Road Trip 2010: First Stop, New Orleans, LA
As of yesterday, we’ve embarked on a month long, sixteen state road trip traversing the central and western United States with no itinerary, a tent for ‘lodging,’ and a 2 door Honda Civic worth of luggage. Insanity, you say? Adventure, we respond.
I will say, though, that for all of my ability to simply “go with the flow,” there is a certain way to start a trip of this magnitude, the adjectives of which sound something like stress-free, relaxed and methodical, with the ultimate goal of being as prepared as possible for whatever obstacles lie ahead. What you shouldn’t hear the day before you leave is, “Mr. Blackwell, that car you’re planning on driving across the country needs new front tires, a left front axle, front brakes, adjusted rear brakes, air filter and a serious alignment after you hit that truck tire driving down to New Orleans some odd months back.” Oh, really? You don’t say? How ‘bout we fix that axle when I get back? Right…
Here’s where I insert my sincere and much needed public apology for allowing my wonderful parents to ‘handle’ the potentially trip ruining repairs. Mom and Dad, I am so very grateful.
Anyways, after a torturous amount of stress, tirelessly waiting around, and getting on a first name basis with the fine folks over at the Honda Service Center, we finally set off for our first stop, New Orleans, Louisiana, at 5 p.m. in the afternoon with dinner reservations at our favorite spot, Boucherie, four hours later. Which, as it so happens, is the exact amount of time that it takes to get there. Lucky us, huh?
Boucherie is our favorite spot in town for three reasons—it’s absurdly cheap, the food is awesome, and James, a server and part owner (I think), is a seriously knowledgeable beer geek who will, upon the slightest request, immaculately pair any chosen dish with a beer from Boucherie’s stellar beer list. In fact, he’s so good at pairing beer with food that I consider him a good friend, but only in a kind of weird and slightly creepy “he doesn’t even know who I am” kind of way, of course.
For this visit we went with a shared appetizer of Boudin balls, a heavily spiced rice sausage of traditional Cajun cuisine that is rolled and deep fried, with a creamy garlic aioli served alongside a bowl of perfectly fried pomme frites, aka French fries, topped with herb butter and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Both of which were delicious down to the very last scrapings on the plate, though the Boudin balls were missing the peppery crunch of arugula that had made them so delicious on numerous occasions before.
For an entrée, Brittany decided on seared scallops served with crunchy green beans alongside what I would consider a meaty and heavily acidic hybrid between tomato gravy and chutney. Whatever the case, the acidity of the tomato paired nicely with the richness of the impeccably seared scallops while the green beans provided a crunchy and remarkably fresh contrast to the meaty tomato sauce. For my entrée, I went with a pan seared duck breast, smoked black-eyed peas, duck cracklings, and a foie gras milk gravy—no further explanation necessary, if you ask me. To cut the richness and support the gently spiced duck, James recommended a Triple Karmalleit, a full-bodied, moderately carbonated, and distinctly “Belgian-tasting” beer brewed with a combination of three grains that results in a slightly spicy, herbal, and crisp compliment to the rich duck dish. Thanks James, I owe you one.
“Boucherie – sorry for quality, Iphone photo”
After dining at Boucherie we set off for the first night of our many planned nights camping at state parks in and around the cities where we’ll be exploring. Now, midnight in the pitch black of a riverside Louisiana state park probably isn’t the best time for a first time ‘tent pitching’ experience. Hell, a bright incandescent light bulb lit living room would have been perfect for a test run. But in an effort to make things as difficult as possible during a day when everything else had gone wrong, pitch black seemed like the right move.
Luckily and contrary to popular belief and movie portrayals, pitching a tent really isn’t all that difficult, even in the dark with way too many bugs around. The tent was set up in a mere twenty minutes thanks to Brittany’s intense and quite inspired workmanship. To be honest, I had fully expected the tent pitching to be a solo experience for myself, wrought with frustration, anger, and likely a few echoing obscenities. But what happened amazed me. Throw a special someone in a situation they absolutely don’t want to be in, but otherwise have no choice, make sure there’s a ton of bugs, a stress-filled day, and the urge to get a good night’s sleep and watch them go. It was like an experiment in human psychology at its finest, mainly because I was the observer and not the subject.
“Fairview Riverside State Park – Madisonville, Louisiana”
The next morning, on our way to head out for Austin, Texas, we set off on a “greatest hits” tour of New Orleans, featuring two of our favorite New Orleans specialties: Po-boys and Chocolate Azteca Gelato.
For the first, we went to the very place where we first experienced the meat packed, incredibly messy, and perfectly dressed Po-boy sandwich: Crabby Jacks. The small and eclectically decorated eatery is a local favorite for Po-boys, Boudin sausage, red beans and rice, and nearly every other New Orleans specialty you can think of, and with good reason, it’s delicious. For this visit we decided to share a 12” stewed Cajun pork Po-boy. It actually went by a more complicated, “French-like” name, but I can’t remember what it was, but who cares. It was good.
For dessert, we headed over to La Divina Gelateria for their Chocolate Azteca Gelato. There really isn’t much to say. La Divina, as we call it, is locally sourced, artisan quality, and basically the best gelato this side of Italy. And if you’ve never eaten chocolate ice cream spiced with Mexican spices like cayenne pepper, cardamom, ginger, etc. then you’re missing out. The sweet heat is to die for.
“La Davina Gelateria – Chocolate Azteca”
Now we’re off to explore Austin, Texas! Wish us luck!