Sunday, February 22, 2015
There isn't much that makes me nervous. Venomous snakes in Marrakech? Blah! I pose with them and don't feel nervous at all. Being in the car when my rally-driver brother-in-law takes me and my wife out in the snow in his insanely fast Mitsu Evo... please, piece of cake! But New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday to be more precise, made me nervous. Seeing that many people crowding Bourbon Street and the ancient decks above it was, quite frankly, a very intense experience for this traveler. I am very happy I went, but I will not be in a hurry to go back.
Mardi Gras should be on everyone's Bucket List. It is so full of wild abandonment, that any red-blooded human being should glimpse it's secrets, just once. I didn't mean to go to Mardi Gras. I have been over in the States for a bit and finished what I was doing quicker than I thought and I suddenly had some time on my hands. What to do with it? Ah, let's drive to New Orleans. Perfect! And it just so happened that the only day we could go was Tuesday. Fat Tuesday, the last day of this, one of the most celebrated Carnivals in the world.
Being a foodie and thinking mostly with my stomach, I knew I was in for a treat. I have read and heard so many good things about the food in New Orleans. However, my excitement was quickly squashed when I noticed that the vast majority of good restaurants closed their doors on Fat Tuesday. Signs just read, "Closed on Tuesday. Will re-open on Wednesday." And walking around the streets of New Orleans I could see why. To me Mardi Gras is like every 15 year old's fantasy. You get to dress up in whatever outfit you want to wear, even if that outfit is no clothing at all, and you get to do basically whatever you want to do and nobody judges you. The closest thing I can relate it to is when my mom used to go away on business trips and leave me alone. It was like Ferris Beuller's Day Off and Risky Business all rolled into one extremely fun weekend. The difference is, I was 15, the people around me during Mardi Gras seemed to span all age groups from twenty to eighty. It didn't matter, everyone was doing the same thing!
Once I realized that it would be virtually impossible to have a relaxed, calm, good meal in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, I just loosened up and got into the spirit of things. We needed dinner and we couldn't wait. We picked a place on Royal Street called Royal House Oyster Bar. We were led upstairs and I actually really liked it. The dining room was exactly as I imagined it to be, old, crooked and with lots of windows and shutters. It was lovely. And the food was pretty decent too. The winning dish had to be my Shrimp and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya. It was slightly dry, but very tasty. It had all those Cajun flavors I've had in so many restaurants outside of New Orleans.
After dinner we walked along Bourbon Street for a while, but the crowd was heaving and in the end was too much. The smell of stale beer and pot made us even more reluctant and we made a quick exit. Walking around the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday and trying to find a bar or restaurant that was tame was clearly a stupid idea and we shouldn't have had such high hopes. We did stumble onto the Ritz Carlton though and the bar and drinks there were top notch. It still had Mardi Gras revelers, but they were much more mild.
The next day we made it our mission to eat as much as we could. Our first stop, well, after William Faulkner's House and Tennessee Williams' House was Cafe du Monde. Even people who have no interest in going to Mardi Gras, or New Orleans know of Cafe du Monde. Their coffee is sold all over the world. However, there is one item that is even more popular than their coffee... Beignets. Those warm, triangular shaped doughnuts, that are coated in more powdered sugar than is wise, or healthy. We ordered three each and I shared a coffee with my wife. Both were good, but the Beignets were absolutely delicious!
We had a long drive back and knew we needed to be getting a move on, but we couldn't leave without eating at Johnny's Po-Boys. So, an hour after we had Beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde we were standing in a long line outside Johnny's. The lines in New Orleans are staggering. Besides Cafe du Monde, which I'm pretty sure we accidentally cut the line, we waited in line at every single place we ate at. And we didn't eat in some places because the line was just too long, the Acme Oyster House was one such restaurant.
Johnny's Po-Boys serves typical Cajun "Fast Food" Grub. We had two Po-Boys, Alligator Sausage and Cajun Blackened Chicken. Both were very tasty, however, the Shrimp Gumbo that accompanied the Alligator Sausage Po-Boy was, quite simply, terrible. It tasted like swamp water. The Shrimp were pale and bland and the seasoning was poorly executed. A total waste of money.
We left New Orleans feeling a bit perplexed. We all loved it... and hated it. We couldn't help but think it was probably a really brilliant city 50 years ago. It has clearly done what so many other old cities do. It has become far too commercial. It's like Las Vegas and Disneyland but with some history. The only way I see myself going back is if Marty picks me up in the DeLorean and I can go back and see the real New Orleans. The New Orleans Faulkner writes about. That must have been quite a place!
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