Great Things I Ate During a Weekend In the French Quarter
01.03.2013 - 04.03.2013
The first time I went to New Orleans I was 19. I was working my way through college and I had been living on chicken leg quarters and Ramen noodles for over a year. We made the drive in my dove gray 1981 Pontiac T1000 and my muscles were sore by the time we got there, because the car had no power steering or power brakes. Four of us shared a cheap room at the Holiday Inn. I was young and poor, and the only food I splurged on while in New Orleans was a savory bowl of gumbo at the Gumbo Shop.
Laugh if you will, but in 1989 a bowl of seafood okra gumbo cost the equivalent of two 10-lb. bags of chicken leg quarters, and I could survive on those leg quarters for weeks.
The memory of that steaming bowl of gumbo still makes my mouth water. It was worth every penny.
I may not be 19 anymore, but heading to New Orleans is still as exciting to me as it was on that first trip.
Many people associate New Orleans with nothing more than the debauchery of Bourbon Street. They feel the only reason to go there is to be clad in beads while carrying a 28 ounce Big Gulp cocktail down the street. To think New Orleans is nothing but Bourbon Street is like saying New York City is nothing but Times Square. Bourbon Street is essential, don't get me wrong, but a quick stroll will show you a neon blazed circus filled with hard working transvestites that will let you take their picture for a dollar, strippers trying to lure you in with fish net tights and neon lipstick, and an overabundance of cheap frozen drinks in tacky souvenir cups that are strong enough to eat the chrome off Grandma Laverne's 1978 Lincoln Continental.
Don't see Bourbon Street at all and you'll wonder what you missed, but spend more than 5 minutes and you’ll have wasted valuable time better spent elsewhere.
New Orleans has so much more to offer than Bourbon Street. Let’s start with the architectural wonders that present themselves on every block. The place simply oozes history. You feel like a ghost or a pirate is lurking behind every gated door or in every shadowy courtyard. And what about the music? This city is so musical that you literally can’t walk a full block without hearing live music. Whether it’s pouring out the doors of a jazz club or being pumped through a tinny amp on the street corner next to a cardboard box reading, “Big Tips Only,” there is literally music everywhere.
You also can’t walk a block without running into original art. Turn your head for a moment while walking and you’ll no doubt run head-first into some guy offering to paint your dog from an iPhone picture or lining up original paintings against a fence that rival anything you’ve seen in your local gallery. And the shopping…..you can find everything from estate antiques to vintage war pistols, from colorful designer dresses to size 12 heels in glitter green.
Above all, though, I head to New Orleans for the food. Still taunted by that first cheap date with New Orleans, where she flaunted her goods but only let me hold her hand, is it any wonder that when I return to New Orleans today, all I want to do is eat? New Orleans is a wonderland of sublime eating experiences.
I had three days and planned to see just how much damage I could do.
Friday: Laissez les bons temps rouler!
When you fly your own plane, it’s hard to predict exactly when you are going to arrive in a place. We aren’t Delta and we can’t pinpoint our arrival to the minute. Oh wait, neither can Delta. Regardless, this makes it difficult for a compulsive planner like myself to know exactly what time to make a lunch reservation. Because compulsive planners can’t imagine NOT having a lunch reservation.
That’s why, at approximately 12:23, I began twitching like a 4 year old with ADHD that had just sucked down a 2 liter of Mountain Dew. I had a 12:30 lunch reservation and our wonderful hosts were still showing us around our rental for the weekend. While I was enjoying getting a thorough tour of what I am pretty sure is the most perfect historic townhouse in the French Quarter…I HAD LUNCH PLANS!
Like an idiot, I had worn high heeled boots on the way down, with every intention of changing into flats before walking to lunch. Because we were now in an extreme hurry, changing shoes was out of the question. Expecting a very clumsy person to walk in a hurry on ancient, uneven sidewalks in a pair of high heeled boots is a very, very bad idea. About halfway there, I started sweating, whether it was from the worry of doing a face plant on Chartres Street, from the heavy sweater that I had needed when we left cold TN but that was excessively warm in Louisiana, or from the fear that the possibility of a missed meal instills in my heart, I am still not certain.
We made it to SoBou before they crossed our names of the list. I was only moderately sweaty and both heels were intact, so we’ll call that a success story. Hot Jambalaya! We had made it to the Twenty Five Cent Martini Lunch.
You heard that right. Twenty-five cent martinis. You can choose a vodka or gin martini, pink gin, commander’s palace cha cha, or a pink elephant’s on parade for a quarter, with the purchase of an entrée. They do, however, limit you to 3 because, as the menu states, “that’s enough.”
A two bit martini later, everyone forgot that they were mad at me.
SoBou is located inside the sleek W Hotel, but it’s no hotel restaurant. An offshoot of the Commander’s Palace family of restaurants, SoBou (South of Bourbon) aims to create a stylish restaurant where the cocktails are inventive and the menu is filled with snacks that encourage sharing.
We chose to share The Fries, which were deliciously salted skin-on fries served with your choice of cayenne ketchup, pimento cheese fondue, or pickled okra mayo. I’ll have the pimento cheese fondue, please.
Because hearing the words “share” and “food” in the same sentence causes me to have immediate heart palpitations, I drew the line at sharing the appetizer and told everyone to get their own entrée. I had the crispy chicken on the bone: four adorable little Tanglewood Farms drummies with crispy skin and a Crystal hot sauce sweet soy glaze. Matt had the juicy SoBou Burger.
We couldn’t end the meal without dessert. I mean, I had run 4 blocks in heels. I deserved something, right? The chocolate coma bar was calling to me. It was a flourless dark chocolate torte layered with white chocolate mousse, topped with candied pecans and sea salt caramel covered in milk chocolate. Apparently, the pastry chef did not feel this was enough decadence and also added a shot of chicory coffee milkshake.
Oh sweet little plastic baby Jesus buried in a king cake. This was beyond good. This was pure happiness.
We shopped our way back to the townhouse, stopping in at some great little clothing boutiques and one amazing store filled with designer markdowns. Shopping thrown on top of martinis and lunch? We were definitely off to a good start.
I love walking the streets of New Orleans. You never know what you are going to see and everything from the artistic to the downright weird takes on a level of "okay-ness" that it just wouldn't have anywhere else. Anything goes, and it's all cool.
Even the tuba....that lonely fat guy of the marching band instruments...takes on a level of cool in New Orleans.
We found our way back to the the townhouse and enjoyed a little down time.
I hadn’t stopped long enough to fully appreciate the place during the earlier tour. A two story townhouse with a rooftop balcony and secret backdoor courtyard, this place was smack dab in the center of the French Quarter. This place was FANTASTIC.
Thanks to blog reader, Twolittlebirds, I knew about Luke restaurant's 50 cent happy hour. Matt couldn't wait to get his oyster happy hour on, so when the magic hour rolled around, we made our way to Luke, on Saint Charles just outside the madness of the French Quarter. The more casual restaurant offering of chef John Besh, Luke offers platters of huge ice cold oysters for just 50 cents from 4:00 - 6:00. We were all over it.
Luke was all polished brass and wood paneling, crisp dish towel napkins and formal waiters, with an upscale atmosphere that somehow managed to still exude a warmth that let you picture yourself with a burger and beer at the gleaming bar and knowing you'd feel right at home. In addition to cheap oysters, you can sample some of Luke's signature cocktails for half price. The Riverbend, a refreshing blend of vodka, basil syrup, lemon juice, blueberries, and ginger ale went down as smooth as a Gulf Coast oyster during happy hour.
When Matt had his fill, we walked a short distance to Bellocq, a dark and mysterious bar that serves as a tribute to the bordello era of New Orleans and is dedicated to the art of the 19th century cocktail. I loved the dim interior, filled with lush velvet drapes and plush sofas, it was like taking a step back in time. The bar takes its name from E.J. Bellocq, the famous photographer who secretly documented the prostitutes of the Storyville district — arguably the most famous Red Light District ever.
A whole section of the menu is devoted to cobblers, a throwback cocktail that consists of a base spirit, sugar, fresh fruit, and ice — a lot of ice. Cobblers are lower in alcohol than many other cocktails and are meant to be refreshing, smooth, and cold. Just holding one in an ornate wing back chair, you can imagine that you live in the bayou, with the high sun and even higher humidity, and just need a refreshing beverage to soothe your over-heated body. With one sip, I was instantly transported to the veranda of some huge plantation on a sticky, summer day.
I could have stayed in there all night, sipping cobblers and milk punches and pretending I was the southern belle and this was my decadent parlor, but we had dinner reservations at Cochon.
The restaurant’s name is French for pig, and one goal of this restaurant that seems to show up on every top NOLA restaurant list is to honor a Cajun tradition of producing cured, smoked, pressed and shredded pork delicacies. My goal? To find a dinner that didn't involve any of the too abundant Cajun tourist traps that churn out the same predictable menu.
We started off with the crawfish pie, a delicate buttery crust hiding a smoky crawfish etouffee inside.
Matt went for the oyster and bacon sandwich. A good choice if you like oysters, since Cochon makes its own bacon, deep fries the oysters, and throws some mayo into the equation. Even to an avowed non-oyster eater, that sandwich looked mighty fine.
I, however, went for the signature dish: the Cochon: listed on the menu as “Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage, pickled turnips and cracklins.” It may as well have been deep fried, covered in bacon and slathered with mayo, what with the way that slow-stewed meat was molded and packed into a golden, crisp-edged, savory chunk, laying atop a pile of cabbage and turnips that were almost as magical as the pork itself, with a velvety rich texture and loaded with the perfect balance of salt, sugar and vinegar. All of this delciousness was topped with the world's largest (and most delicious) pork rind.
Cochon has a big reputation to live up to. Did it live up to all the hype? One bite of that crispy pork cracklin and I was nodding a delicious, "Yes."
Saturday: Peench da Tails, Suck da Heads and Squeeze da Tip.
Matt and I woke up early, and as our friends slept in, we made the short walk over to Cafe du Monde. Yes, Cafe du Monde, that French Quarter establishment so heavily touristed it makes Graceland feel quaint.
I don't go here for the hype. I go here because I genuinely think they have the most delicious coffee and beignets to be had. Anywhere. Ever. Period.
I like to go early in the morning, when the wait staff are drawing slips for their table assignments and the green vinyl chairs are still piled up on the tables. The sidewalks smell of water and bleach and the tables aren't yet covered with the sticky mess of 13 previous customers. It's quiet and still and there isn't a line of people outside staring at you, willing you with their eyes to stop eating and leave already.
At that time of day, Cafe du Monde is just a wonderful little cafe with delicious hot coffee and tasty treats.
Ahhhh....beignets. Those crispy golden pillows of dough piled high like a deep fried masterpiece. Moist and chewy inside, toasty brown, and buried in a pile of powdered sugar so deep that by the time you leave, you look like the clumsiest member of the Medellín Cocaine Cartel. Bags of powdered sugar beg for the honor of giving their lives this way...... the only honor higher than getting to play a bag of drugs in a movie.
By the way, never wear black to Cafe du Monde.
We headed to Stanley! for breakfast because I heard they served their pancakes with vanilla ice cream. Pancakes with vanilla ice cream turned out to be exactly what I wanted on a Saturday morning.
Although Matt's fried oyster benedict looked mighty tasty.
It was a beautiful day, so we spent the rest of the morning just walking through the streets of the French Quarter, taking in the buildings, the musicians, and the art.
There is more entertainment to be had on Royal Street on a Saturday afternoon than most cities see in a month.
We even caught a couple of weddings, an absolutely spectacular affair in the French Quarter.
Where else can you get this much entertainment for free?
We did some sampling for lunch. Our first stop was unplanned. As we walked past the Jagerhaus, we couldn't help but notice the grill filled with sausages and the cooler filled with crawfish, potatoes, and corn. They were working up a crawfish boil! Apparently, after a couple of lean years, 2013 brought a bumper crop of mudbugs to NOLA and we were here right at the start of the season.
Matt might like crawfish as much as he likes oysters.
Me....I think they are an awful lot of work for a mighty small reward. And they are messy. There is no way to look attractive while eating crawfish. You end up with crap on your face and ooze on your hands, probably a severed leg or two near your elbow, you'll smell like sea water for at least an hour, and all you'll have to show for it is a little bit of tail meat (if you are a lazy eater like me...you won't find me sucking on the heads or trying to dig those microscopic little bits of meat out of their tiny little claws, no sir).
So, I sat politely by, working up my own appetite, while Matt had his fill. We were practically next door to the Erin Rose, so I grabbed Matt's hand and ducked inside.
"What are we doing here?" he asked as he looked around the smoky, dark little bar lined with old bar stools and a few video poker machines. It was loud and crowded and was a total dive.
"Trust me," I said as I dragged him through the main bar to the tiny back room.
There we found Killer Po Boys, the new Po Boy on the block. Who knew that behind the Erin Rose, you can find chef driven sandwiches with unique ingredients like Moroccan-spiced lamb sausage, shrimp with coriander and lime, and beef tongue finished with cream, plantain and pickled okra? Cam Boudreaux and April Bellow turn out inspired Po Boys at a tiny food window hidden behind a smoky little bar. And I was in on the secret.
I ordered up the special of the day: local, wild-caught catfish piled with pickled slaw made on their crusty, light-crumb banh mi-style loaf. Matt grabbed us a couple of bloody mary's from Erin Rose and we were in Po Boy heaven. I took one bite and melted into my barstool.
Sure, it's located in the back of a bar, seating was limited, it's cash only and you have to be at least 21 to enter, and it goes without saying that you must have at least a small tolerance for cigarette smoke and the ring of a poker machine, but with a po-boy like this coming in around $7 or so, this place was hard to beat.
We spent the afternoon with a fist full of dollar bills, wandering from one Royal Street act to another. There was swing dancing. There were trombones and acoustic guitars and bottle-capped tap shoes floating their way down the streets of the French Quarter.
We decided to take things in a different direction for dinner. Our first stop was supposed to be Bar Tonique. I had read about this cozy, craft cocktail bar that took pride in its fresh squeezed juices and house made syrups, and thought it might just be the perfect remedy for the noise of Bourbon Street. It seemed like just the place to hang our hat long enough to forget the screaming hordes that were throwing up on the sidewalk just a few blocks away.
That was, until we walked in and were slammed with a wall of cigarette smoke.
Sorry, Bar Tonique. No matter how quaint your establishment is and no matter how amazing your cocktails, it's not worth losing 10% of my lung capacity to second hand smoke and coming out with my hair smelling like Grandad's old ashtray for the rest of the night.
We walked right back out the door and headed toward Frenchmen Street, where I had heard some great music could be found.
Just past the edge of the Quarter, across Esplanade, you'll find historic Frenchmen Street where music pours out of every doorway and the sidewalks are lined with characters as colorful as the artwork that's painted on the buildings. You won't find shiny beads, frozen daiquiri stands, or t-shirt shops here. What you will find is an eclectic mix of jazz clubs and up and coming restaurants with a bit of art sprinkled in the mix. It's a unique and thriving bohemian neighborhood just a block from the French Quarter.
We put our names on the list at Three Muses, a relative new comer on Frenchmen's Restaurant Row housed inside a tiny storefront. When we were finally called inside, I marveled at the small space that was so incredibly warm and vibrant, with bold artwork, twinkling lights, and a bustling staff. And it was smoke free.
"You typically order at the bar," a waitress shouted to us as she passed by, handing us a napkin with the number 14 written on it, "You're table 14. If you catch me as I pass by, I'm happy to take your order to the bar. If not, just run up there."
The menu was made up of an assortment of tapas and small plates that made my head spin. Every time I settled on a few, a waiter carried a tray by that made me rethink my entire plan.
Matt says I order every meal like it's my last.
I finally settled and basically ended up ordering several plates of carbohydrates. That's what happens when I let myself get too hungry.
There were marinated olives, deep fried pickle chips, mac n cheese with brussels sprouts, french fries with feta, and smoked quail on top of savory turnip greens. There was strawberry shortcake for dessert.
It was lively and cozy all at the same time. The music played as people managed to dance in the few tiny spaces that existed between tables. The crowd buzzed and the band passed a hat from table to table for tips in between sets. I'm still not sure whether 3 Muses was a great restaurant with fabulous live music, or a music club with amazing food and cocktails, or a cocktail bar with great bands and terrific food. Whatever it was, it was a great place to spend a few hours on a Saturday night.
Sunday: Where y'at? Da Vieux Carre, Boo!
EAT restaurant was just a block away and with a BYOB Sunday Brunch, it seemed like just the place to start the day.
As we were seated at a bright and sunny table inside the quaint little restaurant, the water saw my champagne bottle and immediately brought a carafe of juice.
The day started with mimosas and sugary banana fritters dipped in peanut butter.
Then it was on to the Big Breakfast, a plump and juicy fried chicken breast, grits, fried eggs, and a giant fluffy biscuit. I truly believe most of the ills in the world can be cured with a really good biscuit.
A good way to ward off an impending biscuit coma is to walk and the French Quarter is a great place to do it.
Our friends wanted to see a New Orleans cemetery, so we made the short walk over to the Saint Louis Cemetery Number One. Established in the late 1700's, this is the oldest cemetery that still exists in New Orleans. It's an absolute maze of tombs and alleys that holds the remains of pirates, politicians, heroes of the Battle of New Orleans, an international chess champion, victims of the Yellow Fever epidemics and even a voodoo queen within its walls.
I noticed a tomb that was covered with triple x's and had an odd assortment of random items laid in front of it.
This tomb is the reputed burial place of Marie Laveau, the most powerful voodooienne to live in New Orleans. Apparently, the markings and items are offerings that people regularly leave for Marie in hope of receiving a wish or good fortune from her.
I am certainly not an expert in voodoo wish fulfillment, but if I sincerely believed that leaving some random junk beside the tomb of a dead voodoo queen would bring me a wish, I'd certainly think carefully about what I left. I mean, voodoo Marie might look favorably upon the guy that left her the bottle of Jamison or the the pretty scarf, but I'd hate to be the dumbass that left her that half used Chapstick or that soggy Sweet and Low packet.
We did some shopping in the French Market and decided to snack our way through the afternoon.
Snack stop #1: More beignets. Yum. Powdered sugar goodness.
Snack stop #2: Verti Marte Muffaletta. Olive salad + Zapp's Chips = supreme happiness.
Snack stop #3: Domenica's 1/2 price pizza happy hour. $6 wood fired pies and half price wine. Oh, and free cookies. Enough said.
Snack stop #4: (Are you feeling queasy yet?) Bourbon House for Oysters on the Half Shell.
It was our last night and so far, we had avoided Bourbon Street like it was a radioactive pit of nuclear waste. I'd rather spend an 8 hour flight trapped inside an airplane bathroom with the entire cast of Jersey Shore than spend more than 3 minutes on Bourbon Street. But, in fairness, this was our friends' first trip to New Orleans. How could we not let them have the Bourbon Street experience?
So, Bourbon Street it was.
My friend bought two wigs for $20 and really, really wanted to wear them. Hell. As long as I was going to be subjected to the torture of hand grenade drinks, pizza by the slice, and 32 ounce beers, I may as well do it in plastic green hair.
New Orleans isn't just a walking city, it's a walking-with-a-drink city, so we needed to get started with one of Bourbon Street's delightfully tacky frozen drinks to go. We ducked into Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop for a Voodoo Daiquiri. Hey, just because we were about to get our drink on along the boozy debauchery of Bourbon Street...don't think I was about to go into one of those places with blinking signs that pump gallons of industrial alcohol, food coloring, and bottom-shelf booze out of a slushee machine and into a 24 inch tall neon green plastic glass shaped suspiciously like a bong. I was going to try to keep it semi classy. Well....as classy as one can in a plastic green wig.
If you have to visit a Bourbon Street bar, well, this is as good a place as any. The tavern is one of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter and was reputedly once used by the privateer Jean Lafitte. The pub's dark, plain, authentic decor is made complete with wooden beams and walls, a long, plain bar area, and stark wooden tables and chairs. There is not a light bulb in sight...... candles are used during the late night hours. Many say Jean Lafitte still haunts this place. Not only one of the oldest buildings in the Quarter, it's reputedly one of the oldest bars in Americaes......or so we heard every time a mule-drawn carriage full of tourists passed by.
Sitting in the gloom of Lafitte’s with a drink in front of you, it’s entirely possible to believe that somehow the calendar has come unstuck and the streets are thronged with dark-eyed Creoles and fine gentleman and you are a runaway damsel looking for adventure.
Although, reality slaps you quickly when a frozen purple drink arrives in a giant styrofoam cup. Ah well....it was Bourbon Street after all.
The Voodoo Daiquiri is a simple combination of bourbon, everclear, and grape soda with crushed ice. It's tacky, but even I can admit it's delicious. You can't do New Orleans without at least one tacky frozen drink, so you may as well have it with a pirate. Right?
Drink cups in hand, we walked out onto Bourbon Street and took it all in. We saw a lot of Tacky Tourist Shops, Pizza By the Slice, drunk college kids with a string of beads in one hand and a sweaty pile of hope in the other, strip clubs, Frozen Drink Bars, and dudes passed out on the sidewalk while their friends took their picture with their iPhones. The smell was one of overflowing garbage mixed with vomit, mule piss, and the slight stench of sewage. It was lewd and stanky, filled with cheap baubles and plastic turtles.
We did, however, meet this very nice transvestite who told me where I could find size 12 zebra print platforms with goldfish in the heels, just in case I needed a pair.
And there was this guy. And his tiger. At a bar. Yes, those are whiskers on his face. I'd really like to know the story there.
Our cups were empty, so we took our friends inside Pat O'Brien's...most touristy place in New Orleans, but one we knew they would love. Why? Because there is a big courtyard, and a fountain, and giant red drinks. It's an obligatory rite of passage to drink at least one hurricane at Pat O'Brien's on your first trip to New Orleans and I didn't want our friends to miss the experience.
What's not to love?
Next, we wiggled into some seats at the Funky Pirate and ordered drinks that did not contain Red Dye 40 or enough sugar to make an entire day care hyperactive for a week. True, this place is the home of the Hand Grenade drink, but they also have a good old fashioned bar and a pretty fine house blues band.
Another first timer experience I didn't want them to miss was a 45 minute jazz set at Preservation Hall. The Hall is a ramshakle old building that has seen better days. After wandering through the sensory overload that is Bourbon Street, the Hall could easily be missed thanks to its understated subtlety. It's plain and old, free of neon and blinking lights. The building's face has been faded by time, now just a dingy gray facade fronted by simple shutters.
During its life, it has been a tavern, an inn, a photo studio and an art gallery. Since 1961 it has been a music hall dedicated to the preservation and honor of New Orleans jazz. On any given night, people line up outside and wait hours to pay their $15, filling the place to standing room only capacity, just to hear true New Orleans jazz.
Not a fan of lines, or of waiting, I had paid the few extra bucks for the "VIP" pass - only a handful of advance entry passes are available to each show, but for about $10 extra, you can bypass the line and get the front row seat. That was $10 well spent, in my opinion. Besides, I got to wear a big tag that said, "BIG SHOT." I thought it complimented my plastic green hair and mardi gras beads quite nicely. If you are going for tasteless, you should go all the way.
As the Preservation Hall Jazz Band played its mightiest, the room sat enraptured....some standing in the back, some sitting on plain wooden benches, others sitting cross legged on threadbare cushions tossed in the floor....everyone entranced by the lively show and the very history that the room seemed to throw you into as you listened. The single room's worn floorboards reverberated with the boom of the bass drum as dust and time and the steamy air of New Orleans swirled against the peeling walls and the smoky paintings of musicians long since passed.
For 45 minutes, we were able to be a part of something timeless and purely New Orleans.
It was late, and at our age, staying out until one of us passed out on the sidewalk wasn't really an attractive prospect. Besides, it just seemed wrong to follow Preservation Hall with a plastic monkey full of banana daiquiri and a glow necklace, so we decided to grab some late night eats and leave the bar hopping to those that were still young enough to recover the next day.
As we walked by a young girl whose friends were holding her hair back from her sweaty face as she clutched a giant plastic cup and vomited on her shoes, pausing in between gags to look up at them and tell them how much she loved them...I didn't envy their youth one bit.
Instead we walked over to Esplanade and into Port of Call. Two years ago, on our last trip to NOLA, I had spent the weekend dreaming of a juicy burger from Port of Call, but that burger was jerked mercilessly out of my clutching hands as we had to make a mad dash home half a day early because of a brewing storm front.
I was going to have that burger.
It was nearly 11:00 p.m. and I did not expect the wall of people that blocked my entrance to this tiny, understated restaurant. Undeterred, I pushed and shoved my way through the crowd until I found the girl with the pencil and notepad.
"How many?" she asked over the roar.
"Four," I said, trying to sound hungry and pathetic.
"The wait's just under an hour," she said.
I wimpered. I looked back at my grumpy crew, who was already mad at me for making them walk the extra 4 blocks in the cold when there were plenty of "Pizza by the Slice" places on the way to our townhouse. If one of them tried to pry that cheaply laminated Port of Call menu out of my hands at that moment, it would have been much like the time my mom forgot her wallet at the TG&Y in 1976 and they refused to take her check, leaving her no choice but the pry the box of Cracker Jacks out of my hands that I had been carrying around inside the store for thirty minutes.
I walked back over to where they were crammed against the wall by the door, sticky laminated menu firmly in my hands.
"Twenty minutes, tops." I said. Hey, all's fair when late night burgers are on the line.
Port of Call is the best kind of dive. If you didn't know it was there, you'd walk right past it without giving it a second glance. It has a cheap sign. It's filled with locals. It has a limited menu. It's dark and loud and crowded inside.
But I knew to go there for two things: A grilled burger topped with shredded Cheddar cheese and a loaded baked potato on the side. I wouldn't leave until I had them.
We were finally seated and I scanned my menu.
All our burgers are half pound ground fresh daily, and come with baked potato with butter. Lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickles on side. Sour cream, cheddar cheese, or mushrooms on potato extra. Chives and Bacon Bits by request—no charge.
I wiped the drool off my chin.
When these showed up, no one was mad at me any more. They were too busy eating.
Yeah, it was worth the wait.
Monday: Bonjou, Y'all.
The sun was shining bright on Jackson Square. Cafe du Monde was setting up their chairs, busy city workers were spraying off the previous night's fun from the sidewalks with soapy water, and the tarot card readers were setting up their colorful tables along the iron fence.
Our time in the French Quarter had come and gone. Ah, New Orleans. Where else can you buy vampire teeth, get your palm read, dance in a parade, pay $1 to have your picture taken with a guy painted silver, eat a gourmet meal and walk next door for a sandwich in a bag, and hear an original song played by what might be the world's best trombone player all on the same street corner? You'll be asked asked fifteen times in a day, "Bet I can tell you where you got dem shoes!" and everywhere you look someone has a bucket or a box or a hat stuck out trying to earn a dollar. You can buy a voodoo doll, a homemade prailine, and a lottery ticket in the same place and chances are you'll see at least one thing that makes you laugh out loud and another that makes you want to cry on each city block.
It's as rich as it is dingy, as refined as it is ecclectic. It's full of hope and promise and color. You don't even have to look very hard for it. Just show up, have a dollar or two in your hand, and the magic of New Orleans will find you.
Bonjour Mes Amis!