Our plans for the Gulf Coast region originally included two days in Pensacola, Fla. and one in Mobile, Ala. Instead, at this point, we found ourselves in Mobile a day early, chased in that direction by storms and, generally, the lack of non-beach-related activities that piqued our interests. In the meanwhile, our ascent north the following week was to include a rapid succession of six cities, from Memphis to Chicago, in a matter of just five days.
We know when we're wrong, and we're big enough to admit it. Our best course of action, clearly, was to pack up and make the trip to New Orleans one day early.
It was a short drive to this embattled city, where Spanish, French, African and many other cultures have all blended into a collective identity unlike anywhere else in the world. It suffered through the costliest hurricane in American history back in 2005, killing nearly 1,500 and permanently displacing tens of thousands - a national catastrophe that still resounds very loudly within the city itself and throughout the country.
The Big Easy is famous, among other things, for its terrific food and wild nights, the latter of which rears its head in grand fashion ever year at Mardi Gras. Sadly, we arrived a few months late for this great festival, but we knew we'd have little trouble having a good time.
We dropped our things at our hotel (including our car) and wasted no time in making the ten-block hike to Bourbon Street, home to countless historic embibing establishments and so much more. On the way, the streets were lined with tourist shops peddling all kinds of N'Orleans and Gulf Coast-oriented knick-knacks.
As I mentioned back in Savannah, N'Orleans is one of those rare, unusual destinations where people of proper age can consume delicious alcoholic beverages both inside the bar and out on the street. As such, most of these places were very open-air, easy to access and easy to leave with drink in hand.
This was my first time here, but Joey and Sarah had visited before. They directed our way immediately to the Jester
, where pre-mixed daiquiris of various flavors were dispensed into big plastic cups shaped, obviously, like jesters. Great way to start off, but expensive - considering the endless amount of competing deals on drink prices that lined the street.
Our appetites built at a terrifying rate, and we browsed through some menus from the street before settling into the Desire Oyster Bar. We took seats at the bar and met this lovely young lady, Kitty, who whipped us up some drinks and pointed our attention towards some of the best items on the menu.
While we waited for our food, I spoke at length with this friendly gentleman, Jeff, who worked nearby and had dropped in for lunch. He answered my questions about Hurricane Katrina and what it did to the city when it hit four years ago, him being a lifelong resident of the city and a witness to the carnage wrought. He told me of how deeply it wounded New Orleans, of the mass exodus away from the coast and the inability of many to return home.
I told him about what we were doing there, how we'd gotten there, and gave him a business card. His accent rich, his composure immaculate, I wondered if everyone down here was so eloquent.
Then our meals came, of which you're bound to be extremely jealous. I went with a bowl of Jambalaya, which featured shrimp, crawfish, beef, chicken and ham over rice in a spicy Creole sauce. The result is something of a thick stew that left me swooning over every bite.
Sarah went with Shrimp Scampi, highlighted by succulent Gulf shrimp amid a bed of pasta with a light, garlicky sauce. I've worked in restaurants that served their own version of this dish, and this one in particular left the others in its shadow.
Bravely, Joey dove headfirst into the most unique of our three meals with a plate full of crawfish. These little guys were essentially miniature lobsters, with far less meat inside but obviously far more on the plate. To eat them, you snap them down the middle, consuming the edible meat from the tail and sucking the flavorful juice from the front end. We'd arrived near the end of crawfish season, as Kitty explained - during the thick of the season, the crawfish were considerably larger, with edible meat in other places like the claws. All in all, this meal ranks (in my humble opinion) as one of our best eating experiences to date.
After we dropped into a few more establishments, the sun had grown extremely hot and our strides were slowing at a frightening pace. Against Joey's advice, we retreated to our hotel for a break, possibly a nap - after all, it seemed like we'd had a full day already.
But we weren't done yet.