Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Southern Comfort – The End

Final thoughts on New Orleans food and music. Part five is way down dare.

Well before getting on the plane at Chicago Midway I did a lot of research on Louisiana restaurants. We planned to eat at out-of-the-way spots locals preferred and to to avoid nationally-famous haunts. There is a program on The Food Network called Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. They travel around the country filming the kind of spots we were looking for. I am not a fan of the host who I find annoying and overly conscious about his visual image but this isn’t about him as much as he would probably like it to be.

Performing a search on youtube it was easy to find clips of shows from New Orleans, one for Joey K’s on Magazine St. which was a cafe type place and one for Parasol, a few blocks off of Magazine St. Parasol was a very small corner bar in a residential neighborhood. It was easy to choose between the two and Parasol it would be.

In the clip the patrons raved about the Parasol roast beef po-boy. A po-boy in New Orleans is simply a sub sandwich using local favorites such as shrimp, fried oysters or crawfish on long crusty bread with lettuce, tomato and mayo.

Walking two blocks from our base camp we caught the St. Charles St. trolley that made it’s way through the garden district. It was an interesting ride southbound down the center parkway of St. Charles St. She made conversation with a passenger and told him of our destination. He was a big fan of Parasol and lived nearby. We got off at First St. and walked a few blocks to get there following the kid known as B.C.. I invited the kid in for a beer and he jumped on it.

Parasol was even better than I expected. It has a 15’x30’ bar with adjoining dining area and it felt very comfortable to me, like many places I have been to before. Every square inch of wall space of the Parasol back bar area was occupied by a sticker, beer sign or cheap trinket. The structure was old, and not very sanitary upon inspection. We avoided the dining room which was filthy and chose to eat at the bar where we had a seat in front of the tap handles where service is always better no matter what bar I'm in.

We enjoyed more than a few Abita Ambers on tap, my new favorite lager beer. The locals at the bar were more than friendly and it appeared that we were the only tourists. When she told one fellow sitting next to her at the bar we saw this joint on television he perked up and said he was the guy in the pink bow tie on the video. He was a regular who lived in the neighborhood and worked at a bank in the city. His buddy was an older guy who claimed his home was wiped out by the hurricane. They had lots of stories and gave us local info on places to eat and recommended Snug Harbor as the best place to hear live jazz but we were on our last day so that wasn't going to happen. No, they weren’t gay...NOT that there’s anything wrong with THAT!

We ordered what we came for, the roast beef po-boy and a big batch of fries. The sandwich lived up to it’s reputation. It wasn’t spicy hot at all and had a great beef flavor, texture, and was easier to eat than I thought. We planned onleaving before dark but lost track of time. Our pesonal experience there made it one of the classic neighborhood dives to me.

For breakfast on our final day we avoided Brennan’s, famous for the FQ Sunday brunch and made our way northeast of the FQ to an up-and-coming New Orleans neighborhood she found out about. The place was called Elisabeth’s. They served different things for breakfast like their duck waffle, a red, seasoned gravy with duck meat an vegetables poured on top of cornbread waffles. I stuck to the traditional egg and sausage plate but the sausage was Italian. The potatoes were red and fried in large chunks with peppers and onion, they were perfect. The eggs were fine. The sausage was very dry which told me it was homemade. Sausage making hobbyists like me know that additional fat must be added in order to deliver a juicy sausage.

She ordered the duck waffle and after tasting it I wish I had done the same. The gravy was hot and sweet and had a very unique flavor. Unknown to me, chicken and cornbread waffles are big in the south, the use of duck meat at Elisabeth’s was an unusual twist. I would go to Elisabeth’s again, even if the staff were under thirty, wearing large knit Jamaican style hats and festooned with tattoos and bolts sticking out of their eyebrows. It was run by a crew of counterculture hippie types for sure. There is a large hippie counterculture population in New Orleans as we discovered, more so than the last time I went there.

On our final night we wanted to go upscale for dinner. With so many options in town we debated it until the final night. We settled on a place called Mr. B’s Bistro, a short two blocks from base camp.

The Brennan family seems to own half of the fine dining establishments in the FQ and this is one of them. We chose this spot out of convenience and reputation. We were not disappointed at all. It was too late to make reservations and were told the wait could be up to an hour. Our plan was to give it a try and if we sat for over fifteen minutes we’d move on. We sat for no more than five before being seated, a cancellation they said.

The place reminded me of clubby mid-town Manhattan steak joints like Sparks or Dylan Prime. The décor, lighting and service tipped it in as a first-class joint.

I wrote about Pascal’s Manale being famous for New Orleans BBQ shrimp. I had heard Mr. B’s was better, far better. After sipping down two Bombay Sapphire Gin Gibson cocktails it was time to order my BBQ Shrimp. The bowl was delivered loaded with 6-8” whole gulf shrimp swimming in a rich, red sauce that beat Pascal’s in every way. It was heavily seasoned with a buttery delicious gravy when sopped up in the crispy crust bread. What a mess I made on the linen bib and tablecloth. But I was in heaven. We definitely saved the best for last.

One thing I regret about the trip was not enjoying live jazz music at a club. The reason is that most FQ clubs, along with other nearby venues offered nothing of interest, as far as we could tell during our short stay. Our time was short and my bedtime is ten pee em no mater where I park my soul these days. No problem. New Orleans street talent beats downtown Chicago street plastic pickle bucket pounders by far. These guys played each night at Canal and Bourbon. Their horns blasted great notes heard for blocks.

We enjoyed a short performance each evening. They were the real deal.

To conclude my Southern Comfort series, here are a few tunes that connect with me when it comes to a boozy night in New Orleans.

Walking down Bourbon St any club with live music could be heard since most establishments have their doors wide open. All we heard was bad rock, some blues and heavy metal. If we heard anything like this the cover charge would have been gladly paid and we would have spent time there.

Good old boozy jazz is not to be heard on Bourbon St. anymore as far as we could tell. Al Hurt and Pete Fountain are gone. Sacrificing tradition with revenue generating crap from time-poor young moderns has been substituted for real jazz. Business is business, I guess. Years ago Hurt, Fountain and many other jazz entertainers owned their own clubs in the FQ.

When I think of the New Orleans sound Dr. John Mac Rebennack is a living legend and on my list. While not traditional jazz and more of a fusion style, his music represents Louisiana and New Orleans to me. I would have paid big bucks to see this guy live. My favorite Mac tune is Mama Roux but a video is nowhere to be found so I settles me on Such A Night.

We'll definitely be back in a few years and I can't wait.


Overload in Colorado said...

I heard Fountain play Ravinia a few times, years ago. Didn't know what I was listening to at the time.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post..!!I am glad you had a wonderful trip..!!I am really intrigued with the Mr. B’s Bistro,I wish I could visit this place one of these days..!!Thanks for sharing..!!

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