I’ve been saying before and during this entire trip that the way I see it is, if I ride to New Orleans, I’ll be able to eat and drink anything I want to when I get there. And we did!
Day 18 (a.k.a. Arrival Day): After gorging ourselves at Parasols, we checked into our hotel, Frenchmen Orleans at 519, which is a little apartment style hotel conveniently located on Frenchmen Street, and cleaned ourselves and our gear while waiting for the Rendezvous Party to arrive. My dad and sister pulled in with the car and a trailer that my dad has specially rigged for the tandem around 6 pm. After a zillion hugs and kisses, we got down to business.
First, the official weigh in. Everyone thinks that you lose weight on these trips, and Mike certainly does. But for some reason, I don’t. We’d made a bet that Mike would lose at least 10 pounds on this trip and that I would stay within 5 pounds, up or down. Weigh in results: Mike–down 15. Me–down 0.5. REALLY??? All that work and no weight loss? Well, lets see if that works in the reverse. If I can bike 18 days and not lose weight, can I eat and not gain weight?
Settled in, we set out for dinner across town at Jaques-Imos for “Real Nawlins Food.” It is quite a popular place and so we had an hour or so wait. Luckily, you can take your cocktails outside in New Orleans so most of the crowd was outside on the sidewalk, having a grand old time. When we finally got our table, we were all ready to eat! Cracking open the menu, we discovered an interesting appetizer: Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake. After a brief discussion amongst the pescatarians, we decided that alligator was close enough and ordered it up. It was delicious. . . . and this would not be the last time, we pescatarians fudged a bit. We feasted on shrimp etoufee, fried mirliton (a type of squash) with oysters, Cajun bouillabaisse, and blackened redfish.
Then, we four very full people walked next door to the Maple Leaf Bar. Our plan was to catch the local and popular brass band, the Rebirth, that has a regular Tuesday night gig at the bar. We found ourselves a great location and settled in to listen to the opening band, New Breed Brass Band. It was 10:30 pm.
They were great, but after six consecutive days of riding and (for my sister and dad) two days of driving (not to mention that my sister had flown from Japan on Saturday), we couldn’t make it to midnight when Rebirth was supposed to start.
Feeling more Midwestern than Cajun, we called it a night and dragged our exhausted selves back to the hotel, knowing that we still had two days of fun in New Orleans!
Day 19: The Party Continues . . . with a little history and a whole lot of FOOD
Refreshed from a good solid sleep, we were ready to start our first full day in NOLA the way every tourist is required to start the day–at Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets.
Mike, who doesn’t really like donuts, was humoring the rest of us as we insisted we all get beignets. Not that you have any choice, since that is all that they serve. As anyone who has been to Cafe du Monde knows, the beignets and au laits arrive fast and hot. Three to a serving and covered like the Alpine snow with copious amounts of powdered sugar, they are as delicious as reputed. After this “nutritious” breakfast, we dusted ourselves off (literally) and headed to our day’s destination: The National WWII Museum. A relatively new attraction (it opened in 2000 as the the National D-Day Museum) was a project of the historian/author, Stephen Ambrose, and focused on the story of the American WWII Experience. In the intervening years, it expanded to cover the Pacific and African fronts, but remains very focused on the American War Experience, with only nominal references to the Eastern Front (where Russia’s 23 million casualties dwarfed the U.S.’s less than half a million casualties) or the U.S. domestic activities (e.g., there is a single poster regarding the internment of the Japanese). Strangely, there is no mention (as far as I could see) about the Japanese American 442nd Infantry Regiment,which is the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare. There is a little bit about Japanese-American (JA) translators, but nothing about the fighting “Go For Broke” JA soldiers. But there is A LOT in the museum, so perhaps I missed it. Or perhaps, this is a function that the museum started as a D-Day museum and the 442nd fought largely on the Italian southern front.
Of particular interest to us was that my great uncle Bob Miller (my dad’s uncle) had been among the first troops landing in Japan on August 28, 1945. Part of a reconnaisance mission, he’d been there when the US flag was first raised in Japan. The importance of this is particularly acute when you realize how hard fought the battle of the Pacific was–island after bloody, disease-infested island–in order to get US troop on Japanese soil. When Uncle Bob died in 2001, we knew that he had donated the flag to the museum so we were thrilled to find it prominently displayed at the very end of the Pacific Theater exhibition.
We saw the 4D movie, Beyond All Boundaries, which is narrated by Tom Hanks and has a bunch of Hollywood A-listers (including Brad Pitt and Jennifer Garner) doing the voice overs. It is pretty cool, but with its surround sound, flash bangs, falling debris, and vibrating chairs, any vets suffering from PTSD might want to think twice about seeing it.
From there, we took a break to walk to another well-known po-boy establishment, Mother’s. This time, I showed a little restraint (and common sense) and split an oyster/shrimp po-boy with my sister. Mike, however, was able to manage a single one on his own.
For those interested in a head-to-head between Mother’s and Parasol’s oyster po-boys, we think Parasols to be superior, as theirs includes a tomato, has crustier bread, you can sit outside, and they have Stone IPA (instead of Miller Lite) on tap. But rating po-boys is a very subjective thing. It is better just to eat and enjoy.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the Western Front and D-Day portions of the museum, before heading back towards the hotel. We stopped at the historic Napoleon House for Sazerac cocktails on the way. (Fun fact: The Napoleon House was built for the New Orleans mayor, Nicholas Girod, who offered it as a refuge to Napoleon in 1821. Napoleon never made it, but the name stuck.) Since we were in a historic locale, we choose Sazeracs because they are known as the world’s first “cocktail” and were invented in 1838 by New Orleans apothocary owner, Antoine Amedie Peychaud.
After a quick clean up, we were out walking along Bourbon street through the French Quarter, navigating around loud, drunk tourists and catching beads tossed from the balconies, towards our dinner destination: Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar. Maybe because it was a Wednesday, but we lucked out and scored a table immediately and with it came a funny sassy waitress named Diane. She had Abitas at the table in short order. After an earnest discussion regarding the correct cut for a fried pickle (spears versus rounds), we had a plate of fried pickles, cut into thin rounds to gobble up. Then came hush puppies, a dozen grilled oysters and a dozen raw, before we topped it off with chickory coffee and pecan pie. The only flaw was they don’t have ice cream for the pie. Don’t feel too sorry for us (I know you don’t), we made do.
And, then we were off back through the French Quarter to hear some music. This time we were lucky as the place we were headed to was within walking distance of the hotel and the music started at 10:30 pm, instead of midnight. As we neared the hotel, we came across a brass band playing on the corner . . . some of them looked mightily familiar . . . wait a second, they were some of the guys from last night!
Apparently, they were just warming up a bit before their gig at the Blue Nile. Seeing a gaggle of musicians hanging out on a corner with a crowd extruding onto the narrow Frenchmen Street just seemed so New Orleans! After a bit, we continued on to our intended destination, d.b.a., to hear Walter “Wolfman” Washington. (Special thanks to Charlie Peters for the recommendation.)
Day 20: More Fun in NOLA
You know it . . . we started the day again at Cafe du Monde with cafe au laits and beignets. This time we had a game plan, which included ordering large au laits in their souvenir mugs. It is like getting the au lait for free!
And despite being (more) experienced at eating the sugary beignets, it was a gusty day so we still ended up covered with powered sugar. We laughed because dad had an actual “void in the (sugar) splatter pattern” on his chair when he stood up!
We wandered a bit, checking out the river . . .
. . . before we found this cool artist’s co-op called the Dutch Artist Co-Op where we met pottery and clay artist, Joy Gauss. She was so interested and blown away by the idea of pedaling from Madison to New Orleans, that she gave me one of her super cool pendants as a reward and for good luck!
. . . we continued meandering through the French (Flea) Market, buying little trinkets, magnets and looking for a gift for my mom, who was watching my sister’s kids so Keiko could be in New Orleans with us. We were charmed by these handmade cool pot hangers “Petal Paddles” that allow you to hang terra cotta planters in an endless variety of ways.
I guess they are originally from Texas, but I’d seen them hanging from porches along our ride, and we thought that they were something my gardening mom would like, so we got her one. Kind of cute, no?
And then we were off . . . to Commander’s Palace for a fancy lunch.
It wasn’t our final meal, but it would be the last meal that we would have as a foursome since Keiko was flying home to Minneapolis later in the afternoon. Commander’s Palace had been recommended by multiple people as a place to hit, and Mike and I wanted to commemorate the Rendezvous Party with something a little special. Thanks to the tip Mike got when making the lunch reservation, we had been warned to gussy up a bit. Although Mike only had jeans (which were “discouraged”), onced he donned his Hawaiian dress shirt, no one cares about his pants. Looking good, we were escorted through the classic old place to an upstairs dining room surrounded by glass windows that, in turn, were surrounded by green trees and their curvy brown trunks.
Commander’s Palace was a HOPPING place for LUNCH on a THURSDAY! Every table was full, mostly with well dressed older ladies having a grand old time. There was a birthday party for someone that spanned several tables. And a fashion show going on. We were seated in a horseshoe shaped booth in a corner where we could easily observe the festivities. Since it was a party (and because we were in NOLA), we ordered a round of cocktails to help us ponder the menu, which included turtle soup (again, we had to discuss whether how turtle fits (or doesn’t fit) into the pescatarian diet), creole gumbo, a root vegetable soup de jour. Ultimately, it didn’t matter as our waiter decided to bring us a little sampler that included all three soups. Fun. Interestingly, Mike, Keiko and I all found the turtle soup the most delicious and the root vegetable soup the least delicious (still delicious though) while dad went the opposite way, preferring the vegetable soup over the gumbo and turtle soups.
After our first round of cocktails, we discovered a secret — they serve martinis for 25 cents!!! Wow, well, of course, we needed to take advantage of that deal. So while we saved money on the cocktails, we feasted on a (deconstructed) crab boiled seafood tamale (Keiko), which was good although the corn husks made it a bit tricky to navigate; a chicory coffee lacquered quail (Dad), which was beautiful and had only two little leg bones in it, all the others having been carefully removed before the bird stuffed; and Louisiana shrimp and grits (Mike and me), which had goat cheese in the stone ground grits. For dessert, we shared their signature bread pudding souffle with a whiskey cream sauce and Mike finally got a Southern Pecan Pie a la mode worthy of this trip!
And then, it was time to take Keiko to the airport. It was the beginning of the end of the NOLA trip.
After Keiko left, it was down to just the three of us . . . what to do now?
Well, we’d seen some antique shops near the hotel, so we thought we’d poke around and maybe find Keiko a New Orleans Christmas present. We knew they might be quirky (and perhaps closed) . . .
We looked, but the only thing we found was this . . .
For those of you who do not know my sister, she DOES NOT like bats. Her bat history is a little bit like our squirrel stories. She quickly texted Mike that he would be disinvited to Christmas if he brought that home.
Even without Keiko, the show must go on! We rallied ourselves, because we had one more big must-do before we could say goodbye ourselves to NOLA. . . we had zydeco at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl!
First though . . . we needed to eat. I know, you are thinking, but you just ate a HUGE three-course lunch at Commander’s Palace, and you are right. But, this was our last night in New Orleans, so dinner just could not be skipped. Besides, dad had not yet had an oyster po-boy (since he ordered a roast beef po-boy the day before at Mother’s). And so we made our way to Ye Olde College Inn, which is next door to the Rock ‘n’ Bowl and is owned by the son of the Rock’n’Bowl owner.
Now I know that every since I rolled into the wonderful state of Louisiana, I’ve been blown away by how nice Louisianans are. Well, the people at the Ye Olde College Inn are no exception. Our waiter, a big locale with an easy smile and a love of all things Louisianan, Jimmie Cropper is clearly an institution favorite. Due to our rich lunch, we were unable to handle full entrees–all of which look delicious, so we must return to try out. Instead, we settled on their “lighter” po-boys and salads. When Jimmie heard about the trip, he insisted on bringing us a complimentary dessert, their award winning fried bread pudding po-boy. After the entrees, I had excused myself for a ladies room break, so I wasn’t there when it arrived. But apparently, when it did, Mike and my dad looked at it and thought, “How in the world are we going to make this plate look empty?” (so as to not insult Jimmie’s generosity). One bite in and their thinking changed to “How in the world are we going to keep the plate from getting empty in Chandra’s absence?” To fortify their willpower from the lure of the delicious dessert, they would take a small bite, then set their spoons down for as long as they could endure to go without eating another small bite. To their credit, there was a corner left there for me when I finally returned. That is one dessert that deserves a lot of rewards. Yum!
We’d just finished when the owner, Johnny Blancher, came over to see if his waiter, Jimmie, was telling tales about a crazy couple who’d ridden a tandem from Madison to New Orleans. Johnny Blancher seems about one of the nicest people you could hope to meet–funny, easy going and enthusiastic, it was a real treat to meet him. The food is fantastic in New Orleans, but it is the combination of the food and the people that make it truly special. I wish I had a picture to share with you of our night here, but we were too busy having fun and talking, that we plum forgot about our cameras. Alas.
And then we were off, across the parking lot to the Rock’n’Bowl. My parents had discovered the Rock’n’Bowl on their NOLA trip a decade or so ago, and my dad really wanted to check it out again (although the location had changed due to damage from Katrina). After all, there are not too many places where you can bowl and dance to live zydeco music all in the same venue. Sure enough, the band was just finishing setting up, and even as the completed their sound check, dancers flooded the dance floor. Zydeco is difficult to resist and it wasn’t long before dad and I were out there trying to fit our swing and ballroom dancing knowledge to the zydeco beat. We weren’t very good, but no one cared. Everyone was having too much fun dancing. I got a couple of dances with a regular there, but mostly just followed his lead. Even better, I got a few dances in with Mike! What a great last night in New Orleans.
Day 21: Departure Day
Well, it had finally come . . . time to leave NOLA. One last beignet and au lait at Cafe du Monde . . . We must be winding down, because this time we only ordered six (two apiece) beignets, instead of our usual three apiece.
And then, the guys tied Talula to the trailer
. . . and I had a quick (foot) soak in the hot tub while watching the gear . . .
. . . and were off headed out of town.
This trip has been fantastic. But more than the bike trip, the thing that changed me the most are the examples of niceness we have seen over and over in Louisiana. I’m taking a little Louisiana home with me — to remind me to be kind to strangers, to be enthusiastic about meeting new people, and to be more generous to everyone.
. . . I think Talula likes NOLA and hopes to come back again too.