M.'s starting a prestigious Ph.D program in Chicago, and so we've decided that before we settle down in the Windy City, we should tour the country a little bit, meet friends and see what there is to see.
Our trip took us from Dallas to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi to Memphis, then St. Louis, a brief interlude in Chicago and then back to the Mississippi in Minneapolis.
From there we headed back to Chicago, where I currently am. In a few days I'll be heading back to Israel to finish my goddamn degree, and M. will stay here. In about a year (not counting visits) I'll fly back to Chicago and settle down here for the next few years at least. As M. is now on official university business, I've found myself with a little bit of free time and thought I'd update this thing with the culinary aspects of our trip.
We stayed in Dallas with some polyamorous, goth artist friends whom I've taught to prepare Israeli/Palestinian-style Turkish coffee (Red Nahlé, if you're curious) tahinni and derivatives thereof (El-Gamal brand, of which I've brought them two industrial sized tubs - which they ate with Doritos, of all things) and shakshuka, all of which we ate between naked pool parties and excursions to classic Texas diners (chicken-fried steak covered in white breakfast gravy and sunny-side-up eggs, served with southern biscuits. Never again.) and all-you-can-eat sushi buffets (Never. Again.).
From Dallas we flew to New Orleans, where the best thing I ate, just like the best music we heard, was on the street, near Jackson Square.
New Orleans is an amazing city. The damage inflicted by Katrina, even ten years after the storm, is palpable almost everywhere you look; broken sidewalks, boarded-up buildings, overgrown lots and damaged masonry are prominent, and many of the city's denizens do not seem well off. Nevertheless, the French Quarter is filled with music, the Garden District is buzzing with chic entrepreneurial businesses and the avenues in the less "touristy" areas can be surprisingly interesting.
After walking for about an hour down dilapidated sidewalks in the Tremé neighbourhood from our AirBnB apartment towards the river, we suddenly hit the Quarter - Bourbon street. Being famished and unsure of where else we could eat, we settled on a tourist-trap looking place on Bourbon and ordered a sampler dish of local staples - red beans and rice, Gumbo and crawfish Étouffée. Despite the cheap venue, these were all surprisingly good, as was the s'mores bread pudding we had for dessert. Still, after getting to know the Quarter and its surroundings, I would not recommend staying on Bourbon a moment more than you have to. The city has a lot more to offer than the tourist traps on that street and your time and money would be better spent in other, more interesting, places.
That's not to say that a search for the "Authentic" should be the driving force behind your trip to New Orleans. Some tourist traps are definitely worth your time - the Voodoo museum, for instance, as well as Magazine street.
NOLA being what it is, it's impossible not to eat well there - we had some great mushrooms and grits at The Green Goddess as well as veal covered in a crawfish sauce at Adolfo's on Frenchman street - but the two most enjoyable consumables we ate were right near Jackson Square, were very cheap and unfussy, and were accompanied by the city's biggest drawing factor in my opinion - its street music.
The first was beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe Du Mond. Simple, sweet and sticky, this was a perfect interlude between our wanderings in the Quarter, and very satisfying.
They're open 24/7 so you really don't have any excuse not to try them out at least once when you're in the city. We went every day.
|look at how good that is.|
|Reading up on a very pink Time Traveller's Wife before we reach Chicago|
But after all of the expensive restaurant food and fancy bands we heard play in smoky bars, the absolute best experience we've had in both respects was sitting right in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, listening to the amazingly talented street musicians jam on the benches around us, and eating a home-made tamale sold by a Mexican man selling them from a greasy plastic bag.
|Bliss. Check out the sax and banjo players in the background.|
Two other places that cannot go unmentioned are the Corner Muse and Stein's Market & Deli on Magazine street.
I cannot stress enough how cool the Corner Muse is. We walked in after walking there from the Quarter on a very hot day. We were tired, peckish and very hot, and so the sign saying "Snowballs" (also known as shaved ice) beckoned to us. Inside, an extremely colourful décor greeted us, filled with school kids on their way back home, all eating and slurping down even more colourful snowballs. Vanessa, the owner, knew all the kids by name, made all the fruit syrups flavouring the shaved ice herself and generally made the place feel like an idyllic, Disney-channel like place where overly saturated, sweet childhood memories are made. Just the atmosphere itself was great, but so were the snowballs, and I wish I could go back every week.
Stein's Deli was very atmospheric as well, but in a very different way. Cynical, self aware, hipstery and unapologetic, they had a dazzling array of beers and sausages. I decided to try a New Orleansean staple there, the Muffaletta, and was not disappointed. If you happen to pass by, drop in and order something, you won't regret it.
Up next - Jackson, Mississippi - also known as Buttfuck, Nowhere and Why Did I Come Here, Oh Yeah I Was Just Leaving - as well as Memphis, Tennessee, the surprisingly awesome St. Louis, Missouri and some recipes.