04 March 2010

Honeymoon in New Orleans: Fat Wednesday

So the day after Fat Tuesday in New Orleans was in my head, the official Eating Day. Call it Fat Wednesday if you will. You can’t go to New Orleans and not try their well known dishes. On my list for the trip was gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, muffaletta, po’boy and a beignet. Thankfully I don’t eat fish\seafood or that list would be even longer. The first time I was in New Orleans in 2002, I did not have one bad meal. I think I tried to have a bad meal just to see if it was possible, but it never happened. I was truly convinced that New Orleans simply didn’t know how to make bad food. Sadly, I have come to find out that during my 2002 trip, I happened to be extremely lucky. It’s not to say everything we had this time around was bad, but quite a bit was.

We started out at the Gumbo Shop on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter. I specifically choose this place because they served vegetarian gumbo and I wanted to make sure that Andy got a taste of some Cajun food. While we had to wait 15 minutes for them to open at 11 AM, the wait was well worth it. The food was fantastic. My only regret is that we didn’t go back here again.

 
Waiting outside of the Gumbo Shop.  Hurry up Gumbo Shop!

After lunch, we spent some time wandering around the Quarter. After a spell (how old am I?), we found ourselves at Molly’s at the Market on Decatur Street for an afternoon cocktail. I had been to Molly’s in 2002 and it was hands down my favorite bar during that trip. When we wandered in, the place was pretty dead and we ended up striking up a conversation with the bartender. His name was Louie Crowder and he told us about his play, ‘The Disaster 1604 Series’ that he wrote and that was starting to show in England. I’m being specific about this information as I’m urging all those in the UK to see it. Sadly I failed to remember if it was being shown on television (which I’m thinking is the case) or it was being put on the stage, but please, check it out. It’s all about the Hurricane Katrina Disaster and it was written by a very nice albeit cool about collar fellow (how old am I?) from N’awlins.

Two other very important things occurred at Molly’s that afternoon. The first being that I feel in love – with the Molly’s bar cat. According to Louie, his name was Mr. Woo and he wandered in Molly’s during Katrina and never left. He was big and grey and he liked sleeping on the bench near the door soaking in the fresh air and sunshine. Since the bench also held all the local newspapers, I went over there frequently to “get another paper” which really meant, “to stroke Mr. Woo some more.” I didn’t get a picture of Mr. Woo as much as I wanted to as I was trying to hold up my aura of “yes, I’m a tourist, but I’m a cool tourist” in front of Louie. I’m so lame just for admitting that.

The 2nd important thing that happened at Molly’s was that Andy and I picked up this very small unassuming local magazine called the Quarter Rat. The Quarter Rat is written for the locals, by the locals, mostly bartenders. It has articles such as “Drinking in the French Quarter – It’s Not a Sport, it’s a Deathmatch” and “Le Route de Pussois! Where to find some late night random hook-ups!” The article we found most useful for the entirety of the trip was, “Off the Beaten Path – Dive Bars of the French Quarter” which not only listed said bars, but also contained a map and a short warning, “All locations are approximate. I did this by memory, and I was really drunk when I did it…REALLY drunk.” Without ever verbalizing it (which is why Andy and I are really good together) we both silently decided to challenge ourselves to hit as many dive bars on the list as we could. Everyone loves a challenge after all. Official Eating Day quickly turned into Official Eating and Dive Bar Searching Day. And it was a blast.

 
Get your "prescriptions" here folks!

I can’t possibly get into all the places that we went that day. I can tell you that having the Quarter Rat magazine is a quick way for your bartender to take notice of you and start a conversation. If I was feeling a bit outgoing at a particular spot, I’d open up the magazine and say to the bartender, “It says here that I’m suppose to ask you if you have beer and how much are your $3 shots” (Taken from the article, ‘Questions That Drive Your Bartender Crazy’). If I wasn’t feeling outgoing, I’d simply open the magazine up, turn to the Dive Bar page and start writing notes. If not the bartender, then someone sitting near us would mention the Quarter Rat and blam!- conversation with another local.

 
Our challenge for the week.  No, we didn't hit all of these in one day - we're not that good.

Andy and I thankfully have a similar mind set when traveling. While sometimes we want to see things that are considered ‘touristy’, most of the time, we want to experience a place like a local would. Neither one of us likes being a ‘tourist’; we don’t like hanging out with other tourists, we don’t like tours that tourists do, places that tourists go, food that tourists eat. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but we do try to stay clear of it as much as possible. We have also found that the easiest way to do as the locals do is to drink where the locals drink. A lubricated local is more wealth of useful information than what TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet can ever offer. A local at Boondock Saints (a cop bar – which we wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for a local) will let us know that Coop’s is the best place for jambalaya (though I disagreed once I had it), or that the best place for live music is on Frenchman Street off of the Quarter (absolutely true), or who has the best breakfast if you are up early enough to get there (we never were). The locals we talked to gave us their thoughts on how they think tourists should behave (always take note of this, it will go far!), their love lives, how New Orleans is still so far behind after Katrina (I’ll get into this more later), what it’s like working there, living there, partying there. Talking to locals while traveling reveals a bit of a place’s soul that you’d never get to see sitting on a tour bus or marveling at a statue.

By the way, to the bartender from Wisconsin working at Ruby Fruit Jungle – thank you for telling me to give Coop’s another try but have the fried chicken, it was absolutely fantastic. As well, I still haven’t seen the ‘Land of the Lost’ remake and I’m still a bit weary, but I trust you and will put it on my Netflix list since you were so right about that chicken. Oh hey! Also totally didn't notice that this was a gay bar by the way.

 
Andy loves $2.00 beers so much he tries to eat it.

Oh yes! It was also Official Food Day, wasn’t it? In between all our dive bar hopping, we had plenty of food. We had muffaletta and po’boys at Frank’s Restaurant on Decatur which I am ashamed to admit I preferred over the muffaletta at Central Grocery, jambalaya at Coop’s (mushy rice, hardly any meat), coffee and beignets at CafĂ© Du Monde (classic), and I think some sort of burger from the very last dive bar -can’t be too sure on that, it was a very long dive bar day.

 
The beignets make Andy a bit wonky.

 
I'm so hungry right now.

NEXT…Andy and I become the thing we hate the most just to see some gators.

(I didn’t intend this honeymoon post to be stretched out into so many parts, but apparently I have a lot to say)

4 comments:

  1. Official Eating Day? I like the sound of that. One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to eat what I wouldn't normally eat at home. I will also keep in mind talking to the locals the next time I am out of town. I am normally one of the tourists you hate.

    BH

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  2. Too bad about teh Jambalaya at Coop's it is usually PFG, but I usually make mine at home.

    see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubyfruit_Jungle

    Now you know, but that ain't no problem if you didn't - the original was at teh corner of Frenchmen and Royal

    break a leg as a Liverpudlian . . .

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    1. If Coops was recommended for their Jambalaya then it had to good at some point. Perhaps we had an off day for it.

      Also, so not aware that was what Ruby Fruit Jungle meant. I'm sure we still would have gone in even if we knew - it was on the dive bar list after all.

      And yes, the guys working the counter at Central are a bit rude. Defo head to Frank's again next time!

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  3. PS - I haven't bought a Muff at Central since 1981. I don't give money to fertilize a bad attitude those folks are real azzho's Franks is usually better on both counts.

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