Making Praline Bacon in the Big Easy

A breakfast treat from New Orleans is equal parts confection and pan-fried comfort food: praline bacon. Elizabeth's Restaurant lays claims to having invented the delicacy.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

And now our food moment this weekend. In New Orleans, they say the food is so good it'll make you wanna slap your mamma. NPR's John Burnett visited one of the city's hidden breakfast spots and found it's true. He sends us this edible postcard.

JOHN BURNETT reporting:

Praline bacon. It seemed like the perfect southern marriage, sugar candy combined with fried pork. I was interested instantly, so we came to the café that claims to have invited it, Elizabeth's Restaurant on Gallier and Chartres, just across the levee from the Mississippi in the Bywater neighborhood. They were not flooded, and the 100-year-old building was able to reopen a month after the storm.

Unidentified Woman #1: Are you ready to order?

Unidentified Woman #2: I'll have the eggs Elizabeth with praline bacon.

Unidentified #3: I'll have the waffle, please, with praline bacon.

BURNETT: Okay, since it's almost Father's Day, in the interest of full disclosure, that's my family ordering breakfast. A hail fellow with a red face and a golf shirt comes up to the table. He's the restaurant owner, Jim Harp(ph), who has an interesting story himself.

Mr. JIM HARP (Owner, Elizabeth's Restaurant): I just recently took over the ownership about three weeks ago. Before that I was a catastrophe adjuster for 10 years, and Hurricane Katrina, basically, was my last storm, and I'd had, after 10 years of that, it was pretty much enough. So I had the opportunity to buy this. The previous owners were good friends of mine. So something good came out of Katrina in the fact that it brought us all here.

(Soundbite of kitchen)

BURNETT: While the praline bacon was cooking, I went into the kitchen to see how it was made.

Mr. BRIAN PECK (Chef): You got two praline and one biscuit and gravy, and two plain breakfast, right?

BURNETT: Sweating cooks in white jackets were steaming out poached eggs, ladling hollandaise sauce, flipping ham and sausage and fried eggs.

(Soundbite of eggs frying)

BURNETT: Chef Brian Peck, who trained at the California Culinary Academy, had his house in the Lower 9th Ward destroyed. He and his family are living temporarily across the river in Gretna. Peck says they sell six to seven trays of praline bacon a day. By the way, in Texas we say praline, in New Orleans they say praline. I'm using the local pronunciation in deference to their confectionary genius.

Mr. PECK: We start with brown sugar and pecans, grind it together, make a praline mixture. We blanch off our bacon, in other words we cook it about half-way, and then bring it out, de-grease it, put the praline on and then cook the rest of the way. That allows it to get crisp and be nice for serving.

BURNETT: Is this an only in New Orleans...

Mr. PECK: I've never seen it anywhere else. I have seen it in a few magazines like as candied bacon, different things, but I've never seen praline bacon. So yeah, I would say it's a New Orleans only thing, you know?

BURNETT: We waited. Two plates arrived. It looked strange, like somebody spilled something on the bacon. We ate. Jim Harp hovered.

Mr. JIM HARP (Waiter): Praline bacon, you like it?

Unidentified Woman: Uh-huh.

Mr. HARP: That stuff's so good it'll make a bulldog break his chain.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's a true thing. It's delicious.

Mr. HARP: It is.

Unidentified Woman #3: Mmm, it's sweet.

BURNETT: It was amazing. Like having the first and last meal of the day, breakfast and desert at once. Salty and sweet, like pouring syrup on your bacon, but better. And for the people who live in post-Deluvian New Orleans it was something else: the comforting taste of home. John Burnett, NPR News.

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