The most splendid thing about New Orleans is the city’s propensity for serendipity. No perfect day of eating could ever be planned. That said, I have taken great joy in imagining this spontaneous day of gallivanting around town, eating and drinking as I choose.
Stop #1 9:00 AM After an energetic ride, chain the bike up at Magazine and Cadiz. Stroll into La Boulangerie for the best cup of regular Community Coffee in the city. I don’t know how they do it, but I don’t care. Settle down with a delicious, buttery and crisp Almond croissant and a Times-Picayune and the read bits of the story about Louisiana being both the happiest and laziest state in the country. WWNO plays classical softly in the background.
Stop #4 12:00 PM Just about Bordeaux Street someone starts yelling my name from outside. I look through the window and see my friend Matthew in his new Toyota. Very close in high school, but over the last seven or eight years we have drifted into different crowds. Then I see his mom lean forward from the passenger side and wave like only 60-year-old mother figures do. She is visiting from out of town, and they yell that they are driving over to The Galley on Metairie Road for crawfish. My expression of jealousy leads them to motion for me to come along and catch up while they peel tails. My friends ‘the couple’ bid me adieu and I pull the wire and jump off at the next stop. Next thing I know I am on the patio in Old Metairie with the infamous soft-shell crab po-boy in front of me, listening to TIX FM play Roy Orbison and Sam Cooke . This crisp baby blue crab is succulent and the French bread is perfection. The crawfish are for the table and my buddy and his mom and I tell stories and jokes over at least a couple rounds of Abita beers.
Stop #8 7 PM My friend waited until I was good and lubricated before telling me that he had reservations at Cochon. They already had a five top so squeezing one more in wouldn’t be a problem. Fortunately, someone was on top enough to appoint a designated driver, so we all piled in a Jeep Cherokee with Florida plates and headed down to the Warehouse District. Since I was the tag-along, I was relegated to the trunk, which was fine by me, Soul Sister blasting from the speakers in the back. At Cochon we end up with more small plates than we have people, so I sample the crawfish pie, the artichoke stuffed crab and a salad with black eyed peas. For my entrée, I have the most tender pork belly fathomable. It pairs very well with the bottle of Beaujolais the newbie with a well-developed palette had ordered. We close dinner with lemon-buttermilk pie, but we drag out our time at the table with some small-batch whiskeys that are as good as I have ever tasted. I get a cup of coffee to ensure that the food coma doesn’t come on too strong.
Stop #10 11 PM The girls keep me busy until I hear that Kermit is at Vaughan’s unannounced. I’m convinced. I drag the girls with me into the Bywater and we meet our friends outside on Lesseps St. Kermit hasn’t started playing yet, but there are white beans and rice on the picnic table inside. As I get a small sampler, I see the bartender that I used to know from the coffee shop so I buy three beers and leave a ten dollar tip. I sit on the curb outside and savor the creamy white beans while my friends chain smoke and we all wait for Kermit to Play. The horns pipe up soon enough and its all aboard.
Epilogue 5 AM I lie in bed replaying the sights, sounds and flavors of the day-- only seconds before sleep--when I remember the praline by jean on my desk. I grope for the plastic covered desert, claw open the wrapping, and take two sweet bites of the delicacy before laying back down, chewing excessively, and swallowing with more satisfaction than I thought possible.
To start the day, I am digging Ruby Slipper right now. They are making an incredible breakfast in Mid City, part of the revival of quality early morning eateries in that area. Sample anything on the menu and what you’ll find are fresh ingredients crafted specifically on each plate. Cochon de lait on top of a homemade biscuit smothered with the goodness of a poached egg is the recipe for success on the way to the Superdome.
This is what I call the old white man segment. Two different entities, two different parts of town, exact same ideals. Both of these gentlemen have retired and their places are closed for business, but I would trade anything to eat at them just one last time. First, I would go for an early lunch at Uglesich’s. This family run establishment in the not so best part of town did traditional classics the right way. Fried green tomatoes were always steaming hot yet firm upon delivery to your table. The seafood dishes were so fresh that the fish may have been literally swimming in nearby marshes earlier that morning. One always received a freshly shucked oyster with their meal, which was opened in front of your eyes while ordering. My fondest memory of Uglesich’s stems from a visit when the seafood was being delivered. The softshell crabs were still alive; their air bubbles were still coming from their limited respiratory system while they were awaiting a dredging and a dip into some piping hot oil. If you’re amazed by fresh lobster, fresh crabs awaiting their untimely demise will always force you to change your order.
Second, I would have to go with, in my opinion, the greatest po boy shop in town. I know this will be met with much chagrin, but hear me out. I lived in Lakeview on the lower side of the I-610 and tracks. We didn’t go to Lovecchio’s, Charlie’s or Landry’s. We went to old man Weaver, who made sno balls with a well worn Rolex dangling from his wrist. Mr. Weaver exemplified all there will ever be needed to know concerning the small family business in this town. Mr. Weaver came to work relatively early to start cooking his roast beef, which was the finest in the city. His gravy was that of legends. But he didn’t stop there. Mr. Weaver would buy an entire bone-in ham and slice it himself. This would encompass the protein in the best grilled ham and cheese po boy I’ve ever tasted. Bliss could be found with his hamburger po boy. Mr. Weaver would grind up the leftover ham parts after the butchering and would add to his ground beef. What ensued was the finest tasting hamburger one could eat. The grilled onions contained a sweet flavor that contrasted fabulously with other such excesses as bacon and cheese. Other significant traits include usually scoring the best bread from the bakery and a flat top that charred burgers and ham alike. What Mr. Weaver didn’t do that could cause a rift was his lack of attention to seafood. But Mr. Weaver, a butcher at heart, knew what his specialties were and lived (Rolex-style) well.
Dinner in this town is entirely too variable. One knows with breakfast you’re going to do either a brunch or one of the diner-type institutions. Lunch is something between French bread unless you’ve got money to burn. One who has followed the path I’ve laid out may not want to sit down at Stella for dinner following 2800 calories before darkness sets in. Personally, if I were able to hit Weaver’s for 6:00, I’d be set for the rest of the night. I can also assure you I’d be drinking Heineken Light for the length of the evening as well.
Afternoon: After bouncing from a few of the regular watering holes I figure that it may be best to settle down in a decently air conditioned spot. I am not really hungry after such a big lunch, but it never hurts to add a little substance here and there while drinking. I make a pit stop at the Hermes Bar in Antoine's for a drink and some souffle potatoes. This is the perfect snack as it quenches my taste buds, but definitely doesn't fill me up. The side of hollandaise sauce that I request on the side to dip the potatoes in makes it that much better.
Dinner: Back uptown to one of the most consistent restaurants in New Orleans, Clancy's. Not only is this place amazing on a slow night, they may churn out the best food in the city on super busy nights (Christmas Eve, New Years Eve, etc). At Clancy's it's the usual for me, baked brie over fried oysters as an appetizer followed by the Lamb Chops. While I am tempted to get the Lemon Ice Box Pie for desert, I refrain so that I can make my final destination of the day....
Dessert: A quick drive down Magazine from Clancy's to Sucre for chocolate covered macaroons and coffee. Now that I've got my coffee in me I make one final trek down the street to Tipitinas for some live music.
4th Meal: Since it's not far from Tip's, and I know I need some food to ease the following day's hangover, I decide to make one final stop before heading home. Cheese fries and one more unnecessary drink at F&Ms with the coeds. Once I have only eaten about half of the mound of cheese and fries, I realize that I no longer have any business being out in public, so I quickly pick up my dignity and head for home...
Ok, so instead of writing about the eating and drinking that I would do in my dreams, I'll tell you about the eating extravaganza that my wife and I actually did accomplish a few weekends ago for our one year anniversary….
So we decided to stay down in the French Quarter for the weekend and pretend to be tourists in our home town, minus wearing fanny packs and Mardi Gras beads in June. We started out our triple chin gaining mission on Friday with lunch at Galatoire’s…arrived at 11:30 and had some old fashions and beers, followed by some more, while snacking on a few soufflé potatoes, oysters en brochette and shrimp remolaude. After that warm up we went with lamb chops, filet, béarnaise sauce, mushrooms bordelaise and potatoes au gratin, paired with some nice bottles of cabernet.
As the day went on and we began to befriend/annoy the unfortunate patrons around us, it became apparent that this was not going to be a lunch, but more of a lunch/afternoon snack/dinner marathon. After table hopping and drinking café brulot for a few hours, we decided to test the kitchen and do some unique dinner orders…I went with a ribeye po-boy covered in melted cheddar cheese, onions and bacon, which was phenomenal. My wife went with a grilled cheese topped with caramelized onions and said it was the best grilled cheese of her life.
After polishing off a bottle of champagne after this and unsuccessfully attempting to score free season tickets from the President of the Hornets sitting next to us, I realized that I might have to take out a second mortgage if we didn’t get out of there soon. After bidding goodbye to our very patient waiter, John, we stumbled out the door around 8:30. Not a bad way to spend nine hours on a Friday.
Saturday morning we walked over to Stanley! and my wife went with pancakes while I attempted to devour the Breaux Bridge Benedict, which was a fantastic gut grenade. After walking around for a while, we went to El Gato Negro for lunch and got that awesomely thick queso with chorizo and jalapeno, followed by some filet and fish tacos. Needing a nap after what we had just put into our bodies over the past 24 hours, we retreated back to our lodging for a few hours and then got spruced up for dinner at Antoine’s. We started at the Hermes Bar for a few pops and then headed into dinner, where we were conveniently seated next to a table with that girl from that horrible attempt at creating a movie, Groundhog’s Day. Apparently, her name is Andie Macdowell. Anypoop, we went with the oysters three ways, some crabmeat au gratin, soufflé potatoes, filet with marchand de vin sauce, trout meuniere and some dessert. All excellent. Following some street dancing and singing with some local “musicians” we retired for the night.
Sunday morning started with a walk over to Café Du Monde for some coffee and beignets, followed by Mass at St. Louis Cathedral and then brunch at Mr. B’s. We stuffed ourselves with several milk punches, followed by gumbo ya ya, duck spring rolls, barbequed shrimp and eggs benedict. After several hours of napping, we attempted to venture out for one final meal, as I had planned for a grand finale at Stella, but we literally couldn’t get our bodies to physically carry our stomachs out of our room. So we threw in the towel, ordered a pizza and ate it on the balcony, watching the amazing world of the French Quarter go by down on the street in state of total fat bliss. Perfect weekend.
I picked Natalie up just before 8:00, surprised to see that she’d started without me.
“Beignets?”, I asked. If the white paper bag with its top rolled down hadn’t given her away, the dusting of powdered sugar on her black and gold tank top would have.
“You’re late. I was hungry.” She had a point. I’d barely slept, tossing and turning from some mixture of excitement and F&M’s cheese fries consumed hours after the churchgoing types had gone to bed. She looked at me sideways: “You gonna make it?”
It was a fair question.
The walk to Slim Goodies was short but challenging, made tolerable only by the sweet fuel of the last beignet. After the expected delay and the agonizing walk past the kitchen, we sat on a pair of crooked metal chairs on the equally crooked patio.
“I’ll have the Contractor Combo… over easy, double meat please, and coffee.” Eggs, grits, sausage and bacon, hashbrowns, pancakes.… when in doubt, order two of everything.
“And for you… Ms. Portman?” Eat your heart out.
“I’ll have the fruit parfait.” The sideways glare was mine this time – Veganism is akin to Satanism where I am from.
Our food arrived mercifully quickly. While Natalie picked at her fruit, I pierced the yolks on my eggs and watched a stream of yellowy goodness drench the hashbrowns underneath, unconcerned with the leaves that had fallen into my plate. With each bite I could feel life returning to my veins and, after twenty minutes, I’d nearly cleaned my plate. Never one to overindulge, I politely pushed the toast to the far side of my plate and, with a satisfied grin, declared myself full.
“Where to?” Natalie asked.
“I was thinking 'Drew's' for lunch.”
“'Drew's'? Never heard of it. Lead the way.”
We left sluggishly. As with all good fantasies though, this one delivered; as we hit the street, Drago Cvittanovich himself arrived with a dozen charbroiled oysters fresh off the trailered grill, a gift for my celebrity friend. She accepted politely, bid him farewell, and presumptuously pushed the tray into my hands. “You'll help me with these I presume?” I obliged six times before we took another step.
We sauntered down Magazine at festival pace toward “Drew's”; the buttery garlic circulated through my veins. A right on Calhoun, a few more charbroileds, and we were there. Brittany answered the door.
“Drew's in the back. You're right on time... the first sack's just coming out.”
We made our way to the backyard, where Drew stood proudly over a table billowing steam and spice. He threw me an Amber (I caught it) and we dug in.
Eating crawfish is like surviving as a wolf pup: those who can peel, suck and eat quickly survive. Those who don't better like potatoes and Zapp's. I held my own. Natalie got by on fixin's (and, revealing the first chink in her Vegan Coat of Armor, the occasional spice filled head).
Drew follows Big Fisherman's recipe for crawfish: each sack gets one cup of Chinese pepper, one cup of brown sugar, and two cups of salt. Mix it with potatoes, corn, garlic, sausage, and anything else on sale at Rouse's. Boil, soak for an hour, and serve hot.
The burn in our mouths as we sucked, peeled, pulled, ate and repeated increased magnificently and exponentially with each bite. Those seeking a moment of respite through the potatoes, corn and sausage (Rouse's original with green onion) found none.
When there were none left to be had, we moved to a small patch of grass near the pool. A handful of Abitas later, and a nap was inevitable.
After quick goodbyes and a colorful cab ride, we arrived at Port of Call just as the sun began to dive through the oaks on the neutral ground. After a quick round of Port of Call Hide & Seek, we found “the list” and confirmed what the scores of people outside had made apparent: “Hour and a half… maybe.”
We took our first round of monsoons outside and, courtesy and warnings be damned, headed straight for the steps of the house next door. We sat, awkwardly splaying our legs to conceal that the words “DO NOT SIT ON THE STAIRS” had been painted underneath us and began sipping our drinks through double-barreled straws. The time passed quickly as we talked and drank, always on alert for the click of Mean Old Lady Esplanade's door that meant trouble for those not quick on their feet.
As we neared the bottom of our cups (The First Rule of POC is: You do not have two monsoon's before you eat. The Second Rule of POC is...), “the list” walked outside and yelled my name. Choirs of angels sang as we split the crowd of jealousy waiting at the bar and made our way to our table.
No need for a menu, ma'am. “Cheeseburger, medium rare, everything but mushrooms on the potato.” The Soup Nazi would've been proud.
I glanced across at Natalie and cringed in anticipation, then: “Cheeseburger, rare, and you're damn right I want my mushrooms.” My heart leapt as my jaw dropped open, and Natalie explained: “You can't come to Port o' Call and not eat a cheeseburger.”
Minutes later our food arrived. The animalistic joy of watching an attractive woman chew on uncooked beef as a trail of juice and blood runs down her chin overwhelms me. As the soggy bun in my hands melted away, I devoured the half pound of beef and quarter-inch slice of onion that had become the vessel for the cheese, tomato and pickle in between. Emboldened by the scene in front of me, I drained my second monsoon and turned my attention to the potato. A flurry of fists and elbows left nothing but a defeated ball of foil in the middle of the plate.
As we departed for Frenchman to burn off the day, I stole a moment to reminisce on the day past and gave thanks for having come up in a town that knew that great food was always better when shared with great company.