11 June 2011

Heaven is spelled N.O.L.A. Part 4

Saturday morning we were feeling lazy, so instead of looking up the various methods of public transportation to Jazz Fest we simply phoned the front desk for a cab. 10 minutes later we were on the road. One great bonus that came with being lazy is we drove right past the Superdome which has to be one of the most impressive man-made structures I’ve ever seen. It looked like a steampunk airship battle arena. I loved how it wasn’t plastered with advertising like so many other stadiums are these days. A very impressive sight indeed.

The cabbie dropped us off at about 10:40 so instead of waiting around for 20 minutes for the gates to open I decided to go check out Parkway Bakery now instead of waiting until after the festival. A short walk had us in front of the doors and what I thought as the first people in line.

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Little did I know there was a back entrance, luckily there were still only a handful of people waiting.

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The ordering process was still pretty sluggish, but I didn’t mind since the reason for this was that the guy behind the register took care to find out exactly what each patron wanted it and wasn’t shy about providing suggestions. When it finally came to my turn I went with a roast beef w/gravy po boy, dressed, extra pickles, a diet Barq’s (I didn’t care that it came in a plastic bottle instead of glass) and Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators potato chips, after the guy told me they were the best-seller.

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I munched the chips (modeled by my lovely wife above) while we waited for our sandwiches. They were pretty disappointing, and in my opinion extremely overrated. People rave about these things? They had a nice crunch from a thicker than average cut, but the flavoring was pretty much non-existant. A waste of precious stomach space!

After a short 10 minute wait my name was called. As we finally sat down with our sandwiches I was very fortunate to have the foresight to peel mine open like a Chipotle burrito.

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Genius move, because the bread was completely soaked through before I even opened it and would’ve disintegrated in my hands.

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The sandwich did benefit from this however, because after trying a bite of the Mrs. fried shrimp po boy, the semi-tough bread made no less than six fried shrimp shoot out of the sides. I’m pretty sure one shot across the room and took an old lady out at the knees. I wasted no time in going over to silence her cries. Nasty work, that, but I felt obligated to finish the job. Mores the pity.

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The beef tasted like straight up uber pot roast. The long thick shreds of beef were pretty terrific and the crunchy pickle slices added some much needed texture. The table hot sauce complimented the sandwich dandily. It also worked quite well with the fried shrimp, creating a buffalo shrimp sandwich of sorts, a personal favorite of mine.

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The fried coating on the shrimp was just a shade tough, but I couldn’t deny the strong presence of fresh shrimpenis. These sandwiches were damn good, but I think they’re a tad overrated. I know most people would say that a sandwich is a sandwich and that someone shouldn’t have such high expecations. I would say it’s very likely those persons have never had Tony Luke’s or Johnnie’s Beef.

We got back to Jazz Fest and entered the main gates just after noon.

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The Mrs. noticed the craft stalls peppered along the entrance so we spent our first minutes browsing all of the interesting vendors. We were both trying to stay hydrated so I grabbed us a large Rosemint Iced Tea that I’d read so many good things about on Chowhound.

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It was light and easy to drink, with a light presence of mint and the dominant flavor being rose. I didn’t think it was too floral, which would’ve immediately turned me off, but the Mrs. didn’t care for it.

Originally I’d planned on hitting Prejean’s gumbo and the Cochon de Lait Po’boy first, but since we’d just had po’boys we nabbed a cup of gumbo first while I contemplated our options.

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Now this was some damn tasty gumbo. Just look how freakin’ dark it is!

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It was a lot more spice forward and the winged creature (I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the pheasant and the quail) was sublime. The sheer amount of tender, succulent meat in the cup really surprised me.

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I did prefer the popping texture of the rice at Mr. B’s, but otherwise I considered this to be the superior gumbo by a fair amount.

I decided to try the Crawfish Monica next, despite reading that it’s too heavy for this type of event. Well, I’m most certainly glad I didn’t listen to that dumb bitch because this dish was amazing.

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Definitely one of the top 10 pasta dishes I’ve ever had. It reminded me of a hot crab salad. I’d never had straight up crawfish tails before and for me they landed somewhere between crab and shrimp. The pasta was perfectly al dente, and the sauce was creamy without being heavy. But what really made this dish sing was a hearty application of hot sauce. I’m glad I grabbed a fistful of them after ordering. They made a world of difference. They added a little saltiness and a nice buttery heat that elevated the dish to crave-worthy status. This was definitely one of our favorite dishes of the weekend. Whoever Monica is, I bet she’s a pretty good lay.

After eating we wandered around a bit, checking out a band here and there. I think the first band we stopped to watch was the Dixie Cups, but we didn't stay long due to the insane crush of people crowding around the stage.

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I expressed interest at checking out some cooking demos so we made our way over to Zatarain's Food Heritage stage inside the grandstand. We stayed for two cooking demonstrations: We caught the last half of Chris Montero making a pot of Creole Turtle Soup and then we watched Susan Spicer of Bayona, the main chef I wanted to watch, make some Crab Stuffed Artichokes with Tomato Vinaigrette.

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While both of these dishes were far from pretty, the flavors were quite impressive. The Creole Turtle Soup blew Commander's Palace version out of the water (more on that in my Sunday post), but what really impressed me was the bright zing from the fresh tomato vinaigrette from Susan Spicer. It was clean, simple, and fresh. Yet another sauce I'd like to bathe in. And not the last, either.

Next up we decided to try two more so-called "can't miss" dishes the Crawfish Strudel and the White Chocolate Bread Pudding from Coffee Cottage Catering.

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The strudel was a very hearty and filling dish. The strudel was nice and flaky and a touch greasy, which didn't detract from the dish. The flavors brought to mind the strong acidic punch of a cheesy eggplant parmesan, with a little spice in the end.

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My only complaint was that the flavor of the crawfish tails was long among all of the other dominant flavors. The bread pudding on the other hand, blew my sack back.

This was definitely the best bread pudding we had all weekend long. I wish I'd gotten more photos of it, but I was too busy making sweet stanky love to it. Yes, not stinky, but straight stanky love. The sauce was very rich and the bread pudding itself was so smooth and custardy. It coated the mouth and wasn't too sweet. This was the first time I haven't missed raisins in a traditional bread pudding. This dish was simple and executed to sheer perfection. While I can't say the strudel was a "can't miss" dish, this bread pudding defined the term.

At this point we walked around a bit more, checking out some more vendors and stopping to watch the Hot 8 Brass Band for a bit. The Mrs. picked up a sweet hat at one of the vendors, which she wore pretty much continuously for the remainder of the trip. I wasn't complaining, she made that shit work! I got a really bad haircut a week before we left, but unfortunately I have a gargantuan ogre freak-head, so none of the hats fit me.

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With our sweet-tooth not quite satiated the wife expressed interest in trying a Mango Freeze. I was hesitant to try it, expecting some bullshit artificial mango-flavored icee. I couldn'tve been more wrong.

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I honestly think this dish is more mango than ice. It was velvety smooth and punch you in the tit with tart-sweet mango flavor. A great cold treat on a beautiful sunny New Orleans day.

At some point in our journeys we also picked up an Iced Cafe au Lait for myself and an Old Fashioned Hand Made Ice Cream Sandwich from La Divinia Gelateria on wheels. It was literally served out of a small portable freezer on the back of this chick's bike.

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The coffee was great, and I eagerly gulped it down. In a matter of moments I was so wired I felt like I could've sprinted all the way back to Maryland. The ice cream sandwich on the other hand was pretty lame. I understand they were trying to go all "old-fashioned" on us, but this thing honestly wasn't even as good as the ones you can find in the freezer section at 7-11. Definitely the most disappointing item we tried at the festival.

We had time for one more round of treats before making our way over to the Acura stage to see Bon Jovi. I still had a huge list of dishes I wanted to try: The Cochon de Lait Po'boy, the Fried Soft-Shelled Crab Po'boy, the Shrimp and Grits, the Fried Eggplant with Crawfish Sauce... among many others. After a quick discussion with the wife, we said screw it, we wanted to end the fest on a high note, so we went back for a second round of our two favorite dishes.

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This time around I opted for the large portion of Crawfish Monica, and three hot sauce packets was the perfect amount to send it off into another stratosphere of flavor. We didn't regret this decision for a millisecond. Goddamnit, I wish I had those two dishes in front of me right now...

Seeing Bon Jovi really capped off the experience perfectly. He somehow sounded better than he does in their albums, which was truly a feat in itself considering how long they've been together. His voice is so rich and soulful, and not in an annoying way. One thing that did start to wear on me, was his stage antics, which were clearly directed towards the females in the audience. I mean how many times can you shake your ass and reach towards the camera and do spirit fingers?

Now I'm no Bon Jovi fanboy or anything, there are definitely better bands out there, but you bet your ass I was screaming my head off when the first song of their two song encore was Wanted Dead or Alive. That's one of my signature Rockband jams. The only song they didn't play that I wanted to hear was Blaze of Glory, but after such a great day, I couldn't complain.

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So that's it for this post. While our day at Jazz Fest had come to an end, our night was just getting started.


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