It’s a beautiful thing to build a relationship with a City.  Guidebooks can offer up suggestions, multiple apps help seek out hidden gems and there are always online recommendations (incredibly useful when in dire need of feeding), however I always find my best experiences are gained by seeking out and conversing with the locals. The seduction begins with the natives, listening to their animated dialogue over dishes you must eat and places you must visit.  A landmark may be mentioned whilst in their company and as you casually state your ignorance of it, the retort is met with gasps of disbelief, followed by an insistence to remedy it immediately.  So as you gain your bearings, blindly yet willingly led by the resources of information you have acquired, you might come away with the feeling that it was not quite long enough and that you need to contribute some effort to this affair (relationships need attention after all).  So it came time for my 2nd date with New Orleans.

Jazz Fest Stages

Various aspects of this City allured me from the beginning; the New Orleanians themselves with their swagger, sass and ‘Hey Baby!’ at any impromptu stranger in the street, the beloved WWOZ radio station, churning out 24/7 good music by the ‘Guardians of the Groove’ as they are known and then there is the cuisine; rich and spicy dishes that leave your lips tingling for more.  Music is in the foundation of its bones (buried above ground of course) so needless to say, SOUND was an inherent part of the attraction for me.  And so I curated a few choice activities (led by well-versed locals of course) in order to continue this ‘amour’.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

There are a multitude of festivals all across the world, but the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is a pilgrimage that all lovers of music should make at least once in their lifetime.  As I perused the programme, I was astounded by the sheer volume of acts and stages, many of which I was ignorant of.  Los Po-Boy-Citos, Lost Bayou Ramblers and various Brass Bands left me perplexed and little disgruntled by my ignorance of their listings.  Familiarity crept in when I spotted slots for Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Allen Toussaint and Alabama Shakes, followed by curiosity with newer acts I had begun to follow such as Hurray for the Riff Raff.

Arcade Fire Crowd

The ‘Jazz Fest’ as it is more commonly known enjoyed its 45th year on this occasion and is a melting pot of sounds associated with Louisiana, allowing me to appreciate styles live such as Zydeco that I may not normally be privy to. There is a wide cross representation at the festival so although Jazz seems to be synonymous in some minds with a hunched over suited quartet in a darkened bar (a cliché that does not do justice to its namesake) acts that I was also surprised to see billed were Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera and Arcade Fire.  The festival itself spans over 2 weeks so as a relative tourist, this might be considered a stretch in one’s time management (or more likely annual leave allowance) however I managed to squeeze in the last weekend during travels.

Maceo Parker

Another thing to take into consideration is how much of an endurance test it is.  You may contemplate Ibiza when recollecting a hard-core festival event or perhaps Glastonbury for camping and hygiene capabilities but with Jazz Fest, its in a class of its own.  The festival itself begins about 11am with many acts on multiple stages performing until around 6pm daily, then there are evenings gigs in and around the City, THEN there are the early rise shows.  Yes, gigs that BEGIN at 5am.  I saw George Porter Jnr (bass player with the Meters) jam with the funk phenomena Lettuce at the jovially named Royal Family Ball, the Revivalists resonating animatedly at both festival and venue, Chaka Khan  continuing to enchant crowds and Trombone Shorty, the poster boy of New Orleans, exciting the populace with his energy at the musical finale.  Without doubt both new and regular festival goers have their techniques to combat fatigue and the unavoidable intake of alcohol (my own friends who have regularly attended for years utilised energy drinks, coffee and smoothies to sustain consciousness.  Strictly no naps mind.  Admirable).  And then there are the food offerings at the festival itself, not the burger bun and patty options you may be used to, instead a much wider and intriguing temptation of food stalls.  I consumed (and at least partook in the consumption of) this selection of deliciousness over the course of 3 days: Fried Soft-Shell Crab Po-boys, Boiled Crawfish, Boudin Balls, Crawfish Bread, Spicy Natchitoches Meat Pie, Pheasant, Quail & Andouille Gumbo, Cajun Chicken & Tasso with Creole Rice (probably my favourite dish), Crawfish Strudel, Creole Stuffed Crab with Potato Salad, Crab & Crawfish Stuffed Mushrooms, Cracklins , Crawfish Monica, Jama-Jama (Sautéed Spinach), Poulet Fricassee (Chicken on a Stick), Acarajé (a Brazilian black-eyed pea fritter with shrimp & cashew sauce) and Chocolate Dipped Strawberries.  It was all in the name of research of course, you can plan your own menu choices by sighting the full selection from the festival here.  I also frequented the multiple Daiquiri tents for the Ol’Rum Punch that was both functional and enjoyable (a neon alcoholic frozen blend of goodness that I defy you to avoid).  The amount of daiquiris I drank is inconclusive but I managed to remain conscious so its best left undocumented.

Boiled Crawfish Jazz Fest Food Fest

Daiquiris

Inevitably money will exchange hands frequently over the period you attend such events.   There are many souvenir tents, questionable fashion purchases (watermelon shirts seemed on trend this year) and multiple art stalls to fill your time and deplete your pocket; it’s simply up to you what you can afford.  It does all contribute to the continuance of the festival though, my own indulgences were happily sated on food, drink and music.  So formulate some tactics and enjoy the experience that your commitment will bring.  You will look back at the street corners of juvenile brass bands in the making, entertaining crowds with their unabashed passion for music, the offers of “ICE COLD WAAAD’DAAA!!  ONE DOLL’AAA!” (that’s cold water to you or I but shouted out with far more style) and consumption of spicy meat or seafood laden food trucks with much endearment in years to come.  All accompanied by a slathering of good music of course.

Watermelon Trend

Street Music

‘All About the Music ‘- NOLA Social Bike Ride

Through a chance publication in a British newspaper, I learned about an alternative bicycle ride in New Orleans All About The Music, led by an animated DJ from WWOZ by the name of Bob Rod AKA Old Man River.  Based on time zone differences, I was listening to a radio show with said DJ (Bob has to get up at 1am to start his show.  Kudos but he does do what he loves) and checked in whether the ride would still take place over the course of my visit.  An assertive yes was provided over the airwaves with a personal mention to me, so I orchestrated the procurement of a pair of wheels for the occasion.

CD Spoken

Meet-up for the bike ride (which lasts for around 3 hours) was in Congo Square, located in the landmark Louis Armstrong Park.  As I rolled into the park, I pulled up to the collection of cyclists positioned next to some benches.  A varied group gathered and were warmly welcomed by Bob himself who I was pleased to finally make an offline connection with.  The ride is free to join and is tracked so you can join at any point over the duration.  The intention of the ride itself is to take in the local area by bike and pit-stop for live music (if your aim is to assimilate a fitness regime, this is not the primary function as it is ALL about the music of course).  With our final destination at a bar in Frenchman street, we cycled through the neighbourhoods on a route predisposed by Bob based on some choice music fixes.

Neighbourhood Cycling

As I peddled with the group, I was charmed by the reactions of locals in the street who waved and hollered ‘Happy Tuesday!’ in unison at us.  Families on porches offered up the obligatory ‘Hey Baby!’ whilst clinking glasses and children chanted for collective bell rings.  Some characters on the ride that offered further charm to the experience was Louis, an older chap who had only been released from hospital 2 weeks earlier following open-heart surgery and who could not wait to get back on his bike.  He griped at one point (understandably) to slow down, exclaiming to the front of the group that he was ‘tired of sucking on your balls’.  Fair point I say.

Food Truck Stop

We took 3 stops throughout the journey, incorporating a few food trucks at a charity event in front of a library (there was meant to be a band there but unfortunately we missed them), at a bar which was holding a fundraiser incorporating some choreographed dances for entertainment, as well as a band at the end.  The free musical options were less than usual I was informed, particularly due to the aftermath of Jazz Fest however this did not detract from the experience as our final stop was by the river front, where I enjoyed a moment to gaze at the illuminated Mississippi River Bridge on swinging benches, in an area I never knew of before.  Our troop then rode to the final destination at Café Negril which was free entry and we enjoyed some more live music.  Social Rides in New Orleans are a frequent and regular occasion, some rides have up to a hundred riders, my own had around twenty people.  You meet and can chat with locals that know the area to gain more choice knowledge or you might, in my case, meet a local from home when you least expect it (a woman visiting family in Texas who just happened to live a few streets away back in London also joined the ride.  Small world indeed).  The least you will come away with from such a ride are more friends and more exposure to live music.  Neither of which I could consider unfortunate outcomes in any case.

The Riders

Bridge View

Cafe Negril

GOOD EATS – Local & Further Afield

I did not get as much opportunity on this trip to taste and re-embrace previously enjoyed eating establishments, however I did get to enjoy some new ones which I happily share.

Dick & Jenny’s – New Orleans, Louisiana

The Garden District of New Orleans is a must visit area, particularly the charming and well stomped Magazine Street laced with multiple choice stores and eateries.  The final dining spot in New Orleans for this particular visit was to be of local fare, so after some online browsing I settled on an establishment in the vicinity, located off Jena and Tchoupitoulas Street (prounounced Chop-Uh-Tool-Us. I do so look forward to the day I can pronounce the street names with the correct diction).  The converted house of Dick & Jenny’s location was occupied by more staff than customers on this sunny Tuesday lunch hour (do check what is open for lunch as many restaurants only open for dinner) so the options were infinite when deciding on the lucky white clothed table.

Dick & Jenny's Lunch Dick & Jenny's Main Menu

The waiter approached, as polite as all Southern folk are, offering a beverage and announcing specials with detail and gusto.  I did not need much convincing though as the menu excited me immediately with a perfect spread of entrees, sandwiches, salads and soups to deliberate over.  Fresh made corn bread with a pot of whipped butter is provided to suppress the hunger however we did not have long to wait as the appetizer of Corn-Fried Oysters (recommended by the waiter) arrived promptly.  Dusted with corn-flour and fried to the point of perfect crispness (with no unnecessary greasiness that many fried dishes encompass), they were paired perfectly on a lightly dressed coleslaw and topped with house remoulade (a common and wonderful salad dressing made with eggs, oil, vinegar and made tart with the addition of mustard, capers and herbs).  A flash in the pan and mouth, these were delicious and prepped the appetite for the main course to come.

Oysters & Cornbread

The opinion of Southern food in Louisiana, particularly after my Jazz Fest excursion, is that many of their more famous dishes which utilise their abundant supply of seafood, are usually fried, breaded, spicy and hearty (the crawfish being a crustacean at the centre of its heart).  The Cajun and Creole cuisine that you can enjoy boasts a huge influence from France, originating through immigrants from the 17th & 18th century.  Such a rich culture and background results in highly flavoursome cooking, food that moves your nose and tongue to the beats emulating from the New Orleans neighbourhoods.  It’s an addictive sensation, as are their hot sauces (which I freely confess a penchant for), so I was eager to expand my palate with Dick & Jenny’s next plates.  For the sake of enjoying some prime beef, a 12 OZ Rib-eye was ordered which came with dressed spinach and duck fat roasted potatoes.  My dish of Pork Loin roulade, filled with a goats-cheese and pine nut infusion, sided with spinach, stone ground grits (I assimilate grits with polenta) and the most delicious balsamic infused pork jus moved me body AND soul, producing hums of contentment with every mouthful.  I fondly enjoy this memory.

Steak Pork Loin Roulade

Inadequate room for dessert although I have no doubt that they would be equally wonderful.  Gazing around the restaurant I enjoyed the painted plates on the walls which the waiter informed me was part of a fund raiser for the restaurant, $100 a plate to paint, eat off and have displayed.  Not a bad idea for a crowd funder and something that I hope they don’t need to rely upon for business as their kitchen does a very good job of that itself.  Highly Recommended.

Dick & Jenny's Interior

Bozo’s Grocery – Pascagoula, Mississippi

If you are on the road and exploring the Mississippi coastline, there are many towns that you will pass through within this state, all offering up further delectation to be enjoyed.  Pascagoula, an industrial city  which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina (around 92% was flooded) is recovering and thanks to stalwart places like Bozo’s, visitors can contribute to the economy with their consumption of its notorious crawfish and seafood offerings (trash cans are actually built into the high tables to regulate the de-shell, eat and throw action).

Bozo's Lunch Rush

I entered somewhat unsure of where to order, drawn to the back of the building where fresh seafood was displayed and watched over by a blank-faced chap.  Upon asking if he could assist, I was pointed swiftly to ‘the grumpy man sitting over there’ to place my order.  A curious seated old man, chomping on some tobacco and scribbling food requests from the telephone was Bozo’s resident order taker and I spoke up with an adapted, raised tone (he had a hearing aid after all) to ask for 2 of the lunch box specials including crab claws, catfish, shrimp and fries, with some sides of baked beans and onion rings.  Your name is assigned and will be yelped out by a member of the hardworking kitchen.  Then choose your beverage, peruse the selection of spices, condiments and pickles to add to your collection before proceeding to the cash register and settling down to gorge on your choice.

Bozo's Lunchbox

This is NOT the place for dieters.  It’s mostly deep fried, breaded and probably high in sodium however I have decided that when in the South, one must eat like a Southerner so adapt or be disappointed because the salad you order anywhere round these parts can never emulate what you might be more used to.  You can replenish on fresh vegetables when you return.  Just cover it with hot sauce and ENJOY.

Bozo's

McElroy’s on the Bayou – Ocean Springs, Mississippi

One of the two seafood restaurant establishments (the other being in Biloxi), you will inevitably exit McElroy’s at a slower pace based on the substantial and filling menu on offer. A willing consumer, we ventured to the outside deck which has a wonderful waterfront view (if you can brave the Mississippi humidity whilst eating).  A unfortunate side effect of hunger is always a classic case of over ordering, however there is no shame in taking food home in America and I was also conducting research being an epicurious soul (that’s what I convince myself anyway).  So the ‘bread’ special was ordered, followed by crabmeat stuff jalapenos, 2 Stuffed Crabs with a choice of 2 sides (field fresh garden peas and coleslaw) and a Shrimp Salad.  All of these seemingly innocent choices were of course amplified in girth with a Southern touch; the bread special was in fact smothered in a béchamel sauce, mixed with cheese and prawns, the stuffed crab (more like crab cakes) were quite hearty and the field fresh garden peas were more representative of baked black eyed peas, in a rich smoky sauce.  The salad (most salads do come with a sprinkle of cheese, even seafood options, so be sure to request otherwise if you so wish) had plump butterflied shrimp which were cooked perfectly.

Bread Special Crab Stuffed Jalapenos

Stuffed Crab
Shrimp Salad - Copy

I consumed it greedily, knowing this was to be my last true Mississippi visit for a little while and I enjoyed every morsel.  As YOU should too in these Southern States, as the food and manners are consistently representative of the agreeable nature you will experience, so get some sides of the local fare to accompany the music that will feed your soul.

 

(1472)