To all the po-boys I’ve loved before…

Seeing as the Po-Boy Preservation Festival is almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to remember all of the po-boys I’ve enjoyed since beginning my weekly cheats. Below I have prepared a sort of “photo-journey” capturing the po-boys from my past.

By the way, you will definitely see me at the festival Sunday, November 14th on Oak Street, one of the coolest festivals in my ‘hood!

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This first picture from July 20, 2009 is of an Ultimate Roast Beef Po-Boy from Joe Sepies on Jefferson Highway.

This was obviously before I acquired my bad-ass camera, but know that this is one of my absolute favorites.  If you have not enjoyed one of these babies yet, you are severely missing out.

This next bastion of deliciousness is a foot long Oyster Po-Boy with Havarti Cheese and Bacon from Ye Olde College Inn on Carrollton Avenue. I wrote this review in October of last year.

I believe it took me two days to finish this excellent sandwich…talk about an extended cheat.

Although this next one was awfully expensive, it was nonetheless delicious! Sink your teeth into this Fried Shrimp Po-Boy from The Famous Gumbo Pot.

Obviously, I had my awesome camera by this point.

Among the many fine dishes we had at Boucherie, I will never forget this mouth-watering 12-Hour Roast Beef Po-Boy dressed with Horseradish cream and pickled red onions.

Gosh, this picture still makes me drool.

Here’s a shot of the two tasty po-boys John and I enjoyed from Frankie & Johnny’s…let ’em have it!

Fried shrimp and catfish side by side…oh what a wonderful sight!

Last, but most certainly not least, is this fabulous, 11 inch Fried Catfish Po-Boy (for only $8!) at Hobnobber Cafe.

By no means are these all of the po-boys I’ve ever enjoyed, but they certainly are some of the best! I can’t wait to try out some more at the festival next weekend…hope to see you there!

A late-night tradition: The Trolley Stop

In the wee hours of the morning one Saturday long ago, my friend Casey and I had been partying all night and in desperate need of some vittles. Not really knowing yet what might be available at 2:30 am in New Orleans, I put my growling stomach in Casey’s capable hands and she took me to the Trolley Stop.

I will never forget how nervous I was walking into the streetcar-like cafe on St. Charles Avenue that night. Casey still giggles at my reaction to this day. You see, living in California, I had become used to being the minority on many different occasions in both the Asian and Latino communities. Now, I knew darn well that the population of New Orleans was more than 60% African American, but I had yet to fully realize it.

That night when we stepped into the ultra-busy Trolley Stop, it slowly dawned on me that Casey and I were the only white people there. I whispered anxiously to Casey, “Are you sure we’re allowed to be here?” and she only laughed.

As it turns out, we had an awesome server, a delicious late-night or early morning meal (however you want to look at it) and began a tradition.  From that point forward, the Trolley Stop was frequently my eatery of choice after a hard night of drinking.

A few days ago, Casey and I visited the Trolley Stop again for my 58th cheat. I am down 75 pounds.

Before the flooding in 2005, the Trolley Stop used to be open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, but now they are only open 24 hours for Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Since we arrived around lunch time, it didn’t matter in the slightest, but I was a little sad to note that had changed.

Although I was tempted to order my usual breakfast item (the French Special), I thought it would be fun to “relive” my very first order at the Trolley Stop, a Banana Split Belgian Waffle, while Casey opted for Pigs in a Blanket. Keep in mind, in no way are you are limited to breakfast items at this cafe. The menu is overwhelming, listing almost anything you would think to find in any diner across the country, plus a nice selection of New Orleans-centric items like po-boys and gumbo.

It wasn’t long after I received a steaming hot mug of coffee that my dish arrived. Piled high with sliced bananas, strawberries, pineapple filling and a hidden cache of Bavarian custard, the waffle was as indulgent and delicious as I remembered.

Casey’s Pigs in a Blanket featured three links of sausage rolled in three pancakes fresh off the griddle and sprinkled with powdered sugar. With a generous dousing of syrup, Casey’s simple breakfast suited her tastes (and mine) just fine.

What’s even finer is that after spending a ton of cash on drinking all night, don’t expect to break the bank at the Trolley Stop. Our breakfast was only $15 combined and neither of us could clean our plates.

Lovin’ La Petite Grocery

Housed in what used to be a specialty grocery store on the corner of General Pershing and Magazine Streets, La Petite Grocery has been one of those restaurants that I’ve heard people exclaim about for several years, but never got around to trying. Well, it finally happened. This past Friday, John and I visited the 6-year-old, already classic, yet still “nouveau” restaurant for my 56th cheat. I am down 73 pounds.

After stepping through the heavy, green doors my jaw dropped at the gorgeous architectural highlights in the “barroom” like detailed wall paneling that pulled my eyes towards an elegant ceiling of painted tin. These are features I never tire of, though they are common in quite a few New Orleans buildings. Despite the fact we were there for a casual lunch, I suddenly felt romantic and pictured the two of us dining here on an anniversary or Valentine’s Day. John rolled his eyes and smiled at me when I grasped his hand atop the white linen covered table.

We opted for an additional appetizer in place of cocktails, oh the sacrifices we must make on a budget, and settled for a couple of Cokes and ice water. Almost immediately, our server brought a couple of beautiful, fresh rolls that were still hot from the oven and a triangular slab of hand-packed butter (fresh butter being a feature of the former specialty grocery store). The aromatic rolls were crusty and utterly fabulous smeared with a large pat of the dense, sweet cream butter.

As we licked the crumbs from our fingers, our appetizers arrived. The Steak Tartare had a bright, tangy flavor from citrus, red wine and mustard and coupled wonderfully with the creamy quail yolk nestled in the center. We quickly scooped up bite after delicious bite with the house made potato chips served alongside.

I also could not resist the Lobster Beignets served atop a French remoulade sauce. The flavor of my beloved shellfish (I’m a huge fan of lobster) stood bravely, and most unusually, on it’s own. Sweet, thick claw pieces rested inside the delicately fried beignet with no heavy seasoning to mar its delicate essence. I would return to snack on those alone.

Delighted by our first course, I became anxious for our entrees. John selected the “LPG” cheeseburger draped with a gooey slice of gruyere, onion marmalade, home made sweet pickles and a huge pile of arugula. Though the greens seemed a bit excessive, I loved the sweet, eggy brioche bun against the savory beef. The accompanying French fries had a nice garlic/parmesan flavor, but were awfully soggy and oily. It seems they were dropped too early and the potatoes just soaked up the grease.

My dish of Shrimp & Grits featured perfectly cooked, large Gulf shrimp flavored with thick pieces of smoked bacon, shiitake mushrooms and thinly sliced garlic resting on a bed of creamy, stone ground grits and surrounded by a rich, lemony butter sauce. It was absolutely dreamy…

As usual, I desired to top off our fabulous lunch with an equally fabulous dessert and I was not disappointed. With glowing reviews from our server, I chose an old favorite, a S’More Tart. The shortbread shell was filled with gooey chunks of dark chocolate and topped with house made marshmallow, flamed with that familiar campfire char. The sinful tart was served with a small dollop of smooth, vanilla ice cream. Like greedy children, John and I fought over the last spoonful. Ahhh romance…

John would be wise to remember my heart-felt reaction to La Petite Grocery when planning a cozy dinner for two this Valentine’s Day…I certainly won’t hesitate to remind him!

Part of the family at Hobnobber Cafe

There are a lot of wonderful colloquialisms I’ve learned living in New Orleans. Everyone knows about “Who Dat!” and “Where y’at?” but there are so many others that tickle me inside. For example, in any given environment, you are bound to be affectionately called “Boo” or “Baby ” by practically anyone, regardless of sex or age and I’ll never forget the first time I heard my co-workers Shirley and Jeffrey discussing the price of “erl” (oil). After listening to their conversation for a few minutes, I finally interrupted them and said “Who the heck is Earl?” much to their endless amusement (I was teased about that one for months, let me tell you). Another great example of New Orleans terminology is revealed when you are having a conversation or making a statement that someone else agrees with and they respond “Yeah, you right!”

All of these expressions are so darling and unique, but my absolute favorite is how folks down here will mix the familiar and formal forms when calling you by name.  Instead of calling me Kim or Miss Ranjbar, I will be referred to as “Miss Kim”…especially by children…and I simply love it! It is so sweet and so polite, yet friendly and warming. It makes me feel like everyone is family and the whole city is filled with my brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins.

This familial aura is exactly what I sense when dining at Hobnobber Cafe. This is my 55th cheat and I am down 72 pounds.

Since 1978, the Timphony family has managed and owned Hobnobber, although in different locations and incarnations than it’s current spot on West Metairie Avenue. For years they’ve been serving home-cooked, New Orleans Italian-style food and their Southern hospitality shines through as soon as you walk through the door.

John and I were greeted warmly by one of the owners, “Miss Cindy”, as we headed for the counter to place our order. Afterwards, we poured our own drinks from the soda fountain and selected a high table near the window. While we waited, other customers came and went, most of which were regulars to the Hobnobber. I know this because Cindy called them all by name and took time out of her busy day to say hello and visit with them for a spell.

It was not long before our food arrived and we couldn’t wait to dig in. We shared both plates, but couldn’t help starting with an 11 inch, fried catfish po-boy dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise. John also slathered on some house-made tartar sauce before taking a huge bite. The catfish was moist and sweet with a perfect crunch from the spicy cornmeal batter. Hobnobber’s fried seafood  po-boys are always excellent and priced to match ringing in at only $8.00!

We also shared one of the daily specials, crab cakes with a creamy crawfish sauce served on a bed of spaghetti noodles with a large hunk of French bread and a house salad. There is a small salad bar where you can make your own creations from fresh dressings (I chose a dreamy bleu cheese) and crispy croutons. The sauce was so buttery and scrumptious, I couldn’t help swabbing up every last drop with my bread.

Near the counter is a large dessert case that displayed all their homemade desserts available like cheese cake, custard and mammoth brownies, but when Cindy veered my attention to the triple chocolate cake that was resting under glass on the counter, I had made my decision.  The cake that reminded me of home was moist and dense, rich and chocolaty and a perfect end to our meal.

So listen up Boo, if you’re missing your momma’n’dem and you crave a place that feels like home, pass by the Hobnobber Cafe in Metry, aight?

Comfort and convenience at Down the Hatch

In the relatively short time that I have lived in New Orleans, the restaurant/bar space on Sophie Wright Place has gone through several incarnations. When I lived in that area, it was the Moonlight Cafe serving burgers and sandwiches, but with a Persian twist. The burger patties tasted like my father’s version of chelow kabab and I couldn’t resist calling in a delivery for a taste of home every now and again. The Persian owner would often be the “delivery man” and we’d chat about how much we missed our grandmothers’ fabulous stews (koresh) or meatloaf (kufteh) which he wouldn’t even dream of attempting to re-create.

On Thursday night, John and I decided to visit the latest eatery at this location, Down the Hatch, which has been open for almost a year. This is my 53rd cheat and since I gained two pounds last week (do you think it was the ice cream?), I am back to a loss of 70 pounds.

Feeling altogether lackadaisical, John and I sought the simplicity of bar food. A juicy burger, perhaps some deliciously greasy onion rings and a few beers seemed the perfect evening for this week’s cheat. We just weren’t in the mood for anything too fancy, too socially demanding or too expensive and (no offense meant) the easy going atmosphere at Down the Hatch was the perfect solution.

Halfway through our first Abita, our server brought out our appetizer, something we considered a rather usual choice for us, their Hell’s Kitchen Chicken Wings. Maybe it’s because they’re so messy or that they tend to be far too hot for too little reward, but I usually don’t like chicken wings…and unfortunately, I still don’t. Fried and then slathered in their “house made” sauce and served with a side of bleu cheese dressing, these wings were most definitely from hell solely because of the sauce. The meat was juicy and the dressing was thick and creamy, replete with large chunks of bleu cheese, but the sauce just about burned my face off. It consisted mostly of Tobasco and it severely challenged both my stomach and my tongue’s high spice tolerance to eat only three wings.

Fortunately, we were saved by another round of Abitas and our anxiously awaited entrees. John got the Chili Cheese Burger that was undeniably juicy and loaded with melted cheddar and (not nearly enough) of their tasty home made chili. The burger also came with a fat pile of crispy, steak fries that we were unable to finish.

I selected their Reuben, which is one of my all-time favorite sandwiches, and did not regret my choice one bit. Luckily for me, the corned beef at Down the Hatch is also made in house was lovingly piled between two toasted and buttered slices of light rye along with hefty helpings of sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. The corned beef was surprisingly juicy and the sandwich definitely held up in comparison to other fabulous Reuben’s I’ve enjoyed around town. It was accompanied by a pile of thinly sliced,”string” onion rings that were a nice change from the thick-cut style to which I’ve become accustomed.

They don’t offer any desserts, but that wasn’t too much of a problem since there was a whole batch of chocolate chip cookies at home that I had baked the day before. As we were heading out to the car, we noticed that Down the Hatch also offers citywide delivery, a convenient and possibly highly profitable move. After all, do you know of any other neighborhood joints that deliver juicy burgers and hot po’boys anywhere in New Orleans? Neither do I…

An overdue visit to Surrey’s Juice Bar

During my drunken days at the Circle Bar, I often saw Greg Surrey come in for a pint and anyone who could, would tell me about his incredible restaurant.  “You simply have to go for breakfast,” people would tell me. “It’s one of the best kept local secrets in New Orleans.”

Lately, Surrey’s Juice Bar has not been a secret at all. You can find reviews all over Yelp, Chowhound and a multitude of other online publications. Only a couple of weeks ago, Blackened Out visited Surrey’s second location that recently opened where Fuel Cafe used to be, right next to Le Bon Temps.

After years of hearing glowing reviews, I finally decided to go see for myself what the hullabaloo was all about. This is my 52nd cheat and I am down 72 pounds.

The new location is closer to home, but John and I decided to visit the original on Magazine between Euterpe and Terpsichore (music and dance) in the Lower Garden District. Since it was Friday at lunch time, we were not surprised to see a line stretching out from the front door, but after we put our name on the list, our wait amounted to all of five minutes.

 There were a lot of tasty items to choose from (I almost got the Caribbean French Toast stuffed with Pineapple Cream Cheese), but we finally made our selections and absorbed the bright, yet cozy environment. Tons of local art adorned the walls and I even recognized some cool plaques designed by my friend Will Smith, Jr., who is yet another Circle Bar denizen. Also, I couldn’t help grinning at the bikini-clad mannequin lounging in a hammock that was suspended  from the ceiling.

Before we got our second cup of coffee, our breakfast arrived. When going out for breakfast, I am not usually an omelette kind of gal, but I couldn’t resist Surrey’s Crab Meat Omelette stuffed with brie and fresh avocado and topped with a creamy, lump crab meat sauce. The eggs were fluffy and the avocados were perfect. Plus, I was ecstatic at the generous amount of crab meat that contained no shells whatsoever. I couldn’t resist getting a side of Boudin patties which were delicious with the perfect amount of heat.

John ordered the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers and green onions. His plate also came with what they call “hash browns,” but the thick wedges of seasoned red potatoes looked more like what would I call “country potatoes.”  Potato, potato; tomato, tomato…it doesn’t matter what you call it, they still tasted great to me. It’s just that John had a hankering for traditional hash browns, so he was a bit disappointed. His scramble was tasty, but with the capers and the salmon, I think a nice dill sauce would have really rounded out the dish.

John and I both selected a home made biscuit to accompany our entrees and it was crumbly on the outside and tender on the inside, just like my Aunt Edie used to make. Unfortunately, whomever was rolling them out used too much flour. I think a quick brush of melted butter before baking would have wiped away the excess flour and made for optimal browning and better flavor.

I was glad to see Greg’s quaint cafe was thriving. I am going to have to come back and try more of the menu because certain items like the Stuffed French Toast or the Migas with chorizo were calling my name.  Alas, there is only so much I can eat in one cheat!

Potentially inspiring: The Three Muses

Long before I delved into the worlds of The Iliad and The Odyssey, I was a huge fan of Greek mythology. Characters like Medusa with her serpent-ridden hair and Charon the skeletal ferryman who received payment in gold coins to carry travelers to the Isle of the Dead were of great interest to me, symbolizing all I love about fantasy and feeding my over-active imagination.

When I moved here, I couldn’t help but appreciate that many of the street names (regardless of their unique pronunciations) were for muses like Clio, Calliope, Erato, Melpomene, Terpsichore and Thalia.  Additionally, a lot the Mardi Gras “krewes” in the Greater New Orleans area are also named after Greek and Roman characters like Bacchus, Morpheus, Pygmalion and Zeus.

So, naturally it was no surprise to me when a new restaurant opened called The Three Muses. Although it has been debated, it is generally agreed that there were actually a total of nine muses, but the concept of three is often repeated. Traditionally, the three muses are song, occasion and memory, but in the case of this brand new restaurant in the Marigny, they are Daniel Esses (cuisine), Sophie Lee (music) and Christopher Starnes (hospitality).

This is my 51st cheat and I am down 71 pounds.

On Saturday night, John and I drove all the way across town to experience the music, food and atmosphere that is The Three Muses. We planned to meet our old boss and friend Carl at the restaurant sometime around 5:00 p.m.  Since we arrived so early in the evening, we were able to score an excellent parking space that was just around the corner from the restaurant.  We walked inside to find the chic, French-influenced tavern (several ornately framed mirrors lean out from the walls) pretty much empty.

The problem was finding a table to seat four.

There was one table that accommodated more than four people, but it was currently taken, so when Carl and his girlfriend Beth wandered in, we chose to sit right at the bar. Unfortunately, our seating arrangement and the sounds of a jazz band playing in the front made for awkward conversation.

Since talking wasn’t easy, we all immediately dove into the menu. I ordered one of their specialty drinks appropriately dubbed “The Muse.” The cocktail includes cucumbers and strawberries with St. Germain Elderflower liqueur (what is with New Orleans’ obsession with St. Germain?) and Hendrick’s gin. Although the cocktail had a nice fruity, herbal flavor, I would’ve loved some thinly sliced, muddled cucumber or even strawberry as opposed to the strange pulp I found at the bottom of my glass.

I ordered a ton of different plates since they all seemed “tapas-sized” and hoped they might arrive a bit spaced out.  First, they served us a small plate of Indian-spiced popcorn as an amuse bouche of sorts.  It was tasty, buttery and hot and we all had no problem devouring it.

Next, Carl and Beth got some Rabbit Empanadas with sun-dried tomato aioli.  I didn’t get to try these but they looked light and flaky, very similar to a really good meat pie.  They also ordered a Duck Confit & Rigatoni pasta that I did manage to taste. The pasta was nice, but I liked what John and I ordered even better.

Although the Falafel Bits drizzled with a simple yogurt sauce were rather plain and a bit bland, I absolutely loved the Lamb Sliders with tomato chutney and goat cheese. Lamb can be a very finicky meat, something easily ruined by over or even under-cooking, but the sliders were perfect!  Wonderful, Mediterranean flavors permeated the tender, juicy meat and I was hard-pressed to find another plate I adored nearly as much throughout the remainder of the evening.

The next arrival was two, rather large Lobster Egg Rolls served with a sweet, chili-lime sauce. Despite the fact that the egg rolls were crispy and delicious, I had a difficulty tasting the lobster which is my all-time favorite shellfish. I would eat a vegetable (read cheaper) version of these in a heartbeat as all the Asian flavors and veggies were present and accounted for.

As always, I was really excited to taste their Ceviche and chips, loving ceviche as I do.  The flavor and texture of the fish was awesome, I only would like to suggest that the hunks of fish be a bit smaller.  At one point, I felt like I was hoisting an entire fillet onto my tiny (by comparison) tortilla chip.

I didn’t expect to find a dish to beat out the Lamb Sliders until I tasted our final savory dish of the evening, the Braised Pork Belly with apple chutney and scallion pancakes.  It was a taste of the divine on a pancake with the rich, fatty flavor of the pork belly juxtaposed against the sweet apple chutney (pork chops and apple sauce?).  Both Carl and Beth agreed.

At last, we all were ready for dessert and we ended up with two orders of the same dish.  After all, would you be able to resist your own plate of Banana-“Marscapone” (oops!) Strudel with rum butter and Mexican-chocolate ice cream?  I wouldn’t!  It was absolutely delicious and I especially loved the cinnamon-spicy flavor of the ice cream…I would return to the Three Muses for that dessert alone.

After dinner, Beth had to run out for a scheduled gig at Cafe Negril just down the street. After enjoying one more cocktail (I had to try their delicious “Caiprinha” – where’s that darned spell checker at? – made with Cachaca, sugar and lime), John and I walked over to the club and for a while enjoyed the Celtic stylings and bawdy lyrics of Beth Patterson (check out Beth and Carl’s collaboration, Potent Bathers) and then made our way home.

Although they’ve only been open since early August, I was impressed to find that The Three Muses had developed a potentially inspiring menu that requires only a few minor tweaks. They’ve definitely aroused my interest…and repeat patronage.

Delicacies come in a modest package at Restaurant Patois

“Modesty is not only an ornament, but also a guard to virtue” -Joseph Addison

Only three short blocks from the Audubon Zoo on the corner of Webster and Laurel Streets, there’s what appears to be a humble neighborhood bistro complete with awning and chalkboard specials called Restaurant Patois. Yesterday, John and I carefully avoided tiny lizards scrambling across our path in droves, crossed the street and stepped inside the unassuming, yet elegant eatery for a leisurely lunch. It was my 50th cheat and I’m down 69 pounds.

Like everyone in this town who gives a fig about food, I’d heard the wonderful accolades about Chef Aaron Burgau and his fabulous cuisine, but I thought it was about time I tried it out for myself. In all honesty, I was nervous about appearing in my usual attire. I was under the impression that my lime-green Birkenstocks and hasn’t-seen-a-salon-in-moons hairstyle would be frowned upon and I did my best in a short period of time to look as presentable as possible.

As it turns out, my fuss was all for naught.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the proprietors would appreciate it if you avoided arriving in flip-flops, cut-off jeans and a wife-beater, but the aura was really rather casual, so I felt right at home.

The restaurant was already busy when we arrived at around noon, but the gracious host quickly seated us at a nice little two-top, proffered simple menus and filled our wine goblets with ice water. There was some serious deliberation about our appetizer after a woman at the next table received a huge bowl of mouth-watering Moules frites (mussels and French fries), but we finally made our selections.

Our server brought out our drinks with a basket of warm rolls. John reached out to take one and I reminded him that he might want to save that for dipping. He sighed, but let his hand drop. “I promise you’ll be thanking me later, sweetie.” I said.

And he did…

Our appetizer was tender Potato Gnocchi served with moist lump crab meat, fresh-from-the-garden baby lima beans, Porcini mushrooms and shaved Parmesan cheese. The gnocchi were a bit larger than what I’ve eaten in the past, but that didn’t deter from the light, fluffy texture, they almost melted in my mouth. Unabashedly, I squealed “No!” when the host attempted to remove our plate before we had finished wiping the bowl clean with our flaky, buttery rolls that we had saved precisely for this purpose.

We let the host remove the dish only after it was completely spotless and our entrees arrived. Totally out of character, I had ordered a salad, but this was no ordinary salad, it was a Duck Confit Salad with arugula, sliced pears and pear vinaigrette. It’s funny, because after lunch yesterday I was describing my dish to a friend and she asked me “What does ‘confit’ mean?” and when I told her it means the meat is cooked in its own fat, she took a deep breath and said “Ohhhh my!”

Oh my indeed! The duck had an extra crispy skin that I was tempted to pull off and eat whole, and the meat was so tender and juicy, it slid easily off the bone with my fork. The “perfect” bite came when I got all of the ingredients together on my fork; the sweetness of the pear, the rich, heady duck and salty skin with a few leaves of the peppery arugula.

I was able to feed John a few bites of my delectable salad, but he had his hands full with a Beef Brisket sandwich topped with creamy coleslaw and melted aged cheddar on, my favorite, ciabatta bread. This massive man-sandwich was served with a large pile of delightful French fries that I suspect were drizzled with a little truffle oil. I adored the flavor of the brisket, especially the chewy end slices that were extra spicy and flavorful. Since it was just a tad too much sandwich for John, I got to help him finish it.

For dessert (you didn’t think I forgot dessert did you?) I chose the Chocolate Hazelnut Gateau created by pastry chef, Lisa Gustafson. This has to be the coolest dessert with the most interesting presentation, that I have ever had the pleasure to devour.

The “gateau” was a small, dense and thoroughly rich chocolate cake filled with chopped hazelnuts and covered in thick chocolate sauce. Budino, as it turns out, is Italian for pudding (yep, I had to look that one up) and this delectable concoction was served in a sealed and chilled glass canister! To top it off, there was a perfectly spherical scoop of Frangelico ice cream delicately balanced atop a disc of a delicious, buttery hazelnut brittle.

I was so completely wowed by our entire lunch, that it took a while to process it all. I’ve settled for so much less and paid so much more at other eateries (including chains) that my negligence required a firmly planted facepalm and a heavy sigh of exasperation.  All I can say is that I never would have guessed how wonderful food could really be before I’d tasted the work of culinary geniuses and Mr. Burgau is definitely, in my oh so humble opinion, in that number.

Looking for the log ride at Parrot Pete’s

On Saturday, John and I went to have breakfast with two dear friends, Casey and Brandon, who live almost in the middle of the Jean Lafitte Preserve on the Westbank. Seeing as I am very unfamiliar with the geography on that side of the river, the extent of my knowledge being Pho Tau Bay, I asked Casey if she wouldn’t mind hunting down an interesting restaurant.

I think we were all surprised when we discovered Parrot Pete’s Coffee & Sweets located inside a theme park resort…minus the theme park! This is my 49th cheat and I am down 68 pounds.

When we pulled into Fountain Park Centre, all of us were gawking at the spectacle before us. How often does one find hundreds of palm trees, huge man-made ponds sparkling with tall, playing fountains and scattered statues both in and out of the water mimicking geese, ducks, swans, dogs, turtles and even children on Manhattan Boulevard? I kept expecting to see a log ride or a line of ticket booths off in the distance…perhaps even a man-made mountain with snow-capped peaks, a roller coaster track twisting around it and emitting screams of terror and joy.

Still rubbing our eyes, we stumbled into Parrot Pete’s only to be stunned anew by the proliferation of yet even more palm trees, all of which were adorned by several fake parrots, and iron chandeliers with clinging fake cockatoos. One of the many, many staff members told us to choose a seat anywhere in the sprawling restaurant. As this resort restaurant was obviously a great place for families with children,  we attempted, in vain, to avoid the noise and selected a table in the back near a large marble fireplace sporting a painting of (what else?) parrots in palm trees over the mantle.

Since there were only two tables aside from ours filled with rambunctious (and loud) children, the staff outnumbered the patrons and our server was anxious to be busy doing something. He quickly took our order and rushed off to get our drinks.  After he left, we noticed some fun frozen drinks at the bottom of the menu like a “Caramel Freeze” with frozen espresso, caramel sauce and whipped cream.  We were going to order a few when our server returned, but he informed us that the “machine” was down.

We accepted our loss gracefully, especially when our entrees suddenly poured out of the kitchen in a flurry.  Casey and I both got “Lafitte’s Pirogue”, two delicious buttery biscuits topped with a large slices of spicy andouille sausage, two perfectly cooked, over-easy eggs and a slathering of Hollandaise sauce with dill and large crawfish tails.  I have to admit that the restaurant’s theme made me fear an overly-generic approach to poorly prepared food, but I was wrong.  Everything was quite fresh and good, especially the flaky grilled biscuits!  My only complaint would have to be a lack of seasoning on the crawfish tails which were obviously not from Louisiana.

John ordered “Pedro’s Burrito”, which was basically a large breakfast burrito stuffed with sausage, scrambled eggs, hash browns, cheddar cheese, bell peppers and onions.  This mammoth burrito also offered a side and John selected bacon.  The burrito, while nothing special, was quite tasty using obviously fresh ingredients and a whole lot of ’em!  There was a “salsa” on the side that was pretty disappointing though, almost like a spicy ketchup, something that the restaurant could easily remedy.

Brandon went for a sweet breakfast with “Ain’t Yo Mamma’s Praline Pancakes” topped with candied pecans and an oh-so-sweet praline syrup.  It was a hefty stack of five pancakes and I was impressed that Brandon made his way though half of it before throwing in his fork. He let me taste a bite of his leftovers and I thought they were quite delicious…fluffy pancakes with a buttery praline syrup could rarely go wrong in my eyes.

Since I had a savory breakfast, I couldn’t walk away from a pastry shop without dessert.  When I wandered up to the dessert case to make my selection, several members of the staff recommended the Triple Berry Cake with mascarpone frosting. I simply couldn’t say no to something with such an overwhelming fan base!  The cake turned out to be quite nice and light with sweet berries mixed into the middle layer of frosting.  Casey opted for a cannelloni which she thought was tasty, but somewhat average.

Since it was still raining steadily when we left, I was unable to get a lot of photos from the theme-park-lacking resort.  So, we all piled into Brandon’s car and headed back to their house on the edge of the bayou.  (Remind me to tell you sometime about the “swamp-Sasquatch-monster” they spotted late one night running across Barataria Boulevard)  Until then, I will keep my eyes out for the missing theme park on Manhattan Boulevard.

It’s my birthday and I’ll cheat if I want to…

When I woke on Friday, I was feeling pretty gloomy, reflecting the thundering, gray day and reluctant to even open my eyes. I wasn’t rising to my first day as a 39-year-old.

John always teases about how immature I can be, but it’s true…I don’t want to grow up. I never have.  I never thought adulthood was cool aside from what I perceived as complete freedom, being able to do whatever you want, whenever you wanted to do it. Otherwise, nothing was finer than having the time to swim all day at the neighbor’s pool, taking field trips to museums or nature reserves, baking with my mom on sleepy Sundays, watching old movies in her California King bed and being so caught in the swirl of a great book that reality simply dissolved around me. Responsibility was a dirty word.

So, yeah. I get a little moody on my birthday.  I spent the whole morning growling alone in my room, denying myself breakfast and lunch, yet coming out  to snap periodically at John and to maintain a joyous birthday facade on Facebook.  Finally, at around 2 p.m., I decide I can’t take it anymore. Regardless of the fact that I had a feast the day before, I was going to cheat again, damnit! John made a feeble attempt to veer me back to the diet track, but he knew his effort was in vain. It was my birthday and I’d cheat if I wanted to…

Naturally, the dark clouds that had been looming all morning, burst and dumped their heavy summer rain before we were halfway to our destination on Magazine Street.  I was in the mood for La Divina Gelateria’s wonderful panini and some elegant sweets from Sucre just down the street. A little rain wasn’t going to stop me. Well, in this case, not even a lot of rain. The closest residential (a.k.a. free) parking was on 6th Street, so we had to slog it through the downpour for two blocks without an umbrella, dodging gutter showers, sidewalk rivers and tourists enveloped in plastic.  I suppose I shouldn’t poke fun at the slicker-savvy visitors seeing as they were, at the very least, prepared.

Dripping wet and ornery, I squished my way up to the counter at La Divina and was in the midst of ordering a full Muffalina panini when the girl behind the counter nervously informed me she only had enough ciabatta bread to make one-half of a sandwich, but a delivery was on its way.  All I could do was stand there, stare at her open-mouthed and shiver a little from being soaked to the skin in the air-conditioned shop.

Just as I was about to mount the gelato case and tear off her head, a relieved smile split across her face as she spotted the long-awaited delivery walking in through the door behind me. She seemed to understand how narrowly she eluded disaster and immediately took my order.  The only decently-lit table in the house left was nauseatingly close to a trio of sorority girls who only served to push me deeper into the funk with their incessant chattering, giggling and breathing with pubescent enthusiasm.

Thankfully, I ordered a double mocha.

Almost instantaneously, the chocolate worked its dark magic causing the day to brighten, no matter what the weather was like outside.  The steaming bowl of coffee brought me back to my senses and just as I was contemplating fishing out a goopy mass of chocolate sitting at the bottom of my cup, our panini arrived.  Ravenous, I scarfed down almost half of my Muffalino featuring many of the usual suspects like mortadella, ham, aged provolone and tasty olive salad, but what I really enjoy is La Divina’s bread.  The ciabatta gets so deliciously greasy and crispy from the press, it almost doesn’t matter what’s between the slices.

John had a Francese, which I’ve enjoyed before on several occaisons.  It features Italian ham, brie, a few sliced cornichon pickles and a slathering of Dijon mustard pressed between that always extraordinary bread. John said he liked his sandwich better, but I loved them both equally…mine was just tangy and spicy while John’s was salty and creamy. (Am I the only one blushing from that sentence?)

Although the gelato at La Divina was tempting as always, I wanted something just a tad more decadent, so I dragged John down the street and begged him to buy me a “Big Kid Shake” at Sucre. I love walking into this gorgeously bright pastel store with glass cases filled with gelato, sorbet, pristine pastries and rows upon rows of amazing chocolates. I could have gone completely dippy, ordering enough sweets to make myself sick (and increase my debt exponentially). To our mutual shock, I exercised some self control and settled in to enjoy a delicious concoction called “A Bunch of Nuts” starring Brown Putter Pecan Gelato, Frangelico and Praline Liquor. “The Velvet Hammer” sold John solely with its name, but I thought it was a tasty combination of Vanilla Gelato, Brandy and nutmeg. We also felt a little buzzed after slurping them down.

After everything we went through and all that I finally got to enjoy, I still felt somewhat guilty about cheating twice in one week.  A friend of mine said “birthday calories don’t count.”  Is that true?