Sweet holy heaven, do I have a delicious looking series of posts for you.
The setting, as you may have inferred from the title: NEW ORLEANS! Aka the place with the food so good it ruins all other food for you. Forever.
In a decision that was a fun mix of naiveté, kindness, optimism, and my phobia of flying, Steve and I departed to and returned from New Orleans by car in an EPIC 16-HOUR-ROAD-TRIP. 16 hours both ways, that is. Epic. Crazy. The purpose of our voyage was to celebrate my sister’s graduation from Tulane and to have my trusty Camry available to tote her stuff home.
We opted to take a more leisurely pace on our way down, taking in the shockingly lovely scenery of Southern Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Missisippi.
A billboard inspired us to take an EXCEEDINGLY fun detour to the Mayfield Dairy. Question: who among you WOULDN’T love to go on a tour of an ICE CREAM FACTORY?!
The tour was a fun mix of history- the now-enormous dairy company began humbly as the son of a farmer experimenting with dairy farming on a small plot of his father’s land- a look at the astonishingly efficient and mechanized assembly line of ice cream production, and of course, a sampling opportunity.
I had the blueberry pie ice cream, pictured above, and it. was. marvelous. Freshness I’m sure played a role, since the ice cream had been produced literally down the hall. Since the milk gets delivered daily (something in the family of the milk of 20,000 cows. Can you even picture that?! I cannot), it seems a logical inference that it was local and from a recently milked cow. And anyway, it was just exceptionally well-made ice cream. My blueberry pie one was creamy and perfectly (but not excessively) sweet. The blueberries tasted fresh and delicious and the pie crust chunks- which were more like a sugary cookie- were a delight.
Steve got a caramel one that was also incredible- you know the monumental difference between the rich, dark, ever so slightly bittersweet caramel that pools at the bottom of crème caramel and the high-fructose-corn-syrup ice cream topper rubbish you buy at the grocery store? This caramel was in the former category. Mmm.
After a stay at the Bates Motel (well fine there were no dead bodies) in Meridian, Mississippi (a town recommended by my car guy, who’d also road tripped to Nola. Yes, it had lots of hotels but all of them were bafflingly full- apparently a lot of businessmen traveling to work at the local power plant?!) we at last arrived in the Crescent City, motoring in over a multi-mile bridge looking out on Lake Pontchartrain.
With stiff legs, we were immediately raring to go.
My sister led us through her truly beautiful campus. Stunning live oak trees with the most amazing canopy of leaves surround the buildings and lawns. The buildings are lovely and fit perfectly with the landscape.
And, of course, there is a tree completely draped in Mardi Gras beads.
After we assured her we were ready for some authentic New Orleans cuisine, my sister led us to the awesomely named Cooter Brown’s.
On the menu? Po’Boys. Ohhhhhhhhhh Po’Boys. This is not your last look at them.
I opted for the po’boy with fried Gulf shrimp, and oh what an excellent decision that was. The sandwich’s exterior was a long roll generously sprinkled with sesame seeds, perfectly toasted and then drenched in what looked like melted butter. Then the shrimp, which were ENORMOUS (is it just me or are Gulf shrimp supposed to be small? Wasn’t the case here!) were expertly seasoned and had an irresistible spice to them. They were also perfectly fried and not at all greasy. Oh and there were a TON of them. On top was surprisingly fresh lettuce and tomato and perfect pickles.
What a sandwich!
During our meal, Steve and I mentioned that we wanted to see some levees to get some context about Hurricane Katrina. Malindi laughed really hard and led us outside. Fact: in many places, a levee is a big pile of dirt. A couple feet high, max. Really puny and entirely useless looking. How on earth the entire city isn’t entirely underwater already is beyond me.
This was reinforced as we strolled around after our meal and saw water… everywhere. The Mississippi… being really huge. The mega-lake. It’s all pretty but it’s also… weird.My mother and my sister, on a previous visit to the city, had taken a hurricane tour. I would’ve liked to’ve had more time to do it, because it sounds like an interesting, if sobering way to see the city. Apparently as you go along the Mississippi by boat, you are looking down from the water into the lower Ninth ward. And, even now, there are many blocks where you can spot a set of stairs leading to… nothing, where houses were entirely washed away and never rebuilt.
Anyway, New Orleans is a different kind of city. In many ways. I will wax philosophic about it more in future posts.
One key example of the uniqueness of Nola is that after our meal Malindi urged us to get daiquiris. Never mind that it was 1:00 in the afternoon; we were in New Orleans! Land of public drinking, where one can order a drink at a bar to go, then stroll down the streets sipping a daiquiri! Ridic.
Guess which one was mine and which was Steve’s?
It was a fun novelty enjoying a pina colada while walking around, but I knew sugar+booze+sunshine could give me one hell of a headache if I kept drinking. So I really only had a little. Steve finished his and was then sugar-stunned for awhile.
We kept walking.So you know how everyone talks about the New Orleans architecture? Yeah, that. It’s amazing.
We strolled along Saint Charles Avenue, a street that’s essentially a series of gorgeous old mansions. Now, I live in the DC suburbs, an area where god-awful McMansions are perpetually appearing, with their tacky vinyl siding extending to the furthest corners of their tiny lots. While these houses were huge, they were also stunning: high quality materials, thoughtful architecture, myriad oak trees and beautiful gardens lending perspective to their size.
I’m not going to lie, it’s a little disorienting seeing such a large, concentrated, publicly available demonstration of affluence in New Orleans, a city where poverty and crime are at a level I consider frightening and wrong. However, it is undeniably beautiful. And even more normal-sized houses have a unique charm in New Orleans.
We continued through beautiful Audobon Park, then over to Magazine Street, a great place for eating and shopping. I loved how stores were interspersed with pretty private homes. It was not too commercialized and very walkable. Blocks further down that were crowded with restaurants and the appearance of an American Apparel saddened me; I wish more cities had streets that were allowed to be pretty and distinctive, rather than falling prey to complete and total commercialization.
One of our favorite spots on Magazine Street- and something that I think should be a required stop in Nola for any food lovers- was Sucre, a truly amazing bakery.
Virtually everything for people who like sugar was there. Beautiful and uniquely flavored gelato (I once sampled a basil and coconut flavored one that tasted like Thai curry); beautiful pastries like you’d find in a Paris bakery; cupcakes; homemade chocolates. Wanting something light, special, and delectable, I opted for macarons!
Sucre’s flavors were amazing. Along with typical standbys- strawberry, pistachio, coffee and the like- they also had truly innovative flavors. I opted for three (I did share them… sort of): the hazelnut, which was filled with chocolate; the carrot cake (!); and the white chocolate with lavender (!!!!). On our follow-up visit to Sucre (necessary!) I got that white chocolate lavender one again. It is a winner of a combination; the herbiness really cuts that cloying sweetness of white chocolate. I envision some homemade ice cream inspired by this confection in the future.
The night ended with dinner cooked in Malindi’s apartment (our job was to use up her groceries; Steve did his best, eating something like seven hot dogs during the trip); a trip to The Boot, a bar right by campus that does triple shot drinks for four dollars (oh college); and creative sleeping arrangements due to me poorly communicating about a need for an air mattress.
The accommodations were considerably nicer at the bed and breakfast where we brought my mother after picking her up at the airport the next morning.
I mean come on when you go in through the courtyard you know this is gonna be classy.
The story of my family’s relationship with The Chimes, this truly amazing bed and breakfast, is a lengthy one. Some facts:
- We learned of its existence from our neighbor, a man who was in charge of logistics for Reuters during Hurricane Katrina. Reporters and photographers needed a place to stay and post their stories, so Larry arranged to just bring in a generator and rent out the entire bed and breakfast. And they had as pleasant an experience as anyone could during Katrina, because they had somewhere beautiful and harmonious to stay.
- When my sister’s appendix self-destructed last year and I was frantically trying to book flights and accommodations to New Orleans while my mom was frantically trying to tie up loose ends at her office, I called Jill, the lovely proprietor of The Chimes. She assured me that a room was available for my mom for the next two nights, and added that if she needed to stay after that, on a night they were fully booked, they’d just let her sleep in their daughter’s room (!)
- The shower in the room was beautiful and huge and had little pebbles embedded in the bottom of it, so taking a shower was like getting a foot massage; particularly nice with the amount of walking we did
- Carl Kassel’s voice is on their answering machine. Not because they won on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, but because he stays at The Chimes every time he’s in New Orleans
- It is on Constantinople Street. That is awesome.
- Cab drivers LOVE Jill, because she always refers people at the B+B to a specific cab company, because they are the most reliable. One guy, who was giving my mom and sister a ride somewhere, said he was visiting his native country of Barbados and saw some beautiful seashell chimes. He said, “If those don’t cost a thousand dollars, I am buying them for Jill!” They cost 75, so he bought them, and they now adorn the courtyard with many other sets, and the sound is absolutely lovely when the breeze blows.
For those reasons and many more, we love The Chimes.
This is how my dream house will be decorated:
Once we got my mom settled, lunch was in order. Malindi continued her winning streak of restaurant recommendations by leading us to Baru.
We lucked out with a lovely table outside.
Looking out at gorgeous flowers (which were everywhere in the city).
The restaurant had lots of fun little things to combine into meals, which is absolutely my favorite way to eat. We began with a buncha small plates to share:
Trio de Causas
Chilled Tuna and potato salad / avocado / quail egg / peruvian olive aïoli
I mean really?! Along with being stunning (lovvvvvvvvve the purple potatoes) the flavor was great. It offered the nostalgia of a deviled egg but had an extra dimension of flavor that was wonderful.
Roasted corn/ salao cheese/ pink sauce/ potato sticks
Looked like a pile of french fries at first, but digging revealed the other ingredients!
Deep-fried Louisiana oysters/ cilantro aioli/ caramelized onions
Sauce on the side, for my cilantro-hating sister. LOVE oysters. Wish I could eat them every day. These were spectacular, especially with those amazing onions on top.
For my main dish of sorts (was already feeling pretty darn satisfied by the dishes above) I got one of their tacos, which involved big fat awesome shrimp in a remoulade sauce; avocado; and pickled onions. Fab.
Steve got their fish taco, which had a special sumthin’ sumthin’.
I couldn’t really handle day drinking for a second day in a row, but these sure looked good!
I think that’s quite enough for one post, so I’ll conclude with a spectacular display of immaturity.
Two pictures from the general vicinity of Tulane’s campus, presented without comment:
More Nola posts to come!
Have you been to New Orleans? Did you luuuuuuuuurve it?