I have returned from New Orleans safe and sound and enriched and enlightened. I can say I was on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras and, to be honest, it was tamer than people build it up to be. The food is another story. It is out of control.
My first NOLa meal was far from stereotypical creole food. Fat Tuesday is a legit holiday in the city, so many businesses were closed. But after some exploring, we stumbled upon a Middle Eastern place in the Garden District – Mona’s Cafe. (There’s actually one of these downtown on Frenchman St. too).
We’d skipped dinner the night before, so we pretty much ordered every appetizer on the menu as soon as we sat down, and nothing disappointed. Now I know a hungry palate is a lenient one, but the stuffed grape leaves at this place were truly divine. As a bonus, I found out our waitress followed a gluten-free diet, so I knew what I was getting would be safe. I got the falafel plate.
After lunch, we drove through the Garden District, which is a beautiful part of New Orleans, street upon oak-lined street of centuries-old houses with wrap-around porches and sprawling gardens. Tulane University is here, and we quickly noticed students around our age walking toward a particular destination. We parked and got out followed, and there, along St. Charles Street, we found the Truck Parade, Mardi Gras tradition:
Nine hours, a day parade, thousands of beads, an hour of traffic and a cab ride later we were starving again, and everywhere seemed packed. A sprawling cafe in the heart of the French Quarter with live music and a wait staff that seemed eager to join the party was our saving grace, and there we tasted our first authentic New Orleans food. Po’Boys, Etouffee, Gumbo, Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice – we got it all that night. I was told that the etouffee was the only one of the above non-sandwich dishes made with a roux (a combo of butter and flour), but other places use a roux for their gumbo, so it’s always a good idea to ask.
Our bellies full of spice and Hurricanes, we headed over to Bourbon…you know what, let’s just fast forward to the next day.
To be continued…