Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas eve

Happy holidays from New Orleans. As I write this I'm sitting in the courtyard of Creole Gardens Guesthouse on Prytania Street in the lower (less fancy) Garden District. It's a funky, colorful and relaxed place that is dog friendly. For me this get away is all about relaxing, exploring and food. Here's a little snap shot of all three.

On Christmas eve day around noon we caught the St. Charles street car to the French Quarter. New Orleans street cars are dark green ornate restored electric cars that can be driven from either end with polished wooden seats that reverse so passengers are always looking forward. The day was warm. All the windows were open wide as we rumbled down the street. At one corner a well dressed older woman hailed the driver between stops. He let her on. A block further he stopped again, she kissed him on the cheek and got off. “My next door neighbor,” he explained.

We absorbed French Quarter atmosphere by walking down Royal St. past tee shirt, fake voodoo and antique shops. Just past the imposing old Supreme Court building the street is blocked off so street performers can take the stage, one group per block. In front of us was a human statue: a very tall black guy in immaculate red & white striped trousers, brand new sneakers, white shirt and American flag tie, frozen in a six foot stride. He had a tiny toy dog smoking a cigar on the end of a stiff leash that appeared to be towing his giant owner. I noticed we were standing in front of the entrance to The Court of Two Sisters restaurant. Jazz Brunch $28. We went in.

There is no storefront or imposing sign, just a French style iron gate covering a carriage way through the main building to a large courtyard with pergola and ancient wisteria. A jazz trio played a mix of dixieland and jazz carols from the corner. Our waiter described the food in mouthwatering detail. We feasted on an astounding buffet of every New Orleans signature food, hot and cold, all fresh and very well prepared. We sampled shrimp in spicy etouffee, crawfish Louise, creole jambalaya, cajun pasta, glazed sweet potato with andouille sausage, crawfish and spinach pasta and for dessert bread pudding with whiskey sauce and two helpings of heavenly bananas Foster with homemade french vanilla ice cream.

We stumbled into the street bloated and dizzy, and very satisfied.

Not much was open that evening, it being Christmas eve. The host at our B&B called around for us. She hesitantly suggested a neighborhood joint, open 24/7 everyday, the St. Charles Tavern, only two blocks away. “It's sort of a dive,” she warned, “but the food is good.”

We were not that hungry after the feast at lunch. The St. Charles Tavern sure looks like any neighborhood watering hole you've ever seen, except for the “Zagat Rated” sticker on the door. Only a few folks were eating and a few more were at the bar watching Notre Dame crush Hawaii. The bartender was also the waitress. Merry ordered a coke. “RC alright?”

The waitress put her hand on my shoulder, “What you havin' babe?”

I ordered the cajun sampler – gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish etouffee. The food came quickly and was very good. The gumbo had half a small crab floating among the spicy savory broth. A few minutes later the neighborhood cop came in and sat next to us to have a coffee and a snack. He told stories of how his squad policed the French Quarter for three weeks without a break after Katrina. Merry asked him about policing during Mardi Gras. “The drunks are no problem, really, it's just they are easy targets for the bad guys.” His partner came in to buy his lottery tickets and have an iced tea. They all wished us a Merry Christmas as we walked out the door into the humid foggy night.

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