ROAD TRIP USA 2010: THE END OF THE ROAD
The last day of what had been a truly memorable road trip began with a tour of the Louisiana swamps.
We thought it only fair that, given between us we had eaten the meat of about one young alligator in the last two days, we should give them the chance to get their own back. So, we strapped ourselves into a shallow boat propelled by a huge fan and hurtled along the bayous in the pouring rain until our guide spotted a likely suspect. He was a big old beast, the ‘gator that is, not the guide. About fifteen feet long and with jaws, we were told, that could exert over 3000lbs of pressure with each snap. We left it to our guide to get close enough to find out what kind of mood he was in as we cowered in the relative safety of the boat.
By the time we returned to land, both Neal and I were starving. It had been an early start and it was well past noon by the time we were dropped off back at our hotel. I had two choices. Mother’s which is famous for its ‘debris” sandwich and Central Grocery, which is equally famous for its Muffuletta. I had tried both before on previous visits to the city, but it was the Italian inspired sandwich of meat, cheese and olive dressing which won out this time as I dragged Neal through the humid streets of The French Quarter to Decatur Street. He moaned a bit, well he moaned a lot, but the huge stuffed sandwich was enough to shut him up if only for a brief while and we sat, happily munching away wedged between locals and tourists, until we had eaten our fair shares to the last crumb.
It was enough to keep us going for a few hours and, while I caught up with some work, Neal began to pack for his hideously early start the next day. By 7pm, we were just about hungry enough that supper was not a totally stupid idea and we made doubly sure with a little NOLA version of a “Tru Normande” to make a suitable hole for the last meal of the trip.
French ’75 was another splendid drinking spot recommended by Chris & Laura McMillian. Behind the bar, Chris Hannah whisked us up a New Orleans classic Brandy Crusta and one of his own creations a “Movie Goer” both good enough that we were tempted to delay our restaurant reservation and stay on to sample more of his skills. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending if you speak to us or our physicians, Neal’s early start the next morning made the decision for us and we left Chris to get on with his job as we marked French ’75 down as a must visit for our next time in the city.
Another must visit for any visitor in the city is Susan Spicer’s stellar restaurant, Bayona. It has been open for over twenty years and can lay claim to being the big bang point of modern New Orleans cuisine. This was my third visit and, although my last time there had been a slight disappointment, there was one dish very firmly in my mind as we were shown to our table and handed a menu.
Throughout the trip, I had banged on to Neal about how good the garlic soup at Bayona was. So good, in fact that when I was asked recently to pontificate on the best dishes I have ever tried, this was up there in the top ten. Neal may have become weary of me by this time of the trip, but the look on his face told me that he at least understood why I had gone on and on and on and on about this dish for the last twenty days.
Even though we moved on with our meal and thoroughly enjoyed our identical order of sweetbreads followed by thick cut pork chops, it was the garlic soup which Neal kept mentioning all the way until the charming server plopped a dessert menu in front of us. It was little surprise to me, but a great surprise to her when Neal looked up after a few moments and said “I think I’ll have the garlic soup again” She soon came back from the kitchen with another bowl of that soup alongside an offer from the chef, who had been so amused by Neal’s request, to send out a dessert anyway.
The soup really is that good and, if you doubt me, here is a link to a page with the RECIPE. Give it a try. It will change your life and you can thank me later.
That was a fittingly fun end to a trip that had been packed from the beginning with great adventures. A trip that included seeing a team lose 18-4 at baseball and a trip that had included travelling across “crack central, Saint Louis” in search of pig “snoot”. It was a trip that had included a round of Old Testament themed crazy golf and a viewing of the world’s biggest rocking chair. It was a trip that had allowed me to pay tribute to some of my heroes; Ali, Dr. King Jr. Elvis and Rosa Parks. It was a trip that had seen us sleep in a sharecroppers shack in Mississippi and a ranch in Arkansas. It was a trip that had seen us drive 3,000 miles and through twelve states as we went in search of the heartland of this amazing country.
And, of course, it was a trip that had seen us eat fantastically well and nowhere better than in my favourite eating city in the whole of the USA, New Orleans. We staggered back to the hotel with only a brief stop to catch the last notes from a ragtime band on the edges of Bourbon Street.
Neal left early the next morning and, while en route sent an e-mail saying “Road Trip USA 2012. How about up North next time?”
I replied with two words