ROAD TRIP USA 2010: ARRIVING IN THE BIG EASY
"New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin."
— Mark Twain
Just in case anyone is wondering, the first picture is of the world’s largest rocking chair and was taken in Gulfport, Mississippi. So now you know.
Thankfully there were relatively few bleats about the last road trip post. Even so, those who were tempted to complain that there was not enough about food in it will be surely be happy with this latest post as our final stop of the extraordinary Road Trip USA 2010 was in the best eatin’ city in the whole of the USA, New Orleans, Louisiana.
New Orleans may not have the variety of its two northern siblings, Chicago and New York, but when it comes to offering delicious things to eat and drink on every corner, few cities even come close to The Crescent City. Much of this, of course, is because of the influence of its original Spanish and then French owners, who left a legacy of energy in the city, which is still tangible today. The people of New Orleans strive to have a good time all the time and it is almost impossible for the visitor not to get caught up in the spirit of the place and join in.
After the long drive from Montgomery, we handed over our keys to the valet and headed straight out for our first drink of the day. One of the real pleasures of my recently adopted mantra “Go Everywhere, Eat Everything” is that I have met some amazing people along the way, many of whom have become good friends.
On my last visit to NOLA, I was lucky enough to be shown around the city by Chris McMillian and his lovely wife, Laura. The few hours I spent with him eating, drinking his incomparable Sazeracs and visiting districts blighted by Katrina were some of the most memorable of my whole year long trip and stayed with me so much that I based my chapter on the city around him.
He is a fourth generation New Orleans bartender and is now managing Bar Uncommon at The Pere Marquette Hotel, a few short blocks from where we were staying. No sooner were we propping up the bar than Chris was pouring his latest creation for us to sample. He is well know for his take on “New Orleans in a glass” the Sazerac, and has taken it one step further by combining it with the classic Kir Royale, this time replacing the cassis with rye whiskey, sugar, Peychaud bitters and Herbsaint.
It is a delicious drink, but a wickedly powerful one and it took a long stroll around the French quarter to clear my head in time for supper at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. We had been craving a decent slab of beef for the whole trip and while this was by no means the best steak I have tried in the US, it was certainly not the worst saw us off to sleep after our first night in one of my favourite US cities.
The Sazerac Royal added to the wine we poured down our throats with supper meant that the journey along the winding roads to Baton Rouge the next morning was an interesting one. Meaning that I almost had ask Neal on more than one occasion to stop the car so I could bring up all of Mr. McMillians hard work all over the reconstructed levy. Fortunately, by the time we had reached our destination, The Oak Leaf Plantation, I was feeling a little recovered and was able to join Neal on the tour without fear of any unfortunate “middle aged man hurls vomit over college girl dressed as plantation mistress” scenarios taking place.
Oak Leaf Plantation was one of thousands of farms that lined the Mississippi in the 18th and 19th Century and had only been owned by three families since it the main house was first constructed. Despite the beauty of the grounds and the house, there was something morally repelling about the fact it was all constructed on the misery of the 93 field and 25 house slaves and we spent little time wandering the grounds, preferring instead to go in search of a quick lunch at Baton Rouge institution, Mike’s Seafood. Like the meal the previous night, that too was adequate rather than memorable, but at least Neal got to try his first taste of deep fried ‘gator.
We returned to New Orleans in time to freshen up and head off to one of my favourite restaurants in the whole wide world. There are few places that make me genuinely happy when I eat there. Upper Line is one of them. I posted about it after my first visit back in 2007 and I have been craving a return ever since. It was not just the food that I wanted to experience again, but also the force of nature that is owner, Joanne Clevenger. During my first visit, I had been astonished at the energy this amazing woman displayed as she greeted every guest as they entered, waved them goodbye as they left and kept them entertained as they ate. I was thrilled to see she had lost none of her stamina as she worked the room like Sinatra in Vegas.
I am glad to say that the food was just as good as I remember it. Sweetbreads in Sherry, fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade, Oysters "St. Claude", roast duck with two sauces, pan seared drum with lump crabmeat and rib sticking desserts of Pecan pie and Bread Pudding. It was easily the best meal of the trip so far. I had written about Joanne and Upper Line in my New Orleans chapter of Eat My Globe and, in return, she refused any offer of payment, only agreeing when I handed her over the equivalent of the cost of our meal to put in the tip jar.
It was a typical gesture of a true New Orleans one off and confirmed my fondness for her. We rolled back to the hotel knowing had two more days of great food ahead of us.
I love this city.