One of the things I miss the most about England is the ability to buy a bottle of wine (*cough* Lambrini *cough*) and go drink it in the park like a normal functioning alcoholic. Unfortunately that hasn’t been an option whilst living in the US, so naturally I was enormously excited to be in New Orleans and subject to their more liberal drinking laws.
We arrived after three days of driving from Memphis, which had seen us pass through corn fields, corn fields, civil war sites, and more corn fields. The closest thing to a decent meal we had en route was when we stopped in Clarksdale with the intention of going to Morgan Freeman’s restaurant, only to find it was closed. Two failed attempts at Taco Bell drive thru l later (George’s efforts to order something gluten free and vegan over a crackly speaker had me hiding on the back seat in hysterics), we found ourselves in our motel room with McDonalds and Miller Lite. Truly the closest we have got to the American dream.
Our home in New Orleans was an adorable shotgun house just north of the French Quarter. We dropped our bags and gave Neil a well deserved break from our company by heading to a Barre3 class on Magazine Street; a preemptive strike on the mountains of beignets I was planning on consuming over the coming days. Two hours later we returned home, bearing limes, to start the real purpose of our trip to New Orleans – drinking. Half a bottle of Old Fourth vodka later and dinner thoroughly forgotten, we jumped in an Uber and found ourselves on Bourbon Street. George and I drank Voodoo Daiquiris (an interesting mix of Welch’s grape juice and battery acid, at a guess) while Neil found himself giving a very intense, surprisingly fluent, ten minute lesson to the bartender about the Greek financial crisis. We soon took our drinks to the streets, just because we could, and battled our way down Bourbon Street. The closest thing I can compare the experience to is my formative trip to Magaluf aged 17. But with non ironic cowboy hats. And possibly more vomit (for once, not our’s).
Bourbon Street crossed off the list, we ducked down a side street and found our way to Frenchman Street instead. I could call Frenchman Street the cooler, less stressful younger brother of Bourbon Street but really its more of a third cousin who denies any relation when asked. We wandered round Frenchman Art Market and ducked into dimly lit bars with live jazz bouncing off the walls. My memories of the evening have a pleasant blur around them so I can’t be sure of the details but I have a feeling we had a lovely time; mainly because Neil’s photos of George and I have the distinct look of a ‘falling in love’ montage.
The next day, feeling ever so slightly delicate, there was only one thing on my mind. Beignets. Everyone had told us there was only one place to experience these fried French donuts, and that was Café du Monde. Right in the heart of the French Quarter, this New Orleans institution was packed but we found a table and soon were presented with three huge piles of powdered sugar, underneath which were three heart attacks disguised as donuts. When I interned at Anissa in New York I spent night after night dropping miniature beignets and thought I knew what they were, but these were a different level of delicious. Crisp, fluffy, fatty.. They were the hangover food of dreams.
Seeing as we had drunkenly skipped dinner the night before, that evening we needed some serious Creole soul food. Step forward, Jacques Imo’s. Located uptown on Oak Street, I had been told by a friend that we couldn’t afford to miss their proper N’awlins food and boy was he right. There was an hour’s wait for a table so after a few beers down the road we were ravenous. We were led to our table through the kitchen and I saw chefs pouring tray after tray of what looked like (very out of place) Yorkshire puddings. As soon as we sat down we were presented with what I then realised was some of the most buttery and delicious cornbread I have ever eaten. Continuing my grits tour of the south, I ordered deep fried grits with white corn, crawfish and tasso (a ‘ham’ made from pig’s shoulder).
Also presented to us were fried shrimp stuffed with crab, crawfish étouffée (meaning ‘to smother’ – basically crawfish smothered in deliciousness and served over rice), whole fried soft-shell crab on a stack of fried green tomatoes and eggplant with crab hollandaise and sides of greens (you know, for health), corn, red beans and slaw. My only regret is that we didn’t order the shrimp and alligator cheesecake, but as a recently fallen vegetarian it was just a leap too far.
The only downside of this excess of deliciousness was that it rendered us completely incapable of staying awake. We soldiered through and went next door to the Maple Leaf where the Chris Mule Band was playing, but soon I couldn’t tell if I was swaying to the music or my own exhaustion and had to call it a night.
The next morning, George and I played domestic goddesses and made breakfast of garlic kale, avocado and eggs to atone for our indulgences. We then spent the day wandering the swamp in the Barataria Preserve and trying not to think about the fact that Neil was imminently leaving us to return to New York. A useful distraction provide to be the GIANT spiders suspended over ever inch of the path, and the warning signs of a feral pig that had been troubling visitors. Luckily, we survived both porcine and arachnid threats, and made it to Frankie & Johnny’s for the one thing we hadn’t yet eaten; Gumbo. Honestly by this point I couldn’t face one more crawfish so ate sweet potato fries and drank beer while the others worked their way through the bowl. Finally all that was left was all too premature tearful goodbyes at the airport. As Neil vanished though the departure gates George and I got back in the car and set off West, for Texas.
Written by Laura.