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New Orleans Journal Episode Three: Culture, Cuisine, and "Coffee Shop Chronicles"

Randy and I arrived in NOLA on April 9 by way of Hattiesburg, MS. We elected to spend the first night of the trip in Mississippi because we had heard of a superb restaurant in downtown Hattiesburg called 206 Front Street. We were not disappointed. That experience is worth and will receive its own blog, especially the beer from Mississippi's first brewery, the Lazy Magnolia Brewery (Kiln, MS), founded in 2003.

By completing most of our seven hour trip on Thursday, we were able to arrive in New Orleans in time to be at the door of Martin Wine Cellar when it opened on Friday and to pick up a bottle of Herbsaint for my brother-in-law, Billy C. Farlow. Then we checked in at River House (oohed and aahed over our fabulous quarters for at least an hour) and then meandered over to Bienville Street, serenaded by street music every step of the way, for a delectable lunch at Dickie’s Bourbon House. See Episode One for a description of that scrumptious meal. (photo of street band)

Friday night we dined with my childhood friend Dr. Brobson Lutz at Galatoire's (described in Episode Two), and our Saturday food fest began with fried oysters and etouffee followed by a day of music, then wine in the garden at River House, and finally a divine dinner at Martinique's in the Garden District. All that is yet another story.

Sunday, after a leisurely jazz brunch at the Palace Cafe, Brobson took us to see his urban gardens off Clio Street. I cannot begin to describe how odd  it was to be chauffeured to chicken coops in a gorgeous metallic blue-gray Jaguar. The first garden we visited housed the fat and happy laying hens, (a number of black and white speckled hens and several more exotic red and yellow colored hens). All the hens were delighted to see Brobson and clustered around the gate in anticipation. They were quite docile and seemed content to let us to pick them up and pet them. Brobson told us that occasionally he allows them to roam free and gobble up all the bugs in that garden. (photo of me with hen)

 Shortly after we arrived, Brobson phoned John Berendt (author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) who joined us for the garden tour. I took several pictures of Brobson presenting both John and Randy with bouquets of pink and lavender sweet peas, but of course, I failed to hit save. After admiring the chickens, sweets peas, herbs, mint, and artichokes in the first garden, we walked across the street to the second garden. This generous space was chock full of gorgeous vegetables including purple cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, corn, and greens of all description. There were also fruit trees and strawberries as well as two active bee hives. Brobson calls his honey "Honey from the Hood" and it is delicious---rich and golden but not cloyingly sweet. (Randy is pictured here with one of the hives)

The chickens in the second coop were all Bantams, both hens and roosters. As I had been flogged numerous times by Banty roosters in my childhood, I was less than eager to cuddle a Banty hen. We left them to their own devices, except for a hen that was brooding and whose first chick had just hatched. Brobson could not resist reaching in and taking out the baby chick for all of us to see. We watched the lively Bantams for at least ten minutes as they chased one of the flock who had managed to catch a large bug. I don't know if the poor chicken ever got to eat the bug. She was too busy running and running and running. You can see a photo of Brobson and the baby chick in Episode Two.

After inspecting both gardens, we returned to River House to freshen up and hit the streets. Randy had purchased a large picture hat for me on Saturday to ward off the New Orleans sun so I donned the hat, put on a long white blouse and crops, and we headed down to the French Quarter to listen to the music. Just as I rounded the first corner into the Quarter, a gust of wind ripped the hat from my head, and, instinctively, I threw up my hand to catch it. Unfortunately, that was the hand that was holding a small cup of red wine which ended up all over my white blouse and dripped from my red head.  (Photo of me in the photo of me in the garden at River House --please ignore the tree protruding from my infamous chapeau)

Someone in the crowd rescued my hat and returned it to me as I stood there looking like a swamp rat drowned in Merlot. Rather than returning to the apartment, Randy and I just walked on down to Chico's in the old Jax Brewery building where he bought me a colorful new blouse (one that would not show wine stains) . Nothing can slow us down when we are in New Orleans besides I was getting hungry again and I had heard the fried oyster Eggs Benedict at Stanley's was to die for. (photo of the Jax Brewery building)

We crossed over to Jackson Square and made our way through the throng to Ann Street for an early dinner or very late second brunch at Stanley's . Now Stanley's is not your white tablecloth eatery. It is strictly bare floors and marble tables, but the food is some of the best I have ever tasted. I have never seen such beautifully poached eggs---perfectly symmetrical and cooked exactly the way I love them, with the yolks set but still runny and enveloped in gauzy white. The English muffin was thin and buttery and the hollandaise delicate and lemony. This marvelous medley was topped with the lightly dusted crisp fried oysters that simply exploded with flavor in my mouth. I wanted that meal to last forever. The food, accompanied by a tart yet mellow Pinot Grigio, could not have been more pleasurable. Randy ordered a fried oyster po' boy which he declared to be excellent, not simply due to the marvelous oysters but also due to the spicy cold slaw dressed with what must have been a spicy remoulade.

Randy and I spent the remainder of Sunday evening on the patio in the spacious garden at River House chatting with Csaba Lukacs and David Lummis, the proprietors of River House, about the enormous project of restoring River House and about the book David is writing called The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans. The house itself is a major "character" in this three volume work of historical fiction. The historical events are true; the characters (except for the house) are fictional. David anticipates the publication of part one of the novel sometime later this month (May 2010).

Here is a brief synopsis of the book: The agnostic ten-years-sober son of a Southern Baptist minister, B. Sammy Singleton, has an opinion about just about everything and a guidebook to New Orleans' coffee shops to write. But when his best friend Catfish-- reluctant heir to the Beaucoeur sugarcane fortune--goes missing after being arrested on grave-robbing charges, Sammy finds it even more difficult than usual to focus on the task at hand. His excavation of his past involves revealing secrets not only about his family but what Catfish calls The American Holocaust.

David, who is a senior marketing analyst, is the author of the nonfiction book Value Retailing. Although he has many other publications, Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Oleans is his first work of fiction. David is originally from Paducah, KY, but attended the Sorbonne in Paris and was graduated from Yale University with a degree in French. He and his life partner Csaba, who has a Masters Degree in Science from Budapest, Hungary, and a Masters of Fine Art from the University of New Orleans, reside at the elegant River House in the "Paris of the South."

And so ends the penultimate post about our New Orleans journey. There will one final New Orleans adventure: Episode Four. Speaking of episodes, don't miss episode five of Treme' on HBO on Sunday, May 9. "Down in the Treme', just me and my baby..."

------Penne J. Laubenthal

Related articles : 
Billy C Farlow is Having Top Much Fun 
Swampland's New Orleans Page

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