New Orleans: 2012

August 20, 2012

“Remove all metal items.  Empty your pockets.”

As I patted my pockets, I felt the comfortable bulge of my flip wallet, but in a moment of sheer panic I realized that my other pocket was empty.  That was because there wasn’t a cell phone in it.  That was because my cell phone was in the middle console in Ross’s car.

This was either very fortuitous because I was attending a bachelor party or a cataclysmal event that could tear the very fabric of reality to shreds because the bachelor party was in New Orleans.  I was nervous about the prospect of going off the grid in a city of questionable moral standing like Nawlins, but with most of my friends averaging the size of an NFL linebacker, I felt fairly certain that if I purchased a child leash and attached myself to one of them, I would make it home safely at the end of the trip.

Baby Leash

It’s for my own good.

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is about half an hour from downtown New Orleans, and the drive made the surrounding areas seem like the suburbs of every other major US city I’ve visited; worn-down neighborhoods, strip malls, billboards advertising DUI attorneys.  As we approached the city however, things changed, and in a drastic way I’d never seen before.  Most cities have something unique that welcomes travelers coming into town; some feature that is unique and showcases the city.  Pittsburgh has an amazing skyline.  Cleveland has a Great Lake.  Hollywood has a mountain with its name on it.  As we bore down on New Orleans, what stood out to me was that on either side of I-10 on the ride into town, you saw cemeteries.  They stood out because they were full of mausoleums.

Just like the drinks, dying isn’t cheap in the Big Easy.  But I suppose that’s part of the cost of living in a city below sea level.

Above ground cemetery new orleans

Welcome to New Orleans: Enjoy our lovely skyline and bone-chilling above ground resting places!

We arrived at the Westin downtown unscathed, sans a hefty Taxi cab bill.  After checking in and finding my room on the 24th floor, I set my bag down and, like the tourist I am, desperately wanted to see my view for the next few days.  Having never been to New Orleans, I had no idea where we were staying in relation to anything in town.  I pulled back my blinds and was greeted with a panoramic view that was magnificent.

Mississippi River Westin Hotel Downtown New Orleans

Photograph courtesy of Super Dave’s Photography, 2012.

Now that I knew I was only a few hundred yards from the Mississippi, I was comforted knowing if I got lost, I could just float down-river back to my hotel.

Traveling with a bunch of big guys who hadn’t eaten all day, everyone wanted to seek out some food.  Like a pack of wild hyenas, we were on the hunt.  Now, let me preface things with this: once we left the safety of the hotel and the touristy things in the immediate vicinity and ventured out into real New Orleans, everything looked like a dive.  I’m from the rust belt, so this concept isn’t lost on me.  Some of the best wings in the United States are in places that have ‘tetanus shot’ listed as an appetizer.  But when you’re in a big city like New Orleans with block after block of dives, it’s hard to discern between the bars and restaurants that are dives because it’s trendy and the dinginess is now a part of the culture of that specific place, and the ones that are dives because they indulge the seedier patrons of town.

Fortunately for us, our friend/tour guide survived his undergrad at Tulane, so we immediately went to the first of many palate-pleasing meals at a place called Mother’s.  [Insert mom joke here]  When I walked in, I knew exactly what I wanted: jambalaya.  Not my traditional sodium-packed box of Zataran’s from a Wal-Mart shelf.  I wanted authentic, New Orleans jambalaya.  That’s exactly what I got, and let me tell you, it was worth every penny and painstakingly long bowel movement thereafter.  I can’t tell you what places in New Orleans do to their food to make it taste more delicious, but there is definitely something about it that separates it from food I’ve eaten elsewhere.  Every meal was either delicious in a unique way (jambalaya, gumbo, po boys) or flat out better than food I’ve had elsewhere (the burger at Port of Call is the best burger I’ve had to date). In fact, after all the meals I had in New Orleans (we ate out for all of them, obviously), there was only one that left me underwhelmed, which was breakfast at The Camellia Grill.

Delicious Restaurants in New Orleans

“The food alone is worth the trip!”

Day two was highlighted by my favorite part of the trip, a New Orleans Zephyrs baseball game in our own box suite.  The Zephyrs are the Tripe-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins, and I actually had a chance to watch former Erie Seawolf Jacob Turner pitch, as the Detroit Tigers shipped him to Miami in a deadline deal this season.  The bachelor and one of our good friends who came were both exceptional baseball players growing up, and both of them played at the University of North Carolina, so I always enjoy getting to sit down and talk about the game with them.

After watching a baseball game as a king with eight other friends, I’ll never be able to watch one at a stadium the same ever again, sitting with all those simple yokels.  We had all the hot dogs, burgers, chili and chips our little hearts could desire, an air conditioned box (a wonderful commodity in New Orleans), and fantastic outside seating along the third baseline.

Bachelor Party Welcome New Orleans Zephyrs

Photograph courtesy of Super Dave’s Photography, 2012.

That night we went out to Bourbon Street.  I had been preparing myself mentally to bear witness to anything for the previous few weeks.  Babies double fisting mixed drinks, homeless people eating their own feces, dogs birthing cats.  I was ready for whatever weirdness New Orleans’s degenerates and their decadence could throw at me.  We stopped in a place called Tropical Isle and my buddy told me there was a drink there that I had to try.  It was called a hand grenade and it was a staple of the Big Easy.  I asked why it was called a hand grenade.  He smiled, and returned with this:

Hand Grenade

People in New Orleans are very good at naming things.

While I feel the food in New Orleans is priced reasonably (i.e. you will pay $9 for a bowl of jambalaya or a sandwich, but you leave the meal satisfied), the drinks are probably under-priced.  One or two adult beverages in New Orleans goes a long way.

So as we’re talking of the day’s shenanigans, our friend left to go to the bathroom.  When he returned, he had a panicked look on his face.  I asked him if he was okay.  He said no.  He said he couldn’t believe what he saw in the bathroom and that I should go check it out.  Understanding that someone who has seen something  that frightened him in a bathroom in New Orleans may have seen a wide range of weird or awful things, I was concerned.  But curious.  Eventually my curiosity outweighed my fear of the unknown and off I went.

I hesitantly walked through the bar, turned the corner down the hallway, and began my approach to the men’s room.  I took a deep breath at the door, bracing myself for what I was sure would burn the corneas right out of my eyes, reached for the door, and paused to make sure that I really wanted to see what was on the other side.

In that moment of hesitation, the door opened.  What stood on the other side closely resembled this:

New Orleans Devil

“Gaaaaaaaaaa!”

My heart skipped a beat and there was a moment as I stood at the bathroom door staring at the devil, him staring at me, where I thought to myself, “I hope I’m not dead on the floor in front of a bathroom in New Orleans and that’s why the devil is here greeting me.”  Yes, the gateway to the 9th Circle of Hell, I discovered, was in a bar in New Orleans.  The devil could see the panic in my eyes as I stood there slack-jawed at the men’s room, and with a cunning grin, he walked down the hallway and out the door.

At this point I was too panicked to actually use the bathroom, so after checking my pulse, I walked back with that same dumbfounded look my friend had.  He started laughing and asked, “Was he in there?”

“The guy in the red suit with horns?” I said.  “He was on his way out on my way in.”

The food and drinks of New Orleans were fantastic.  The city is steeped in a rich history that provides plenty of opportunities for things to do during the day, and obviously Bourbon Street offers a wide variety of activities at night.

And while this trip overall was one of the more enjoyable and entertaining trips I have ever experienced, my favorite part was getting to see all my friends together.  As we get married, get promotions, and start families as we approach and pass the thirty year marks of our lives, we have fewer and fewer opportunities to get together like this anymore.  I’ve learned to appreciate the time that I have with my friends, because I know it’s a nonrenewable resource and I want to make sure that I don’t take it for granted.

New Orleans was a fun city.  But it was only fun because of the people I went with.  I know that when I see them in a few weeks or months or years, I have one more memory to share, and some great friends to share it with.

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On Generic Foods: Accept No Substitutes

December 20, 2011

Generally speaking, I’m a very practical person.  Every time I’m surfing the shelves of my local Wal-Mart, I walk through the cereal aisle and right past the Nature’s Valley granola bars (which have really increased in price over the last five years).  Instead of picking up a box of $5.00 Nature Valley bars, I opt for the Great Value chewy granola bars ($2.98) instead. If I can save money buying the Great Value brand of something, I’m all aboard.  That being said, there are certain foods for which you simply can accept no substitutes.  Here is a far from comprehensive list of food that may be far from the bargain bin, but will tickle your pallet if you’re willing to shell out the extra cash.

Heinz Ketchup

Condiments are a very sensitive subject in my world of food, with ketchup being my number one priority.  And when it comes to ketchups (or ‘catsup’, as my grandpa would say), there is only one brand that can get the job done: Heinz Ketchup.  I’ve read of blind taste-tests on ketchup and that people can’t tell the difference.  I know the instant that I put that vile generic ketchup in my mouth, I’d instantly recognize the taste of the homeless people the other companies use to thicken out the batch.

Homeless Man and Hunts Ketchup

Have you been wondering where all your local homeless people have been going? I'm pretty sure I know.

Of course there are other ketchups out there that can be had for a more reasonable price than Heinz;  but only a sick freak would ever spread the filth that is generic ketchup on their hot dogs, eggs, or sandwiches.  People who eat Hunt’s ketchup are some of the most disgusting creatures on the planet.

Hunt’s ketchup is people!

Pop-Tarts

If you’ve had a Great Value imitation pop-tart in your mouth, you might as well go fishing for a turd in the nearest public bathroom and rub it on your tongue.  While I have never personally eaten cardboard, I can say that when I eat an imitation Pop-Tart, it’s the first image that pops into my head.  On top of that, the tiny amount of that shitty filling they stuff those things with tastes horrible, regardless of the flavor.

Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee

My good friend just came in to town from Boston and I asked him how popular Dunkin’ Donuts was up there.  He chuckled, looked at me and said, ‘Seriously?’  He then explained if he were to drive five minutes in any direction from where he works, he would run into six or seven different Dunkin’ Donuts.  Considering I currently live in a town without a grocery store, I was impressed.  We’ve all had diner coffee during or after a long bender, and nothing says ‘I hate myself’ quite like trying to sober up with a hot cup of disgusting.  If you’ve ever had the sweet filtered beans of Dunkin’, buying Tops brand coffee just won’t do.

Duke’s Mayonnaise

This is a Southern tradition I stumbled onto during my time in North Carolina.  I’ve got a pretty good idea of why the obesity numbers in the South are much higher than the rest of the regions.

Duke's Mayonnaise

Nectar of the Gods.

When I first tried this delicious sandwich topping,  I did look at the nutrition information on the label.  While I don’t remember the numbers, I do remember that there is a distinct reason I choose to ignore the health warnings that are probably attached with spreading Duke’s on your food and downing a gallon of sweet tea.  I will admit, because of proximity, I’m not as adamant about Duke’s as I am about some other items on this list.  I’ve learned to survive on Hellman’s.  However, every trip to visit my friends down in Raleigh results in me bringing a new 8 oz. bottle of this delicious regional treat.

Oreos

This delightful sandwich cookie could probably end a lot of global problems if we’d only give it a chance.  Hydrox, Oreo’s bastard stepbrother, is the reason for all the world’s problems, however.

I don’t know how, but with the invention of the Double-Stuff, Oreo has perfected the creme-to-cookie ratio.  Creme Betweens and other monstrosities on the other hand, taste like solidified sludge.

So that’s my list of foods that are undeniably better than their sick counterparts.  Feel free to chime in with your selection below.  Happy eating this holiday season.


Time Out in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

August 16, 2010

There are a few restaurants I make it a point to stop in at when I come down to visit North Carolina.  Bullock’s Bar-B-Cue, Shiki Sushi, and of course Bojangles.

Bojangles

It’s the honey mustard that runs through my veins.

There is one exquisite dining stop down in these parts, however, that excites me more than just about any other.  After an evening out on the town, Time-Out Restaurant in the heart of downtown Chapel Hill is a must have.  Home of the famous chicken cheddar biscuit, Time-Out is open 24/7, 365 days a year.  Legend has it that after opening the restaurant, the owner threw away the key.  That may have been because the only time he had to worry about customers was after last call at all the bars on Franklin Street.

It’s not the kind of restaurant that you take a nice lady to on a first date, unless you happened to meet that nice lady in the five minutes prior at the bar.  It’s Southern fried food served up fast and hot.  All of the employees may not speak English, but they all understand ‘fried chicken’ or ‘pork bar-b-que’.  The inside definitely has more of a college dorm-room feel to it than anything, as pictures of famous UNC athletes and celebrities grace the wall, giving the famous ‘time out’ signal.  It’s the kind of place you go to if you want your heart attack to taste delicious, like bar-b-que, mac-and-cheese and mashed potatoes.

Time out Chapel Hill, NC

This mac and cheese has held world governments together.

But don’t let the classed down interior or somewhat fratboy feel fool you.  This food is deep-fried, Southern deliciousness at its finest.  So the next time you’re in Chapel Hill, do your lower intestinal tract a favor and stop by Time Out.  You won’t regret it.