Monday, August 8, 2011

Let's Go Get It!

Radiohead--"Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong" (mp3)

It's hard to get to everything you want to get to when you're in New Orleans. The travel, the heat, the night before can all convince you that your time is best spent in a dark, cool room. But, last Saturday, I think we nailed it. We were down there for one of our typical whirlwind trip, Friday to Sunday, were kind of out of sorts on Friday, and, knowing we had to hurry back on Sunday, were determined to make Saturday as full a day as possible.

People, like my father, who know how often we like to go to New Orleans, always wonder what we do while we're there. Here's how we did it on this day:

7:30 AM Out of bed, over protests of older daughter.

8:15 AM Wife's first cup of tea must be from "the most civilized place in the world," the Croissant D'Or, which steams the milk perfectly, so we start the 13 block trek to the lower quarter. Yes, we know the hotel has a free breakfast, but why, in this city?

8:31 AM Older daughter wants to eat before we get to the Croissant D'Or, our typical breakfast location, claiming "I want some real breakfast." We duck into the Camelia Grill's newish outpost in the French Quarter for a "snack." It is here that I learn, or rather remind myself, that there is no greater sandwich than a BLT, perfectly-cooked as the Camelia does it, and now discover as well that it makes for a great breakfast.

9:17 AM Arrive at Croissant D'Or for perfect cafe au lait and Earl Grey tea and a rasberry croissant for my wife. Bliss. The restaurant has changed owners, has a crisp new vibe, and was full of Italian tourists who must have been very pleased with the top-notch European offerings.

9:48 AM It's just a quick walk over to the French Market with its fruits and open-air restaurants and vendors selling everything from jewelry to junk. You never know what you'll end up with here, but as the heat begins to take its toll and my t-shirt sticks to me, the air-conditioned bathroom is the finest offering in the market on this day, along with a few kitschy decorations for the basement.

10:30 AM Walking the many blocks toward Canal Street, stopping in at the Central Grocery to get two muffulettas for two big fans of this sandwich back home. Sure, they're everywhere now, even at chain sandwich restaurants, but they never quite taste like or get the proportions right like the original ones. Especially with a bag of Zapff's Chips.

11:01 AM Stop in a needlepoint and sewing store, where my wife gets a few New Orleans-related patterns

11:35 AM Drop some major cash for my wife's birthday at Lucullus, her favorite French antique kitchen store (are there others?). We come away with a beautiful old bread board and a coffee bowl. And reassurance from the manager that we made the right decision putting in marble countertops. My wife compliments him on having lost weight. He beams. We are regulars.

11:50 AM Five minutes in hotel room to change clothes and try out the button-down cotton shirt theory. Almost immediately, I can tell it will work.

12:00 PM Lunch at Cafe Adelaide, a hotel restaurant owned by the Commander's Palace group. Among the things we order: Shrimp and tasso "corn dogs," a bacon, lettuce, and tomato and egg po-boy, an absinthe burger, a Brandy Milk Punch. Then the manager shows up with a cute drink holder and says, "Because you're first timers and because you made your reservation on, we'd like to give you these complimentary drinks. This is our signature cocktail, the Swizzle Stick." Well, I guess so. I guess we'll take those. And whooee are they good!

1:10 PM We get the car from the restaurant valet, driving away from the Quarter for Magazine Street, the hippest street in New Orleans. As my daughter says, "It's where the local girls shop."

1:17 PM First stop, though, is still on Tchoupatoulis St.: Cochon Butcher. I stop here every time I come to New Orleans. For me, much of my love of New Orleans is what I can bring back home, and here I bring back huge logs of andouille sausage and boudin. "Butcher" is a thriving little hole-in-the-wall next to its parent restaurant, Cochon, namesake of one of my favorite cookbooks. It is packed with hip people enjoying their clever drinks and innovative bar food and sandwiches.

1:32 PM Drop my daughter at Rue De La Course coffee shop, where she met up with a college friend who is doing a two-year stint with Teach For America in New Orleans. Drop my wife at Bremermann Designs, her favorite New Orleans decorator, while I wait in the car. You can tell, by now, that I am like a master conductor, coordinating everyone's desires and themes with great finesse!

1:58 PM Walk into the beautiful Whole Foods outpost on Magazine Street, which reignites my consternation over the miserable quality of Chattanooga grocery stores. Even though we supposedly have a Whole Foods now (the Greenlife), it ain't nuthin' like this. Cherry samples, wine samples, cheese samples, and, out of nowhere, a huge pile of New Mexico green chiles for 99 cents a pound. We buy several pounds and some soap and start the return trip back down Magazine towards the Quarter. I will be charring them and freezing them. Oh, yes, and bathroom. Never turn down the chance to use the bathroom in New Orleans. You never know when you might see another one.

2:22 PM Yep, amazingly, another grocery store, this time Breaux Mart. I'm that weird person who likes to go into local grocery stores in cities I'm visiting to see what they have that's different. While my wife shops at Tomato, across the street, I come away from the Breaux Mart with fresh crab, tasso ham, cane sugar vinegar, a local tomato sauce, four different kinds of Abita beer, and ice to keep it cold for the trip home. It has become outrageously hot; I am relatively cool in my cotton shirt.

2:48 PM Park the car, making sure to pay the parking, since the meter readers on Magazine hid in the bushes. Meet daughter and her college friend, exchange pleasantries, receive casual invite to the night's big party, White Linen, where everyone wears white, buys drinks, and walks in and out of all of the open art galleries in the Warehouse District. Someday, New Orleans, some day.

3:15 PM We're in Funky Monkey, looking at vintage clothing. We get a "Real Housewives of N'awlins" t-shirt for my daughter who stayed home and in honor of the housewives we saw at supper the night before at One restaurant. In case you're wondering, ladies, white pants are in. White pants are what all the real housewives wear out for a casual evening. We hit a number of the other boutiques. My wife is convinced she needs some white pants.

3:52 PM Driving back toward Canal Street, my wife and daughter have one more place they want to shop. I am done. I drop them off, drop the car off with valet, take all of the perishable foods and the cooler with me up to the room

4:30 PM I take the Dixie beers I had meant to take home and ice them down in the room. It is pleasant to sit in the room with a Kindle, playing their latest free word game, while sipping on the Dixies and watching the late afternoon crowds pass by below my window.

6:15 PM They call about supper. They are hungry. We have no plan. I get out my phone and start looking. We know and love a number of neighborhood joints outside the Quarter, but I do not feel like getting the car out again. They return to the room. They commandeer the other Dixies. I don't care. I find us a place. Ah, New Orleans.

7:00 PM Step out into the evening. All around, the heat has tempered only slightly, if at all. You can feel the gathering energy of a Saturday summer evening in the French Quarter, people beginning to mass, cars having to be patient with the crossing crowds on Canal. It's a brief walk over to Dauphine. To get there, you have to cross Bourbon, which is already as full as an airport the day before Thanksgiving. But with drinks.

7:15 PM Walk into Deanie's Seafood, on the far side of Bourbon Street. New place for us, though I think we'd been to their original location in Bucktown. The place is packed, outside of it is packed, across the street is packed, but we decide to wait. They have schooners of beer and there are people to watch, and Marshall Faulk is being inducted into the Hall of Fame and people are camped out everywhere and Deanie's has a casino downstairs for your pleasure while you wait, and, later on, when my women get to hungry, I happily volunteer to stroll back to Bourbon, where I get them a slice of cheese pizza and me a fresh beer and I wander back and the wait feels faster than it should and then the pager buzzes.

8:47 PM Get seated. Upon being seated, the waitress brings a bowl of boiled red-skinned potatoes. That's right. Boiled perfectly and sprinkled with a hot, spicy, salty mix and served with a bowl of butters.

9:22 PM We are served crab-stuffed flounder, a quartet of crawfish dishes, and a piled of fried shrimp. Perfectly fried, I might add. They stay crispy; there is not a drop of grease anywhere. With excellent dill tartar sauce to dip them in. The french fries? Who needs them? And followed by one piece of coconut custard bread pudding and three spoons that finishes off meal.

9:45 PM Just off Bourbon, there is a ruckus across the street from Acme Oyster House. A street musician set up under a balcony has been getting water dumped on him all night by the men who live above, and this time it has caused some damage and officials are headed up to take care of it. We talk to several bystanders to get the story, lament with them, and keep going. Typical foolishness.

9:53 PM We are on Canal Street, walking back to our hotel. A "party bus" roars by, all decked out and leading with its slogan, "Let's Go Get It."

Yes, we know the night is young and that there is more to get, but we are finished. We have to get up at 5AM drive back to Chattanooga. But, we feel like that was our slogan for the day, too. How many days are there, how many perfect days when every member of the family is happy and happily tired, together and all at the same time, for both the same and different reasons?


John said...

You manage, every time you're in that city, to get more from it during a day than most people get out of it during a week. Props. Next time, Rocky and Carlo's.

Bob said...

"Wop" salad, baby!

Daisy said...

What is the button down cotton shirt theory?

troutking said...

Somewhere down the crazy river! Nicely done.

Bob said...

Daisy, the button down theory is that a cotton shirt is cooler in hot weather. A t-shirt will stick to you, a polo shirt is thicker and hot. The button down keeps you coolest. I found it to be true, for what it's worth.

Billy said...

@Bob - IMO the dry-fit shirts are the coolest things going, but they have a phenomenal and, as best I can tell so far, unavoidable STANK factor. If you're sweating in a dry-fit shirt for more than a couple of hours, it will, guaranteed, stink to holy hell.