The Little Jewel of New Orleans
The Little Jewel of New Orleans is a regional deli and grocer located in the heart of Chinatown, an enclave of the French Quarter in our backyard. When asked if the choice was deliberate to ground his Southern tradition in the ethnic neighborhood, avuncular head chef and owner Marcus Christiana-Beniger says, without missing a beat, "Oh, 100 percent, absolutely."
The space previously owned by Hoy King also doubles as a logistical convenience, as they inherited the smokers needed for sausage already in place from all those years of peking duck. The Andouille, Chaurice, Boudin, Tasso, and Louisiana Hot Links are all made in-house, as well as their dressings and desserts, like the NOLA-style bread pudding with whiskey sauce.
Though it’s been in the neighborhood only a few months, home-grown New Orleans fare stock the dense aisles, like Zapp's Cajun Dill Gator-Tators, Crystal hot sauce, and CoolBrew cold-drip coffee, right next to general store staples for the community as well, like the corner neighborhood bodega.
The cochon de lait po'boy is a tasty dip in the local pool—the cajun pulled pork cooked over low heat for twelve hours in a convection oven melts prettily into the creole slaw and pickles that balance the sandwich so well.
The muffuletta, a NOLA-deli staple consisting of Sicilian-sliced meat, three cheeses, and house-made olive salad, is served on a sesame-seeded loaf toasted just enough that resembled a nice, chewy New York bagel.
"People will ask, 'Where is your bread sourced?' and I just—get outta here—the reason the bread is so good is cause it's processed," lamenting the scrounging nature of certain subsets of LA eaters. "That's why you're eating arugula hoagie-bun po'boys," Marcus says, letting out a big bear laugh that breaks up the bayou jazz playing overhead.
There's a gum to the bite of the bread that's shipped direct from Louisiana's Leidenheimer Baking Company, with an egg-wash crust that holds up under the weight of braised meats and Blue Plate mayonnaise. "People from Texas will tell you it's just a regional thing, that Hellman's (Best Foods) is just as good, but they're wrong."
There was no hint of pretension in Christiana-Beniger's voice, who's lived downtown for eighteen years; only the polite, but straight-shooting Southern respect for family and tradition you'd expect New Orleans to be all about.