Happy Blogoversary & FQF Revisited

Well, folks, we’re coming up on my one-year anniversary on the blogosphere, (blogoversary?). My first post, originally a guest post on Nolanotes, was a review of the French Quarter Fest. In light of my blogoversary and the the kickoff of FQF this weekend, I present for you, once again, my first blog posts (originally in 3 parts, I was pretty wordy back then).

I also somehow managed to work Ignatius Reilly in right off the bat.

French Quarter Fest ’07

Hello everyone, Pontchartrain Pete here (just call me Pete, Pontchartain can be hard to spell and is too long to type). Today’s my first stint as guest blogger for Nola at nolanotes and for this and future posts I’ll keep with the “all things New Orleans” theme. Being single and male, your author will not, however, be discussing any issues relating to pregnancy, childbirth or spousal strife.

One continuing theme is going to be “the things that are ours.” Although not fully developed, the idea is that there are certain things that are unique New Orleans things, and it just happens that these things are also the things that draw “the others” to town.

I’ll try to more fully develop this topic in later posts, let’s go to a really big “thing that is ours,” this year’s French Quarter Festival.

Today’s entry is part one of a photo-filled review of my day’s adventures at the French Quarter Festival on Friday the 13th of May, 2007. My first foray to the French Quarter Fest (FQF) since moving to the Northshore in 2001 and it was long overdue.

For those of you unfamiliar with the FQF, it’s considered to be “one for the locals.” Three days of food, fun and music. It’s spread out from one end of the Quarter at the Old Mint on Esplanade to the Aquarium of the Americas at the foot of Canal. Food booths, featuring many of the city’s best restaurants, line the different venues; various stages scattered about feature local musicians, mostly of the rhythm and blues, soul and big-band variety.

I arrived around 12:30, met my sister who lives on Royal Street (a possible future entry) and borrowed the coveted French Quarter resident’s parking pass she has, a talisman against towing and tickets throughout most of the Quarter except on street cleaning days. I took a parking place next to the Lalaurie House at Royal and Governor Nichols streets (the subject of another future post).

It was an absolutely gorgeous day. They’re getting rare now. Even though spring has just arrived, in New Orleans that means it’s just as likely to be in the 80’s and muggy. Today it was in the 70’s, dry and with a stiff breeze blowing along the river. It’s always nice by the river; if there is the slightest chance of a breeze, that’s where you can find it.

Here’s a scene of the crowd in Jackson Square.

The plan was to eat. Having saved myself for this festival of food, I wanted to hit a couple of booths right away. The restaurants there each had a couple of items, supposedly appetizer-sized, and priced from 3-6 dollars.

I headed straight to an old stand-by, Mrs. Wheat’s Meat and Crawfish pies for a meat pie. Hot, spicy, meaty, everything I expected. Next was a walk around Jackson Square. Antoine’s and Tujague’s booths stood out, representing the old guard of New Orleans restaurants, the oldest and second oldest restaurants in town.

Never having eaten at either establishment (my family has had a long-running preference for Galatoire’s) I decided to check out Tujage’s boiled beef brisket with horseradish sauce. Fantastic. Tender and juicy, the plain beefiness of the boiled brisket was complemented perfectly by the creole horseradish sauce, tangy and pungent.

I headed across Decatur to the Washington Artillery monument, the spot with the “money shot” view of Jackson Square, took a couple of pictures and headed towards Woldenberg Park.

Although most of buggy drivers hanging out in front of Jackson Square were old-school (grizzled old men), I did spot the cutest driver ever.

Coming up in part two (and maybe part three): shrimp etouffee, UFO’s, F15’s, crawfish bisque, sharks, bubbles, angels, haunted houses, the Blessed Mother, courtyards and ice cream.

Part 2

Moving on…still Friday the 13th at the French Quarter Fest…

To Woldenberg Park, and another extended outlay of music stages and food booths. As I was looking around trying to plot a strategy, I heard a loud plane overhead, and looking above spotted an F15 flying fast and low over the riverfront. I picked up my camera and switched it on, hoping the plane would circle back around.

As I watched it disappear into the distance I heard another one from behind. It was actually two more planes, and one began turning barrel rolls as it passed over the crowd. Ready with camera this time, I snapped as it came out of a roll.

I don’t know what the occasion was, whether the fly-over was planned as part of the festival or something spontaneous by the pilots who were returning from training, but it was really cool. It also reminded me of another unique incident involving an aircraft.

Remember NOLA’s post on her gumbo-making afternoon? Along with other odd sightings she mentioned and posted pictures of, there was an earlier incident she failed to mention. We spotted a UFO, which she refused to believe existed, but nonetheless here is a picture of it I took as it rose above the electrical lines.

Or was NOLA right and it was just a blimp flying around town in the sleet?

Update: Now who’s crazy?

Back at the festival, I was beginning to feel a little thirsty when I spotted the Tropical Isle’s booth, featuring their famous funky drinks, the Hand Grenade, the Happy Gator, and the Tropical Itch. The first two were of a fluorescent greenish/yellow color, the last was red. A general rule of mine is RED DRINK GOOD. So the Tropical Itch was what I bought. It was kind of like a Pat O’s Hurricane, fruit punch with booze. Very refreshing.

My sister who lives and works in the Quarter called. She wanted to sample the Rib Room’s festival offering–shaved prime rib sandwiches. I just happened to be on the river walk near that booth, so I found a spot to sit next this rather severe-looking immigrant family.

A monument to the European immigrants who populated the city, this impressive sculpture is one of many along the walk between Jackson Square and the Aquarium.

Cell phones are great for festivals. It was not too long ago that elaborate plans had to be made if a group wanted to split up. Temporal and geographical coordinates had to be agreed on. Common landmarks were often picked that eventually became cultural icons. For Jazzfest it was always “meet me at the flagpole at ____o’clock.” Before the cellphone, there was always a big crowd under the flagpole; its usefulness declined as its popularity increased–you had a hard time spotting the people you were waiting for.

Speaking of cultural icons, remember Ignatius J. Riley’s rendevous point–the clock in front of D.H. Holmes?

Since my sister did not know where the immigant monument was, it took 4 cellphone calls asking “where are you?” to talk her in from Jackson Square. She finally made it and got her beefy sandwich delight.

I had to get a picture of this banner the Aquarium put up.

A reminder to us all: Live every week like it’s shark week.

Summing up Friday at the French Quarter Fest, sister and I walked back to Jackson Square where I resisted the temptation to get more Tujague’s brisket and instead tried the crawfish bisque from Antoine’s.

Then dessert, some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which I photographed and will spare you the melted pile of chocolaty goo.

I walked back to my sister’s; remember I had parked near her apartment? Very tired, starting to get sore, but the weather was still killer and the Quarter looked beautiful. At St. Philip and Royal someone had a bubble machine set up alongside the angel on their balcony.

New Orleans is a very Catholic town; public religious statuary abounds. The courtyard of my sister’s building has one of the most common ones you’ll see, a small statue of the Blessed Mother.

The topic of courtyards in the French Quarter (another one of “our things”) is one I’ll delve into deeply in a future post. Suffice it to say this is one of the few I get to enjoy on a regular basis.

Accross the street from my sister’s is one of the supposedly most haunted places in the world, the Lalaurie House. It’s a favorite stop on the “haunted history tours” that have become so popular in the city.

Along with Brad and Angelina’s place one block down and Frances Ford Coppola’s place one block up, the Lalaurie house is now also one of the area’s celebrity properties, having recently been purchased (according to reliable sources) by Nicholas Cage.

Part 3

In exile on the Northshore for 5 years now, I always enjoy having time to spend in the city. Having partners-in-crime always helps, and this past weekend it was none other than Nola, Captain Sarcastic and my sister, with guest appearances from Nola and CS’ menagerie, Lucy, Zella and Peanut.

Saturday started in a fine New Orleans tradition, a breakfast of beignets and cafe au lait at the Morning Call. Not as well known to the outside world as its French Quarter counterpart Cafe Du Monde, the Morning Call was originally located in the Quarter and in its day was probably the more well-known of the two.

Both are as old as the hills, Cafe Du Monde established in 1862; Morning Call in 1870. Morning Call moved to the Fat City section of Metairie near Lakeside Mall in 1974. I remember having my first beignet ever as a child at the French Quarter location shortly before the move to Metairie was announced. I thought at the time it was crazy, “Who would want to move to Metairie?”–like a fourth grader in Algiers is wise about these things.

Saturday’s offerings of strong coffee and hot crisp fried dough covered in powdered sugar ($1.50 for the coffee, $1.50 for the donuts, sweet!–really!) brought back memories. Most of the crowd seemed to be regulars who greeted each other in accents straight out da’ parish (St. Bernard Parish, that is). It made me wonder if I was indeed west of the 17th Street Canal.

A side trip to the knitting store will go uncommented upon; its only redeeming feature is that it was very close to my intended goal for the day: Nor-Joe’s Imports.

What can you say about Nor-Joe’s? This precious little grocery, tucked away off Metairie Road in Old Metairie, is a culinary and cultural gem. New Orleans, despite its French roots, is crawling with Italians and Scilians. Immigrants arrived by the boatload in New Orleans just as they did at Ellis Island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their culinary traditions are deeply rooted in the city and Italian cuisine is almost as revered as is Creole cuisine (in fact, there is a whole sub-genre of Creole-Italian cooking). Go to Cafe Giovanni, Andrea’s, Sal & Judy’s or Impastato’s to see for yourself.

You walk in and immediately what I call “that Nor-Joe’s smell” hits you. Meats, cheeses, salt cod and dried herbs hang from the beams. Along with stuffed olives, stuffed artichokes and cheeses marinating on display behind the small deli counter, it’s got to smell like Italy will smell if I ever get there.

NOLA was impressed. She said it reminded her of Central Grocery, one of the oldest Italian stores in the French Quarter (and inventor of the muffuletta sandwich). Nor-Joe’s has the reputation for making a darn good muffuletta, and every time I visit there the deli is filling orders for them non-stop.

During a lull in her muffuletta-making, I asked the nice lady behind the counter for a quarter pound of serrano ham. Normally I would get some Italian prosciutto, but I spotted the serrano in the case and decided to give it a try. From Spain and similar to prosciutto, it’s a dry-cured salty treat.

She asked me whether I wanted the “red” one. I assumed she was referring to the label, but she held up the ham and it was covered in a red liquid. It looked like it was soaked in Creole seasoning, and I said, “It looks spicey.” She read off the label and said it was paprika and olive oil and gave me a slice to taste. It was not peppered at all; I said, “That’s pretty good, I’ll take it.” NOLA took a taste and concurred.

I recommended the prepared pasta sauces they have in the freezer. As I showed NOLA where they were, she spotted the frozen ravioli and picked up a package; apparently CS is a fan. The guy behind the counter told NOLA the puttanesca sauce was his favorite, so she picked up a package. He asked her if she knew what “puttanesca” meant, she did not. He said it’s “Lady of the evening.” Wikipedia is not so delicate with the translation and story behind the sauce:

The name originated in Naples after the local prostitutes, Pasta alla Puttanesca meaning “Pasta in the way a whore would make it”. The reason why the dish gained such a name is debated. One possibility is that the name is a reference to the sauce’s hot, spicy flavour and smell. Another is that the dish was offered to prospective customers at a low price to entice them into a house of ill repute.

Whatever the story, I’m sure the sauce is going to be great. I usually buy the Milanese (meat) sauce and it’s always fantastic. I rounded out my purchases with some pre-packaged prosciutto ends (a bargain) and some sopressata, a spicy salami made with wine.

On Sunday, NOLA, CS and I headed for the Quarter and day 3 of the French Quarter Fest. It was significantly more crowded than on Friday. The French Quarter parking pass was at the ready; spots to park on the street were, however, not to be found. After giving it a good go, we gave up on street parking and NOLA headed towards the old D.H. Holmes garage. No “LOT FULL” signs were out, as I was afraid of, but there was a sign announcing the elevator was out of order. NOLA remarked that the garage’s stairwells were notorious for smelling like pee, and after finding a spot on the 3rd floor we discovered she was indeed correct.

2 Responses to Happy Blogoversary & FQF Revisited

  1. Stacey on April 8, 2008 at 11:58 am

    hahaha. I love it. FQF at its finest. It is a great fest and hopefully you will have just as great as time as last year. I am hoping that Sunday will fill my fest needs until the granddaddy starts on April 25th. :)

  2. Greta on April 8, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Are we meeting up this weekend? And a very Happy Blogiversary to you!

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