Category Archives: Louisiana

Louisiana: New Orleans and Swamp Tour

October 30 – November 3, 2013 (Wednesday-Sunday)


French Quarter

Because I am trying to get fully caught up and there is just so much to say about New Orleans, I’m going to do another bullet-point short-form post.  Hopefully Sam and Kaitlyn, our extraordinarily generous hosts for four nights, will take no offense.  If I did a full write-up here, it would be so long as to bore my dear readers.  Even more.

But first, let me remind you that Louisiana is my home state.  I really wanted to see if I could gain access to Barksdale Air Force base and see my Shreveport birth place, but it was far out of the way and time did not permit.

  • Crossing Lake Pontchartrain and seeing the city appear is cool; it is also interesting to watch the hood end and the uber-wealthy Garden District begin so abruptly after crossing St. Charles
  • Parasol’s on Constance was perhaps our favorite meal in a city known for its food; this po’boy place is Sam’s joint. I covered the pulled pork briefly in my BBQ post I think, the gumbo was delicious and the firecracker shrimp was outstanding.  It’s a fun place with a bar on one side and food ordering on the other, lots of beer options.  Oh, of course there is no open container prohibition here (and that is truly a game changer), but I had not considered that you can still smoke cigarettes in bars.  Wow.
  • New Orleans is kind of an “anything goes” town.  It just seems so different from the rest of the country.  So much flavor.  So much good food and music and vivacity.  So many cats and flags and wrought iron and shotgun style homes.  There are not many places you will see a multi-million dollar mansion with a Go [Saints] flag hanging off a balcony.  In the first hour here we saw two cars driving the wrong way down one-way streets.
  • Magazine Street is awesome.  Sam and Kaitlyn live just off this in the Irish Channel and it is a really fun area.  Magazine here has tons of shops, bars, restaurants and cafes.  Sucre has gelato and pastries.  The Bulldog bar was packed.  As were Salu and Rum House.  Magazine also looked nice further uptown, where we got food at Boulangerie to go
  • The homes in the Garden District are stunning.  I think Sandra Bullock and John Goodman have pads here, and probably many other famous peeps.
  • Bourbon Street is a must-see.  During the night it can be fun and in the day too, but it is best for when you are wasted.  For when you are sober during the day, the smell of piss and vomit can be overwhelming.  But the live music compensates a lot.
  • Lunch at Cochon Butcher was great.  The line appeared really long but moved pretty quickly and was well worth the wait.  I got a pork belly on white with cucumbers, mint and chili aïoli. Jenni got a pizzetta with mortadella, mustard greens and Parmesan.  Both were excellent.  The mac and cheese looked gut-busting.  That day we took the trolley home on St. Charles
  • Halloween on Frenchman Street was a highlight of the trip.  What a party.  I grabbed some sort of repairmen costume at the store.  Jenni could not decide so she bought a Justin Bieber wig.  This somehow turned into her being Tami-Lynn, one of the real housewives of Boston.  She got into character and stayed there the rest of the night.  It was epic.  And Frenchman was just silly.  The streets were not closed de jure, but they were de facto.  Dudes would just roll out like six foot long bars and start making cocktails in the middle of the street.
  • On Friday we did a swamp tour with Cajun Encounters in Slidell.  We were so hurt from Halloween that we could not even call and instead just skipped our 12 pm reservation.  Then we felt a touch better and they let us switch to the 2:45 pm with no questions asked.  Captain Bishop was an able guide.  We were disappointed we did not get to hold a baby alligator as we had heard happens.  Captain said a bunch of stuff, again no fact checking…he said alligators hibernate 4-6 months, I had no idea this happened; they can go two years without eating; bananas on a boat are bad luck; the number of inches from a gator’s eyes to nose roughly equals its length in feet; wild rice grows in the swamp, and it is not technically rice but it grows freely and that is why it’s so popular in Cajun food; we saw wild boars with a raccoon right next to them and saw lots of turtles and some blue herons.  Unless you want a lot of sun, consider requesting a covered coat.  Check out the “Cajun Hottub”, and someone had a sign advising that trespassers will be violated
  • On the drive there we saw next door signs, one said “Hit and Run Liquor” and the other “Chicken and Watermelon”…straight up
  • We hit a newish spot called District twice…once for a Vietnamese coffee donut with tapioca balls and then for dinner where we had great sliders…fried chicken, pork belly, etc.  And I got a croquenut, which was a croque monsieur with donuts as the bread, except they were not sweet so the concept was better than the execution, but it was still just a delicious croque monsieur.  And we got waffle fries with cheese and jalapenos, and a great brown butter and pistachio donut
  • I liked the Saint Arnold Elissa IPA, and that the store where I bought it (after Sam intro’d) is called Breaux Mart
  • Sam told us about bounce music and Big Freedia, and also that Treme is a pretty hot area now, a lot of black activists and artists etc.
  • Saturday was an epic day…
  1. we had brunch at Atchafalaya around the corner from home, with a killer Bloody Mary bar (I vaguely recall there was a green tomatillo juice option and I think Jenni said they should call that the Gangrene Mary) and live music…the bloody bar had a few juice options and I went with the house blend plus a touch of tomatillo juice plus pepper, horse radish, Louisiana hot sauce, mustard, pickled celery and olives and cauliflower and brussels sprouts, and a bunch of bacon bits…boudin cakes are a New Orleans staple and the cream cheese grits were terrific
  2. then walked the loop at Audubon Park where we tossed the disc, saw another public piano and visited the waterfront area (which does not feature as prominently in the public space as it should, and I think they may be trying to change this)…the piano man told us it is being used to help treat PTSD, and the piano had been submerged in Katrina but was restored and painted by YAYA (Young Aspirations / Young Artists)…there are some nice homes right on the park, like directly on it without any separation which I thought uncommon
  3. then to Luke for the first of our John Besch happy hours with oysters and cocktails
  4. then walked through the French Quarter (better than our unguided attempt a couple days earlier where we seemed only to hit the dirty and hoody parts and Louis Armstrong park, though Crazy Corner’s funk/zydeco was nice) where we saw Tanya and Dorise on Royal Street.  They are a pretty famous street-performing duo playing violin and guitar.  They played Out Walking After Midnight, For Once in My Life and You’ve Got a Friend.  Some guy standing next to me was priceless, telling me about how this singer comes by sometimes and sings with the ladies and they tell her to take money from the bucket but she takes just a few bucks for cold beverage (which means soda). And he said the ladies are so good even the bums give em money
  5. then to Domenica for yummy pizzas and wine inside the Roosevelt Hotel which has an opulent art deco lobby
  6. then into Saint hotel which is like Miami meets red
  7. then to Tonique for fancy cocktails and hipsters.  I asked the bartender for some recs on our trip as I guessed correctly she was from Sri Lanka.  She went nuts that I knew this, gave me a free shot and then never any recs.
  8. then to the Byway area for Bachanal with even more hipsters and wine/food…really cool spot, too bad no jazz when we were there but…hosts ran into lots of people they knew…it is a wine shop where you can buy a bottle and drink out back and there is a window where can order food like chicken liver pate and bacon-wrapped dates.  I would be really stoked if Los Angeles had a spot like this.  Maybe I should open one.
  9. then to Frenchman where we entered Cafe Negril for good music…some places have instituted covers and we were being cheap so passed on Spotted Cat even though that music sounded fantastic…oh, at most bars they pass a tip bucket around for the musicians…before leaving we went into Vaso for a proper big brass band, that music style is so fun

    Little market on Frenchman

    Little market on Frenchman

  10. then to Bourbon Street and Pat O’Briens on the piano bar side…the guy sucked but the woman was great and such a fun atmosphere…range from Sweet Caroline to Blurred Lines
  11. then on the way to Cafe du Monde we passed Camelia Grill so popped in for bacon cheeseburgers and they also gave us free fries…I thought the burger was really solid, it had medium girth with great bacon and abundant butter flavor

    Contemplating something at 2 am

    Contemplating something at 2 am

  12. then to Cafe du Monde where sit outside for beignets dipped in decaf cafe au lait…I thought these were more like donuts but they are more like mini fried dough…Kaitlyn was such a trooper and drove the whole night
Cafe du Monde

Cafe du Monde

  • On the 10 West heading out of New Orleans you drive through some swamp and it is pretty cool
  • One night as I tried to fall asleep I heard someone playing the saxophone outside, and this felt like the perfect New Orleans moment.



Now I know y’all didn’t think I’d venture through the South without trying a little BBQ?!  While I did not indulge my gluttonous desires for smoked meat as fully as I expected, I did try a few “legit” spots and had something approximating the concept at least a couple other times. To get straight to the point, Franklin BBQ in Austin slaughtered the competition.  It was like me fighting Mike Tyson, and I’m talking back in my prime and when he was already over the hill.

I am certainly not a BBQ expert, but it strikes me that more than most cuisine types BBQ is judged on factors beyond how good it tastes.  This may seem odd to the casual observer, and it merits philosophical debate beyond the scope of this post.  By way of example, Houston’s ribs might not earn high praise at a BBQ competition, despite that many find them delicious!

Let’s start with just a few words about the BBQ-resembling meals I had in the South.  There was the pulled pork sandwich at Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill.  It consists of slow roasted pork, house-made beer cheese sauce, garlic sauteed spinach and frizzled red onions.  Hard to judge the quality of the meat with those accoutrements, but beer cheese sauce was interesting.  I enjoyed it, despite that I felt my arteries hardening with each bite.  Then there was the pulled pork po’boy at Parasol’s in New Orleans.  Parasol’s is phenomenal, and this sandwich was delicious.  But again, we are not talking pure BBQ.  On to that…

The Brick Pit is in a small house-like structure in a fairly nice part of Mobile, Alabama.  Like most places outside Texas, the emphasis is on hog.  The walls inside are covered with writing from patrons.  They had TV screens on CSS Encore showing an old college football game with Auburn dominating.  One orders inside at a pass-through counter, I got the combo plate with ribs and pulled pork, and it comes with coleslaw, BBQ beans and a piece of Texas toast (basically extra thick white bread).  The pit master uses 75% pecan (which is all over the Southeast) and 25% hickory for smoke.  He goes 3.5 and below, meaning the rack should weigh less than 3.5 pounds.

The ribs were smoky and fairly good, as was the pulled pork.  But this was perhaps the clearest illustration to me of the “good BBQ” vs. “tastes great” issue above.  My meal did not taste great.  It may be good, true BBQ, but it just was not supremely enjoyable.  Perhaps my biggest beef (haha) is they do not season the meat, instead choosing to let the smoke impart all the flavor.  The result is meat that is just not THAT tasty.  I think I prefer the Memphis style with a nice dry rub, where sauce is pretty much optional.  They also did not remove the silver skin from the back of the ribs.  This is a controversial subject, but I think I prefer it removed.  The beans here were smoky and excellent, definitely the best of the beans I had.  The cole slaw was pretty heavy on the mayo and also quite good.  Jenni went with the sourdough brick bites which is a $4 slider that was actually a decent-sized sandwich.  Unsweetenened iced tea is available here, and pretty much everywhere in the South.

Next up was Iron Works BBQ in Austin, Texas.  I think it is widely believed at this point that Franklin is superior, but Iron Works gets mad respect.  There are framed pictures of George Bush and of Barack Obama eating there.  Parking is ample and the inside is old-looking and charming.  I got the combo plate with beef brisket, a beef rib and sausage.  It also came with potato salad and beans.  Here again, the distinction arose.  This brisket was sliced thin, and while enjoyable to be sure, I have enjoyed more a brisket I cooked in my oven from a Jewish recipe book.  The sausage was quite tasty, and the beef rib was delicious.  I did not realize until I was in Austin in March 2013 for Josh’s bachelor party how much I like good BBQ beef ribs.  That time I visited Salt Lick at its Round Rock location, and I would say that was the second best BBQ after Franklin.

And now for the champion.  Franklin BBQ is not merely a meal, it is an experience.  It opens at 11 am and I am told it has sold out every day since it opened in 2009.  Having been told by a local that we could safely arrive at 10:30 am, we showed up at 10:10 am for extra caution.  We were met by a line halfway through the parking lot.  I parked the car and returned to find Jenni standing directly BEHIND a group holding the “Last Man Standing” piece of cardboard.  OH, THE HORROR!  The woman working the line informed us there was no guarantee we would get any food, and the kicker was that we probably would not know until after 1 pm.  The likelihood of getting ribs was almost non-existent.  It seems there is a concept of pre-ordering, but I do not know how this works.

We thus faced one of the hardest decisions of our lives.  Cut our losses and move on, or tough it out and go for the glory?  To my everlasting relief, while we debated she informed us that the owner had decided to push back the line and we were now safe.  Hallelujah!!

We broke out the boat chairs for the first time in ages and read and made some phone calls.  At 11 am the doors opened and the first large group entered the restaurant.  But things move very slowly from there.  So at several minute intervals the line would move up a handful of feet, meaning you have to pick up your chairs etc. and relocate.  There was a guy across the street actually renting folding chairs for $5.  Supply and demand at its finest.  There was another Franklin employee walking the line and selling beer and soft drinks so Jenni got a blonde ale and I a lemonade.  Some groups also brought their own beer for the wait.

We entered the structure at about 1:10 pm and got served at 1:30 pm.  So here is the secret: show up early!  Like 8 am.  If you show up at that time, your overall commitment is actually equal if not less and you are guaranteed a selection of anything on the menu.  Plus, you would never have to move your waiting position as long as you are far enough up in the line to enter with the first group.  So show up at 8 am and order at 11 am from the full menu, or show up at 10:10 am and order at 1:30 pm with NO RIBS available.  By the way, Franklin serves pork ribs even though this is Texas.

Upon reaching the counter, your order is taken and filled (i.e. sliced, cut, etc.) by the owner and legend himself, Aaron Franklin.  Despite the immense popularity and praise (Bon Appetit declared it the best in the country), Aaron could not be nicer.  He does not subscribe to the theory of “my food is amazing, therefore I can be a dick.”  He asked whether we wanted fatty or lean brisket, and before we even answered he confirmed our suspicion by murmuring his own response of “fatty.”  Obviously.   He hooked us up with a couple large bites laid on the counter, which reminded me of Katz’s Deli in New York.  It was at this very moment we knew the nearly 3.5 hour wait was worth every minute.

There were three guys sequentially working the counter, and we had pleasant exchanges with each.  First with Aaron himself who asked where we were from etc.  The next guy on the line overheard us mention we had been to a Packers game and then said the prior night’s game was his favorite because he is a Bears fan.  The third guy told us a story about how he ordered a salad at a Whataburger in Oklahoma and the woman asked if he was from Los Angeles.

Back to the food…Jenni and I each got a two meat plate which comes with two sides.  One plate was brisket and turkey with cole slaw and potato salad.  The other was brisket and pulled pork with beans and potato salad.  The beans were good, the cole slaw was very good and the potato salad was OK.  The turkey was sliced white meat and very good, considering the materials.  The pulled pork was delicious, nice and moist and peppery.  I found it far better than the Brick Pit, which is known more for pork vs. beef.  The brisket, though, was fall out of your chair good.  I mean just ridiculously scrumptious.  It was cut very thick and was incredibly moist and flavorful.  They have three BBQ sauce options: a Carolina style vinegary sauce, an espresso flavored sauce, and a Texas style sauce that was a little tangier and spicier.  Sometimes with BBQ I want almost all my bites with sauce but make sure to try some naked bites to savor the pure dead animal.  At Franklin, this was reversed.  We also ate a banana bourbon pie that was yummy.

I would note that we did not order one, but the Tipsy Texan sandwich looked great.  It is chopped brisket and sliced sausage on a white roll with cole slaw and pickles.  There are several tables inside and a handful of picnic tables on a deck outside, which is where we sat.  Folks, when you are next in Austin, do yourself a favor and get to Franklin early (and often).