SGV Tribune

Ask Brad: What does a restaurant critic cook during a pandemic?

The stay-at-home order has forced restaurant critic Brad A. Johnson to spend more time in his kitchen, and he’s sharing a couple of his most cherished comfort food recipes.

Q: Hey Brad, what does a food critic cook while sheltering in place? 

A: While I still get most of my food from restaurants, I am currently cooking more than usual. I’ve been focusing on things that I can repurpose or freeze and eat again next week — and of course things that don’t require a lot of grocery shopping. So the first thing I made last week was a caesar salad and my famous meatloaf. 


Restaurant critic Brad A. Johnson’s meatloaf is inspired by the late Paul Prudhomme, legendary New Orleans chef and restaurateur (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)

I’m not the one who made it famous, though. The late Paul Prudhomme gets all the credit. Prudhomme was a legendary chef in New Orleans (Commander’s Palace, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen). 

More than a decade ago, while working at a different publication, I was chatting with Prudhomme about comfort food. I asked him for permission to publish his recipe for meatloaf, which was featured in his best-selling cookbook “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Seasoned America” (William Morrow, 1991). 

“You don’t want my recipe,” he said. “Publish your own.” 

“But I don’t have a good recipe, certainly nothing as good as yours,” I said. 

“Have you ever made my meatloaf?” he asked. 

I said, “Yes. All the time. That’s why I called you.” 

He laughed and said, “Tell me one thing you might do differently.” 

“Well, if I had to change one thing,” I said, “I might add some fresh garlic.” Prudhomme’s recipe calls only for garlic powder, a staple in many of his recipes. 

“There you have it,” he said. “That’s your recipe. Put your name on it. I don’t need the credit.”

I published that story with the recipe exactly has he wrote it. But over the years, as I’ve cooked this meatloaf time and time again, I have made a few small changes. I added that fresh garlic. And I like to swap the bell pepper with a poblano. But that’s about it. This is the best meatloaf recipe I’ve ever found (although the meatloaf at Craft House in Dana Point comes pretty close.)

This meatloaf doesn’t involve ketchup and doesn’t need sauce of any kind. This recipe makes enough for two loaves, one of which you’ll want to eat immediately out of the oven. The other will freeze nicely for a couple of months until you’re ready for more. 

Meanwhile, my caesar salad recipe comes from The Remington Room, the long defunct formal dining room of the Stephen F. Austin Hotel in Austin, Texas, where I once worked as head waiter and made this salad tableside a gazillion times. I wrote about this salad and the mentor behind it a few years back, but I didn’t publish the recipe. I’ve made this salad so many times I could do it blindfolded. This will forever be the benchmark by which I measure all other caesars. 

My famous (Paul Prudhomme’s) meatloaf

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Seasoning mix:

2 teaspoons dry mustard

2 teaspoons paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoons fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoons onion powder

1 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoons white pepper


8 slices bacon, thick, diced

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

1 poblano pepper, diced

1 cup chopped celery

2 large cloves garlic, minced

4 bay leaves

1 small can tomato sauce

1/2 cup evaporated milk

2 pounds ground beef

2 eggs, lightly beaten

12 saltine crackers, finely crushed (about 1/2 cup)

nonstick cooking spray

2  8”x4” loaf pans

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine all the ingredients for the seasoning mix, which you’ll use in Step 4 to make a classic New Orleans style mirepoix (similar to the first steps of an authentic gumbo).

3. In a big skillet, cook the bacon on high heat until all the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy but not burnt. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set it aside to drain, but leave all the grease in the skillet. You’ll think it’s way too much grease, but it’s not.

4. Return the pan of hot bacon grease to medium-high heat and add the onions, cooking until they start to change color. Add the garlic, poblano, celery, garlic, bay leaves and 2 tablespoons of seasoning mix. Cook about 4 minutes, stirring and scraping to make sure the vegetables are fully coated with the spices. Now add the remainder of the seasoning mix and cook another 5 or 6 minutes, stirring and scraping until the mixture starts to dry up and everything looks dark and heady. Discard bay leaves. The entire house should smell great now.

5. Fold the vegetables into a large mixing bowl and let them cool for a minute or two. Add the tomato sauce and milk.

6. In another large bowl, loosely combine the meat, cracker crumbs and eggs. Use your hands. Add the vegetable mixture and fold together until well blended, being careful to not pack it. Keep it as light and fluffy as you can.

7. Coat the loaf pans with nonstick spray, and divide the meatloaf between the two pans. Do not overfill or the grease will boil over while cooking. (It’s probably best to place the loaf pans on a baking sheet, just to be safe. This is really juicy meatloaf.) Bake for 45 minutes.

The Remington Room caesar salad

Makes 2 servings


1 cured anchovy

1 medium garlic clove

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Juice of 1/2 large lemon (about 2 tablespoons)

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup olive oil

1 small head of romaine lettuce, cut into bite-size pieces


1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1. Place the anchovy, garlic and black pepper in a large wooden bowl. Using two forks, mash and grind into a thick, smooth paste. 

2. Add the yolk, mustard, lemon and Worcestershire and mix until well blended. Gradually gradually add the oil, whisking vigorously until emulsified and creamy. 

3. Add the lettuce, croutons and half the cheese and toss well. Divide onto bowls and sprinkle the remaining cheese and lemon zest over the top. 

Got a burning question? Ask away. I might not respond personally, but you could see my answer here in the coming weeks instead.