Friday, July 30, 2010

We LIve To Eat: The Final Before The Finals

This is our last week of preliminaries. So vote away. Tune in next week as we find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start eating real. Cliffhangers! Shocking twists! Secret liaisons! We've got it all on Reality Blogging. This week a Joyce inspired sojurn, Donnie Boy revisits his juvenile delinquency, Cap'n P goes all over town, Double Chin recounts a real weekend (bonus points for a cheesesteak at Galatoire's a la Fletch), and The Dreamer goes on a date. We know 5 entries is a lot. but its Friday, you have reached the end of the internet. So what else are you gonna do this afternoon? Top 2 advance.

Alan Williams

"Portrait of the Eater as a Young Man"

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.

Prelude 8 AM Before the alarm goes off, wake up to warm morning light dappling the walls through the banana leaves outside my bedroom window. Step out of bed, stretch, and walk to the window. For a few seconds, take in the skyline, the Crescent City Connection, and the kids drifting down the street towards Jackson Ave. Crack the window up a bit, stick my hand outside and realize that it is still a bit cool. All of the sudden, I am motivated to get out there before the late April heat comes. Throw on clothes, stumble out the door and on to the bike.

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 #2 10:00 AM Leisurely coffee and pastry ends with an equally leisurely bike ride, ostensibly back to the homestead. Magazine is the preferred route, hoping to see some good looking people standing outside of Slim Goody’s and the like. Right before I turn onto Jackson Ave, spot my friend and his girlfriend (of course I took her out a couple times a couple years back, It’s that kind of town), both proudly decked out in tank tops and shades for the first time this year, sitting at the picnic table outside Stein’s Deli. Roll to a stop for a brief chat. Of course, the brief chat lingers on. Decide that a single pastry is not a proper breakfast, and notice that the line inside has yet to extend around the restaurant. Stand in line, listen to the caller from Wisconsin on Click and Clack. When it is my turn, I say what’s up to Andre, ask him if his arm is healing up right, and order a garlic bagel and lox, “fully dressed” with the best cream cheese in the city, julienned onions, tomatoes and capers. Back at the picnic table, being a third-wheel is working out wonderfully when I discover that my friend couldn’t resist an early morning Rueben and is willing to share a bite. The lady’s breakfast sandwich is one of the best in town too, and we all pass the baskets around until there is nothing left but paper and plastic.

Stop #3 11:30 AM Unsurprisingly, my friends share the vibe on this fine Saturday morning, and are also on their bikes doing nothing but looking for a good time. Well fed for the time being, we decide to slowly ride up the most underrated stretch of tree-lined boulevard in the city. The banter keeps us busy until we get to St. Charles, when we see the bewitching red sign of Igor’s. At this point, my friends are given no option---bloody mary's are a must. We lock up, stroll inside and chat up the eclectic crowd while the bartender serves up some extra spicy zing zang bloodies. WWOZ floods the bar with Cuban music. The bloodys go quick so we get another round in go-cups and head back outside. We decide to take the streetcar uptown, maybe to Audubon, so we can continue to bag rays and enjoy the city. We don’t think to consider whether or not go-cups are allowed on the streetcar, and when it arrives the driver doesn’t think to bring it up either.

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 #5 2:30 PM Later on, the old friend drops me off back at St. Charles and Jackson Ave. I wave goodbye and after the street car rumbles past I hear the distinct sound of brass band music. I look down the way, and sure enough, there is every hallmark of a big parade. It is second line season after all. I keep the bike locked and bee line toward Simon Bolivar. As the music gets louder, the crowd gets thicker, and I start to get thirsty. It’s not another minute before I spot a man standing on his pickup truck, beer selection lined out for me to peruse. I give the gentleman five dollars for two Heinekens out of the cooler, but he is looking for a bigger sale. He pulls back the tin foil on a tray of BBQ chicken, and convinces me that I have just got to try some of his special recipe. I buckle and drop another two dollars on a drumstick. It is sweet and thick and I make a mess as I keep moving, weaving through the crowd, watching club strut, and washing it all down with my Heineken. I don’t know the band but when the medley weaves through ‘sexual healing’ everyone starts singing.

Stop #6 4 PM I’m danced out, pretty sweaty and have a solid buzz. I ran into some people I sorta-know, but didn’t end up sticking around. I call my friend who lives nearby on Carondelet and Melponmene and see if I can come cool down, rehydrate, and chill for a bit. He doesn’t pick up, but I head towards where he stays anyway. I finally get affirmative word back via text message as I am slogging up his steps. When he lets me in we head upstairs where he has some co-workers who just moved to town in the living room. They are drinking daiquiris from the shop down the street, and I know better than to ask for more than a sip of some of the flavor called “midnight speedball”. There is some home-made fried okra on the table and I can’t stop picking at it. After an hour or so listening to Earl King songs and swapping background stories and giving recommendations, my friend the gourmand decides that oysters are a must.

Stop #7 5:30 PM My friend the foodie proposes Acme in the Quarter, but I protest---I am absolutely loyal to Pascal Manale’s. I borrow some clean clothes and we take the crew of newcomers out to one of the finest barrooms in the city. We get tokens for a couple dozen raw oysters. The newbie’s have sazeracs and I have my dry gin martini on the rocks while we listen to the same Dixieland they always have playing. We strike it up with the shucker, who has forearms the size of my thighs and a son in the LSU marching band. I slurp down the huge gulf oysters with my personally-perfected cocktail sauce—heavy on the horseradish. By the time the old-folk dinner crowd starts to trickle in, I am not sure if I am more intoxicated by the oysters or the gin.

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 #9 10 PM Text messages have trickled in throughout the three-hour dinner, and it appears that overlapping social circles are all converging downtown. The one girl I want to see in particular is at Bar Tonique with her friend from college. I take a cab from Cochon to N. Rampart Street and settle in at the dark quiet bar next to the two lovely ladies. I order a Harpoon IPA and awkwardly explain why I am wearing someone else’s clothes.

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.

Stop #11 1 AM Kermit’s set ends, we are well fueled and want to keep going. Mod Dance Night at the Saturn bar to work off the calories. No food to be hand, but more cheap beer and 50’s rhythm and blues than I could shake my leg at.

Stop #12 4 AM We are sweat-soaked, starved, and six strong. We pile into a cab headed directly for Clover Grill. The line cook dances to Lady GaGa while our burgers cook and our humor turns juvenile. The burger is thin, juicy, and just what I needed. The fries are better than McDonald’s. I wash it all down with some sweet tea, and leave the last of my cash on the counter. I share a cab back uptown, my friend picks up the tab. We hug it out and head for bed.

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.

Donnie Boy Riguez

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.

Cap'n P

Breakfast: Start the morning off at Riccobono's Panola Street Cafe with the huevos rancheros and a side of grits. This should get me started off on the right foot. Enough food to prepare me for a big day of eating, but not too much to fill me up or make me tired.

Lunch: Head downtown for an afternoon in the quarter. Since I'm parking at the Royal Orleans (with full intent to leave the car there overnight), I stop in to the Rib Room for the City's best cut of prime rib...the Adam cut, cooked medium rare. The atmosphere is perfect because they've sat me at a window table overlooking the street performers on Royal Street. The best prime rib also happens to be an awesome deal, as it is served with a salad and a baked potato. I opt for the bleu cheese dressing on the house salad, and butter and sour cream on the potato. Then there's the kicker...the incredibly fresh and potent horseradish that is sure to clear even the most congested sinus'. On the way out the door I snag a complimentary praline to get my sugar fix as I head out into the quarter for some afternoon drinks.

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...

Double Chin

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.

The Dreamer

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Groundhog Day is an awesome movie.