The Cajun Curse

by Marty Nopper, Tastemaker in Residence

I should have known that my descent upon The Crescent City would be full of surprises when I booked the trip. New Orleans, long known for its spiritual folkways and Mardi Gras (which, by the way, was actually first enjoyed in Mobile, AL., NOT New Orleans), was the site of a conference I was attending for the second year in a row.  Remembering my whirlwind trip last year while trying to cram all of the excitement and despair of Bourbon Street into a 5-hour mini Octoberfest, I looked forward to spending a full 72 hours at a more leisurely pace this time.

The trip started off with some tomfoolery. After successfully logging the first, very early leg of the journey, we (Jennifer made the trip as she had never been to Nawlens) sat in Charlotte waiting for the 11am flight. We arrived early enough that I heard them announce the 8:15 and wondered what time those schmucks got to the airport. Giving the tickets to my wife as I made my way to the lav, I came back only to find out that I was one of those schmucks that should have been on that flight! I inadvertently, when trying to book Jennifer’s trip after I had already booked mine a day earlier, booked us on separate flights. Same seats. Different flights. Great. So, Mr. Brown Nose took over and convinced the male Gate keeper that my lack of preparation was now his issue to solve. After 45 painful minutes (remember, I was with the one who caught the error), he found us 2 seats on the flight. Did I mention that I was upgraded to First Class on the trip down?  No?  That’s because I didn’t sit there (yes, I think you get the idea)… As it turns out, I got upgraded again and, knowing what I would hear if I didn’t, I offered my stewardess attached, extra wide, free cocktail and brewski seat to my wife (save your applause, please). It gets better. Knowing that my better half doesn’t appreciate aluminum tubes jettisoning at 500 miles an hour at 30,000 feet up, she had medicated responsibly so that she would sleep on the way down. Wanting to gently remind her that I was in steerage with 3 across and a hacking middle passenger in my row, I asked the flight attendant to check on her several times during the flight. No problems in First Class!  Upon arrival, I learned that the flight attendant had been asking the women next to my wife if she was ok and that her husband (in the cheap seats, remember) asked to check on her.  Finally, it was discovered that the lady’s husband was sitting next to her asleep. Not her. Awkward.

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After gathering our 6 bags for a 3 day stay, we caught a taxi who ferried us to our residence for the next few days, Hotel Mazarin (sidebar-this hotel houses Patrick’s Bar Vin, named one of the top 10 wine bars in the country by Gayot). A nice fellow, I asked the driver to pick us up for our return visit in a few days and he agreed, giving me his number and telling me to text him earlier that morning. I had prepared Jennifer that Bourbon Street wasn’t as glamorous as it was cracked up to be and that there was more historic venues to see in New Orleans if we had the chance.  Most of the French Quarter was under construction and the weather was colder than it was supposed to be at this time of the year. Great. We met my work colleague and his partner for a late lunch at Red Fish Grill and I proceeded to order everything on the menu that reeked of the bayou (not literally). Alligator bites, Alligator Boudin Balls and Gumbo with Alligator Sausage made me wish I lived there (for a week). Considering it too early to imbibe (I was with my boss, remember?), I passed on the alcoholic offerings from local brew masters Abita, Great Raft and Parish Brewing Companies. The fare in New Orleans is world-class, and we went to some of the best local establishments in the Quarter, including Café DuMonde for breakfast (a must-do when coming to town as they specialize in over-powdered sugar covered Beignets and Chicory Coffee. First come-first served), The Palace for a sumptuous, locally-inspired munch and the always welcoming Dickie Brennan’s Steak House for the high-end dinner feast. Here, I indulged in my first quaff of Pelican State suds.  ENVIE Pale Ale, locally hand crafted by Parish Brewing Company, is one of 4 different ENVIE offerings, including 4XDH, DDH and Bloom. Not sure what these others secrete but I got the 5.3% version as it was the only Parish option on the menu. According to the brew master, this Ale “is bursting with glorious hop aromas of mango, lychee (I drank that?), orange, and other tropical fruits.” Huh…All I saw was a nice pale-yellow hue with lots of head (thanks to my steward who obviously was a wine drinker). When it finally settled (seriously, I’m not a fan of the foam mustache), I guzzled 2 swigs. One to catch up and two for the direct hit of flavors I was about to relish. Ahhhh. He was right. Definitely a cleaner, smoother pitch than the Pale Ales I am used to demolishing. There were some fruity hints but nothing I would compare to the overwhelming excitement one marinates in when shooting a Deschutes Fresh Squeezed or a Sam Adams Rebel Juiced IPA’s. Hazy, mild to medium build and packing a lower clout, I benefitted from the ability to have a few without twisting the skull.  It was still early and I had to get down Pedro Bourbon (some of you will get it). Would still opt for the Sierra Nevada or Dales Pale Ale over this but it provides the need in a pinch. Remember, I’m trying to do everything bayou this trip… Just to provide some background, Pale Ale is an ale made with predominantly pale malt. The highest proportion of pale malts results in a lighter color. The term "pale ale" first appeared around 1703 for beers made from malts dried with coke, which resulted in a lighter color than other beers popular at that time.
Sorry, shiny object…Back to the story. 

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When it finally dawned on me that I was actually here to work, we completed all our appointments the next day and proceeded to do the tourist thing. My colleague was a former resident here and showed us all the non-Bourbon Street offerings that the French Quarter has to offer, including a ride on the trolley to The Riverfront Mall (got a great deal on some old-school Puma Clyde’s and a Tommy Bahama sweater), a stroll through the Farmers Market (chicken feet and every imaginable Hot Sauce at your disposal), an unbelievable tour through St. Louis Cathedral, a head swiveling meandering through Jackson Square (lots of musicians, magic acts and fortune tellers-did I tell you I will come into some money?), and shopping on Canal (I told you I was with my wife!). But more importantly, what trip to Nawlens is complete without a ramble down Bourbon, one of the most iconic yet tawdry avenues in America? Awesome, huh?!? Anyway, we had to dodge roped off sidewalks crowded with alcohol laced and geriatrically challenged pedestrians, stopping at various libation landmarks along the way. Pat O’Brien’s for a Hurricane.  Hand Grenade’s at The Funky Pirate. Still, no trip is complete without a stop at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. What an adventure just walking in the door. A guy in the corner was blasting out a rendition of “Piano Man” and half the bar was singing along. Dimly lit (not me, the Bar), this was the signal to stay awhile so we ordered a pint. Not just any beer; a locally produced specimen called Wrought Iron I.P.A. by Abita (https://abita.com/). Talk about a punch in the mouth…sporting an 80 IBU, this malted majesty produced a three bottle top-thick foam as my barmaid (that’s PC, right? She was a young lady) took care to ensure I was happy with her service.  Too dark in this place to get a good survey, you’ll have to trust me that it produces a very golden, yellowish, slightly hazy appearance but definitely a floral compote. According to Abita, the golden color is “as bright as iron from a fiery forge”. Hope I don’t get burned! Ha! Applying the intensity of Apollo, Equinox, and Mosaic hops, this medium bodied malt is piney throated, a tad citrusy on the nose, a smarting 6.9% ABV and a drier, more bitter aftertaste than I am used to, or, better yet, appreciate. Production of a thickish, web-like residue coated the top of the glass and had a very malty, wort-like smell. Typical IPA. Recommended to only the hard-core IPA aficionado’s or those that wake up from a long night on Bourbon and need some dental work. Enjoy responsibly!

Now displaying an empty stein, the stroll left us parched. We felt we had to finish the evening at a local landmark, The Roosevelt Hotel, ’The Grand Dame of Madison Avenue”, to see the pageantry laid out in this frigid nighttime setting. We took a pedicab from our hotel and went in for a nip (drink). The Roosevelt goes all out for Christmas and my wife enjoyed the amble through the over the top decorated hallways. With all the lights at a near mega-watt setting, we passed a pair of blond songbirds who were belting out an acapella version of “Deck the Halls” and we stopped to take it all in. We concluded the evening with a sojourn to their drinking establishment, the Madison Club Lounge, for a Manhattan (take it easy...there wasn’t anything on tap). Soaking it all up and marinating in the joyfulness of the season, we were reminded of how lucky we were to be in this great city at this time of the year. I would highly recommend the tourist thing, folks-it’s worth seeing the city this way. Don’t worry about what your buddies may call you-I’m sure they already have! Oh, and by the way, it’s all about the points, gentlemen. Points.  

We finished our trip the next day with a walk across the street to The Hotel Monteleone. While sporting a stunning entranceway and foyer, this family owned, gorgeous hostel, built in 1886, has the only rotating bar in New Orleans. The Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge has only 25 seats and spins around once every 15 minutes, easy enough for even the most over-served patron. Trying to capture the last squeeze of the proverbial lemon this city on the Mississippi has to offer, I asked for a local I.P.A. The tender mentioned that he had a 2 Bells IPA. My mouth waters. I’m all over it. Pouring it into a glass, I copped a glance at the bottle. It’s actually a Bells Two Hearted Ale, a libation I have recently unmasked in one of my previous blogs. Great selection but nowhere near what I was expecting or asked for (literally and figuratively). Oh well, note this on your next visit to the Quarter.

Finally, it was time to depart. As clearly stated on the ride down, I called and texted the same courier who paraded me into town. Said he would appear at 11 and to meet him out front. At 10:45, we went downstairs. Waiting outside for maybe 15 seconds, a minivan shaped vehicle flashed its lights at me from across the street. Assuming it was my guy (you’d agree that it was a similar looking fellow (that’s my story)), we hopped in. He asked me “where to” and I said, ‘the airport’, knowing darn well that he knew this. Weird. Riding along in the van, my wife kept giving me a ‘look’. It all came crashing down on me when I received a text 10 minutes later that read, ’I’m out front. Ready when you are’. What?!? How can this guy text and drive with patrons in the vehicle? Worse yet, why would he be texting me if I’m already in the car? Ten seconds later it made sense when I answered the phone and it was the driver I was supposed to be riding with. Embarrassed and feeling a sense of dumbass I hadn’t felt since Thursday, I told him we no longer needed a ride.  

Well, now you’ve heard it.