I’m not much of a cook but I’m a real hellion when it comes to ordering up a good meal. Would the kitchens of New Orleans (“It’s pronounced ‘Nawlins’ man! You sound like a fuckin’ limey!”) be up to the challenge?
I arrived in the Big Easy on the evening of Friday 7 November 2008 after 26 hours on the Amtrak Crescent train from Washington DC. My sleeper was very cosy and the views magnificent.
Miles and miles and miles of forests in their glowing fall colours, tiny hamlets painted by Norman Rockwell, long stretches of failed dismal outer suburbs not painted by Norman Rockwell, more beautiful forests, enormous military depots in Georgia where the autumn light turned the ranks of Abrams Main Battle Tanks into squat bronze terrapins and then sunset over the plashy bayou before the final run along the Lake Pontchartrain causeway across oily black moon-rippled waters into the glowing crescent of Nawlins.
The sleeping car attendant was suavely attentive to my needs (“Smoking stop in 10 minutes Mr N.”) and the lounge car very damn elastic about bar closing hours. But the dining car offered some pretty fucking indifferent cuisine and service.
“We do steak and eggs. Or warm chicken salad. How would you like it?”
“You really don’t want to start dissing me here honey.”
So I was feeling distinctly peckish by the time we were decanted around 7.30pm at the Union Passenger Terminal in Nawlins – a chunk of 1950s moderne brave new world of mass travel – right next to the crappy concrete brut 1970s Louisiana Superdome (which is quite a lot smaller than the MCG by the way – but better lit up at night).
Five minutes later a taxi (helmed by a 300 pound bloke who appeared to live in it) dropped me at my hotel in the French Quarter – a 170 year old charmingly dilapidated, sprawling and eccentrically renovated southern mansion run by a charmingly dilapidated, sprawling and eccentrically renovated southern family.
After unpacking and frisking my whiskers, I asked the hotel’s matriarch where would be a good place for a louche gentleman on the loose to enjoy some quality local cuisine before flanuering into the night.
Thirty minutes later I headed out into the Vieux Carré armed with a hand-drawn map marked with Xs everywhere and much juicy gossip about local activities. (Corruption in Nawlins city council elections!!?! Shocked I was!)
So anyway, to cut a rumbling stomach short, I ended up in front of Oliver’s Creole Restaurant on Decatur St at about 9pm on a Friday night. The place was buzzing and looked unlikely to accommodate a lone traveler trying pot luck – but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I pushed through the swing doors and was immediately bailed up by the Restaurant Captain (An American variant of maitre d’) who looked and sounded like a wiry aging ex-hippy version of Burl Ives. Magnificent sideburns. Or as my grandmother called ‘em “bugger’s grips.” I chose not to share this observation with the man who was gonna get me a table.