Growing up in New Orleans, my seafood of choice was always shrimp. Only recently have I started to fully appreciate the culinary delights of alligator mississippiensis. American alligators, the kind found in Louisiana, are millions of years old. Powerful predators at the top of the food chain, they are big, scaly, and have eerie orange eyes that glow back at you on dark nights in the swamps. They are also downright delicious, and their most delicious form is alligator sausage. Alligator meat is not technically seafood, as it does not come from the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana gators live in freshwater swamps and slow-moving rivers known as bayous, so you might call it “swamp food.” To make sausage, the alligator meat is mixed with a little bit of pork to achieve the perfect texture.
Today,there are a growing number of places where you can try one. Dat Dog on boutique-filled Magazine Street is my personal favorite. This colorfully-painted, casual, local eatery specializes in gourmet sausages of all kinds, each served on hearty buns with a smorgasbord of toppings. As a bonus, they also feature a creative beer list with brews from all over the world. Even though Dat Dog hasn’t been around long by New Orleans standards, it is already becoming an institution. The Magazine Street location is currently the easiest to access. From the French Quarter/downtown area, just grab the hip #11 bus and hop off when you hit Louisiana Avenue. I order the alligator sausage topped with sauerkraut, Creole mustard and relish.
Another option is the gator po-boy. For those not in the know, po-boy is an important NOLA vocabulary word. It’s a sandwich, typically overfilled with a form of fried seafood such as shrimp or oyster, served on a long, crispy loaf locally referred to as “French bread.” Though not part of the traditional menu, more and more po-boy shops are offering alligator sausage, including Johnny’s on Saint Louis Street in the French Quarter and the perennially popular Parkway Bakery & Tavern by Bayou St. John. If your New Orleans accommodations include a kitchen, you could even cook your own gator sausage! Just grab a package at any Rouse’s, a local grocery chain headquartered in nearby, swampy Houma, Louisiana. An hour away at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, alligator sausage is even available at the famed Tiger Stadium’s concession stand!
All this alligator availability makes me one happy gator gourmand. My favorite part is that alligator meat is actually healthier for you than beef and chicken. Plus, alligator hunting and harvesting is a legal, regulated industry, so there’s no need to worry that your meal is contributing to the extinction of the last of the dinosaurs. Even though a lot of people visit New Orleans hoping to see an alligator in the wild, I advise that you should be hoping to see an alligator on your plate!