I was perusing the internet, looking for somewhere to go for New Year’s Eve when I ran across an article titled, “10 Ways to Lose Weight on Vacation.” It included tips like, “Pack portable exercise equipment,” “Surround yourself with Health Food,” “Avoid alcohol,” and “Dine in.”
This gave me some pause.
It was late December and I had already been celebrating Thanksgiving for 29 days because I think one day is woefully inadequate for a celebration that includes stuffing and potatoes in the same meal and pretty much requires that you eat at least three kinds of pie. I was soon to replace my 29-day Thanksgiving celebration with my Christmas celebration, which would require a minimum of 10 days to ensure I had consumed an adequate amount of red velvet cake, reindeer cookies, and potato casserole to hold me over until next year.
The truth is, my pants were getting a little tight. I found myself doing the “jumping dance” to get into my jeans more days than not and had taken to wearing them several times before washing them to get the maximum fit factor. (Every woman knows that washing your jeans is like instantly gaining 15 pounds.)
I had been wearing a lot of stretchy pajamas and sweat pants.
Maybe Matt and I needed to do one of those spa vacations for New Year’s Eve? You know, spend a few days in the desert drinking hemp milk and avoiding gluten while doing lots of yoga and mountain biking.
As I sat at my computer contemplating this possibility, I stuffed another piece of fudge in my mouth and hit the “Escape” button.
Not a fan of the Starvation Vacation, I decided to take an Alcoholiday. We were going to blow out the year end properly by heading to one of my favorite cities for eating & drinking: New Orleans.
Time to pack the elastic waist pants!
It was Sunday afternoon when the cab dropped us off at our cottage in the French Quarter. We didn’t even waste time unpacking, but unceremoniously dumped our bags by the door and headed around the corner to Johnny White’s for a Bloody-Mary-To-Go. This place was small and divey, but the Bloody Mary was made slowly and with lots of Worcestershire and spicy pickle juice, just the way I like it.
We walked to Canal Street to pick up our friends at their hotel and go in search of food. I gave them a choice for lunch: classy jazz brunch or old school dive?
We made the short walk over to Mother’s and the line wasn’t too bad. After a short wait, we were ushered into the crowded dining room, got in the cafeteria style line, and perused our laminated menus, smeared with grease and crowded with offerings like file gumbo, red beans & rice, fried seafood platters, and bread pudding. When I reached the cashier I ordered the debris po’ boy and their “world famous” bloody mary.
This red brick building has been open since 1938 serving up classic New Orleans dishes like jambalaya and gumbo, but their claim to fame is their famous baked ham and their debris po’boy.
The first time I went to Mother’s, I said “no” to the debris. I mean….. “debris?” Isn’t that garbage? Rufuse? I had no idea what it was and I wasn’t going to find out. I may eat a lot of things, but a garbage sandwich, I think not.
After my husband’s juicy sandwich came out, I learned the error of my ways.
Folklore in New Orleans says that po’boy roast beef is done when it falls apart from a hard stare. Debris is just that……. Tiny bits and pieces of roast beef shreds that have been cooked until they fall apart and are left to simmer for hours to absorb more juice and seasoning. Swimming in juicy gravy, the debris is topped with shredded cabbage, sliced pickles, mayo, and Creole mustard and is served on a soft white roll that you can only find in New Orleans.
They say the quality of a po’ boy is gauged by the number of napkins required to eat it. There is nothing quite as satisfying. Or as messy.
It was late afternoon and we were right around the corner from Luke, home of the 50 cent oyster happy hour, so we headed that way. Luke is a highly acclaimed restaurant that is supposed to have excellent food, but I will never know because, so far, I have only been able to go in there for oyster happy hour. Maybe one day I will actually make it in there for a proper meal.
For now, I must remain content with watching Matt slurp his way through 4 dozen oysters while I sip my half price cocktail.
All of this eating had left us tired. My OCD had also kicked in and I could think of nothing but the pile of unpacked luggage sitting by my door with all of my clothes wrinkling by the minute. We all headed back to our “places” for some downtime (i.e., stomach stretching exercises, purging, and donning of elastic waist pants).
Since we went low rent for lunch, we decided to class things up a bit at dinner and had a 9:00 reservation at a new French Quarter hotspot, Kingfish. This left plenty of time for a cocktail at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar before dinner.
We managed to snag a table in the tiny bar, which was a miracle in itself. Repeatedly lauded as one of New Orleans’ best bars, this place had old school class. The centerpiece is the gleaming wood bar, custom built in the late 1800’s, but the soft lighting, animal print fabrics, 1920’s French music, and (my personal favorite) the monkey lamps, conjure up an atmosphere that makes you feel you’ve stepped back into an elegant bygone era. The bar is famous for one of New Orleans’ signature cocktails, the French 75, a delicious blend of cognac, champagne, lemon juice, and sugar.
Sitting on a velvet cheetah print chair, sipping my French 75, I may as well have been Daisy Buchanan.
We enjoyed it so much we nearly missed our dinner reservation.
Kingfish is a fairly new restaurant on the New Orleans dining scene. With a vibe that is reminiscent of the 1920’s or 30’s, it was a perfect follow-up to our Arnaud’s cocktail hour. With robust dishes, an unconventional food and cocktail menu, and a chef mentored by Paul Prudhomme, I could quickly see why this restaurant is a current favorite.
Dinner started off with a unique cocktail. The Cable Car was a blend of spiced rum, lemon, dry curacao, and cinnamon, served in a glass with a generous rim of cinnamon sugar.
Appetizers included the Butternut Squash Lobster Bisque, a creamy blend of Carribean lobster, butternut squash, and crème fraiche, and the Shrimp Prima, two jumbo gulf shrimp stuffed with blue lump crab meat, wrapped in prosciutto and served over a tangy candied pecan cole slaw.
For dinner, I dove into the Cochon de Lait Pot Pie: a tender pastry bowl filled with shredded slow roasted pork (cochon), crab boil potatoes, English peas, and carrots.
It was no surprise that we couldn’t make it to dessert.
We walked it off with the obligatory trek down Bourbon Street. Our friends had never been to New Orleans, and we wanted to make sure they had the experience.
There were plenty of drunk 20 year-olds, three-for-one drinks, boas, beads, and Saints fans celebrating their win against Tampa Bay, earning them a place in the playoffs. To say they were celebrating was an understatement.
Matt's friend wanted to try a hand grenade. Not a fan of something that looks suspiciously like anti-freeze and tastes like corn syrup and gasoline, I took a pass. Seriously, if I am going to consume something with that many calories, it’s going to come with frosting.
We took an early morning walk and enjoyed the Christmas decorations that many of the houses still had on display.
We told our friends to meet us at Café du Monde. They asked what it was and I told them a “coffee stand.”
I think they were trying to decide if I meant a metal building manned by a guy named Frank that might drop the ashes from his Marlboro into our styrofoam cup or if I meant a shop painted in a painfully neutral palette playing oppressively boring acoustic music while a grim faced barista smirks superiorly when people ask for flavored syrup.
They were pleasantly surprised when they saw the quaint patio that looked less like an airport kiosk and more like an open air café you might see in Paris. If you hit it at the right time, like first thing in the morning when the mist is still rolling off the Mississippi River and there are no patrons in line, when the staff, in their starched aprons and stiff paper hats, are still pulling the green vinyl chairs from the table tops….Cafe du Monde is romantic. It reminds you of a time when people wrote actual letters on notecards with a pen and dressed nicely to go out for a meal. When coffee was accompanied by a crisp newspaper, not an iPad and it was served in a heavy ceramic cup, not cardboard.
Unfortunately, we were not there at that time. Thanks to those stupid hand-grenades, the guys had slept in and by the time we reached Café du Monde, the line stretched farther than I could see and the place was more reminiscent of a queue at Disney, filled with families from Kalamazoo armed with money belts, name badges, and guide books, ready to check “coffee and beignets” off of their spreadsheet.
I promptly made my way to the take out counter and in moments, had my coffee and beignets. So what if my romantic café experience was relegated to a paper bag and a metal bench. Call me a tourist cliché, but my day in New Orleans has to start off with a chicory laced cup of hot café au lait and a bag of crispy-soft beignets drowning in powdered sugar.
You can never have too much powdered sugar.
Because Matt and John were expecting a proper lumberjack breakfast and only got a bag of glorified doughnuts, they were hungry again by 10:30 a.m. We stumbled into the Gumbo Shop, located right off Jackson Square. It was warm inside and they were just setting up for lunch.
We ordered up some barbequed shrimp and chicken and Andouille gumbo.
For a blatantly touristy restaurant, the Gumbo Shop served up some pretty good gumbo. It gets its fair share of respect from locals, being voted one of the best gumbos in the city every year. It was quaint inside, all frescoed out with wall murals of old New Orleans and light streaming in from the courtyard out back.
Bellies full of gumbo at 11:30, we decided the best way to prepare for lunch was by walking down Royal Street to see some of the street performers. My self-diagnosed adult ADHD kicked in en route, however, when….BUBBLES!
Matt tried to drag me away. We got about 4 feet and then…..
After about 15 minutes, my self-diagnosed adult ADHD kicked in again and the bubbles were no longer extraordinary.
We made a pit stop at the Pirate’s Alley Café and Absinthe House because 1) it’s cool in a small-dark-looks-like-you’re-on-a-pirate-ship kind of way and 2) we needed a restroom. Okay, it was mostly the bathroom thing, but the bonus was that the place was small and dark and looked like we were in a pirate ship. And……
For someone who is easily distracted, New Orleans is an exhausting place.
It had been at least two hours since our last feeding, so another food stop was in order. Somehow, we lucked into immediate seating at the Napoleon House where we tried the original Pimm’s Cup and their version of the famed muffaletta.
We had barely wiped the olive spread off our chins before Matt was dragging us back to Luke for oyster happy hour.
While Matt ordered up several dozen oysters, I took the classy route and ordered french fries and champagne.
You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can never take the trailer park out of the girl.
Look y’all! It even came with a little ketchup bottle! Fancy.
Emboldened by the champagne, I decided to try the official cocktail of New Orleans, the Sezerac. American’s first cocktail was created in 1838 in a French Quarter bar. Rye whiskey, sugar, Herbsaint, bitters, and lemon peel served neat….this cocktail packed a punch…New Orleans style.
Our next stop was Southern Costume Company, just outside the French Quarter. The guys had decided to go “all out” for New Year’s Eve. In a city where you can see a man in fishnets walking a miniature pony wearing a wig and sneakers for no reason other than it’s a Tuesday, you have to come up with something pretty special to attract attention.
Something maniacal had possessed my normally introverted-to-the-point-of-being-mistaken-for-deaf husband. The man least likely to draw attention to himself had made a decision and there was no turning back.
While the guys tried on their attire, we were allowed to wander.
Southern Costume Company provides theatrical quality costumes for the official Mardis-Gras parades and for local theater companies. Their costumes were not the “cheap polyester made in Taiwan”variety, but were handmade or vintage pieces.
And there were THOUSANDS.
As I stood in front of a handmade mermaid costume running my hands along the hundreds of shimmering metal tabs that had been hand fastened to the tail, I looked over and saw and exquisitely beaded Marie Antoinette gown.
I was surrounded by spandex and glitter. I was high on the smell of old hats and shoe polish. I decided then and there that my greatest fantasy is to be locked inside a costume shop overnight.
Happiness is a costume shop.
They finally managed to pry the mermaid costume out of my hands and drag me out of there.
Another group of friends was meeting us in New Orleans that night having just arrived from Dallas. They wanted to eat at Acme Oyster House, so we headed that way while John & Kelley went to their room to put on their elastic waist pants freshen up. I mean, we hadn’t eaten in at least an hour and running from the employees of the costume shop with that Marie Antoinette wig on my head had been exhausting, so it probably was time to eat again.
I’ll be honest, though. I don’t love Acme. I don’t dislike it, I simply don’t think the quality of the food is worth the time spent standing in line. Spending an hour in line needs to be for something important…..like clean water during a natural disaster or a bowl of soup during the Great Depression.
If I am going to stand in line for over an hour simply for the privilege of eating at a restaurant, the food needs to be so good it’s like a religious experience when I put it in my mouth.
Either that…… or someone needs to be handing out free cocktails.
Acme Oyster House is the kind of place I wouldn’t mind running into for a meal if I was in a big hurry and it was the only thing within a 20 mile radius and there was no wait.
But to wait in line for an hour on a dirty New Orleans sidewalk to eat a very average meal that is insanely overpriced is simply wrong. Acme is overhyped.
Unfortunately, the only other female in the group was still in her hotel room and it’s where all the guys wanted to eat, so I was outnumbered 6 to 1. Not that 6 to 2 would have been significantly better odds.
To add insult to injury, as soon as we got in line they said, “Wait right here, we’ll be right back.” Forty minutes passed. I was getting dangerously close to the door and the little Line Nazi with the Clipboard kept reminding me that I would not be seated if my entire party was not present. He also threw in the fact that the restaurant was closing soon and if my party was not present when I reached the door, we would be turned away in disgrace.
I was just about ready to mutiny and go find myself a proper meal when the guys showed up, empty drink cups in hand.
Seriously? Not only did they leave me standing alone in a cold line for 40 minutes….they did it so that they could go sit inside a warm bar and have drinks????? And they didn’t even think to bring me one back?????
Even chargrilled oysters and a fried soft shell crab platter couldn’t make up for that.
To make up for abandoning me on the sidewalk at Acme the night before, Matt took me for breakfast at Stanley! and didn’t even make any snarky comments when I ordered the bananas foster french toast with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream and an extra, extra large mimosa.
It was a gray morning, so we decided to jump aboard the St. Charles streetcar for some mansion and cemetery gawking.
At least until we got hungry again.
We walked down to Magazine Street with no idea where to grab a bite and I saw that we were standing across the street from Dat Dog.
The truth is, you can’t enter Dat Dog without feeling happy. They are making the world a better place by providing it with wieners made out of uncommon ingredients like duck sausage, crawfish, and alligator and covering them with all manner of toppings like bacon, Andouille sauce, Asian slaw, and crawfish etouffee. If that doesn’t do it for you, the brightly painted building and the staff clad in Hawaiian shirts will.
I warmed up with a Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum Hot Cider which was delightfully topped with salted whipped cream and toffee bits while I waited for my white trash fries (think chili cheese fries with bacon on crack) and mountain of hot dog.
My eating plans for the day had only gotten started, so much like a coach tells a player to "shake it off," I encouraged everyone to “walk it off” by doing some Magazine Street shopping.
It was late afternoon and a steady drizzle had started to fall. My feet were tired and I was getting cold. I could think of no better place to go than Port of Call for a giant burger and ridiculously overstuffed potato.
It has a big heavy door and when you walk inside, it is so dark that you feel like you should look at the person standing next to the door and say something like “the muskrat sleeps at noon” to gain access. Port of Call is crowded. It’s dark, the only source of light being an oversized aquarium that runs parallel to the bar. It’s divey. I think the ropes and nets hanging from the ceiling have been untouched since the place first opened in 1963.
I don’t think I would want to see this room in bright light. It would be the equivalent of the guy that picks up a hot blonde on a Friday night only to discover that in the bright light of the morning, she’s a 78 year old man with a club foot.
Go at the wrong time of day and you could wait an hour or more (and I have already made my thoughts clear on waiting for food), but go at the right time of day, you don’t wait very long for one of the best burgers you’ll ever have.
The fist-thick burger was made from a half pound of two-way chuck that is fresh ground daily and cooked over an open flame. It was perfectly charred on the outside and juicy and pink on the inside. It was a monster and it took my beef-loving breath away. They don’t serve fries at Port of Call, so the burger came with a loaded baked potato. If the burger was a monster, then the potato was a colossal beast. Loaded with butter, sour cream, a mound of cheese, chives, mushrooms and bacon, it elevated the Port of Call experience to another level.
The entire experience, however, was not complete until my burger and potato were accompanied by Port of Call’s signature cocktail, the Neptune’s Monsoon. The diesel strength, but oh so delicious, drink was served up classy-style in a 32 ounce plastic cup.
It was the perfect combination of food and drink to send me off toward a nice afternoon nap.
You see, it was New Year's Eve and we had a long night ahead of us.
I know what you are thinking. "New Year's Eve in New Orleans? ARE YOU CRAZY?" New Orleans, a city that takes pride in its hard partying skills, is practically made for New Year's Eve. No doubt there would be plenty of revelers. I imagined that every 10 feet there would be someone throwing up, someone dancing, or a band playing while beads flew through the air. It seemed there was a party in every hotel, in every restaurant, and on every street corner. To top the evening off, there would be a giant street party in Jackson Square complete with fireworks, a fleur-de-lis drop, and live music.
It couldn't be any worse than the year we decided to spend NYE in Times Square and lasted exactly 13 minutes locked in our "grid" in 8 degree temperatures before decided that having ready access to a bathroom, a warm place to sit, and a bottle of champagne were worth ditching the grid and spending NYE watching the festivities from our corner suite windows rather than spending it in single digit temps about 8 blocks from the actual ball drop with some guy named Dino that was likely to either vomit on Matt or pee on my shoes before the night was over.
Besides, I had made us some dignified plans. I did not intend to spend my evening with a bunch of 19 year old drunks showing their boobs for beads.
We had reservations for our party of 8 at Tableau, Dickie Brennan's newest restaurant, housed with Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, one of the oldest community theaters in America, with roots stretching back to 1916. With an impressive foyer leading to a grand staircase and a maze of cozy, elegant dining rooms, this new restaurant was already considered one of New Orelans most sophisticated hot spots. The marble bar, crystal chandeliers, and massive arched fan windows create an enchanting atmosphere for Chef Ben Thibodeaux to perfect his culinary masterpieces. We had a 9:30 reservation which would allow us time for a leisurely dinner and give us just enough time to step outside the front door into Jackson Square to enjoy the fireworks at midnight.
I had a gorgeous dress, some dazzling heels, and a bottle of champagne. I hadn't left any details to chance. It was going to be a spectacular evening.
You know how they say that the way you spend New Year's Eve will define how you will spend the rest of the upcoming year? My vision was to spend it in a beautiful dress, surrounded by good friends, having fun, and topped off with a romantic kiss from the love of my life as fireworks exploded in the sky.
Unfortunately, MY vision of New Year's Eve and Matt's vision of New Year's Eve were not exactly on the same page. There was that little detail about the costumes.
Oh yes he did.
Apparently, I am doomed to spend 2014 following my dumb or dumber husband from about 10 paces back to ensure he doesn't shake his ass so hard that he splits his peach polyester pants or drop his top hat onto a vomit stained sidewalk.
Oh dear lord.
Dinner was an uncomfortable 2 hours spent trying to enjoy my truffled crab claws and BBQ shrimp and grits, while my husband and his friend continued to call our waiter "Cordon Bleu" and proceeded to river dance for all of the patrons. The manager kept coming upstairs, no doubt because the light fixtures were shaking below. I could tell by his face that he wanted to ask us to leave, but the other patrons were enjoying the show so much that there was no way he could do that without looking like a jackass.
I was torn between complete humiliation, extreme discomfort, and absolute hilarity.
I got my kiss at midnight and then spent the next few hours watching as half of New Orleans had their New Year's Eve photo taken with Lloyd and Harry.
I'm pretty sure Matt is in at least a dozen YouTube videos and an obscene number of cell phone photos. I feel certain he made quite a showing on any number of Facebook pages that night and I think he is engaged to about 4 women.
I hope it's a myth that the way you spend New Year's Eve is how you will spend your year. Here's my alternative theory: Start the New Year in the most horrible way possible. Because, as long as you don't die, it will only get better from there.
After THAT night, New Year's Day demanded a big, greasy breakfast that was carb loaded.
That's why we headed to Camellia Grill for strong, hot coffee, a pecan waffle, and a breakfast platter with fried eggs, toast, bacon, and a pile of hash browns smothered in ketchup, just like I ate them when I was a kid and we'd stop at Waffle House on the road from Atlanta to Tennessee to visit my grandmother.
I'd like to say that Matt and I shared that food, but in complete honesty, that was my breakfast.
We walked around a quiet city. New Orleans was licking her wounds, trying to recover from the previous night's revelry.
It had been fun, but it was time to go home, repent, and try to come up with some New Year's Resolutions that would make up for all the indulgence of the holidays.
It's now late January and we've sworn off sugar and anything that comes in a solo cup. I have promised to work out every day. I even just completed a cleanse where I consumed nothing but algae smoothies, aloe juice and fiber for 3 days. I can't remember the name of the cleanse, but I think it was called….oh yeah……… anorexia. The cleanse was a mixed blessing. Sure, I got rid of all those New Orleans toxins. I purified. I think purged my system. But I also fell asleep at work, fantasized about eating a squirrel that was outside my window, and almost crapped my pants in a Walgreens.
Maybe I'll stick with the whole food and alcohol thing in 2014 after all.
Happy New Year!