14.04.2015 30 °C
So much has already been said about New Orleans, and said so well (Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Bob Dylan, to name just a very few). So much literature, so much music, so many TV shows and movies dedicated to New Orleans. Every visit here adds another dimension to what we already know and adds to the contradictions about this city that are so seductive and keep us coming back for more. If New York is a state of mind, then New Orleans is a mood and an emotion that slips through your fingers - too challenging to try and describe here. BUT - in words we all know and love, I'll give it a shot - Food, Music, Art, Architecture, and for lack of a better term - Curiosities
“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”
― Mark Twain
EAT Restaurant. We stopped here twice - cochon anyone? That's pork butt slow-cooked, cut into cubes and seared and served with smothered greens - just as southern as all get-out.
EAT - we're only doing as we're told. As this restaurant suggests, we are not in New Orleans for the egg white omelettes. We are here to mop up sauces, savour fresh shrimp, roll our eyes heavenward over the culinary talents and deep-fried excesses and just...dig in. All too soon, life will return to moderate portions, low-fat yogurt and an eye to sodium levels.
That big Ruby Slipper - one of the top breakfast places in town, and where we first met up with dear friends Dave and Laureen for three days of music, food and beer at the French Quarter Music Festival. The Ruby Slipper speaks to the ongoing post-Katrina effect. When the owners returned home after the floods subsided, they opened four breakfast restaurants, and named them The Ruby Slipper. As Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz proclaimed, "There's no place like home" - that would be if home is the place you find eggs, bacon, grits, fried-green tomatoes, fried potatoes, butter, jelly, and a saucer-sized biscuit on your plate. When we commented on the size of the portions, our server said," You're in the south, man. We don't count calories, we count meals." He is not whistling Dixie - being dainty with food is not how they roll.
Brennan's - a gracious New Orleans favourite - genteel service, old-money atmosphere for less than you might think.
An oasis on Bourbon Street - the Bourbon O Bar. An old-school cocktail lounge with fresh talent and approach. We pulled up four stools and had a grand time chatting with the very charming bartender Rachel and listening to Eudora Evans sing. Great people-watching.
We drank beer, but the focus was on hand-crafted cocktails. These are Baby Apricot Juleps - mint-infused Hudson Baby Bourbon, with Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur, an apricot garnish and served chilled on an ice cylinder. This cocktail is the brainchild of Cheryl Charming, voted New Orleans Magazine's Mixologist of the Year 2014. Please tell me why I didn't order one of these?
I took a number of food photos, but most of them looked unappetizing. The vegetables on one plate looked like slugs. So, I'm sticking to exterior photos of the restaurants. We avoided tourist trap restaurants, talked to the locals for recommendations, and did not have one bad meal. I think that is great advice for anyone eating in New Orleans - do your homework, and ask the locals.
We had heard great things about the Green Goddess, and luckily snagged the last table - right in a traffic area, with condiments on the bar, and the kitchen racket clamouring away in the background. Restaurant tables are at such a premium during Festival times, that you takes what you gets. The atmosphere of the place soon washed over, and we struck up a conversation with our next-door neighbours. Lovely folks from Burns Lake, B.C. - here to enjoy the Festival with their son and celebrate birthdays. Food was amazing - such synchronized, intelligent flavouring - a little party in the mouth - and unlike our neighbours, we had no room for an ice cream sundae with caramel-bacon sauce.
New Orleans has festivals of some description every week of the year, but April is packed with music festivals, and we had planned our trip there to coincide with the French Quarter Music Festival, which features almost entirely New Orleans performers. This is one of the largest FREE music festivals in the world. It has grown to attract over a half million visitors to listen to dozens of bands and singers on several stages over three days. In addition to the scheduled acts, there are buskers on every corner, and live music in restaurants and bars. All that, and the parade of characters who live in this city provides non-stop entertainment.
Unfortunately, someone forgot to alert the weatherman (woman?), and we had a very soggy weekend - at times the rain and winds were so severe that the acts were cancelled. We did manage to see a few acts at the outdoor stages, but also caught up with some music on Frenchman Street, which is a compact few blocks of clubs, restaurants and street buskers. Sooner or later, all New Orleans musicans and many international ones come through this street. You can spend many hours in this area, club-hopping and listening to incredible music.
Musicians set up all over the French Quarter - we stopped to listen to a number of them - some much better than others, but all deserving of a few bucks in the tip jar.
Back to the stage acts - Thursday was sunny, so we parked our folding chairs and sat in for hours of great music - we listened to the Rebirth Brass Band, followed by the great Allen Toussaint, and just wallowed in the pleasure of it all - the Mississippi River on one side, stage in front, Abita beer in hand, and chats with people as they came and went all day. Food - blackened shrimp po-boys, spicy meat pies - life is good.
We headed over to another stage to watch veteran fiddler Doug Kershaw and Steve Riley - incredibly 78-years-old, and still rocking. He brought the crowd to their feet.
And, the best for the last - John Boutté. He is an immensely soulful and personal singer, and after listening to him in an outdoor venue, we were so smitten, we caught him again at d.b.a, a club on Frenchman Street, where he has a standing Saturday night gig. His version of "Hallelujah" comes close to k.d. lang's. Our friend Dave had a chance to buy his CD and have a chat with him. Please excuse the weird, grainy, off-colour photo - it is the only one I have.
One more blog posting to come - wrapping up New Orleans, if such a thing is possible. See you in a day or two.