NOLA Day One: Finally!

I got MAYBE 4 hours of sleep the night before we left for New Orleans. I hopped out of bed and was faced with the fact that I hadn’t really packed and was too excited to do all the things I needed to do to prepare for our departure. So, I watched TV. Snowpacolypse 11 was on it’s way to Nashville and I couldn’t help but worrying about getting caught in nasty weather, which would only delay my arrival in NOLA even more then life already had. I was freaked, but I persevered.

We got on the road right at our desired time of 8 AM. It was cold, but not snowing and we were going the opposite direction of the storm. Soon enough we were in Alabama and my mom and I were both peckish. Sure, we were on the way to one of the best eating cities on the planet…but that Denny’s sign was beckoning. See, we don’t have Denny’s in Nashville. I’ve spent a lot of fun hours in Denny’s. Sometimes a girl wants buffalo chicken fingers and a salad with ranch. This was one of those times. We ate our food, bought water and strawberry bubble gum and were back on the road in no time.

Next we hit Mississippi. Not a lot to say about that state. Not a lot going on there….at least along the interstate. It did, however, mark the last state between me and Louisiana. Once we got a ways into the Magnolia State, the rain started. A light steady rain fell on us. Not enough to wash the salt off my car from driving through areas anticipating snow, but enough to necessitate windshield wipers. Through that light rain I saw this sign:

My heart skipped a beat. The fleur de lis. The French Welcome. I was finally there. I was in Louisiana. A state I used to fear, that now consumed so many of my thoughts. I started bouncing in my seat and probably drove a bit faster….but I was to excited to really register such information. Betty (my mom’s GPS) was showing that we were getting closer and closer to NOLA, with only a huge lake, a lot of rain and lots of one way streets between us.

As we drove over the I-10 bridge I thought of the scenes I had seen from there during Hurricane Katrina. Scenes of people trying to evacuate but being told to turn back. Right off the exit of the interstate, there was Circle Food Store. The last image I had of it was this:

This store in the Seventh Ward had been a one stop shop for the neighborhoods surrounding it for nearly 70 years. Yet Katrina had other ideas. Many photos on the news and in the papers centered around this store. The infamous photos of Caucasians “getting necessary supplies” and African Americans “looting”….with the only difference being the color of their skin, were taken around the Corner Food Store. And there I was. Idling at a stop light, looking straight at it. It was a strangely special sight.

After some missed turns due to charming but oddly placed street signs, we arrived at our hotel. Nick, who would become our favorite valet, greeted us warmly and when I asked if he could make the weather get better…he said he’d try. In New Orleans, anything is possible. We checked into our room and were thrilled to find that we had not only one, but TWO balconies. Sure, they overlooked the parking atrium and it was 40 degrees and raining outside, but dammit, we had two wrought iron balconies. Wrought iron balconies in NOLA are just meant to be….

We took a short breather in the room and then set out for dinner. Our dining destination was a place I had wanted to go for easily over 10 years. I can’t remember where I first heard about it, but it stuck in my mind and every time New Orleans was discussed, I would think, “Man, I’ve got to go to dinner at Jacques-Imo’s!” That cold and rainy February night, I did just that. We drove through gorgeous Garden District mansions and found ourselves in Uptown driving down a crazy street towards a crazy restaurant. I dropped my mom off and found a parking space on a side street lined with cars that had all the wonderful liberal-leaning bumper stickers that make me comfortable. I almost thought that WWOZ bumper stickers were some sort of parking pass for the area.

I scampered through the rain, met up with my mom and as we were guided through the busy kitchen towards our table, I almost piddled. I mean, not really…but metaphorically, for sure! I ordered my Abita Strawberry and started munching on the delish cornbread muffins laid out before us. Covered in a sweet and garlicky sauce….I knew the night was going to live up to my expectations.

The poster above my mom’s head was this one:

It made me laugh. She was also sitting in front of a fairy figurine that was missing a leg and the walls and ceilings surrounding us were covered with painted flowers and vines. It was super noisy, but in that good convivial kind of way. We decided on the fried green tomatoes for an appetizer (mom couldn’t be swayed into trying the shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake!). The tomatoes were perfectly unripe with a savory breading and the bbq shrimp and remoulade that topped them were delectable. Huge gulf shrimp, heads still on, cooked perfectly and ready for eating! A small spinach salad with a plum sesame vinaigrette and one perfectly fried oyster also proceeded our main entrees.

Our entrees covered the spectrum of “regular” and “not so regular.” My mom LOVES fried chicken. She also happens to make some particularly amazing fried chicken. A coworker of mine said that Jacques-Imo’s had the best in the city, so that’s what she ordered. I, on the other hand, was feeling frisky and ordered the Paneed Rabbit entree. Pan fried rabbit served over pasta with a shrimp and tasso cream sauce.  Oh man, who knew the Easter Bunny could be so tasty. The breading was thick and flavorful and the meat itself was lean and flavorful. Like the best, meatiest chicken you’ve ever had. The creamy pasta and the spicy tasso and plump shrimp made me a super happy camper. I barely touched my macque choux and mashed sweet potatoes, but those were pretty damn good too. My mom said the chicken was good…but was kinda ticked at herself for not branching out a bit. However, the next morning when she was eating the leftovers…she was singing a different tune, and that tune LOVED that damn chicken.

We ventured back to the hotel in the rain. The plan had been to meet up with a family friend who was in town also. But the rain made that seem like a not so good idea, so we snuggled into our comfy beds and started anticipating the wonders the next day had in store.

Coming up: the $140 breakfast for two and how it was worth EVERY penny!

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