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Choosing Sides

Company for your main courses.

Springtime is here, promising perfect weather for road trips, the beach and, of course, the special place in my heart reserved for that beloved American icon, Flo, the gum-smacking truckstop waitress who just took a break from chain-smoking to lean over your table, smile politely, and ask, “What sides you want, sugar booger?” Good sides might be hard to find out on highway land, but not in town. This spring break, before you head down to Florida with the family, let Grandma pack the picnic basket with the following sides instead of her terrified cat.

Collard greens and roasted corn cheese grits at Squeal Barbecue. After residing in North Carolina for four years, the barbecue elitism I was exposed to still haunts me. I told my friends I couldn’t pick sides in their porky civil war because I’m a supporter of most sauces and all barbecue seems to come in that abhorrent Styrofoam to-go box anyways. Squeal boasts a list of six sure bets from baked beans to corn maque choux. You like greens? Our server asked for good reason. When the collards arrived with my pork plate, I was thrust back to the sweet and tart vinegar days of yore with little plump bits of pork and the silky soft texture of the collard in all its sinful buttery glory. The grits are equally sinful, with roasted corn kernels immersed in the creamy cheese miracle that accompanies Squeal’s succulent pork barbecue so well.

The very amazingly thin onion rings at Mahony’s sandwich shop on Magazine Street. My yoga teacher is always telling me to engage my belly, but I think my belly would rather be engaged to these onion rings. This sandwich shop is also home to the bad boy of poor boys, the Peace Maker – fried oysters, bacon and cheddar cheese – and a root beer baked ham and cheese sandwich that calls for a Barq’s, but if you don’t add the crispy onions between bites, your arteries won’t be prepared for the upcoming marathon of deep fried wonders at Jazz Fest. Start training now.

Mahony’s onion rings are daintier and easier to handle than the ubiquitous cuff-sized rings that often times slough off their breading and arrive undercooked. Plus, you can eat them by the handful. Chips and fries take note.

Fried green tomatoes with boiled shrimp remoulade at Ye Olde College Inn. At this landmark on Carrollton Avenue, you’ll see plates of this savory splurge passing by in droves, accompanying salads and burgers alike. Ye Olde College Inn’s version of the classic Creole shrimp remoulade doesn’t disappoint. The creamy sauce boasts a nice, strong kick of pickle and capers. The tomatoes are decadent, fried with breading that isn’t overbearing to the juicy veggie, and they do a great job of cleaning the plate of sauce. You can also order this as a poor boy, but then again, what would you get as the side?

Tater Tachos at 13. Located on Frenchmen Street, this bar and grill offers up pizza and sandwiches – with healthier vegetarian options – but the allure of tater tots topped with nacho trimmings is hard to resist. Tater tots alone remind me of the cruel joke that was middle school lunch, and then of course a few years ago that movie Napoleon Dynamite caused a tater tot craze that nearly ruined me. My roommate at the time decided to destroy my large pot by deep-frying tots for a month. Even our walls turned yellow. Since then, my vehement hatred of tots has only been supplanted by the tater tachos at 13. Something wonderful happens when tots get topped with beans, salsa, sour cream and melted cheddar cheese, though this is probably not first date fare. The use of fork and knife is futile. You might opt instead for a bib, a cold beer and smile on your face. Just saying “tater tachos” should make you laugh a little.

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