ROAD TRIP USA 2010: PIGGING OUT IN NEW ORLEANS WITH "THE CATDADDY"
On our third morning, I had to catch up some writing. That left Neal needing to entertain himself for a few hours. He chose to do this by visiting the World War II museum, which opened recently in New Orleans.
A few hours later, he returned announcing that, “according to the museum, WWII was won by a combination of Tom Hanks, John Wayne and Champion The Wonder Horse”. The fact that over sixty million people of other nationalities also perished during the conflict had been almost totally overlooked in the unseemly rush to attribute success entirely to the USA.
God Bless America.
Fortunately, if some Americans can be insular to the point of stupidity, some like my chums, Chris and Laura McMillian can be educated, charming and fantastic company. They had both agreed to spend one of their all too rare days off showing Neal and I around the city and had, quite rightly decided we should begin with lunch.
I had visited The Parkway Bakery & Tavern before on my previous visit to NOLA and had no hesitation agreeing when Chris suggested we head there after finding out that our first choice was closed on a Monday. By the time we arrived, it was already packed and, while the other three went to the small patio to snag a table, I stood in line to order our lunch through a window in the main dining room. The Parkway Bakery is generally recognised as providing one of the best examples of one of New Orleans’ classic sandwiches, the Po’ Boy.
Chris explained that the original Po’ Boy was filled with fried potatoes and the juices from a roast beef joint. Now, they come in many shapes and forms and the most popular one is filled with fried oysters. They were off the menu during our visit for obvious “BP fucks up The Gulf” reasons, so I ordered two with shrimp, one with roast beef and one, for Chris with both, for a bit of “surf & turf” action. They were as huge as I recalled and we sat for nearly half an hour at our table, munching happily on our sandwiches and sipping on cold local beer until all that was left was a few crumbs of baguette on the table to wipe away with our wrappers.
The humidity had reached chronic levels by the time we returned to the car. So we readily accepted Chris’s offer to show us around the air conditioned pleasures of his and Laura's pride and joy, The Museum of The American Cocktail. Chris is a director, along with other such mixing luminaries as Dale DeGroff, Ted Haigh and Robert Hess and the excellent displays offer up only a small fraction of the astonishing collection, which they try and rotate.
The history of cocktail making in the US offers up a fascinating social history of America, from its origins with the advent of refrigeration, through prohibition to the “golden age” of the cocktail in the 1950’s and 60’s. It is well worth a visit and, if you are lucky enough to be there when Chris and Laura are in attendance, you will also be treated to an accompanying lecture as you view the exhibits.
Of course, looking at cocktails is like dancing about architecture. It means nothing if you can’t sample one. We headed to The French Quarter and to another famous old bar, Tujaques. Tending bar there for the last decade or so has been another of NOLA’s top notch bartenders, Paul Gustings. To say he is a character would be putting it mildly. He works the bar like few others I have ever encountered and manages to make superb cocktails while dispensing beer in go cups to confused frat boys who have strolled too far from Bourbon Street.
All this talk of old school cocktails had me wanting something from the days of Harry Thomas. While Neal tried a Sazerac, I tried his take on a classic hangover cure from the 1890’s, a powerful Angostura Rum Phosphate, which sent my head spinning and my body reeling out into the heat of the afternoon sun.
Fortunately, by suppertime, I had snoozed it off just in time for us to meet up again with Chris and Laura for supper. Cochon highlights the German/Cajun food that chef, Donald Link grew up eating while he was raised in Acadiana. Sybil had loved its unapologetic pigginess on her visit during the previous year’s Jazz Festival and insisted that I should give it a try. She was spot on. Cochon provided easily the best meal of the trip.
It was Chris who suggested how to handle the small plates menu. “Just order it all” he drawled as he drained his first slug of beer from a chilled pitcher. I looked at the card menu. There was one thing on there that I couldn’t eat, oysters. I love them but unfortunately they don’t love me. Otherwise, it seemed like a very sage idea and I told the charming server to bring us all the small plates, one each of all the boucherie, one order of the Cochon entrée of the day and an order of pork rinds just in case we got a bit hungry inbetween.
The state of the bread can tell you a great deal about the intentions and abilities of a restaurant. Here at Cochon, it was hot from the oven, feather light and served with creamy whipped butter. It was so good that eight mini loaves disappeared in eight mini seconds and Chris was soon waving his hand in the air to demand some more.
Every dish that followed was as good, if not better than this positive introduction to Chef Lick’s cooking. We all had our favourites. Neal was particularly taken with fried alligator with a fiery aioli, while Chris sunk more than his fair share of oysters (brought in from out of state we were told) which had been cooked in a wood burning oven and covered in another spicy sauce. Laura liked the deep fried hog’s headcheese, while I cleared most of a plate of rabbit livers on toast served with a pepper jelly and dug out most of the contents from a crawfish pie made with a light pastry crust.
It was the kind of meal that almost inevitably made me ask Neal, during a break when we all came up for air, “why can’t we have restaurants like Cochon in London?” Unfair, I know, but “WHY CAN’T WE HAVE RESTAURANTS LIKE COCHON IN LONDON?”
The only weak spot came in the form of some overcooked pork ribs. They looked Flintstone enough to make us all go “coo” when they arrived, but they were touch as old boots and about as tasty. A shame, but they did little to dampen our enthusiasm for what was otherwise a spectacular meal.
We were not finished yet, however. Despite the fact that we were well into “Bye Bye Belt” territory, the sight of a blueberry cobbler arriving at the next table convinced us that we should at least order one to share. It was as good as the rest of the meal and Neal decided to top it all off with a shot of Catdady Moonshine, which prompted the server to deliver the bill with a “here’s the cheque, Catdaddy” in a way that made the three men at the table shiver just a little with pleasure.
Another superb day spent with superb people.
Have I mentioned yet that I love this city?