I’ve taken to thinking of New Orleans as part charm, part history, and part very strong drink. The charm is the old buildings with tall balconies and bright shutters, the sunny afternoons, and street music in cobblestone laneways and public parks. The history for me, I suppose, is the writing and the sound – Faulkner House Books and the memory of The Grandissimes, the House of Blues and almost anything with heavy brass or a hint of Dixieland. The very strong drink is the crowds on Bourbon St, pouring out of seedy clubs and bars wearing cheap plastic beads, cups of brightly coloured daiquiris in hand, shouting and fussing and making a scene. It’s not pretty, or not in my mind anyway.
I liked a few of the old bars off Bourbon St, deeper in the French Quarter. We stopped by Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, the oldest drinking house in New Orleans, I’m told. We had a ball listening to live music at dba on Frenchman’s Street, one of the many making noise on a Thursday night. Timing was perfect as we were able to meet up with friends in town from Brooklyn just for the weekend, and we danced to bad music beside a dirty pool table till 3 AM. We spent evenings in the candlelight of our very well-stocked hotel bar, chatted with Ole’ Miss graduates, and drank plum gin fizz and Johnny Adams (something with whisky, a little herb infusion and quite a bit of a kick).
I liked the food a whole lot – the red beans and rice and shrimp gumbo at Coop’s Place, and the Po Boys at Mother’s. I liked the beignets at Café du Monde - soft, toasty, sweet, warm and a plate of three gone in a minute. I especially liked Cowbell, a place out of town along the river that we found when we were driving out to visit Jordy’s family. We lounged in the sun drinking iced tea and guava mimosas. We ate, of all blissful things, lobster mac and cheese (a dish so good I smiled for days), gulf fish tacos, and asparagus grilled to perfection. Cowbell is what I think a restaurant should be – friendly, unpretentious, good value, full of character, sustainable and yummy as hell. The food is mostly local and seasonal, and fairly simple. The old building sits at the end of Oak Street, in a quiet neighbourhood with kids playing on the street and radios on porches. If you were to have a late, slow, Sunday lunch in heaven, you’d most likely be at Cowbell.