Hooray for Mardi Gras Down in N’orleans

I have not written since “the Saints came marching in”….or even before that! I have been living in chaos. The negative nellies have been making life quite interesting, who needs reality television when one can walk out one’s own front door for the drama. Hence, my writing has been very sparse. My apologies!

 

Let me give you a little background on how I ended up at Mardi Gras again! Back in October, my mother was visiting from Florida. One of her favorite things to do in these parts is to go to Keeneland, a beautiful, well-done horse track in Lexington, KY. I called my horsey friend, Alston to arrange it, and afterward, we went to her place to have a cocktail with her and her mother, who was visiting from New Orleans.

 

Her wonderful, and I do mean wonderful mother invited my wonderful mother to come to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. My mother was elated. She talked about it from October to March. It was like a child getting ready for a trip to Disney.

 

We were not going to be doing the traditional Mardi Gras many think of when they think of the celebration. We weren’t going to be in the French Quarter, boozing it up, lifting our shirts for beads, and slugging back Hurricanes, we were going to be seeing the more gentile side of the Carnival.

 

Thankfully, my two dear friends, Viv and Shirley agreed to drive me to the airport at the crack of fricking dawn to catch a 5:45 a.m. flight to New Orleans. This is not a misprint. (Flights leave that flippin’ early.) I planned on meeting my mother at 11ish in the New Orleans airport. That was not to be. After waiting in line in Cincy for over an hour to get re-routed to New Orleans, and flying through Charlotte to get there. I arrived in Charlotte and went in search of the white rocking chairs scattered throughout the terminal that I love! Love!

 

I sat in one and rocked out and people watched. I would have been in complete bliss if the wife to the husband that was talking my ear off in the next rocking chair down felt obliged to entertain her husband instead of me.

 

I went to Einstein’s for a bagel and cream cheese, and the line was so long and slow that everyone was conversing with everyone. A gal in front of me said she had spent her Mardi Gras time in the French Quarter with the “classy people” and she suggested I do the same.

 

The lady at the ticket desk in Cincy, who tried to find a way to get me from Cincy to New Orleans in less than 12 hours, was unable to print my boarding pass from Charlotte to New Orleans. I went to a desk in Charlotte, and explained what happened. She put me in first class. Let me tell you, that gal in NC saved someone at USAir from getting an earful from me. (The shenanigans that those folks put me through in Cincy at 5:45 am was ridiculous!) First class made up for it. Of course, I would have liked the man sitting next to me to have been a civil human being, but beggars can’t be choosers!

 

My mom and I met in good ole N’Orlins and that is how one is to pronounce it! Not NEW ORLEANS, but N’Orlins is the phonetic of it.

 

We hopped into a cab. I felt like I had landed on an island with their third world airport, the palm trees and the warm breezes. The driver dropped us at THE GREENHOUSE INN and the owner Jesse, and an employee of his named Charles that reminded me of a dear old friend James from Boston greeted us. They were great! Some B & B’s are beautiful, some have nice folks staying in them, or a great breakfast, but when you really like the staff, and they are kind and helpful, it makes everything seem really good!

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We dropped our bags and then we walked over to Alston’s mother’s house. We had to cross over a parade. The music was playing, the food was cooking, the beads were being flying, and the sun was shining. We were here.

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A mile down the road, we arrived. We found Alston, who immediately took us to the food, which contained these yummy marinated beef chunks, pulled pork, potato salad and the open bar in the side yard of her family’s home. We plunked into chairs on the porch and relaxed. We ate, we talked and we got ideas of where to go for dinner.

 

We walked back to the hotel and got cleaned up and then walked over to Emeril’s Delmonico’s. Yes, the food is wonderful. The ambiance is downright lovely, but what made it for me was the staff. I have not liked a staff as well since we dined at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York. The food is hands down the most important element, ambiance for me is low on the totem pole, but when you have good food, and a nice, fun staff around you, it really makes it fun, especially when they work so well together and you can see how much fun they are having together! Silly maybe, but true. Keller’s Per Se was the same way! It made a special place, more special. A restaurant has no idea how to hit that perfect blend of people. It happens or it doesn’t! Here it did, and so a special thanks to these wonderful waiters that made our Emeril experience so phenomenal and fun!

 

Drew was our man waiter and then Phelix, and I asked how it was spelled and he said, With a “ph” not an “f”, I loved it. Then we had Jonathan, Brandon and Patrick. Now, that I have given you the staff names, here is the food.

 

Well, let’s start with a drink. Your non-drinking friend thought, I am in Norlins, I should have a cocktail. I ordered something called THE SHINING. No, Jack Nicholson didn’t pop out of it or make me into a lunatic like him. It was tasty, but very unusual. It contained grey goose citron, pomegranate, cardamom, bitters, sweet vermouth, and lemon.

 

Then we ordered a bunch of apps to get a good feel for the restaurant and the food. My pictures do not do the food justice, but it was so dark in there and I tried to lighten them up so use your imagination.

First was the CREOLE MIRLITON PIROGUE, which was gulf shrimp, Louisiana crab, chisesi ham (I have no idea what that chisesi ham is so just read ham), roasted red pepper butter. It was good, but not my favorite. Here is a pic.

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Emeril’s BARBEQUED SHRIMP, which was just that on a baked grit cake, and that was my favorite, but I am so partial to shrimp and grits.

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Then we tried; BACON CRUSTED LOUISIANA OYSTERS and those were very good. I wish I had tasted more bacon, but they were yummy. Here is a pic of those.

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Then we tried the GUMBO, which is a soup of… well it differs every place you go, some have a thick consistency, some have a thin one like Emeril’s. It was good. There is usually seafood of some sort, veggies, etc. My mother is a lover of gumbo. I like it, but never order it.

Here is a pic of her gumbo.

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For dessert, I asked what are the traditional Norlins (I feel guilty spelling it incorrectly, I will spell it better and you need to say it oddly in your head.) desserts and the answer was bread pudding and bananas foster. We decided to try the STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM BREAD PUDDING. It was a great choice. The bread pudding came with strawberry sorbet, vanilla anglaise, strawberry compote and it was delicious. We thought we would take a few bites and be done, but we finished it. Here is another dark pic of it for you. Imagine….

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We walked home and collapsed into bed. I read a few pages and was out!

 

Sunday morning we woke up and went to the table for breakfast to discover a King’s Cake. I love King Cakes. Last year, Viv, Shirley and I made one and I hid the baby in it. Shirley found it, so it was her turn to make it. Find the baby and you throw the party the following year, but I digress.

 

King’s cake is a pre-Lenten celebration, traditionally a baby Jesus is in it; in my case I put a plastic ring in the one last year we made. Whoever gets it throws the party and gets privileges, who knows what that means, and obligations, throwing the next party. The cakes tend to have yellow, purple, and green icing on them, which are traditional Mardi Gras colors.

 

Jesse, the owner of the B & B went to a place called SUCRE for the King’s Cake. Even The Washington Post voted them as having the best King’s Cake. It was delicious. King’s Cakes can be very different and just like chili; everyone has their favorite place. This one was particularly good. Sucre’s King’s Cake takes “a buttery Danish, and folds in cinnamon, raw cane sugar, and creole cream cheese cheese.” How can you go wrong with that!

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After breakfast, we went to sit by the pool and relax. The next-door neighbor has a macaw bird, gorgeous bird, which walks along the fence. When I first saw him and heard him, I thought is this indigenous to N’Orleans? Cockatoo birds are indigenous in Australia. I saw them in trees around the Sydney Opera House. But this little fellow just wonders the yard and fence. Sitting out there by the pool, the ambiance, the palm trees, the bright colored bird made me feel like I was in Key West.

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My mom and I began to read our books when this really nice gal sat next to us and we began to talk to her. Her son was at Loyola or Tulane, I can’t recall which, but they are New Yorkers, and she works at Parsons, which I have so much respect for that institution. Her job prior was working in a historical society that helped architectural gems in the city, like Penn Station. She was very fun to talk with, a funny and extremely cool tidbit, she worked on a board with JFK Jr., and he even wrote a rec for her for her last job. I asked her so many questions about him, and he sounded as wonderful as I hoped. To me, in many ways, he is/was the epitome of the perfect man taken far too young.

 

Finally, it was time to get ready and hit the parade trail. We decided that each time we went to Alston’s; we would walk down a different street to get a good lay of the land and to see more architectural wonders. I love architecture and I love it here!

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We arrived around the time of the Popeye’s fried chicken. Damn it was good! Crunchy. Yum! We started to meet the many people who entered the wrought iron gates at the house. Joanna, Ashley, Elizabeth…all from N’Orleans all living in other places in the South and trying to get back home to their beloved city.

 

The parades came and everyone was out there trying to catch beads. It brings out the competitiveness even the least likely characters. My mom was like a kid out on the street. I looked over at her at various points and could see my mom at the age of 10, and I definitely saw her at the age of 8, when she practically wrestled a kid for a strand of plastic beads. The kid hit her over the head with a ball, so I am glad she won, but it was comical. Here she is checking out what she got! Yes, she had ALL of those around her neck at one time! Like a true kid!!!

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That evening was BACCHUS, which is a very fun parade. The floats light up, the music is blaring, the bystanders are laughing, singing, dancing and jovial.

 

We went upstairs at the house to taste Alston’s brother’s Crawfish Monica, a dish he has copyrighted, patented or whatever he has done, it was good. Pasta with crawfish and a sauce on top! I wasn’t sure I had ever had, or would like crawfish, but no time like the present to find out. You know me; one must try everything (within reason) at least TWICE.

 

I sat on the couch and talked to an old friend of the family about his heart attack. My mom and I went outside on the balcony and watched the parade from a higher view.

 

Then my mom and I walked the 1.1 miles home and all the people watching that comes in that stretch.

 

We got back to the inn and we changed into robes and went to the hot tub and dangled our tired feet in the warm water.

 

Years ago, I went to Mardi Gras, I was fixed up with a friend’s brother and he and I were connected at the hip during Mardi Gras. One night he took me to the French Quarter. I don’t remember it all that well. It may have been the cocktails, it may have been the not so memorable company I was keeping or because it was so long ago.

 

My mom and I decided to venture into the French Quarter. She knew it well, and she was going to give me a tour, but not until we had dined at one of the Brennan’s eateries.

 

We went to Bourbon Street. They had locked all the main doors, so we had to sneak through the hotel to gain access. Really bizarre! The place was hopping. We waited with a couple that he was from Nicaragua and she was from Chicago with ties back to Greece. My mom had to endure her chatty daughter that loves to talk to folks from various places. I learn so much from it.

 

We finally were seated and we decided to order two different items and split them. We ordered EGGS SARDOU and BANANAS FOSTER PAIN PERDU. They both were fabulous. I have had Eggs Sardou at that horrible French restaurant I detest on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan and it was tasteless. Here it was divine. Eggs Sardou is a poached egg sitting on an artichoke heart and in-between is creamed spinach. Hollandaise sauce is poured over the top of it. To me, the artichoke heart having flavor is key. This one did. The one in New York didn’t.

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The next thing we ate was the Bananas Foster Pain Perdu. Brennan’s which is no longer in existence, but various family members have restaurants, are the inventors of bananas foster. Imagine this! Bananas sliced and warmed in a skillet with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, banana liqueur, and rum. They make the French toast and then drizzle that combo on top of it. If you haven’t tried it, you must.

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The coffee was even good at this place. They warmed the milk, which is so lovely. I hate having warm coffee and you add milk and it is cold, but to put warm milk in warm coffee is a treat!

 

Then we wandered the streets of the French Quarter. It was downright chilly. We walked in and out of shops. People were having parties and tossing beads off their balconies. My mom caught me a beautiful strand of extraordinarily large pearl beads, which I will wear somewhere at some point. No they aren’t Mikimotos.

 

We went by Café Du Monde, where I have never been. The line to eat in this not fancy joint was extraordinarily long, but it looked like such a cool, step back in time institution. Even the take out window had an insane line.

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So, we went to a joint that Alton Brown said on a Food Network show was the best place to get beignets.We headed over to Café Beignet. The line was long but not ridiculous. We grabbed a seat. We had coffee and then dug into a paper plate that contained three beignets. If you don’t know what a beignet is, it is a donut, but they are light and airy and covered in powdered sugar and when you eat them, you are too, but you don’t care, because they are so tootin’ good. Not as good as the hype, but good. An N’Orleans tradition.

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When we left there, I thought we should get lunch after dessert and split a po boy, but we were too full to breathe.

 

My mother’s tootsies (aka feet) were tired so we grabbed a cab and we had a driver that was SUCH a character with a very thick accent and he bent our ear ALL the way back to the Inn.

 

We decided to crash for a bit and then we headed over to Alston’s.

 

I decided that I wanted a Milk Bourbon Punch. It was put in a large tervis tumbler and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was almost on my ear. Alston’s mother said, “Don’t worry! The milk will coat your stomach! You will be fine.” I was delighted when the rice and beans were being served. I thought a bit of extra coating would not be half bad.

 

The rice and beans were some of the best I have ever had. So simple, and yet so good.

 

We went out on the balcony and watched the parade come slowly down the street and the lights that sparkled until we could stand it no longer, and had to go join the crowds and collect more beads.

 

At breakfast the next morning, we were greeted by Frank another staff member at the Greenhouse Inn. He couldn’t have been nicer. We ate breakfast and then raced off to Alston’s to be there in time for the arrival of Rex.

 

They stamped our hand to get through the gate that morning at Alston’s family home and this is why….

 

The Rex parade is led by the float that contains Rex. The King of the Carnival. That float stops in front of Alston’s family’s home. I thought the King would take a bow and proceed. I would be wrong! He takes a swig off the silver bowl a previous Rex person offers him (which happens to be her wonderful brother-in-law, Billy) and then he gets off the float and comes inside the gate, walks up the porch, greets Alston’s mom, and then comes inside for a drink, a poddy break, and then returns to his perch in on the throne on the float and parade proceeds down the road. He, being Rex, has done this tradition since 1907 roughly. It is a HUGE deal and quite a sight!

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The minute he leaves, another tradition begins. The passing of the hamburgers in a BBQ sauce, and the whiskey sours. People come outside with trays full of these burgers. And one must hustle into the house for the amazing cookies, and get a bloody before they are gone. I passed on the whiskey sour that had a kick to it. I made it to the bartenders that looked like they were 140 years old each, sweet as pie, for one bloody. They were out by the time I went for the second one. I did get a second burger. (They are the size of a White Castle slider, but far better!)

 

The other tradition on Tuesday is one must show up in a costume. Alston told me I was not allowed into the house without one. She was in her high school cheerleading uniform. I tied a scarf containing drink recipes on it over my head and came as a menu. I was desperate!

 

The rain made the morning a bit hard, but my mom and I stayed on the porch and out of the rain, and had a great view of all the festivities.

 

The parade ended and Alston’s mom told my mom to walk down the street to the hotel and make a reservation for next year right away! I could have killed her!

 

Alston’s mom who is almost 90, loves Mardi Gras. She grew up with it, outside her front door. It is a tradition like how I used to go to the ATP Tennis in Cincy everyday for the first 23 years of my life. THIS is their tradition. They love it!

 

We started to walk back to the hotel. My mom was wiped out and her tootsies were killing her so we grabbed a cab.

 

We went back to the Inn and took a nap, and then like a child, she took her bag of beads and dumped the pile onto the bed. “What do you want? Who do you need beads for?”

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I gave her a list of recipients and she very UNWILLINGLY parted with some. If it was the pearl-like beads, she was all too quick to give those up. If they lacked color or weren’t “her” colors, they were mine, but other than that. I asked, “Can I have…? The response was a strong NOPE! She had been indoctrinated into the N’Orleans bead tradition with all the ups and downs that come with it. Her bag would be incredibly heavy on the return flight home, but she was happy. She was excited to take them home and throw them in a glass bowl to proudly display them. Wonder how she will feel about those beads in another month? Hmm…

 

Suddenly, it was time to get ready for the balls. We put on our full-length gowns. We put on our long white gloves. We put on jewelry. We did our hair. We grabbed a cab and the first ball was Rex.

 

We couldn’t find the bank of elevators in the hotel along with another group that was lost. Women were in full-length gowns and long white clothes and men were in tuxes with tails. It was a good-looking bunch! A little old man said, “Does this mean we don’t have to go? His wife said, “YES, you still have to go!” We got in the elevators and there were too many of us in there. He asked, “Can I get off and not go?” His wife said, “You STILL have to go!”

 

I said, “You really don’t want to go!” His wife said, “He has been complaining about going to the balls for the last 60 years. HE HAS TO GO!” We all laughed.

 

We walked in the door and now I get how painful this may be after 60 years! It is beautiful. It is impressive. It is LONG! The military band performs. They do traditional music and marches and things with their flags. Then they play the service song for each and EVERY branch of the military. Each time they play, the servicemen stand up in their handsome suits. So, it is something like this: Army, Navy, Air Force, US Guard, Marines, etc. Then there is a ceremonial march of the King and the Queen and then EVERY SINGLE debutante is marched out and around a circle with her date and followed by what I presume is their dad and granddad. After all of that, the floor opens up and it is time to dance!

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That was the Rex ball! Below is Comus!

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We went across the street to the Comus Ball. They do a lot of the same traditions, but in a slightly different format. There are a lot of people in masks, costumes, and uniforms. It is the Comus members that hide their faces. They dance, we drank champagne. It is a sight to see.

 

Finally, at 10:30 p.m., Rex comes over to Comus Ball. (No one knows who Comus is till that evening, except the members and they are sworn to secrecy. EVEN the wife didn’t know her hubby was Comus till the night of the ball.) There is a ceremonial hoopla for the comingling of the Rex and Comus. Really a fascinating sight! I felt like I was back in the time of Shakespeare, because it reminds me of one of his plays down to the garbs and the dancing. The party ends at 11.

 

There was not a bite to eat and so we left there and went across the street to Daisy Duke’s. We each ordered a crawfish omelette that was really tasty, large and we devoured them. Even my little mom who eats a carrot and is stuffed made it through that crawfish omelette. Sorry, I was too tuckered out to remember to take a pic of this omelette!

 

We were home a little after midnight. The rumor was that at midnight the cleaning crews come clean the streets and tell everyone that it is the end of the partying, and it is now Ash Wednesday, and it is time to behave! But supposedly inside the bars, the parties go all night.

 

We went home and my mom was beat and went to bed. I went to dip my feet in the hot tub. A couple was getting out. Her first, she was naked as a jailbird. That didn’t really phase me, but I talked to her and tried to avoid seeing her older hubby’s shriveled man parts. I just didn’t want to see his nakedness and then have to see him for breakfast the next day. I did catch see a little. I am a girl. I can’t resist the peek. Prudish, I know. They left and a young fella came over and he took off his towel, naked as a jailbird and slid into the water. Okay, I really peeked that time. I couldn’t resist. For a second, I thought it is the tail end of Fat Tuesday, what happens in N’Orleans stays in N’Orleans. No one would ever know, if I was “bad”, but it is just not me to be that wild and crazy! But the thought crossed my mind. I would be lying if I didn’t admit it. I went inside and my mom was awake. I said, “Tonight was the night to go to the hot tub. I saw two Pee Pees and now it has been a banner day!”

 

My mom left early in the morning. Alston left town at the crack of dawn. I went back to bed and then Krista, Alston’s sister in law took me to Parkway for a po boy sandwich.

 

She told the story of her son being in the movie DOUBLE JEOPARDY. He is the boy pretending to be Ashley Judd’s son in the graveyard. He still gets royalty checks from it. She said a lot of family friends played various roles that if you blinked you would miss them. And Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd told the folks in smaller roles that they were not to make eye contact with them. I have heard of actors doing that before, but how sad and pathetic is that!

 

The po boy was made with fried oysters and did not hold a candle to the one at Pearl in the Village in New York. Not a flippin’ candle!!! I was terribly disappointed, but I ate it. I got one for my mom with fried shrimp, because her plane was delayed and we were going to meet behind the gate and hangout. Her flight changed and I got stuck with another po boy! Hers was better than mine. I had hers for dinner.

 

I have copied and pasted the history of the Po’boys below.

       “In 1929, the Streetcar Union, Division 194 went on strike. The strike went on for several months, and the striking workers had very little money to survive. Two brothers, Benny and Clovis Martin, former streetcar operators before opening their “Martin’s Bros. Restaurant”, decided to help their friends on the picket line. They fed their friends sandwiches made of one pound loaves of French Bread cut into three and filled them with ham, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayo. These sandwiches were fed to the men free of charge. As the men came into the restaurant, they would say “Here comes another ‘poor boy’ man”. And so, the po-boy became a part of New Orleans cuisine.”

 

My dear friend Jo, who was instructed to NOT bring Oreos to the airport for me, greeted me at the Cincy airport!!! I put a strand of beads over her head as a thank you for coming to get me, but selfishly, I didn’t share my po boy with her.

 

Until we meet again…

 

Enjoy! Eat, travel, laugh…often….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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