There is nothing like a weekend in New Orleans to remind me of the aging process and the natural degeneration of the human immune system.
Visiting the French Quarter for a Marine Scout Recon reunion with buddies that I have not seen in 22 years, we left few stones unturned as we roamed through the streets of the Big Easy.
Age does at the very least have the benefit of wisdom; we may not be wise, but we are wiser. I think. Since all of us are music lovers our goals were much more oriented to finding the amazing music for which New Orleans is known.
Having done my share of traveling over the years, I have learned to ask locals where they go to enjoy themselves; surely they wouldn’t hang out on Bourbon Street, unless of course they were playing a gig or two or tending bar.
Eating our first dinner at the bar in the hotel, rarely a good choice, we were shocked at the caliber of our meal at Wolfe’s in the Warehouse. The star of the evening was the blackened catfish on grits with a green onion-crawfish broth. It wasn’t long before half the staff knew our table and Harry the valet manager directed us toward Frenchman District where we found live music.
After our second or third music venue in which we listened to mind-numbing jazz, blues and zydeco, it became apparent that most of the “bands” were really just the same guys rotating through the different stages and jumping in. I can’t even imagine how many standards a New Orleans musician would have to learn just to be able to sit in. Doubled with the fact there are so many talented musicians, the sad realization hits home that there isn’t much money in music here except for the truly exceptional.
As the sun broke the horizon it was time to walk back across town and settle in for a short nap before we would do it all over again.
Since the sun was up when we hit the rack we were not in the mood for coffee as of yet, but as the day wore on we found ourselves at Cafe du Monde for beignets and chicory coffee.
I hadn’t been for 16 years but I remembered it was life-changing. It wasn’t to be again.
Truth be told, Smitty said it best when he asked why we had just “paid $35 for funnel cake and rot gut?”
The second day’s pass through town was a day of continued eating focused on gator, andouille, etouffe, jambalaya, and atchafalaya.
As we headed back to Frenchman on our second night we realized that we should probably sit more than we had the night before. Steve noted that he had to go back to the hotel to take his meds; it was getting late. Good God we’re getting old.
We found the wall at the old US Mint to be the perfect height for our old and broken bodies. Ed Wills was playing at the BMC and was so good that we sat there for two hours. I’m sure it was just a small selection of his repertoire but he was no stranger to Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Stevie Ray Vaughun, Professor Longhair and Dr. John. We were asleep by 1:30.
On our last day we camped out in Central Grocery, purported to be the home of the Muffaletta sandwich. A monster round roll topped with deli meats and a fantastic olive relish, the Muffaletta is the consummate New Orleans sandwich and stand alone meal.
A full-size sandwich demands anywhere from 10 ounces to a pound of meat so these are not for the weak of heart or light of stature.
I was so impressed to have found the home of the muffaletta that two friends and I just stood inside the market directing people to the counter. After a few minutes people just assumed that we worked there. A customer came up to me and told me that she told the manager to give me commission on the extra things that she had purchased with my assistance. I can’t help it. It’s what I do.
And now I sit at the airport trying to get excited about an 11-hour travel day. At least I know that I won’t wait 16 more years to come back down here or another 22 to see my brothers again.
It was a short weekend, but we got to eat our way through one of the greatest cities in the nation. Not a bad way to spend the first Memorial Day I’ve had off in close to 20 years.
1 8-inch round Italian loaf
3 oz. salami
3 oz. capicola
3 oz. mortadella
3 oz. pepperoni
2 oz. provolone cheese
Olive relish (recipe follows)
Split roll. If thick, take out a little of the crumb (the white inside) to make room for the meat and relish
Put relish on bottom, top with meat and cheese and finish it off with more relish and top of roll
Serve hot or cold
makes way too much!
8 oz. Italian Giardiniera, drained
1/2 c. Manzanilla olives
1/2 c. oil-cured olives
2 Tbsp. Capers
1/4 c. EV Olive Oil
2 tbsp. good red wine vinegar
1. Chop by hand until it is the size of capers, or at least the size that your capers were before you started hacking away