I spent four days in New Orleans. It took me more than a week to recover.
If you’re born and raised in New Orleans –– or even lived there long enough to get into its rhythm –– you probably wouldn’t notice. But take it from an outsider: This town ain’t for the faint of heart (or stomach).
Take your lack of bar time. It confuses us tourists. We stay out far past our bedtimes because no one tells us to go home, and then we curse that strange light interrupting our festivities. You know, the dawn.
Take your food. Dear God, no other place in the continental United States takes items that should not be edible and makes them delectable: frog legs drenched in Crystal butter and apple slaw from Dick and Jenny’s, tripe in a spicy tomato sauce from Restaurant August, fried catfish nearly anywhere. The whole city is a great moveable feast –– as long as you can continue to move (and feast). And it’s filled with all the things doctors say we shouldn’t eat, the creams and butters and salts and spices that make New Orleans a food destination.
Yet what makes my wimpy West Coast stomach lining stagger doesn’t rouse a belch out of you natives. Sunday night, as I watched my friend Eve make her homemade (and fabulous) jambalaya, I saw her 3-year-old daughter reach for a stick of butter and jam it in her mouth the way other children treat lollipops.
“Uh, Eve,” I said, “do you want Ruby to do that?”
“Oh, it’s fine,” Eve responded. “My mom said I used to do the same thing.”
And if you New Orleanians know anything about food, you know even more about alcohol. “Do you want a breakfast beer?” Eve’s husband, Jamie, asked me.
A breakfast beer? Whoever heard of such a thing? No, thank you.
“But it’s Abita Strawberry,” he said, as if that explained something. To placate him, I said I’d try a sip.
Wow. Two delicious breakfast beers later, we headed to a little breakfast nook off Lake Pontchartrain to sit outside and enjoy some spicy Bloody Marys.
There are worse ways to spend a Saturday.
What astounds me, though, is how New Orleanians spend a Monday.
Eve and I attended the James Beard Foundation nominees announcement event. It started at 9 a.m., with Bloody Marys, strawberry-infused champagne, white chocolate brandy milk punches, turtle soup, crepes, eggs Benedict, fruits and pastries and God knows what else. At some point, I think some officials spoke, some names were read, but it was hard to notice in my food- and drink-induced coma.
Then it was off to the office, where Eve did some work, and I twirled in a chair.
Then to lunch, for wine paired with fried sole beignets, spring salad, chocolate crepes. Over the rim of my glass, already feeling full enough to roll, I asked Eve what she planned to do with the rest of her day.