Sunday, August 12, 2012

Eat The Big Easy

I was in a parking lot waiting for my wife when I saw this couple on a cruiser pull into the parking lot of IHOP in Gretna, on the opposite bank of the river from New Orleans.

They spiffed themselves up after they got off their motorcycle and walked smartly into the pancake house. Weird, I thought, here I am in the food capital of the United States, salivating at the prospect of breakfast at Elizabeth's and these lucky buggers, in their own home town choose to eat chain pancakes.

Bit it's not really so odd. When I used to try to be helpful on the Key West Trip Advisor forum, before I got bored with the repetitive nature of the questions, people would ask where do the locals eat, and my reply was on the order of Miami Subs and Outback, cheap and cheerful with good service...and the same I am sure applies in the Crescent City.

San Francisco locals hate people who call their home town "Frisco" as they consider it over familiar. In Northern California where I lived it was known simply as The City. In New Orleans the local sobriquet is Crescent City as there is nothing easy about living in New Orleans unless you have a large private income or no money at all and feel okay about that. I think it may even be harder than living in The City or even Key West for middle class souls like us.

Elizabeth's in Bywater has been a reliable joint for me since before Katrina and even through changes of ownership I still like to eat there each time I visit the Big Easy. Elizabeth's Website.This visit my wife had a vodka cocktail while I started brunch with a brandy milk punch which was delicious. She had crab cake hollandaise while I ate fried catfish fillets and grits. IHOP was far from my thoughts.

New Orleans has issues. I love the emphasis on good food and I like the music but I really don't like the third world chaos and corruption. There are areas of this city that really are dangerous and violent crime is statistically worse since the Katrina exodus and partial return. Other cities simply didn't want the worst elements that fled the drowning city in 2005. So they came home if they ever left and the shootings continue. Of course most of the city isn't the OK Corral but the eating goes on everywhere. And where people eat they leave trash, on the street if necessary. The city's cleaners aren't as efficient as Key West's.

In the countryside north of Lake Pontchartrain in Saint Tammany parish we found Louisiana's sole winery which calls itself a vineyard because they actually grow 13 acres of white grapes and import red from Lodi California to make a wine they call Da Red.

I really enjoyed their whites and I don't usually like whites too much. A retired Army doctor wanted a vineyard and hired this Lousiana native to staff the tasting room. Pontchartrain Vineyards..

Another road trip we took on our three days in NOLA was a drive down the Rover Road. Between New Orleans, Louisiana and the state capital Baton Rouge ("Red Stick" in French). Along the Mississippi River there used to be hundreds of sugar plantations and their Creole owners lived the high life. I'll have more in another essay but for now check out the dining room in the Laura Plantation, in Saint James Parish. Laura Plantation well worth a visit. We learned a lot.

That evening we went for a walk on the wild side but the drunks of Bourbon Street are as smelly and obnoxious as those of Duval Street so we went to dinner. Sunday night limits your choices especially in a city where many eateries are closed for summer vacation. Our tourist joint would have been fair enough for most cities, but in New Orleans the jambalaya and crawfish pie were okay, not exceptional. We got back to the car and our patient dog with no vomit on our shoes. Cheyenne enjoyed her nocturnal walk through the Vieux Carré.

I saw this ad on our way back to the valet parking. It looked old fashioned and suitable therefore for this worn out old city.

This is the new, revitalized New Orleans, La:

Breakfast at Café du Monde, is the super tourist location on every visitor's schedule, yet I like this place. The chicory coffee is strong but not bitter, the beignets I have finally concluded are more like Mexican Churros than American Doughnuts. And the wait staff are all Asian for some reason while the busboys are African American. No, I don't know why, I just notice these things. Breakfast with orange juice was $16 for two.

We also took a road trip to Plaquemines Parish, the area flooded and ravaged by Katrina to an awful degree. They are back in residence the tough Cajuns and Louisiana State Highway 23 is wide open, all four lanes of it. Though it is horribly boring. We found a fruit stand with these oddities for sale:

I don't know if Creole Tomatoes are special because they only fruit for one month at this time of year, or if it's because other tomatoes don't fruit very well in the climate or some other thing. In the event we tasted one and it was...a tomato, no more, no less. They also sold tons of fruits pickles jams and preserves so we loaded up.

The other food tradition of New Orleans that we did get to taste was muffulata which is essentially a dense multi layered Italian sub with pickled vegetables and added olive oil all laid out on a round relatively flat bread. One sandwich feeds four, as this picture shows a quarter of the one we bought:

We had boudin a Cajun pork and rice sausage, oyster and meat pie; I sought and failed to find callas which are fried rice balls often eaten for breakfast but I did get a breakfast po'boy with eggs and bacon and my wife got her pralined bacon and the best fried green tomatoes ever.

Obviously I love New Orleans, despite the chaos, I love it for the food, always well prepared and served with pride, and if Cheyenne finds a discarded po'boy in the neutral ground of Esplanade Street, then more power to her. She likes New Orleans food too.

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