Feast of New Orleans

Is it really 20 years since Jeff Bridges uttered the memorable words in his role as Jeff LebowskiThe Dude Abides! Well, I don’t know about you, but when in New Orleans your taste buds will be on a collision course for which that phrase is definitely the most apt response.

Lets start with a stroll along Dauphine Street calling into EAT for a dish to truly baffle the likes of Juno and BellaBlackened Catfish… a lightly crusty outer skin with soft meaty fish. Just add cups of gumbo, rice, and generous portions of gherkin and tomato to provide an introduction to the coming days of what is likely to be a culinary explosion.

Meanwhile, at Joey K’s over on Magazine Street I stumble across a NOLA staple of Red Beans and Rice. A slice of Andouille Sausage brings out some spicy flavour. Not exactly the best accompaniment to a full on Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, so my recommendation is to sample the free water with the food, and then gently sip the wine.

For an introduction to the definitive ‘Taste of the BayouThe Creole House on Canal Street offers a trio of cups to tantalise the taste buds, as the gastronomic Louisiana trilogy of Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee and Jambalaya are presented for inspection. If you know what you want, dive in, but if you are unsure this option helps you decide what next to dive in to…

Strolling further along Canal Street why not try the Palace Cafe for a hint of Shrimp & Grits with a Creole Muniere, or maybe Turtle Soup followed by their signature dish of Crabmeat Cheesecake. The creole munière is a gravy with just the right level of spice to give an amazing dish extra oomph. As for the cheesecake… you have probably never tried anything like this before, and will then probably want to spend whatever it costs on returning to NOLA to check out what you just tasted! As for the poor turtles, well, you just have to when the opportunity arises… don’t you?

But, not everything here is about visiting restaurants. In between the dining establishments that provide great drinks there are, you guessed it, the drinking establishments providing amazing food. Try Vacherie on Toulouse Street, and while sitting at the bar sipping a range of local beers why not wrestle some Alligator Bites, Collard Greens, Bacon & Brussels Sprouts, oh, and a House Salad for balance…

And New Orleans may just have a welcome and forthright message for any youngsters dreaming of eating their usual fayre… take a hike Colonel Sanders! For the real taste of Fried Chicken check out the Treme based institution of Dooky Chase, particularly with a side order of Candied Yams (and that’s a Shrimp Creole that my friend is choosing, in case your concentration was drifting across the table!)…

Talking of Treme based institutions, a Shrimp Po-Boy slides down well, even with Tabasco Sauce, at Li’l Dizzy’s on Esplanade Avenue, but as a Brit I note that not even NOLA can hold a candle to our chips (that’s proper chips, not the fries nonsense inherited from somewhere in the basement of French cuisine)…

By now you are probably wondering how your health is coping with all of this gastronomic fabulousness. So, if it’s something a little lighter your looking for, but, being America no less enormous… try a salad or two, or more! Starting with the sumptuously named Satsuma Cafe on Maple Street the recommendation would be a boiled egg and avocado surrounded by the funky leaves of a Kale Salad washed down with a Beet Lemonade

Or, drop in to Luke on St Charles Avenue for Fried Oyster Salad accompanied by something distinctively fabulous that they do with Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Then again, if it’s music you like with your salad, try BB Kings on Decatur Street. The Spinach Salad with Blackened Chicken is a terrific accompaniment for the Blues, man!

BB King's Club Spinach Salad with Blackened Chicken

Did you say fine dining? Bayona on Dauphine Street provides a more delicate option than the soulful sounds of a blues club; but, starting with a Fig Salad or Quail Salad, the need for a deeper wallet will be more than compensated for on the tantalised taste buds…

Ultimately, thinking about all of this food, Envie is a place you may well be contemplating at this stage. Well it exists on Decatur Street and provides just the right accompaniment to a start of the day large cappuccino and OJ in the form of an Asparagus and Prosciutto Omelette with a side Biscuit (US rather than UK style of biscuit, that is)…

Until we speak again, not all institutions are necessarily good! NOLA is just waiting to ensnare you with a distinctive plate of their trademark Beignet. An avalanche of sugar covering a doughy case to a gloopy mess; think doughnuts ramped up to warp factor 10, this is something Juno and Bella would definitely turn noses up at and simply walk away… you may be well advised to do likewise, but when in New Orleans sometimes you simply have too dive in and hope!

Alka-Seltzer anyone!?

Meal of the year!

Okay, so Christmas festivities are enveloping our gastronomic juices at these very moments; but for me, nothing is going to quite equal the most breathtaking of many experiences of New Orleans back in October.

Crabmeat Cheesecake… yes, you read that correctly! The Palace Cafe on Canal Street have developed a signature brunch dish for those who can’t quite make their mind up… is it going to be shellfish or a desert that will provide the best kick start to yet another day of sensory overload?

Until we speak again, why not spice up your start to the day the NOLA way!

Palace Cafe Crabmeat Cheesecake [3]

Michael Jackson’s NOLA Resurrection

It’s the time of year when America gears up for its celebration of all things Halloween. Take a stroll around the neighbourhoods of New Orleans and you will quickly appreciate just how seriously some of the locals take it. This is Voodoo City, City of the Dead, or, is it just that Michael Jackson is back to reprise his greatest hits?

Childcare [2]

Here, death has a special significance, whether it be in the form of a museum… hey, look out lady, stand still around here for too long and you might just end up in a duet with Michael Jackson on something like Remember the Time

Or maybe through the creation of a city of the dead above ground in locations such as Lafayette Cemetery or the St Louis Cemeteries. These mausoleums are a requirement for most, not just the rich, to stop the bodies floating to the surface in a city largely built below sea level… now, that would be a Halloween party with a difference! Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough is clearly a sentiment that must have bypassed these residents…

If you want to avoid premature residence in the famous cemeteries above, try some of the local voodoo elixir’s along N. Rampart in the French Quarter… if you have a mind to risk a reprise of Bad with Michael Jackson that is.

But never mind the afterlife, a quiet stroll in the Treme in the present will likely provide more than a hint of what it’s like to be Off The Wall

Then again, take a stroll down the neighbouring Esplanade Avenue and you may just gain a peak into the precursor to an intriguing domestic Thriller

But beware to protect your property, as once you have gone out to do your own thing, you might find that like many others around the French Quarter you’ve become the victim of a Smooth Criminal

The threat of skeletal misdemeanours aside, taking the bus along Magazine Street through the Lower Garden District may provide you with a lifelong NOLA message… you just Got To Be There, at least, that is, if you believe yourself to be…

Until we speak again, remember Halloween is just One Day In Your Life, so enjoy, and rest assured that Michael Jackson has been keeping some good company this last few years c/o a whole lotta NOLA legends…

T-shirt

An American Dream

Once upon a time a young Donald developed an eye for the birds and an ability to stalk and hunt down any prey he cast his gaze upon…

He quickly decided he was unlikely to need any advice from New Orleans, however well intentioned…

But the idea of being the big chief seemed to his juvenile nihilism to be inevitable, and that he would undoubtedly become the biggest most colourful of all…

Alas, all he could truly manage in the eyes of sane people was to become a lizard, loved only by the abundant pond life he sought to mesmerise…

He quickly developed a narrow view of the company he wished to keep…

Unlike the Donald, if you come to New Orleans with an open mind and a true heart, a simple message will prevail…

Until we speak again, if you hold out a hand of support for something that tweets incessantly, what you may get in return is more guano than you can handle!

Feel the Big Easy

“See me, feel me, touch me, heal me”, as the famous lyrics go from The Who. But what does this matter in the grand scheme of things down New Orleans way?

Well… “A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says what’s with the long face?” It might sound like the lead in to a comedy routine, but it is just something you might see on an ordinary day in New Orleans…

It is easy enough to ‘see‘ New Orleans… the all-out alcohol theme park that is Bourbon Street, embellished with ubiquitous beads, as it provides the backdrop to a perennial staging of the brotherhood and sisterhood of global redneckery. The hobos competing for hard earned dollars that the tourists wish only to pour down their own throats. The quintessentially potholed grime of French Quarter chic.

Kenaz Filan vividly captures the ‘seeing‘ of New Orleans as “a hospice where morals and good character could die in a suitably entertaining fashion.” Probably most usually accompanied with a suitable greeting and copious amounts of your favourite liquid…

But, is it enough just to ‘see‘ New Orleans? I guess for the inebriated it is, but this is so much more than a city… this is a way of life wrapped up in a diverse cultural history and presented through the medium of a multicultural human gumbo.

Look a little closer and you might just experience a whole new world of beauty and wonder. Because to get to know New Orleans you need to ‘feel‘ the real Nou Awlings.

It may be indelibly stamped with the sounds of jazz and the blues, most evocatively experienced by the street procession behind a traditional New Orleans brass band…

… but why not also listen a little closer to the daily soundtrack… that of competing freight train and steamboat horns that blast across the city; and the churning of streetcar wheels grinding through spacious avenues. Not to say of the constant chatter of back stories and life’s experiences being exchanged in the cauldron-like heat of the day.

However, for a recognizably noisy metropolis there is no shortage of places for quiet contemplation. This is a city truly ‘born on a bayou’, a remnant of which is routinely ignored by tourists who only see City Park on the opposite side of the streetcar terminus. But, for those with a fuller functioning compass, tranquility and a little historic charm (e.g. Pitot House) await…

Then again, if reinventing gravity is your thing, the meditation garden in Audubon Park offers up an Isaac Newton experience, as your breathing exercises are occasionally interrupted by acorns falling from the overhanging oaks…

The French Quarter may be a hotbed of Spanish and Creole architecture, but this is a city of Cajun influences amongst so many other immigrant representatives. Once you have got your head around the voodoo intsrpretations of Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya, the street names of Tchopitoulas, Terpsichore and Capdeville, then prepare your tongue for Crawfish Etouffee, Okra and Louisiana Seafood Gumbo, Beef Po Boys, Jambalaya, Muffulettas, and Alligator Sausage. But make your choice of establishment a little more discerning… why settle for a faux tourist French Quarter restaurant when the real deal is a shack only 15 minutes walk away at Li’l Dizzy’s in the Treme?

Then there is the quintessential flirtation with death! They might offer some lotions and potions to hold back the grim reaper, but don’t bet on it…

… But, when the voodoo strikes you down, try reserving a plot in a city of above ground cemeteries that is constantly battling high water table and below sea level inevitabilities!

Be warned, nothing happens too quickly here; there is no better embodiment of the Welsh phrase “I’ll do it now, in a minute!” than a native or adopter of Nou Awlings. In fact, some take the slower pace of life to a whole new level…

And, with a view to doing their own thing, rather than following the spirit of America, just how un-American can you get? (Some things were just meant to rile those Fump Truckers!)…

Until we speak again, I make no apologies for reminding you of the prescient words of Dan Baum, that New Orleans is “a city-sized act of civil disobedience.” Come, look, but above all else, feel it!

Wind power

What better source than a combination of a skillet of Brussels Sprouts (with added bacon) and a glass of the amber nectar?

Until we speak again, thanks go to the Vacherie bar at Hotel St Marie in the French Quarter of New Orleans for providing the stage and necessary equipment for the production of who knows what subsequent stormy conditions!

Hangin’ in the Treme…

Hangin’ in the Treme

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…Watchin’ people sashay
Past my steps
By my porch
In front of my door…

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Church bells are ringin’
Choirs are singing
While the preachers groan
And the sisters moan
In a blessed tone

 

Down in the treme
Is me and my baby
We’re all going crazy
While jamming and having fun

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Trumpet bells ringing
Bass drum is swinging
As the trombone groans
And the big horn moans
And there’s a saxophone

Festival Stage

Treme is a colourful location for the masterpiece post-Katrina drama series, as well as being a place of historic cultural significance…

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It was thanks to a tip off from the vunderbar Sue at the Vacherie Bar on Toulouse Street that resulted in me heading on down for an experience of stunning food and cool jazz in the heat of the afternoon…

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Until we speak again, keep jamming and having fun!

Full acknowledgements go to John Boutte for the lyrics of the Treme theme tune.