In the past few days I have heard of four different people who have just come from, or are making their way to, New Orleans. This news has left me feeling quite nostalgic for the city that I love, causing me once more to peruse the various PhD offerings at Tulane University and ponder the pros and cons of a return to academia (which I do about once or twice a month, or whenever my wanderlust starts to rustle about).
It has also got me thinking about Gary, the former-New-York-real-estate-magnet-now- New-Orleans-hippie-yoga-teacher who befriended me at the French Quarter dog park and who told me that if my hankering for a move down south was real, he could help me find a shotgun-style duplex in the range of thirty to fifty thousand US. Yep, you read that right: 35-50 thousand bucks for a double shotgun, the long narrow houses that are common in the city, named for the fact that if you stand at the front door and fire a shotgun, the bullet will travel, unimpeded, straight through to the back door; 35-50 thousand, at a time when a duplex in a low income Montreal neighborhood will run you ten times that much.
Of course there is no one on earth who is going to tell you that buying a house in New Orleans is a smart investment choice, but when you think about spending a year or two in the city, and consider the short-term rental income you could have coming in from the other side of the duplex, it starts to seem like a not-too-bad idea.
And there are so many neighborhoods to choose from. We stayed in the 7th ward, which borders Treme to the West and the French Quarter to the south, and though it had little to offer in terms of immediate amenities, the folks were friendly and welcoming and it was only a short bike ride to get coffee and groceries. This is one of the neighborhoods that was underwater after Katrina; in fact, the house two doors down from us remained empty even seven years later, still with its FEMA writing on the exterior wall. But a majority of the houses were inhabited and well-cared for and the streets were quiet and (relatively) safe; this is New Orleans after all.
I have also been thinking a lot about the food, of course, and about the fact that, for some reason, I never did get around to writing my post on the gustatory adventure we had in the city. And what better time than a snowy January day to think about these delicious forays.
After our most disgusting food discovery, the Breakfast in a To-Go Cup–a porky parfait of cheese grits, hash browns, sausage, scrambled eggs, bacon and gravy–I realized that the only way for me to survive our visit was to have fruit and yoghurt for breakfast and something more gourmet for dinner (meaning eating somewhere that vegetables were more likely to make an appearance). In doing this, I would be able to keep lunch open for more hard-core delectables of the meat and fried fish variety.
One of our fancy outings was at a restaurant called Cochon, a much-talked about joint in the foodie press, though in the Duplass Brothers’ film, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, it is a symbol of everything that is wrong about the new New Orleans. To be perfectly honest, I was not overly impressed. The cocktails were good–I had the Trotter Jennings (Smooth Ambler Vodka, Adrian Adami Prosecco, St. Germain, lemon juice )–though we had better at the classic French Quarter creole joint, Arnaud’s, where our waiter looked fourteen, but was nonetheless impressive in his white shirt and tux. Cochon did allow us our first (but not last) chance to eat alligator, and the Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage, pickled peaches & cracklins was superb, but there was something too conventional in the decor, and the gourmet take on classic Cajun food seemed entirely unnecessary in a city where the straight-up old-school take is so damn good.
A better meal was had at a place called Dick & Jenny’s where we had bourbon cocktails, alligator sausage, fried oysters and the best collard greens I ate during the visit–as they remain my favorite food, I ate them whenever they were on the menu. However, the best meal we had was at a quite bland looking restaurant in a not-very-well-decorated house on a street that looked quite yuppified (though we later discovered that it also housed one of the Uptown neighborhood’s great brass band venues). The restaurant is called Dante’s Kitchen, and their thing is that they make everything–and I mean, everything–in house: pickles, cheese, bread, crackers, bitters, booze, custards, etc. We had small plates with an emphasis on vegetables: home-made charcuterie with pickled onions and fig jam, collards, a salad of watermelon, haloumi, black olives and parsley, an oxtail stew, and a heap of potatoes roasted in duck fat. Oh, and Sazeracs, the classic New Orleans cocktail.
But it was those lunches that really got us going and were the most memorable: insanely huge shrimp and oyster po’ boys, fried catfish, red beans and rice, gumbo AND jambalaya at Crabby Jack’s (we had to try them all); amazing fried chicken and stewed green beans at Willie Mae’s Scotch House (this was the winner in the fried chicken category. From what we’ve heard, the secret is the Coca-cola brine); and some not-too-shabby barbecue from a place in the Bywater/Marigny quarter called The Joint.
We also had some delicious vegan Korean food on our first night in town from a pop-up restaurant in the kitchen of a dive bar in the same neighborhood. I likened this meal to the time we drove into the desert outside of Palm Springs after a week of high-fat eating and stumbled upon a macrobiotic restaurant that appeared to us as an oasis. Never again have I eaten such amazing brown rice and seaweed. It was food to cleanse the palate and soothe the soul, and I had a similar sense of well-being after eating this take-out. But the high point of that sticky hot evening was when we went to get the food and discovered in the cool of the bar’s front room, a teenaged brass band practicing for a gig; a scene that to us in that moment captured everything that we love about New Orleans.