People ask, “Where did you go? What did you see?” when I returned from New Orleans. I blurt out a few destinations, but run out of words quickly. If only they’d ask, “What did you eat?” Then I’d have all kinds of stories.
I’ll pretend you’ve asked.
My first succulent stop was a Po’ Boy. Take a slightly crusty French loaf and top it with fried wonders (crawfish, or scallops, or oysters, or in my case, shrimp) layer tomato and pickles (and sometimes coleslaw) and a creamy peppery sauce, and flank the sandwich with a pile of fries.
Then stand back and watch it disappear, like magic. The creamy white chocolate bread pudding was an even more able illusionist; it was on my plate for what seemed like no longer than a split second.
They say there is black magic and voodoo in New Orleans, and I am apt to agree now.
After walking through the streets and avoiding being pelted with beads and other dollar-store crap thrown from the floats, we looked for dinner. At Mother’s, a nondescript diner made famous by a Food Network show, we ordered a seafood platter complete with catfish, oysters and shrimp.
As the food came, our mistake became clear, we should have sat at a bigger table.
The platter was trimmed with bowls of beet greens, and red beans and rice. Larger bowls of dark greenish seafood gumbo and spicy jambalaya stood watch, having all arrived at the same time.
There was no pomp or ceremony about this food. No one laboured over making it pretty, and they didn’t have too. One bite of the spicy starches and crispy seafood reminded me to never judge a cook by its cover.
Even though our plates hardly had dents in them for the generous southern portions we’d been dished up, it was too late to cancel the slab of pecan pie that was on its way, nor would I have.
I was awed by the ribbon thinness of the crust, and its ability to hold the dense, yet lofty layer of caramel, topped with more pecans than the Mississippi has catfish. Rolling back to our hotel should have been the answer to, “What did you do next?” But no, we chose to walk it off with a slow stroll (or should I say roll) through the French Quarter.
The wrought-iron balconies were entrancing, until I saw the sign for Cafe du Monde. Willed in this direction by some inner force — I had no choice but to find room for the city’s famous beignets and cafe au lait.
The waitress promptly served up three rectangular slabs of deep-fried glory hidden under an Everest of icing sugar.
Part way through the first one, I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought that this was not first-date food.
Taken out of this location, I might just as easily have been mistaken for an angel-dust user, from the heavy white powder on my upper lip and finger tips, and the stupid glow of utter contentment on my mug.
After a last swig of cafe au lait, and a short debate over whether we could possibly eat just one more order of beignets, we left the cafe.
Not long after, I stood outside Southern Candy Makers, having rattled the door and found it closed.
Like a child delighted and saddened by being separated by a plate glass window from the only toy they want for Christmas, I pressed close to the glass, looking longingly at rows of forbidden sweets. In my inside voice I heard my best Arnold call out, “I’ll be back,” followed by, “My precious,” in a Golum-esque snaky lisp.
I did return the next morning. I was no longer a Pavlovian dog drooling at the pralines. I was front and centre, savouring samples and buying a few more for the long walk to my next culinary venue.
Last stop — a bar — for a hurricane. The two kinds of rum and variety of fruit juices blended into a wicked potion indeed.
New Orleans: its ambience, music, food, and drink are all quite magical, but I should caution you of the dark arts at work.
If only that voodoo store sold the reversal of the spell that emptied my plates and glasses and landed all that deliciousness on my hips.