PoBoy Festival: Breaking the curse

Something, or someone, doesn’t want me to go to the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival. It seems that over the past several years, fate has conspired to make me miss one of the most popular festivals of the year and it’s literally, right around the corner. Severe illness, atrocious hangovers, unexpected family get-togethers, heinous women’s issues and an overwhelming distaste for being packed in, teeth-by-jowl, like Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras Day, have come in between me and several hours of pure po-boy bliss. Not this year, I say (perhaps with too much confidence). This year, I have a plan.

After perusing the offerings at this year’s fest, I have devised a strategy that will allow me to hit the highlights within a short period of time and make it back to my apartment to share my spoils with John who (surprise, surprise) has caught the flu. Now keep in mind, I love all of the vendors and music that will be rockin’ Oak Street this year, but in the interest of sanity, I’ve had to keep the list short, avoiding experiences I could have any other day of the year. Additionally, I need to get back home to tend to John, after all, he would do it for me.
The Po-Boy Plan:
  • I figure I can start out closer to River Road and work my way back up. If I leave my house at 9:30 AM, I can easily make it to #31 on the map, Bratz Y’all, which is just a block short of Cowbell. Why am I trekking such lengths? Well, among their many offerings, Bratz Y’all is kicking down “The NOLA Schnitzel Po-Boy with breaded and fried pork loin topped with a crawfish remoulade slaw. Any more questions?
  • From there, I can make my way up and over to the corner of Leonidas and Plum Street at #26 for a Mexican Cheesesteak Po-Boy from VFW- NOLA Veterans of Foreign Wars. I don’t know about you, but slow-braised beef and poblanos smothered in chihuahua cheese sauce sounds like a killer second course.
  • I’ll just keep heading up Plum Street after VFW and make the block, coming around to Mahony’s Po-Boy Shop vending at #19 on Joliet and Oak. Here, I’m either going to have to choose or simply buy both the Abita-Braised Short-Rib Po Boy with garlic mayo and fried onion rings; and the Grilled Shrimp & Avocado Po-Boy with a green-onion vinaigrette.
  • By this time, I’ll only have to trudge through the rapidly-growing crowds a few steps to reach #16, where Wayfare is kicking down, among other items, some Boudin Meat Pies. As you know, I’ve already tried their meat pies before and the crust is to-die-for delicious. I’m curious to taste one loaded with pork shoulder, liver, local long-grain rice and Creole honey mustard.
  • Finally, I simply can’t resist pushing my way through almost three blocks of insanity to reach #4 and what I think just might be the “pièce de résistance” this fest. One of the bend’s best, Boucherie is offering a Corned Pork Belly Reuben Po-Boy with sesame sauerkraut, duck liver mousse and roasted red pepper dressing. Knowing me, I’ll likely order some cracklins too. 
  • PBFPPS (Po-Boy Fest Plan Post Script) – IF I am not tearing my hair out and the crowds are lenient, I wouldn’t mind heading back to #9 on the corner of Dante for a “Black & Gold” – Nutella & Banana Crepe – from Crepes a la Cart.    
Stuffed and loaded with spares for John, I’ll likely find the quickest route back to Zimpel and head home. Will I make it this year? We shall certainly see … that is, if I don’t catch John’s flu.

2014 Jazz Fest poster by Terrance Osborne

It might not seem like it, but I’m a serious art fan. Aside from the books on my shelves, the only inanimate objects I care about are my collection. Though I love my family and friends oh-so-very-much, I would be hard-pressed if in an emergency, I had to choose between my photo albums and my art…because I am pretty sure my art would win.

Does that come off as heartless?

Every single piece captures periods (and people) in my life that I never want to forget. For example, I have a giant map of Middle Earth that my first love created for me, an intricate and absolutely amazing amalgam of maps researched from different editions of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Not only does the map embody my favorite literary adventure, it also brings back detailed memories of a most loving, painful, illuminating and exploratory 5-year stretch of my life.

A three-piece collection of bright, Murano glass straight from Italy were gifts from one of my dearest friends back in the Bay Area, and though we aren’t close anymore, whenever I look at the shimmering golden fish or orange dolphin, the years I spent with him come flooding back. A thrift-store find of a knight poised before a castle in the mists done in watercolor symbolizes my freedom and sense of adventure, as it hung in my first (worthwhile) apartment after college and a small print of Van Gogh’s “L’église d’Auvers-sur-Oise” is a constant reminder of a truly unforgettable 7-day vacation in Paris.  

What this all boils down to is a rational, fully verifiable excuse (to myself), so that I might purchase this year’s Jazz Fest poster. In all likelihood, I will not be attending the massive festival because a) I am too poor to afford the tickets and b) I just can’t party like I used to. BUT! That does not change the fact that I would LOVE to own Aural History: Preservation Hall & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band by one of my favorite New Orleans artists, Terrance Osborne. I mean, don’t you want it? Osborne is so incredibly awesome to me because he sees New Orleans awfully close to the way I see it in my mind’s eye…colorful, alive, vibrant, joyous, soulful. His paintings automatically paste a huge stupid grin across my face, regardless of my mindset at the moment of viewing. Ultimately, I aspire to own an original painting by Mr. Osborne, but until then a print will definitely do.

Belated tale from Tales

Due to throwing my back out and some feminine issues you definitely don’t want to hear about, I was not able to attend almost all of Tales of the Cocktail this year.  Strangely enough, it was going to be my very first year because I finally scored the media credentials to attend. Typical, right?

All whining aside, I was fortunate enough to spend one fabulous evening “living high on the hog” at my very first Spirited Dinner inside Coquette that was appropriately titled “Swigs & Pigs.”

The masters of these ceremonies included Chef Michael Stoltzfus who created the snout-to-hoof menu, his pastry chef Zak Miller, 12 Mile Limit’s owner and mixologist T. Cole Newton and Avenue Pub‘s owner and beer virtuoso Polly Watts…not to mention the rest of the excellent, attentive staff at Coquette.

Six delightfully pork-a-licious courses were perfectly paired wholly unique beer cocktails created specially for this memorable dinner that stretched a little over four hours. If the lighting was better that night, I would have regaled you with some serious porn and would have inflicted mouth-watering torture course by delirious course, but as it is, with my grainy cell phone pics, I’m just going to highlight my favorites.

From crispy pig ear to cracklins, I wasn’t much worried about testing my offal limits until I read “pied au cochon” on the menu. I don’t know about you, but pigs feet never appealed to me, especially when the only way I’ve seen them is packed into huge pickling jars…cloven hooves and all. As it turns out, my worries were completely unfounded and turned upside down. Chef Stoltzfus’ interpretation was a decadent, yet delicate fried patty containing all the edible tastiness on a pig’s foot, minus the hoof. Plus, to make you swoon a bit more, he served it with creamy medallions of foie gras torchon, pickled radish and a sweet slice of fig. It was easily my favorite course of the evening, although keep in mind, this was still only the best of the best.

As far as cocktails go, the one that delighted me the most was served with a different course. A plump sea scallop, blood sausage and Chanterelle mushrooms in a sweet corn sauce was accompanied by what I could easily dub my new “poison.” Dewar’s 12 Whiskey, Cocchi Vermouth, bitters and sherry vinegar were combined with a simple syrup made with an incredible ale that possibly has the longest name for beer I have ever heard. Created by Evil Twin Brewing in Denmark, Monk Suffers Serious Sugar Rush On Barbados certainly is a mouthful. I would drink this sweet, malty dark ale on it’s own, but the cocktail that Newton created from it, dubbed “Rob Base,” was spectacular.

Maybe Murphy will cut me a break for Tales 2013.

A feasting fest: French Quarter Festival 2011

So, it was a no-brainer decision for my cheat this week, right? I mean, duh, where the hell else would I be besides French Quarter Festival? Easily one of my favorite festivals of the season, this celebration…this daytime, suntime, springtime elation is all about the Vieux Carre. Everything you can find in this gorgeous historical district is brought out onto the streets (even more than usual), and served up at tents and open stages from the U.S. Mint over on Esplanade to Woldenburg Park next to the cool breezes of the Mississippi River. It’s like the Quarter amplified several times for four solid days and get this…this is the best part…it’s FREE!

I sound like a pamphlet.
Anyhow, I knew where I was going to eat this week ages ago, so John and I hit the streetcar and rode downtown for my 80th cheat at the 2011 French Quarter Festival. I gained 2 pounds and was feeling pretty guilty about it, but certainly not guilty enough to miss the festival.
John and I were hungry before we left the house, so it didn’t take us long to dive right in. In Jackson Square under the bright mid-day sun, clutching our water bottles and bouncing to Connie Jones we spotted a menu we couldn’t avoid from Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. We got one of each, a Prime Beef Debris Po-Boy and Bourbon House’s BBQ Shrimp Po-Boy. Both were tasty, but I definitely preferred the juicy debris.
Inhaling the sandwiches, we strolled around the square, checking out the artists come out in droves for the fest. Every inch of wrought-iron fencing surrounding the square was adorned with artwork in a variety of mediums, but most featuring beloved, local icons from shotgun houses to a lone sax player wailing against a street lamp. I got a little distracted by some work by Sarah Jenkins, before John dragged my poor butt away from things I couldn’t have and steered me straight.
On the other side of Decatur Street, Gal Holiday was playing as we ambled slowly through the crowds. We stopped at a bench to just take in the refreshing, cool air blowing towards us from across the river and were treated to an impromptu performance as an older black man in a wife-beater t-shirt busted out his rendition of “When a Man Loves a Woman” on a microphone plugged into an old portable amp. He employed a lot of creative license with the lyrics, but he sang with such flair and intensity, it wasn’t long before a large ring of festers surrounded us, taking snapshots and dropping dollar bills in his box. Playing “for those who were listening”, he writhed around, squished up his eyes and sang his heart out…even when he messed up and started over again, people hung out and cheered him on.
We left as he began “The Dock by the Bay”, seeking out some more grub. As we strolled along, I noticed more po-boys, crawfish bread, jambalaya, jerk chicken and crawfish pasta, but I had to stop when I reached Nola Restaurant for Miss Hay’s Stuffed Chicken Wings with homemade hoisin. Miss Hay was actually “in the house” as they say, replete with apron dishing out these decadent morsels that completely rocked my world. The chicken was fried perfectly and the extra, crispy skin was filled with sauteed veggies and it all came together so wonderfully with the salty/sweet hoisin….am I breathing heavy? Let’s just say I am still slapping myself for not ordering two.
We hit up Plum Street Snowballs, I chose Iced Coffee Cream while John slurped down a Peppermint, turning his mouth and lips a vibrant shade of green. Though pleasingly cool and sweet, I still wanted something a bit more decadent for dessert and that meant heading to the Flour Power Confectionery booth. 
Hey! It’s Miss Hay!

After watching them burn the caramel with a blow torch, I couldn’t resist getting a Praline Creme Brulee. Thick, caramel custard was ensconced in a crispy, buttery puff pastry tower and sprinkled with Praline chunks and brown sugar. It was the best part of heaven I’ve ever had the chance to eat from a paper plate and with a plastic fork. I could’ve picked the whole thing up and shoved it into my mouth, but I thought someone might recognize me and call me out.

Surprisingly full (we didn’t eat as much as I planned), we started to head out, walking back towards the streetcar, stopping at Jackson Square so I could buy a poster. Though I enjoy the work of local artist Tami Curtis-Ellis, I have a quirky little connection to Pete Fountain who is the main subject this year.  Remind me to relay that story another time…

Satiated, smiling and burnt (guess who forgot to wear sunscreen?), we rode the streetcar home under the resplendent green oaks as the sun was setting on what was yet another fabulous French Quarter Festival. Oh how I love this town…