Driving into New Orleans was like having flashbacks from 2007. Over the river and through the swamp, to grandmothers house we go. In 2007 I organized a Katrina relief trip from Brown University. About 15 of us got in a couple cars and drove from Providence, RI to New Orleans. It was an epic 24-hour drive, which we completed in two days. It was a crazy idea, but it was probably one of the best and most rewarding trips. It’s amazing how much you can learn in such a short amount of time. This time around, I was here to enjoy New Orleans, a city I already had a great deal of love and respect for. We arrived to family friend, Pete McGraw’s place, mid-day. “Pretty girls are always welcome here.” He hugged us both, a true southern gentleman. I knew I liked Pete right away. He had a WWII style Quonset hut, “The Hut”, on Tchoupitoulas Street. The hut was a woodshop and warehouse on one side and a small apartment on the other, complete with shower, refrigerator and stove, not that we would be cooking with all the great food to be had. It was full of Dixie Beer signs and memorabilia, old parade float heads and al kinds of awesome antiques. Every year Pete and a bunch of friends participate in a parade where the floats are all either political satires or oversized genitalia. One of the leftovers in the hub was Pinocchio-nosed Bill Clinton with a few extra panties.
Our first stop with Pete was Domilise’s Po-Boy and Bar. We scrunched inside the door at the end of a line around the counter. There was hardly a menu to be found. This is one of those places where you have to walk in knowing what you’re getting. Nathaniel and I exchanged halves of shrimp and oyster Po-Boys, fully dressed. It was the perfect introduction to New Orleans. They were crispy, juicy, and very flavourful. This is an institution I was very happy to take part in.
For the next two hours or so Pete drove us around and gave us an insiders tour to New Orleans. We drove through the Garden District, the French Quarter, Frenchman St in the Marigny, and Uptown. It was a perfect re-acquaintance with the city I knew. At the end of the tour we stopped at a corner bar for a beer and the LSU football game.
After a quick recovery at the hut, we headed out to a stop we’ve been eyeing since it was recommended to us months ago. In early August we were in Rhode Island for one reason or another and stopped at Cooke and Brown Publik House for dinner. The bartender, Jennifer, chatted with us about our trip and before we left, handed us a long list of bars and eateries to visit on our trip. Cure was at the top of the list. We were given specific instructions to go to Cure and ask for Nick. We sat at the bar and it just so happened that Nick was our bartender. We sipped on a few perfect cocktails and nibbled on a short rib “debris” sandwich and a Frito pie. On top of mixing some tasty libations, Nick also handed us his short list of where-to-go’s for New Orleans. Armed with specific instructions, we headed out for Frenchman St.
Frenchman St is chock-full of great music and art. Early in the night we walked through an artists market with jewelry, photography, fabrics and fascinators. Later we swayed to some serious jazz at The Spotted Cat. We took an obligatory stroll down Bourbon St and even ordered a hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s. It was disgusting! I didn’t ask the recipe, but I’m pretty sure it was, in order: sugar, red #5, headache vodka and artificial flavoring. Unfortunately for us, we only discovered the dueling piano bar on our way out. Go there for the dueling pianos, not the hurricanes.
In the morning we needed some cardio to sweat out the red #5. Luckily for us the hut is a mere few blocks from Audubon Park. We did a quick loop sporting our Red Sox and Boston Bikes T shirts. Along the way we had a comment from a passerby, “F**k you Yankee.” He said rather loudly. We picked up the pace. Another overhead conversation was one 30-something man to another, “they brought her to therapy to cure her lesbianism.” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. The culture has changed. It was clear that we’re on the outside a bit here.
My mission for the day was finding the church I slept in two years in a row on my Katrina relief trips from Brown. After driving around the garden district for a while, convinced of the neighborhood, with no success. I finally called my former co-planner, Josh. With some research on his end, we finally made it to Carrollton United Methodist Church on South Carrollton St. It looked just the same. We parked the car and walked to Rue del la Course on Oak St, where we used to come for wifi and caffeine. The yerba mate latte was just as wonderful as I remembered. We noticed that Oak St was blocked off, so we asked a passerby what was going on. It turns out the annual Po-Boy festival was 30 min away. Perfect! We stuck around and walked the streets to scope out the offerings. We ended up with a crawfish sausage po’boy, but the offerings were endless. Stands were offering everything from Vietnamese pork po’boy to “The Godfather” Italian meatball po’boy to fried lobster po’boy. By the time we were full and leaving, only about an hour into the festival, there was a 5 block approximately 300-person line for the fried lobster po’boy. We were tempted by the crowd mentality, but the best lobster in the world comes straight out of my mothers pot in Boston, ma. No need to mess with that.
Next we headed to St James Cheese Company for a peak at the cheese offerings in NOLA. After a nice chat with a very knowledgeable cheesemonger, we shared a local beer and cheese plate. Pete and his sweet twin boys came to join us for a moment and chat before they headed off to see the new James Bond movie.
As soon as dinner hour hit, we were off in the car again past the Marigny and Bywater to the last street corner by the Mississippi River. There we found an A-frame sign reading: Bacchanal Wine. Bacchanal is worth a pilgrimage to New Orleans in and of itself.
It’s unbecoming from the outside. Poorly applied plaster is falling off the wall in odd spots exposing brick underneath and there are bars on the windows above a few stained white plastic chairs. It appears to be a seedy liquor and wine shop. Luckily we had been informed otherwise. We heard a faint whisper of jazz in the background and knew we were in the right place. Inside is a wine and liquor store, only when you buy the reasonably priced bottles, they open them for you on the spot. Then you head out a second door to a modest wooden patio with a petite bar serving cocktails in plastic cups. A little further into the trees and you find a whole back yard full of patio tables and chairs scattered amongst trees and around a stage where a band is setting the mood. We parked our bottle at a table and headed up to the kitchen window to order from the daily gourmet menu. Bacchanal’s kitchen regularly offers fine dishes like confit chicken leg with shaved carrots, frisee and pickled radish. We went with the beer steamed mussels with garlic, fennel, chorizo, cream and herbs, the house made pork rillette, and brussel sprout salad with red onions, apple, walnuts and sherry vinaigrette. Back at our rickety metal patio chairs, we relaxed in a cloud of jazz and satisfaction. A song or so later our food arrived, and it awesome. Simple delicious flavours piled on a plate in no practical order. The unapologetic casual atmosphere was such a welcome departure from anything I’ve experienced at home in Boston. If only we had the weather for that sort of thing.
The next day we decided to get away from downtown in another direction. We crossed the Mississippi River into Grenta, where we found Vietnamese restaurant Tan Dinh. Nick from Cure had passed this spot along to us. He told us the half order of quail is a must. Tan Dinh is unassuming from the outside, wedged in a strip mall row with a neon “Open” sign in the window. Through the glass doors stood a rickshaw holding a pile of menus. We ordered the two strangest bubble tea flavors I’ve ever seen: soursop and durian. I’ve never seen or smelled a durian before; they are famous for their armor-like exterior and stomach churning smell. The covered cup masked the smell and the taste was perfectly sweet-tart, but as the waitress warned us, the smell came back to haunt our breath later on. Soursop was good was well, but couldn’t outshine the fabled durian. Three seasoned and roasted lady quail came out in the half order with their wings and legs flailing in scandalous directions. We devoured all three leaving not a trace but white bones on the plate, just like mamma taught me.
We drove into Algiers Point, a spot across the Mississippi from downtown. It’s a sweet area of a few streets, some cozy looking restaurants and a coffee shop, where we decided to park for a while. We were greeted and welcomed by Sally, a small 5-month-old Feist puppy. Sally was without a leash and waiting expectantly for her owner, Gene, at the café doors. Once Gene came outside, Sally was all play, exploring the area and periodically coming back to us for pets and a quick check-in with dad. Gene was a friendly and knowledgeable gentleman; we chatted for a few hours about Sally, New Orleans, cooking, fishing, and sailing. By the end, we were so enchanted with him and Sally and their story that we nearly called the man in Mississippi, where Sally came from. After sitting on it for a few minutes, we realized a dog, no matter how small and sweet, would not be happy spending the first month with new owners in a car. We took the $3 ferry back across the Mississippi to downtown as the sun was going down.
We went to Butcher for a drink and left with some California recommendations and their boudin sausage recipe. It was a great establishment, with very friendly staff. Next we walked around the Warehouse arts area and found ourselves outside of Root, another of Jennifer and Nick’s recommendations. To quote the tip sheet Jennifer wrote for us, we are to visit Root for “foie gras and everything.” We sat ourselves at the vein granite bar and ordered “foie gras and everything.” The menage a foie consisted of foie-strami coated in pastrami spices with a rye crisp, foie-li pop rolled in pop rocks and wrapped in cotton candy, and dipp-in-foie with coconut water. They were crazy, and each one was wonderful in its own respect. The hot wings also can’t go without mentioning. They were hot and irresistible. It was one of those moments when even though your mouth and face are burning you cant seem to stop yourself from reaching for the next wing. Even the house-made kimchi had flecks of chili and was no relief. Root had delicious, artistic and polished food. It was an amazing experience.
Our last morning in New Orleans was bittersweet. We took our morning jog around Audubon Park before packing up and heading out to South Carrolton Street for our last stop, Boucherie. At 11am we were the first people in the door for lunch. We were the only people in the place for a while, so after we ordered we chatted with the wait staff, Hope and Matt. The duck confit po’boy had whole roasted garlic cloves and Creole seasoned tomatoes. It wasn’t delicate, but it was good. On the other hand, the pan seared turnips with olive butter, oranges and shaved brussel sprouts was quite elegant. The dish we will probably remember most vividly, however, will likely be the Krispy Kreme bread pudding. Hot, soft, sweet and gooey, that little square of dessert was everything we hoped it would be. We left New Orleans on that sweet note, and with the city of indulgence in our rearview mirror, we rolled towards the great state of Texas. I may never get my figure back.