Friday afternoon at work an impromptu plan was hatched to drive to New Orleans for the weekend to be in town for both Mardi Gras and to see the Saints in the Super Bowl from their home town. A nice fringe benefit (french benefit?) of this was all of the amazing Creole food that New Orleans is known for. These were the major players in our trip (with the exception of a terrible sports bar called Poppy’s on the Riverwalk that was completely unfriendly and has no place in an otherwise overly welcoming town – think Cotchkies from Office Space).
We stopped in Evelyn’s Place after crawling out of bed Saturday around 1.00 pm. Evelyn’s was the definition of a hole in the wall, started by a lady named surprise surprise… Evelyn back in the 60s who passed away a couple years ago. She had left the reatuarant to five or six people (including a couple of teenage grandsons) who don’t really know what to do with the place except let it keep serving good food and good drink. It’s still managed by a 90 year old man who’s been heading it up since it first opened.
The place was pretty much empty which gave us a chance to talk to the husband and wife working the bar. The menu consisted of five or six things scrawled on a chalkboard inside, in the kind of building you’d expect a menu like that to be. It was pretty simple, Gumbo, Red Beans & Rice, Po’ Boys, etc. All four of us went for some Gumbo and Abita Beer to wash it all down. The gumbo was what you’d imagine coming out of a giant vat with an Aunt Jamayma stirring it over open flame all day and was quite incredible. The only downfall would be the broth was a little tasteless but that easily fixed with some hearty shakes of Tabasco (which I don’t think I managed to find a table without in the whole city).
After catching a couple of Mardi Gras parades we asked just about everyone in town the best place to go for dinner. After several tasty suggestions (including an authentic Spanish restaurant called Madrid a couple miles out of downtown – recommended by the Chefs wife who we met in the market on the river) we were able to make it to Deanie’s Seafood. We met some great people while waiting on a table and ended up eating with a few of them. The five of us had some Mint Julips (which were a little heavy on the sugar but overall good) and more fried seafood than I thought could fit on the table. Everything from crawfish to shrimp to scrod and mussels with tartar and cocktail sauce. It was pretty good but in the end it really seemed to me to just be fried seafood (and having worked at a fried seafood restaurant a couple year ago on Cape Cod called the Lobster Shanty you can get a little sick of it). I was told afterwards the next day at lunch that we really missed out on their Barbecue Shrimp, so maybe next time.
Don’t let the line discourage you. Mother’s is in what appears to be an old house on Magazine St just outside the French Quarter with a line that wraps around the block but it is definitely worth it, not to mention the line moves at a good clip. Once you get passed the hefty doorman in a Saints jersey there’s a counter you order at and get some drinks (water, coke, etc.). The hardest part is then finding a table to sit at and you most liekly will end up family style at a big table in the back with a friendly family who bought a condo by the river for the weekend in a charity auction (at least thats what we did). I went with some Jumbalaya and Red Beans & Rice so I could hit all three of things I came to NOLA to get. The Jumbalaya was phenomenal with bits of chicken and sausage and perfect seasoning. The Red Beans I thought could have stood a little more rice and were a tad bland, epsecially when compared to the Jumbalaya. The other guys got some Po’ Boys and said they were all pretty good so this is a definite stop on any New Orleans trip.
Cafe du Monde
No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a stop at Cafe du Monde for some Bignets – a french pastry absolutely smothered in powdered sugar. If you go any time other than 3 am you’ll wait hours to get in or go get take out around the side and still wait in a horrendous line. On the other hand, the 3 am route gets you a really creepy waiter who almost perfectly fits the part of Snidley Whiplash. Regardless of how you get here though, you should do it. At $2.15 for a plateful of powdered pastry heaven you can’t go wrong. The texture of the bignets is what really what makes them so great (that and all the sugar) with a crispy outside and a really warm chewy center. When they’re still hot, the powdered sugar melts just a little bit when you dip a freshly bitten bignet into it, pretty much pure excess.