Thursday, July 25, 2013

Drifting Down the Bayou, Part 1 (A Trip Home)

NEW ORLEANS, June 27-29, 2013

I returned recently from a really wonderful 10 days in South Louisiana with my family. My husband couldn't come so my sister-in-law subbed in. It was a wonderful combination of family, tourism, friends, urban and rural experiences.

We arrived with the night, but the next day I was just so happy to see my parents' beautiful backyard bayou view.

My parents were willing to entertain the kids for two nights while I took my sister-in-law with me to New Orleans. We spent the first night with some of my closest friends from college. She was a trooper because we literally sat at their dining room table for SEVEN hours and talked, drank wine and ate food my friend Chris brought in from a local po-boy spot. I was hoarse right out of the gate.

After the marathon session at my friends, Karen (sisinlaw) and I kicked off our 24-hour jaunt of eating and drinking. We had brunch at a great little place called Surrey's Uptown. I had cheese grits and boudin patties. Yum.

We actually lucked out with the weather while we were down, but on this day, it was really hot and humid and sitting inside in the small space was a bit tough for a native Northern Californian and an acclimated California Cajun! We survived knowing there was a pool in our future. Before heading to said hotel, we stepped into a little local artists gallery right near Surrey's and I decided to take home some S&M baby art by Nola Breeze.

Karen unloaded some of her points at the Chateau LeMoyne on Dauphine. Not a bad little spot. I recommend it. It's still a Holiday Inn, but great location that is not in the middle of the nuttiness, but not in a sketchy area either. And, it had a pool. And a bar near the pool. And very nice and helpful staff.

Before the pool, we walked to the Monteleone Carousel Bar. One of my all time favorites and a must every time I am in New Orleans. I LOVED being here on a Friday afternoon. Rotating around the bar was a mess of tourists and locals getting started on the weekend. I loved seeing a guy in a seersucker suit and bow tie. I am pretty sure he was local. I regret not sneaking a photo. He was so dapper.

The bar remodeled recently so it's not nearly as dark and dank as it used to be. And, looks like they upgraded the cocktail menu a few notches. Often this disappoints me, but the changes seem to be all positive and the martinis were BIG. They were able to upgrade without losing sight of why the place is so great. And, really, with all the dark walls, I don't think you were able to appreciate the carousel before for all it's awesomeness. The drawback for me is that it was full. We lucked out and got a seat right away. Years ago, you could walk into that bar and be the lone rider orbiting around the liquor on many an afternoon. No worries, though. There's something about drinking on a carousel that brings out the best in people, I guess.

We had reservations for dinner, but enough time in the afternoon to go hang by the pool. My cousin Kelly showed up and then my friend Karen (aka KLC, who was also joining us for dinner). Nice girlie pool time. And more cocktails. This time SisinLaw instructed the hotel bartender to make us all pineapple upside down cake cocktails. We were feeling good, but not too good right up until it was time to head to...


O. My. God.

I'm writing this weeks after this meal and I can still taste it. Unique. Casual. Great service. For me, the thing that said Cajun that only a Cajun would know was that they have cucumbers with herbed vinegar on the menu. My summer snack was a daily dose of cucumbers grown by my grandmother and walked over nearly every day until they were all gone. I'd peel them and slice them and douse them with vinegar and salt and pepper. Nothing tastes better than a home-grown cucumber. Cochon's tasted like that...with herbed vinegar that was a little more complex than my childhood spices, but so yummy. We sampled a quite a few items off the menu and the summer selections are posted on the website now so check it out.

After that, KLC took us to Frenchman Street, which has become the hipsters' Bourbon Street, I suppose. It had a cool vibe. Music and people in the streets and about five clubs with music inside. And air conditioning which ended up being our determining factor in where we wanted to pay a cover. I was quite excited when Kermit Ruffins brushed by me in a fantastic white suit.

I also really loved the night art market. We bought some cute items that were not bank-breaking. And even if we didn't buy, the market just had these cute places where you could sit down and watch the people.

We ended up at one bar but the band was so dour and pretentious, we had to walk up Bourbon Street to get the life back into us. Bourbon Street is still the same: late high school and college kids, most probably from the country or the burbs, mostly wearing either Saints or LSU clothing and there for one main purpose: to PAWWWWTEEEE, y'all. It was gross and loud and fashion backwards, but after the hipness on Frenchmen Street, very welcoming.

The next morning, I got up early and snuck out to let SISinLAW sleep in. There was a light rain and I had no umbrella, but I wanted breakfast. Walking through the Quarter in the morning is one of my favorite things and if you add a light drizzle, it was downright sublime. I ended up having breakfast at a placed called The Old Coffee Pot that's right next to Pat O'Briens (we didn't go here, but I have some fond memories of this place despite it's touristy-ness and the fact that it's a chain). The Old Coffee Pot  was featured on Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives and got so-so reviews on Yelp. I felt good about the possibility of a decent breakfast, and I already had my foodie experience the night before. Sometimes you just need to shut off that desire to be so damned critical.

So, I had low expectations and was prepared to be in some tourist spot. It was sort of that, but sort of not. The place is pretty old with high ceilings and a nice patina'd wood bar toward the back. Just being in there, the sounds and the smells brought back fond childhood memories. The guy who seated me seemed a bit confused. I should add also that after talking with friends for seven hours the night before the last and then going out and talking MORE the previous night, my voice was shot so I was down to nearly a whisper or at best a frog-honk.

I was seated at a tall-topped table near the back. The small front section had a large table of tourists and a slightly smaller table of local gay guys (from their accents, these were NOT visiting gay guys). The wait staff all knew them by name. There was one male server. The rest were women. The women were seasoned and efficient and not shy about giving shit to the one guy who seemed very confused and the unseen kitchen staff who didn't seem to be producing at the pace the waitresses wanted.

At some point, the one guy waiter started futzing around with something that needed to be plugged in. This sent the waitress boss (I don't know if she was the boss, but she seemed to be the one who was running the show) into a frenzy. As the guy futzed with the plugs, the lights flickered on and off and all the waitresses started yelling, "don't play with that! what the hell are you doin'?" My waitress (the boss) hustled over to me to fill my coffee and said, "MEN," and shook her head. "Can't leave what they don't know alone. Always gotta be foolin with somethin." The gay guys egged them all on and there was a lot of laughing from both staff and customers. The tourists seemed to just keep to themselves.

The lights continued to flicker and they continued to give him hell while I enjoyed my grits and eggs and biscuit. YUMMMMMMM.

Then, after it seemed like the guy had given up on "foolin'" with the electrical (I should add that the drizzle had picked up a bit into a thunderstorm with lighting so the flickering lights were a bit unnerving), the boss lady heads to the front of the restaurant and suddenly breaks out into this loud, haunting gospel song. She's facing the tourists. Yes, it was for their benefit. Yes, it was hoakie and cliched, but damn, she was good and with the thunder rumbling in the back, I was ready to be raptured up, I tell you what.

Gimme a good floor show and and entertaining staff conflict and as long as I get my meal, I'm good.

SisinLaw was awake by the time I made it back. We made moves to check out and head home and walked to the Original Pierre Maspero's and had white beans and catfish and bloody marys. I love OPM, but I usually will go to the Napoleon House across the street instead. But the Napoleon House was closed. The story goes that OPM opened a year after TNH. I love the ancient building and the white beans were ok in my book.

Ready to head back to the bayou.

Stay tuned for part 2.