The juicy, rusty-red, pepper-shot Creole hot sausage that Vance Vaucresson makes by hand goes into lengths of Leidenheimer bread for po-boys, just like the ones his family has served countless times at Jazz Fest for the past half century.
These days, the same robustly-flavored hot links also go onto tasting platters with other varieties, like crawfish sausage and jerk chicken sausage, with an array of accoutrements and mustards made in house. The sausage gets blended with red beans for a unique dip, and it’s sliced and planted over a cheddar- and onion-covered beef patty for a special burger with extra snap and deep Creole flavor.
These are some of the first tastes you’ll find at the new Vaucresson’s Creole Café and Deli in the Seventh Ward. Julie and Vance Vaucresson opened the doors here late in October after a journey that stretches to the dark days after Hurricane Katrina.
Vaucresson sausage has been a continuous part of the landscape of Creole flavor in New Orleans for generations, though it was laid low by the levee failures in 2005. Its long-time butcher shop and production facility on St. Bernard Avenue were wrecked, and attempts to bring it back stalled out through the years.
Vance Vaucresson kept the business going, however, using other facilities and making sure these flavors remained in rotation, by direct order and at events. Community support and encouragement kept the enterprise going and the wheels turning toward a full reopening.
“There were layers of conflict between us getting here, but at every step there was someone saying how they needed us to come back, how they needed to get this sausage again," Vaucresson said.
A Creole hub
Vaucresson opened the new Vaucresson’s Creole Café & Deli at the former butcher shop's original address. He brought it together with a partnership that includes the nonprofit Crescent City Community Land Trust, Liberty Bank and Edgar Chase IV, chef at his family’s famous Dooky Chase’s Restaurant.
While the footprint is the same, the structure is a complete rebuild and has been thoroughly redesigned along modern lines.
Vaucresson is on a mission and he sees the shop and café as a hub to propel it.
“It’s all about telling the story of our Creole culture and how so much of that comes through food and families, and that’s what you can connect here,” he said. “People out there are yearning for those connections to what once was.”
While the doors are open now and the sausage po-boys are coming off the grill, this new café is making its debut in stages.
Right now it’s serving lunch only while production ramps up and some finishing touches to the café take shape. Vaucresson is working towards a scheduled grand opening on Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving.
He plans to gradually expand the menu from its current slate of po-boys, burgers and appetizers to include more plates and home-style dishes. He also plans to expand hours and hopes to eventually add breakfast.
Befitting a heritage business entering a new chapter, the café has a modern feel with many touchpoints to the past. Reclaimed millwork flank an interior lined with large windows looking out on St. Bernard Avenue. From a seat at the diner counter you can watch Vaucresson make the next batch of hot sausage, just like he watched his own father and grandfather back in the day.
Links to the past
Vaucresson traces the roots of his family business back to Levinsky Vaucresson, who emigrated to New Orleans from France in 1899. Trained as a butcher, he had a stall at the St. Bernard Market, then part of a network of public food markets.
That market later developed into Circle Food Store, a one-of-a-kind grocery and community hub just two blocks from where Vaucresson’s is located today.
The butcher shop business was passed from one generation to the next and evolved through the years. By 1967 Vance's father, Robert "Sonny" Vaucresson Sr. had also opened a restaurant called Vaucresson's Creole Cafe on Bourbon Street, in what later became part of Pat O'Brien's. It was a rare example of a Black-owned business in the French Quarter in that era.
When the first Jazz Fest got underway in Congo Square, just outside the French Quarter, Vaucresson's Creole Cafe was one of the vendors that festival organizer George Wein tapped to showcase the flavors of New Orleans for the crowd. Those early crowds were small, but the family stuck with the festival and is now the only food vendor to be part of every Jazz Fest.
The opening menu at Vaucresson's Creole Café & Deli has a range of sausage po-boys (Creole hot and Creole chicken, Italian, crawfish, jerk chicken), a shrimp po-boy, the sausage-topped Creole burger, sides like onion rings and fries and appetizers including red beans and sausage dip, boudin balls and a sausage sampler platter.
The deli also stocks a selection of fresh sausage to cook at home.
Vaucresson’s Creole Café & Deli
1800 St. Bernard Ave., (504) 267-3850
Initial hours: Tue.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
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