Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Dedicated to "Magic Bread"

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Five words, punctuated with purpose: Magic. Bread. Oh.My.Yum. For those of you who either know me or my food blogging rather well know that the sound of hearing (let alone seeing) the illustrious Magic Bread prepared by Chef Justin Boehme and DaCroux of one of my most blogged about restaurants, Da Levee, makes my mouth water. Hands down, it is the reason (alongside the amazing atmosphere, friendly staff, and of course deliciously well-priced and consistently tasty Cajun food outside of Louisana) I continue to return to this small Short North restaurant packed with flavour, which has more recently been subtitled by "Roux Stews Brews." My self-professed (and perhaps overtly evident) love for Magic Bread (pfft, or all bread for that matter) is the impetus for this post, a post which I have been planning to write for the past many months. Indeed, my initial draft of what should have been this post--my dedication to Magic Bread in so many words--was based on my visit to Da Levee on National Food Day and the 68th birthday of the United Nations. A slightly edited (tense, word choice, general flow, etc.) form of those notes is embedded in this post. Complementing that experience are my general reflections and comments on Da Levee's offerings I've enjoyed (be prepared for a longer post) since that chilly autumn day, including Super Bowl fixings and today's trek for my favourite thing on the menu (next to Magic Bread): cheesy craw étouffée.

24 October 2013: Before I get to the meat of this post, I feel I need to preface it with the following context. Sitting on my lap, beneath a notebook upon which I have scribbled my notes, is a styrofoam container encapsulated by a plastic bag. I'm holding onto everything carefully so as to provide a sturdy writing surface. (Though, I'm more concerned that the sauces don't spill all over the place.) The anticipation of the meal I'm about to have is maddening. Despite my own fatigue from this week and the insurmountable amount of work that lay ahead, the only thing I can really think about is the food in the container.

Really, this story begins the evening prior. I had just come back from watching an advanced screening of About Time with Brianne and Nicole. As I updated my Facebook status declaring my enjoyment of the film, a different status popped up on the newsfeed. It instantly caught my attention, simply reading [or at least all I read was]: Maque Choux. My tastebuds went into a frenzy. It seemed illogical at the time, given we and Amanda had earlier been at Da Levee (ie, that evening). I had the half-and-half of chili cheese étouffée and the B&B [not pictured]. I didn't think I was as hungry as I was at the time; next thing I knew, I hadn't scribbled down any notes or taken any photos (gasp). My plate was practically pristine, cleaned off by the last remaining morsel of my carefully portioned Magic Bread, the principal character herein. Lesson learned then, I forced myself to write. Let me tell you it's not going well, with the smells of Cajun cuisine creeping out of their confinements and making their way to my senses.

There are few foods in life (okay, actually there are a lot) that kickstart my salivary glands. Magic Bread is towards (if not at) the top of that list, right next to bacon, of course. In part, the thought of more Magic Bread motivated today's return trip to Da Levee for a half-and-half of the maque choux (an étouffée, with caramelised corn, chikin', and chorizo) and crawfish étouffée.

Without question, some of the best foods in life are the simplest. And Da Levee's Magic Bread is one of them. In fact, it's seemingly too simple, you may even feel the desire to try and replicate it at home. And still, there's a special je ne sais quoi that I taste when the folks at Da Levee prep the bread themselves. Moreover, there's a sense of comfort in letting go of such a notion as making it yourself and instead just letting them take care of the Magic Bread themselves. I'm not sure I'm conveying my thoughts clearly (really, I'm just getting hungry again), but I feel a sense of restraint and uneasiness at the thought of me trying to make my own version of Magic Bread. It's an iteration forever linked to the first moment I tried the soft, airy bread loaf sandwiched between crisp crusts, one of which is packed with layer upon layer of what taste like oils, herbs, seasonings, and a touch of the Cajun south. For me, it's a gastronomic emotion that I personally never want to have muddled by my own involvement in that process.

Super Bowl XLVIII: But such desires must come to a temporary halt. For the past three years (XLVXLVI, and XLVII) I have drawn upon the Super Bowl as culinary inspiration, predominantly cooking during each of those games. Last year, I made "Super Biscuit Bowls" as the Ravens and the 49ers duked it out in New Orleans. This year, a post on Facebook once again directed my attention to Da Levee, and the suggestion to cater food from Da Croux just made a lot of sense. As you can see in the above photos, Wade not only handed me a bag of food, but two loaves of Magic Bread. First off, I was elated at the thought of bringing home loaves. But then I realised I would need to toast them myself if I wanted them as fresh and warm as possible. Cue just a touch of fear of messing this one up.

As expected, the at-home version of Magic Bread (which is pre-oiled before it leaves the restaurant) was close but just not the same (I definitely over toasted it). Nevertheless, it fit in with our spread of foods that were served or could be eaten in a bowl. In the bowl on the right, I should note, are the succotash (with chorizo & smoked sausage), the pollo pozole (with corn, black beans, cilantro, lime, hominy, and kikin' chikin'), and the red beans and smoked sausage (slow cooked with the Trinity & garlic). [As an aside, I'd like to further note I got the toasting closer to perfection (though still not quite) when I tried again for Alex and Brianne.] By the way, thanks to Amanda, Brianne, Daniel, and Nicole for amusing me by participating in our "Celebration of Bowls" theme!

12 February 2014: To complete this post, I turn once again to Facebook and Da Levee's page, on which I once again read great news. Every Wednesday, my favourite Da Levee dish, i.e., cheesy craw étouffée is being concocted in Da Kitchen. After (arguably) much exercised patience over the past week (is that all?!), I went with Brianne on a proverbial pilgrimage to Da Levee, currently located directly across from Da Igloo.

Our goals--cheesy craw étouffée for me, and in the end a half and half of jambalaya and chicken Creole for Brianne--were achieved successfully, the journey capped off with extra Magic Bread (as most meals between us typically are).

And with such brevity towards the end here, I must sign off and sleep off this once again illogical hunger. In closing, I want to emphasize that since my first blog post of Da Levee nearly two years ago to last spring's 3-year anniversary to this evening's truly (ful)filling dinner (I can still recall the taste of the tender crawfish smothered in dat cheesy sauce sitting atop the toasted Magic Bread... oh.my.yum.), Chef Justin and Da Croux continue to produce some of the most enjoyable and reliable meals I have ever had. It's rather surreal to look back at my photos and recall my food memories of visits past, to see visible changes in the menu boards and the restaurant itself, and yet to remain forward-thinking and confident that there are many more photos, memories, and innovations to blog about in the future. I feel like I'm running out of the proper words and/or coherence, so I'll officially conclude now-- hungry for more. For photos from today's dining experience in the Short North, click here.

Have you been to Da Levee? What's your favourite dish off Da Board? Comment below!

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