It's Carnival Time!
This year my birthday falls on Lundi Gras. It won’t happen again in my lifetime, and that’s fine with me. It’s hard enough to get a reservation for dinner on a Monday night, but throw Carnival into the mix, and you’re in trouble. Although Haute Plates is clearly the best and most widely read column on food and dining in New Orleans, I am humble about it. I would never try to take advantage of my fame by asking for special treatment at a restaurant. At least not after my last 73 attempts failed miserably.
Not that I make a big deal of my birthday. I’m turning 42, and while I’m not exactly staring mortality in the face, it’s hard to get too fired up about adding another year to that total. So I’m not doing much in the way of celebrating this year. I’ll have a few folks over; we’ll have a nice meal and drink a bottle or three of wine, and on Fat Tuesday I’ll wake up and go about the business of celebrating the last day of Carnival like everyone else. Everyone else who is a famous, handsome and beloved food writer, that is.
Over the years I’ve had pretty good luck catching night parades at restaurants along the parade routes. More than a decade ago I joined some friends at Mike’s on the Avenue (in its original incarnation) to watch some parade or other. I was more interested in the food at the time, which was, well, very similar to what you’ll find there now. Mike’s is still a great place to catch a parade and have a good meal. Even if you’re dining when the parade rolls by, the view through the massive windows that open onto St. Charles Avenue is a pretty sweet way to view things.
Herbsaint, which is just down the block from Mike’s, is another excellent place to catch a parade. You won’t see the parade through the restaurant’s St. Charles Avenue windows, but that’s only because they have built stands that are open only to customers. Herbsaint is a fantastic restaurant, and the staff there knows how to have a good time. As of this writing, it’s booked for Friday and Saturday but has spaces available for Sunday night. It’s closed on Monday and Tuesday, alas.
Dominique’s on Magazine has taken a different tack: The restaurant has offered a buyout for auction on eBay. The highest bidder and up to 50 guests get the restaurant’s hospitality, food and drinks, with a percentage of the proceeds going to St. George’s school. Dominique’s hasn’t been open that long, but my experiences there have been excellent. There’s a small porch on the front of the restaurant that looks to me to be a good place to watch a procession. I don’t know if the auction is still open, but you might give the restaurant a call at 894-8881 to see what’s available.
When I was a kid, my parents and a whole gaggle of neighbors would hit the Uptown parades on Fat Tuesday. Every year we loaded the massive station wagon with the same things: Capri Suns and soft drinks for the kids, beer for the adults and Popeyes fried chicken for everyone. I think even the infants were fed a puree of Popeyes – the mild variety; we weren’t savages. I don’t eat Popeyes very often now – I’m not sure the last time I had it – but fried chicken is one dish that may actually benefit from the fast food treatment.
Frying chicken is a chore. It requires large amounts of oil and a fair bit of preparation and usually leaves the kitchen fragrant for days afterward. But it’s also the perfect dish to be made by an assembly line process. Once you master the craft – the temperature of the oil, the seasoning and the coating – you can keep frying for hours. Popeyes does a pretty damn good job, and I certainly don’t look back on that fried chicken with anything but nostalgia. I imagine I’m not alone.
With that in mind, what are your Carnival traditions with regard to food? Any picnic dishes that you always bring? Drinks you can’t do without? What restaurants do you visit along the parade routes? Share, won’t you? If you don’t, Charlie Sheen will show up at your next party. I have his number on speed dial, and I’m pretty sure he’s not busy this weekend …