Tuesday, May 31, 2011
New Orleans Trip - Day 3
Monday began with me moving slowly after a night of fitful sleep, visions of oysters and foie gras dancing in my head. Mrs. Hackknife and I were supposed to be going out for a nice breakfast before the start of her conference this morning, but it was everything I could do to drag myself out of bed to face another day of potential excess calories. Perhaps today's menu should consist of.....water? Cold oatmeal? I had already decided that I would need to spend the bulk of my last day in New Orleans on of my patented long urban walks as penance for gastronomic sins (a la Jim Harrison). Plus, the fresh air and sunshine would no doubt help me purge my system of the rich Creole toxins now inhabiting my every being. Feeling re-energized, we made our way down Chartres St. over to Stanley Restaurant, sitting right next to St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square. This modern eatery, named after one of the main characters in "A Streetcar Named Desire" (Tennessee Williams again), was quite a bit more hip and highbrow than I had imagined for someplace with breakfast specialties such as pancakes with vanilla ice cream and Eggs Benedict po' boy. Be that as it may, I was very happy that I was able to summon the intestinal fortitude to eat Bananas Foster french toast instead of oatmeal (while my lifespan was continuing to shorten, at least my soul was uplifted) - consider it hair of the dog.
It was at this point that I left Mrs. Hackknife and went on walkabout. Turning right down Magazine St. only a block from our hotel, I started walking, past the National World War Two Museum (John Besh has a restaurant in there, you know) in the Warehouse District, under the US 90 overpass crossing the river, through the Garden District and just past the scene of last night's gastrocrime at Commander's Palace, and onward. After 2 hours and 4 miles of passing boutiques, bars, restaurants, and many architecturally-distinct homes, I felt enough of a calorie deficit to stop in at my intended lunch destination: Domilise's Po' Boys, a small, nondescript, family-run operation in the middle of a residential neighborhood (if you weren't looking for it, you'd probably never notice it). This was one of the stops highlighted on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations episode in New Orleans a few years ago and he was definitely on point. I ordered a half po' boy sandwich of fried oysters (breaded and dropped in the fryer before my very eyes), dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, and perched between slices of Leidenheimer French bread (apparently, most of the local sandwich joints rely on this hometown stalwart to provide structure for their toppings). Chips and cold beer were available for sale at the bar located on the sidewall from the food counter. I sat down at the bar with my po' boy, Dixie beer, and Zapp's Cajun crawtator chips (all 3 local favorites) and hunkered down, enjoying them while admiring the numerous autographed pictures of Archie Manning and his more-famous sons adorning the walls (this is about when I took what I consider to be the iconic picture of my trip, posted above - I've already eaten half the sandwich at this point, by the way....you're looking at 1/4 of a po' boy there, folks).
After lunch, I made my way about a mile further down Magazine St. until I reached Audubon Park, sitting down on a bench to plot my next move. I had just enough time before my flight home to grab a little dessert, ideally one of the local specialties known as a snoball (shaved ice doused with colored flavoring). According to my references, Plum Street Snoball was one of the city's best, only about a mile and a half from the park near the Tulane University campus. I didn't think my feet had that much distance left in them; fortunately, I was able to hop on a streetcar and get dropped off within 3 blocks of the snoball shack, which opened for the day about 5 minutes after I arrived (along with a few others jonesing for a frozen treat). Inside the small operation (many of the stellar food joints seem to be tiny in this town) was a little counter with about 75 different bottles of flavoring (every color of the rainbow) in racks along the walls. Although most of the snoballs were served in the standard white Chinese take-out boxes, mine came in a regular cup, thoroughly saturated in King Cake purple flavoring (my choice), without condensed milk (an optional topping that probably isn't needed except for gratuity). With no indoor seating, patrons sat outside enjoying their snoballs on a sidewalk bench out front, on the street curb (like me), or in their cars. It was quite refreshing and quite filling for the price (I think it was only $3 for a medium size) - I can see how a nasty hot/humid Southern city might come to depend on such a cold refreshment for sustenance in the dead of summer.
And with that, my trip concluded with a full belly, empty wallet, rising cholesterol (sorry, doc), and a digestive tract loaded with memories. I really liked my time in New Orleans, but I don't think I could have survived a much longer visit. In that respect, it reminds me of Las Vegas in that both places beckon you with opportunities of excessive pleasure; however, while Vegas is all about glamour and glitz in the high desert, the Big Easy is more about goth and grunge in the low swamp. Either place will suck you dry if you're not careful....