Originally, our cross-country bicycling tour did not include a trip down to New Orleans, but after learning that one of our friends from Rochester was going to be in town, Gabrielle and I decided that it might be a mistake to pass up an opportunity to visit the Crescent City. We made our way from Natchez, MS down to Baton Rouge, LA where a member of the Warmshowers community was generous enough to let us store our bikes and gear for a few days. On Saturday morning we picked up our rental car from Enterprise ($16 a day (!) from Saturday through Tuesday) and drove down, arriving just in time for lunch. We had resolved to do as many tourist activities as we could in our first day, so here goes. . .
We made a beeline for Central Grocery in the French Quarter to get our hands on the famous Muffuletta. There was indeed a line out the door of this awesome italian specialty grocer, the majority in line for the same thing we were. A lady behind us asked “Is this the place I’m ‘sposed to get the sandwich?” We reassured her that she was in the right place. The sandwich consists of a 10″ round loaf of bread filled with a marinated olive salad, layers of capicola, salami, mortadella, emmentaler, and provolone. We ordered a whole one for $12.95 and each ate half, and ate it at the counter across from an elderly women washing hers down with a cold beer, telling us she only drinks one a week. . . when she comes for a Muffuletta! Someday, when we’re settled again, I’ll have to make my own version of this for inclusion in “My Favorite Sandwiches.”
Next, we worked our way down Decatur Street. We stopped at a local artists gallery and met an artist named Dan Fuller, who turned out to have spent a great deal of time in Rochester. We really liked his tree house paintings, so we bought a few postcard-sized prints, and he told us some scandalous mob stories from his days in the ROC. From one of his stories we gathered that Cafe Du Monde was up the block, so we went down and took a seat over-looking Jackson Square, and ordered some beignet’s and a couple café au lait’s to set on top of our giant sandwiches. That’s all they sell there, and the place is wicked sticky, but the doughnuts were pretty slammin’.
After that, we walked around for a bit before finding The India House Hostel to quickly check into our room, before heading off to the Metairie Cemetary, which we later learned is like the Rolls Royce of New Orleans cemeteries, an assertion that seemed true enough after seeing a few of the others around town.
There were many beautiful statues in the cemetery, but this one is probably my favorite. It is only about 18″ tall, and was actually on one of the grave sites where the dead had been buried, as opposed to the traditional New Orleans method of the above-ground tombs, which are shared by many family members. In these tombs, there are 2 or 3, and sometimes 4 levels or vaults, in which the remains of an entire family share the enclosed space. The bodies of the deceased are interred in one of the vaults, usually in a casket designed to facilitate a faster decomposition of the body, as opposed to the kind of casket many of us are familiar with; one designed to prolong the decomposition. When the time comes for a new internment, the vault is opened, and if the previous internment has decomposed enough, it is moved into a sack, and placed on the side of the vault in order to make room for the new body.
Leaving Metairie, we realized it was almost dinner time, so we drove down to Dick & Jenny’s, a restaurant that I admittedly found in the 36 Hours in New Orleans article at the NYTimes. Dinner went well, but the dish that drew me to the place, the Crawfish and Andouille Sausage Cheesecake, was truly a hit. Afterwards, we attempted to attend a house show over on the west side of town near Tulane University for a band called The Pharmacy, but the place just a fucking dump, trash every where, so we had to leave. Avoid show’s at Py’s Makeout Club, unless you’re a skeezed-out junky artist–in that case you should go. Instead, we went to Bourbon Street!
We spent most of our time there at a place called Fritzel’s, which was a small jazz club that had a 5 piece band playing that night. We sat and chatted with a few other tourist over a few beers while the music played before doing a quick walking tour of the length of Bourbon. We (um. . . thankfully) narrowly missed seeing a 40 year old woman flash her titties in exchange for a shower of beads, saw what could have been John Kennedy Toole’s hotdog vendor, and rounded everything off with a Hurricane from Pat O’Brian’s (save yourself a trip–it’s basically Hawaiian Punch in a shit bar.) Catching a cab back to the hostel, our cabbie told us we left just at the right time (1:15AM.) When we asked why, he told us that it was about the time all the New Orleans thugs came down to Bourbon in order to roll as many tourists for their cash and camera’s as they could, and the cops didn’t do much about it because they left with the drunks. True? Not True? We can’t say, but we’re glad we left all the same. We were tired from a long day anyway.
We planned to do a number of things on Sunday, but nothing came to fruition due to a combination of over-sleeping, and a LONG breakfast at Betsy’s Pancake House. We had originally intended to attend Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, and then try and follow a jazz funeral around the French Quarter, but instead we ended up meandering around aimlessly, which I think might actually be one of NOLA’s biggest pastimes. While wandering, we were bamboozled into a Ghost Tour. Brie and I were awed by the Tourist Info kiosk lady’s selling skillz. We had a late lunch at Bennachin (1212 Royal St.), an African restaurant specializing in cuisine from Gambia and Cameroon. Everything was delicious and cheap! Follow that, we began boozing in preparation for our Ghost Tour. We discovered that the bar next to the meeting place offered 2 for 1 drink specials for those going on a tour. In other words, two Guinness for $4.00. (That’s a a real steal when you consider that to have a beer in a bar costs $6.00, or to get one “to go” from the same bar generally costs $3.00.) The ghost tour was fun, mainly because the guide was a good story-teller, but alas, no ghosts. He did give us a few restaurant recommendations afterward, which ended up being worth the ticket price alone. After the tour, we bounced back and forth between the aforementioned cheap Guinness, and the Preservation Hall, which was right across the street. The St. Peter Street All-stars, a band led by a very heavy trumpet player. The bands at PH play mostly jazz standards in a classic style that is neither smooth or cheesy. The highlight for me was the St. Louis Blues. After we left the show, we bought some chips and salsa from store across the street, went back to the hostel, and that was Sunday.
And now for something truly gluttonous. . .
Gabrielle and I hung out at the hostel for a while on Monday before heading out to lunch at “The Joint”, a barbecue bunker on the east side of town in the Bywater neighborhood, just before you cross the bridge over to the Lower 9th Ward. We learned about this place from our Ghost Tour Guide, who, after we told him of our affection for the pig, boasted that it had some of the best barbecue in the country. Naturally, we couldn’t resist. We ordered a Full Rack with two sides, baked macaroni & cheese and potato salad, with 2 Diet Cokes for $22. This has to be one of the best deals in town, and the steady stream of costumers testified to that fact. The ribs were totally awesome!—-everything you could hope in a good BBQ, and more, thick juicy, succulent, tender, all that. You should check it out, bar-B-que fan.
So. There was that, and as I’ve mentioned before, We Bad!, so it shouldn’t surprise you that we headed over to Cochon Butcher to catch a Pork Belly Sandwich an hour later. Cochon was one of the restaurants that we really wanted to make it to their off-shoot, but were never able to work it in to the schedule, so it was awesome to be able to make this stop. Cochon does an incredible array of dishes featuring the mighty pig, as well as a number of other specialties, but the butcher shop mainly sells charcuterie, and specialty meats, as well as a number of sandwiches. We went for the Pork Belly Sandwich, because when I hear the words “pork belly”, I’m sold. It was prepared with slices of pork belly confit, mint, cuccumber, and aioli, on fresh homemade white bread, and was well worth the trip. However, the true surprise was the Bacon Praline. I bought this on a whim because they were selling it for a song—-cheaper than regular praline. We intended to save it for later, but couldn’t resist and broke off a couple pieces in the car. What over-took us is nearly indescribable! It was basically an explosion of bacon, like if you ate a whole pound of bacon in one bite, with sweet, brown sugary undertones. It took us to the Bacon-Dimension or some shit. We both sat back, and waited for the rest of the world to catch up.
When we thought that reality had sufficiently returned, we drove down to Lafayette Cemetery #1 where we treated to an impromptu tour by ex-marine Sean Perry. He was funny because he kept calling the group “Kids” even though 80% of us were 30 years older than him. We’re actually not sure if he was an accredited tour guide, but he was definitely knowledgeable, despite smelling like bourbon.
Brie and I spent the remainder of our time in New Orleans hanging with our friend Kim and her boyfriend Gilbert. It was his birthday and we spent a large majority of the time either drinking or recovering from drinking. We spent some time at the Spotted Cat, an un-amplified live music bar (one of my favorite places in the city), and d.b.a., which boasted a huge drink selection, probably the finest in New Orleans. Both of these places are on Frenchman Street, which, IMO, is a far better area to spend the evening than anywhere even remotely close to Bourbon.
We thought that we were going to see more of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina had wrought, but it was hard to come by without taking an expensive tour, and we weren’t sure exactly where to go. We caught glimpses here and there, but for the most part, New Orleans proper was in pretty good shape. The 9th Ward was pretty tore down still, and there were garbage piles all over a lot of the neighborhoods, but the city is making a lot of progress. I would say approximately 1 out of 8 houses are still empty all over the city, with little chance of being filled—-most of them need to be out-right rebuilt. It was good staying with Gilbert, and being able to hear the inside story from a long-time resident. Not surprisingly, everyone you meet has a Katrina story, but I don’t think that New Orleans is a city that can be defined by that tragedy alone any more. I believe that Crescent City is on its way to returning to its former glory.