New Orleans Adventure-Food and meeting the Green Fairy

We recently took a trip to New Orleans.  I had never been there, and it was on my list of places to go.  I had heard many wonderful things about the city, and finally made time visit. So glad we did.

What struck me  almost immediately was the vibe of this city.  It has a very weathered, grimy feel. There is a feeling of old memories and a veneer of wisdom.  In the French Quarter, the buildings are old and open, with high ceilings, peeling paint and cracks in the stucco.  It is romantic and alluring.  History oozes out of every crack and chip.  It is seductive.

And the food.

I went off of my vegan regimen (see previous post on that story…) and took in all that the city offers. First, to get the beignet.  We went to Cafe’ Beignet, as it was near our hotel.  Ordered our coffee and beignets, and had a seat in the courtyard. It’s around 9:30 AM and there is live music playing. An awesome jazz/blues group at breakfast.  The beignets were good; I confess, I’m not a big sweets person, but you have to try them, right?

 

On to oysters. Damn. They were perfect.  Raw oysters tell the tale of the ocean like no other shellfish.  Briny, but sweet and tender, they  bring alive all of your taste buds.  The gentleman shucking the dozen shown here has shucked over 3 million oysters, give or take.  For real.

New Orleans oysters

 

On to the best meal of the trip. We went to GW Fins, in the French Quarter. Known for its seafood, I had one of the best meals I have had in years.  No joke.  A delightful salmon carpaccio as an appetizer had the perfect blend of acid with the fish sliced paper-thin.  My main course is a specialty known as “Scalibut”.  It is a combination of scallops and halibut with lobster risotto, snow peas and pea shoot butter.  This was outstanding, cooked to perfection.  The pea shoot butter added an earthy softness that  pulled all of the flavors and textures together. Divine.

 

The service here was also the best I have seen in a long time. Nick knew the menu inside and out, and recommended the perfect wine pairings. He is spot on.  This place is a do not miss; make sure to try it. (Dare I say, went we to Emeril’s and I think GW Fins is better..)

But on to my favorite ritual.

Absinthe, aka “The Green Fairy”.

Absinthe is a spirit that has its roots in Switzerland and was made in the early 17th century.  The mystique of absinthe was that it had hallucinogenic properties, which caused it to be banned for sale in many countries in the 1920s. Favored by artists, poets and writers, it was the signature drink amongst the Bohemian set.  Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, and Ernest Hemingway all imbibed.  Oscar Wilde stated about absinthe:

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Absinthe does contain thujone, a chemical in the plant wormwood, the main floral in absinthe.  But you would have to consume enormous quantities for it to have any effect.  The more likely cause of  seeing pink elephants is the high alcohol content, up to 138 proof. It has a licorice taste from anise, along with other botanicals. I’m not a huge licorice fan, so I drink the “Mata Hari” brand, less licorice, more florals.

But one of the best things about absinthe is how you drink it.  There is a ritual around how the spirit is prepared.  The ritual conjures up images of bistros in France, with artists romancing show girls.  Decadence, bawdiness, and passion. The ritual itself is as intoxicating as the spirit.

First, you need an absinthe spoon. (These are really cool, and I want an antique one!)

New Orleans absinthe spoons

Place the absinthe spoon over the glass and place a sugar cube on the spoon.

New Orleans absinthe1

 

Pour the absinthe over the sugar cube into the glass. Take a moment to appreciate the beautiful green color.

New Orleans abinsthe2

Light the sugar cube so that it melts into the glass.

New Orleans absinthe3

Add cold water to create the “louche”, the cloudy appearance the absinthe takes on when the water is added.

 

 

 

 

New Orleans absinthe5

 

Sip and experience “The Green Fairy”.

My absinthe experience was in the “Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House“, a bar that is over 200 years old. The bar is like a stage set, with peeling paint and old carved woodwork.  If you are going to try absinthe, this is the bar to try it in. With over 20 types to choose from, you will find one that suits your palate.

I was captivated by New Orleans. It is a magical, mysterious place.  And you need to walk through it, to experience all of the sounds, the fragrances and to feel the pulse of the city.

And get to know the Green Fairy.  Quite the lady.

new orleans green fairy

 

 

 

 

 

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Where Everybody Knows Your Name

 

cheers

The hangout. The go-to place. We all have one. But why?  Why have one place that you go to repeatedly? What is the allure to going to the same location, having the same experience over and over? Where is the fun in that?

The answer is:

Familiarity breeds well, familiarity. In other words, sometimes you just need a place that you can count on. Your happy spot. Your own version of “Cheers”.

We have lived in our new location for 2 years now, and while we enjoy eating out at all different types of places, we didn’t have our hangout.  And we missed that.

Growing up, I had a few places that were my hangouts. The Tewksbury Inn in Oldwick NJ, used to be a great bar and restaurant. The Inn was old, and the bar was an enormous old-fashioned wooden bar. The bathrooms were labeled “Bucks” and “Does” and there were deer heads mounted on the wall wearing hats, Hawaiian leis and smoking cigarettes.  You could get a burger and a pitcher of beer inexpensively and listen to local blues or bluegrass musicians.  But, as time went on, it was sold. The deer heads came down, and matching wallpaper and curtains went up. And so did the prices…. you can check it out here, but it ain’t no hangout…. $33 entrees, sheesh.

There was also Bernie’s Hillside Lounge in Chester, NJ.  Bernie’s has been around for a long time, and used to host  some well-known jazz musicians, like Bix  Beiderbecke.  I used to go there to listen to the Blue Sparks From Hell, a local band that played R & B, swing and blues. Frontman C.J. Tucker, was both talented and entertaining.  Sadly, Tucker has passed away, and the band is no longer playing.  But check them out on YouTube. Listen to one of their best songs “Caledonia”.  Bernie’s is still growing strong, playing music.  Stop in.

The Stanhope House in Stanhope, NJ was a haven for great music.  It was the place where everyone went to dance and drink. Sawdust on the floor, and plenty of graffiti in the restrooms.  Stevie Ray Vaughn and Buddy Guy were some of the notables that played here. I danced the night away many time, reveling in blues and R & B. I have a term for places like this.  It was my “clean dirty bar”.  Tidy enough to just barely pass a health inspection, but gritty,  colorful and raw.  Loved it.  It had closed for a time, but since has reopened, and back to being a roadhouse.  I haven’t been back in years, but may take a trip to see  if it’s still dirty.

So back to why we like our hangouts. Sometimes we need to go somewhere that doesn’t change much. After a day or a week of challenges, we all need to have some continuity.  And a hangout offers that. My requirements for a place to be a hangout are:

Casual Atmosphere-nothing fancy. I want to be able to go right from the horse barn in my horsey clothes to the hangout. No cloth tablecloths. No coordinating curtains and wallpaper. Just tables and a bar. Fireplace is a plus.

Great food with entrees under $20-yes, it can be done.  A hangout offers well priced entrees cooked superbly, plus burgers, salads and soups.  And some specials. No overdone plating, no foam, no pyrotechnics. Just fine fresh food cooked well.

A large selection of beer, wine and spirits- an extensive and changing craft beer list is a must.  With so many craft beers, local wineries and distilleries opening, I want to see  an establishment support local products IF- and only IF- they are quality.  And hard cider.  Love hard cider.

Friendly staff- without a doubt, one of the most important features of a hangout. Personable wait staff who know the menu, and are pleasant and chatty go a long way with me.  And a bartender who will remember what I like to order.  Remember, I can go anywhere, so if you get to know me I will be back. No surly or pretentious attitudes at a hangout.  No way.

We finally discovered our hangout here in Bucks County, PA. Becker’s Corner is located right near the beautiful Lake Nockamixon in Quakertown PA.  It meets all of the above requirements, and we head there whenever we don’t feel like cooking,  and we just want some time together.  We have gone there with friends, and we now run into people we know. And they have hard cider on tap. Perfect. Give this place a try.  You won’t be disappointed. And hey, we may meet at the bar.

What is your hangout?  What makes a place a hangout for you?  Share your place, spread the word.  Everyone need a place to hang out.