I have to admit it. New Orleans in and of itself was certainly a big reason for me to go down and volunteer. The first trip I took there was was driving down to New Orleans in the late 90's. It was New Orleans where I loosened up a little. I drank, I ate, I listened to music, I rented a bike and rode up to Lake Pontchartrain, through parks, to old cemeteries.
I wouldn't be back until March 2006, when I tagged along with Bubs, who was volunteering through Habitat for Humanity. I took the spot left by his eldest daughter, who had a foot injury that prevented her from going. Bubs was a bundle of energy down there. It was an effort to keep up with him as he showed us all his favorite places. I got introduced to the Sazerac cocktail at the Napoleon House. I had fried pickles. We heard some great music on Frenchman Street. It was a good time.
So, I'm just trying to say something, that any of you that have been there already know. New Orleans is reason enough to go and volunteer.
What kind of person would I be if I didn't devote at least a little space to food, drink and music? There's no need to contemplate that question, because here comes the food, drink and music.
I'm not going to describe every single meal I had in New Orleans -- I'll just give the highlights (of which there are many).
Monday dinner - Oceana - Crabcake appetizers, blackened catfish with grilled vegetables
We got into town on Monday night and checked into Camp Hope. Camp Hope is actually in St. Bernard's Parish, and is a good half hour away from the French Quarter. We decided to drive in and find something for dinner. Bubs had given me a little cheat sheet to restaurants he was fond of (many of which we had been to in 2006). We parked in the southwest corner of the Quarter, near Frenchman and Chartres. I saw the Praline Connection, which I had eaten at the previous year, but Andy wanted to walk into the Quarter a bit. After we wandered aimlessly for a while and couldn't find a place to eat, I eventually asked a police officer for a recommendation. He pointed us to Oceana. We had some incredible crabcake appetizers. I had a very good blackened catfish dish with grilled vegetables, but the crabcakes were the highlight of the meal.
Tuesday dinner - Gumbo Shop - Chicken Espagnola With Rice, and Corn Macque Choux
A group of volunteers met here and had a lovely meal. I think there was some delicious bread, but I didn't get a picture of it. My memory is fading, but I think I also had some soup or appetizer or something.
Wednesday lunch - Poppa's Seafood - Fried porkchop po' boy and fries.
This restaurant was just down the street from the first two houses I worked in, on N Galvez. I don't know if the picture does the sandwich justice. It was freakin' enormous. As you can see in the picture, my abstinence from cola drinks was put on hold during this trip.
Wednesday dinner - Acme Oyster House - Grilled oyster appetizer, followed by fried catfish platter and hush puppies
I had been here in 2006 with Bubs. I have now definitively learned I am not really fond of oysters, but have a special place in my heart for fried food (probably not the best location for fried food).
Wednesday dessert - Cafe du Monde - Beignets and hot chocolate
I have been to Cafe du Monde during each trip down to New Orleans for beignets and hot chocolate. The food is delicious, but the actual act of sitting down at a table and peoplewatch, enjoy the outdoors, etc., is one of my favorite aspects of this place. If you go to New Orleans and do not visit Cafe du Monde, I will be waiting for you at your house when you return and give you crap about it.
Wednesday turned out to be a completely fried day for me -- fried porkchop sandwich for lunch, fried catfish, french fries, fried dough covered in powdered sugar, fried, fried, fried. Oh, that reminds me. I was registering to volunteer online, and since there was more than just me, I registered as a group. They give you the opportunity to name your group. I chose the name "Fried What?", which is a name I got from a food booth at the 2007 Illinois State Fair.
Thursday lunch - The Joint - Pulled pork sandwich with mac 'n cheese and slaw sides, and peanut butter pie for dessert
This place was in the Bywater neighborhood. We passed it every day, and decided to try it out. It was dee-licious. We actually had lunch there again on Saturday, BUT THEY WERE OUT OF PIE. Yes, you heard me, I was unable to get another slice of peanut butter pie.
Thursday dinner - The Original Pierre Maspero's - Pork chop stuffed with shrimp, crabmeat and dirty rice, topped with bleu cheese. A salad with raspberry vinaigrette. Some delicious mushrooms. Followed by some sort of triple chocolate dessert.
This was my favorite meal for this New Orleans trip. My meal was that night's special, and it was fantastic. The chef actually came out and asked how everything was. Our waitress was from Indiana and had just moved down there a couple months prior. We had a long, friendly conversation with her about New Orleans, and about stuff in general. While we were eating, news of the protests about the violence at the recent City Council meeting (regarding the demolition of some housing projects) came on the news.
Friday lunch - Nawlins Flava - Crawfish beignet appetizers, with a shrimp and hot sausage pasta entrée
This turned out to be more of a coffeehouse. I find the name annoying. Okay, sure, use "Nawlins" in the name or use "Flava" in the name, but don't use them together. That's just goddamned obnoxious. We were the only customers there, but it took a horrendously long time to get our food. The fried crawfish beignets were tasty, as was my pasta dish, but it just took entirely too long for the time he had alloted for our lunch break. I had wanted to stop in Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo which was literally next door, but we had to head back. No time...
Friday dinner - Coop's - Cheeseburger 'n seasoned fries (not pictured)
I was feeling a little crappy as the day wore on, so much so that I didn't know if I wanted to go into town that night. But, I sucked it up and we headed to the Quarter at around 9:00pm. After walking around for a while, talking to some shopowners, etc., I felt a little better. We stopped in at Coop's, which I had been to on my first trip to New Orleans on the recommendation of a local merchant. I just ordered a plain old cheeseburger to get me focused. It was delicious, and set me on the path of drink and music. Thank you, Coops!
I have no pictures of drinks. I am sorry!
I had tons of Abita Turbo Dogs during the trip. I tried the Abita Amber and the Abita IPA (which tasted strangely metallic), but the Turbo Dog reigned supreme.
I had what I believe may be my first shot of Jägermeister at Coops (the first I remember, anyways), which tasted good enough.
We went to the Napoleon House and had a couple Sazeracs. It's the best cocktail I've ever had. When Andy had it, he said the same thing. I remembered the bartender from my 2006 trip. He was a nice guy. I also tried a Pimm's Cup, but it didn't hold a candle to the Sazerac. I recommend that you get this drink at the Napoleon House. Tell them Splotchy sent you! That will almost certainly result in a resounding "Huh?"
Music, sweet music.
After a couple days of volunteering, we drove around the neighborhood next to Musician's Village and saw this:
We got out of the car to get a closer look. As we were gawking, a man came out of the Katrina Band House to say hello. His name was David and this was his house. He invited us in. A Fats Domino concert was playing on his TV. We talked to him about Katrina, about how it affected him and those around him, etc. He was a really nice, personable guy. He pointed out a piano in an adjoining room. While he and Andy were talking, I sat down and futzed around a bit on it.
As we were talking with David, a man in a motorized wheelchair entered the house. David said that the man was Fats Domino's drummer. He pointed at the TV screen. Sure enough, he was the drummer in the video. The man's name was Smokey Johnson.
Unfortunately he had had a stroke, and currently got around through the use of his wheelchair. We talked with him for a while too. We asked him what would be the best place to catch some live music. He recommended Snug Harbor.
We had to get back to work, so we thanked them for their time and headed out. I was having a great time on this trip, but presented with the hospitality of David, and being able to talk with him and Smokey, it just sent the trip to a completely different level. It was too much for words.
On Friday night, after I had gotten my Coop's cheeseburger medicine, we headed down to Frenchman street, just west of the of the French Quarter. Bubs had taken us in 2006 down there, and this time it was no less lively.
We first stopped into the Blue Nile to see a holiday show of Margie Perez. She was dressed up in a holiday outfit. She was wearing a large, sparkly green bra with a red ball on each breast. I think they were supposed to be Christmas trees, but she looked like she was sporting two large olives. She was vivacious and a great singer, and the whole band just had this we're-so-glad-to-be-alive vibe going. It was joyful, it was tight, it was infectious.
We scooted over next door to catch a reggae band, playing before a room full of dancing people. I did my reggae dance, which mostly just involves me rhythmically nodding my head and bending my legs.
We finally made it to Snug Harbor, just in time to see Ellis Marsalis (Wynton and Branford's dad). Well, we saw him, but we didn't see him. He was in the bar, but we missed his two shows (8:00pm and 10:00pm).
We saw one more band before we left Frenchman Street, a Black Crowes-sorta band called Liquor Boxx (which I insisted on pronouncing as "Liquor Boxox"). Looking at their MySpace page, I see that they are a Chicago band! Godspeed, Liquor Boxox! Godspeed!
While we were wandering around, I saw the record store Vieux Carre Vinyl and headed in. I asked the man pricing some CDs and records (I presume the owner) if he had a UK-release double-LP by the Method Actors (an 80's Athens, GA band) that I had been looking for. He said he didn't have it, but he showed me two of their 12" singles.
You should know that I don't own a turntable. I have nothing to play records on. Of course I bought the Method Actors records. What am I, crazy?
This record store man clearly had tastes that surpassed my own. He had several Jimmy Castor Bunch records on vinyl, there was a rare John Fahey record on the wall, etc. So, being a musiclover confronted with a musiclover with a wider palette of music tastes, I asked him to recommend some music to me that I hadn't heard.
He pulled out two CDs by a band called Parlor James. They were from his own collection. He had ripped them to MP3's, and was willing to finally part with them. He said he would be happy to see the CD's go to a good home. Maybe this sounds hokey to you, but I believe he was being genuine. He said they were an alt-country kind of band, but with some interesting electronic stuff thrown in. So I bought the two CDs, too.
Hey, he was right. I really like Parlor James.
Turning Point - off their second album, Old Dreams. A nice rocking number with some enjoyable electronics underpinning it all.
Cheater's World - A more straightforward country song off their first album, Dreadful Sorry. Sad.
Stay tuned for Part 4 of my 2007 NOLA Trip: Despair and Hope.