Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Gulf Coast, the Big Easy, and a power drill

Sorry for my silence. I've been in Mississippi for the past week. I went with a group of eleven people from St. Philip's in Durham to Camp Victor in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to help with the ongoing hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. The Gulf and the Big Easy are still a disaster. Something is very wrong in our country when we can spend a gazillion dollars a day on two wars we are LOSING but we cannot get a roof on the house of a poor, elderly couple on our southern coast. They lived two years with blue plastic tarp for a roof. What is wrong with this picture? It is an unimaginable scandal. Why aren't people more outraged?

But I digress. This is a food blog. The shrimp on the Gulf coast wonderful and huge. The crawfish are delicious, lobstery treats. The crab is perfection. The best shrimp po' boy ever is in Biloxi (pronounced "Biluxy" for the Yankees among us) on Division Street at Desporte and Sons Seafood. They also do a fantastic crawfish etouffe, fried dill pickle slices and fried onion rings. I love these people! Besides the restaurant, this place is a bonafide fishmonger where you can buy wonderful fresh catch.

My other favorite place in Biloxi is Le Bakery at the corner of Oak and Division. It is a Vietnamese run bakery that sells Vietnamese po' boys at lunch. I cannot even describe these sandwiches. They are fresh rolls stuff with deliciously seasoned pork or chicken and dressed with fresh shredded carrots, cilantro, jalapeno, and what I assume is shredded daikon. Le Bakery is not to be missed. The owners lost everything in the storm. They immediate set about to rebuild their business where they also lived for several months while rebuilding their home.

In Ocean Springs, we went almost every day to the Tato-Nut Donut shop on Government street for a decent cup of a coffee and heavenly donuts made of potato flour. I love fried dough!

One evening we went to a BBQ shack on the bayou outside of town called The Shed. It's a fun place. The BBQ is tomato based like in Texas. It's very tasty. Their side dishes are good too. I especially like their potato salad and macaroni salad. We sat outside at picnic tables, ate our dinner, and drank Southern Pecan beer from the Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company. I am not a huge beer drinker because it gives me a headache, but I will suffer a headache for a glass of Southern Pecan. It is a smooth, nut brown ale with no bitterness. It is robust in flavor and easy to drink. I wish they bottled this stuff. The Lazy Magnolia brew master is a woman. I like that a woman is making a kickass glass of beer!

Our last day, we rested from work and drove over to the Big Easy. It is about 90 miles from Ocean Springs. Coming into town we past the Lower Ninth Ward. We could see from the highway empty, devastated house after empty, devastated house. These people have been largely abandoned. Not even Walmart is rebuilding in some parts of the Lower Ninth.

We didn't have a lot of time in New Orleans, (pronounced "Nawlins" for all y'all up North) so we wandered around the French Quarter where we had Pimms cup cocktails at Napoleon House, ate dinner at the Gumbo Shop which included a rockin' shrimp remoulade, and had coffee and beignets (more fried, sugary dough) at Cafe du Monde. The Big Easy has a lot going for it. I walked by the house where Tennesse Williams wrote Streetcar, and Napoleon House was supposedly built for the little dictator when he returned from exile. Of course we all know how that ended up. The Big Easy's history and architecture are simply fascinating. The people are fascinating. I'd not been in about 20 years, and I realized that I should go more often. Next time, I will eat at Commander's Palace, the crown jewel in New Orleans cuisine, for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

If you are a person of taste and culture, you can just skip Bourbon Street altogether. It's an eyesore and tacky beyond belief. New Orleans has much more to offer than ugly bars serving bad beer next to sleazy clubs with naked women.

So get your power drill and your tool box and head south to the Gulf. What's better than doing some good for those in need and having great food and drink to boot?


Phil said...

"What's better than doing some good for those in need and having great food and drink to boot?" I dunno, maybe doing next to sleazy clubs with...? :-)

But seriously -- yay for your great trip with good work and great fun. I don't think God meant for everyone to be grim all the time, even when working to repair disaster and pain.

Regarding the Vietnamese "Banh Mi" sandwiches, I hear you on their goodness. Grasshopper (RIP) had several great Banh Mi sandwiches, including the shredded pork. What surprised/interested me was how the sandwiches looked like they had too little "fillings" (meat, vegetables, sauces) for the size of the roll. But every time, the taste proportions came out just right for me.*

Wikipedia has an interesting article on the French history behind Banh Mi sandwiches, here:

Where can you find Banh Mi sandwiches in the Triangle? Dalat at Mission Valley in Raleigh has them. ( I can't say that you'll be wowed by them, but you might be -- and they're there and they're cheap. Sadly, Pho9n9 in RTP does not have sandwiches on their online menu. I don't know if they ever offer them on special. Banh's on Ninth Street has never offered sandwiches to my knowledge. I don't recall seeing sandwiches at Kim Son on Guess Rd., but I'm not a big fan of that restaurant, so I might have just missed it.


*By coincidence, the sandwiches at Blu Seafood (the non-Vietnamese restaurant that replaced Grasshopper) do the same thing: big roll, not much inside, but flavor perfectly balanced for me. Go figure?

Dave said...

Thank you so much for your efforts to help my hometown (although I'm a Durhamite now!). It is sincerely appreciated. Thanks also for making my mouth water and stomach gurgle with your talk of the greatest cuisine in the States. Also, for clarification, no one really calls New Orleans 'N'Awlins' except for movie and tourist types. Nor do they pronounce it New Orleeens. The most common, although not exclusive, pronunciation is New Orlunz. Bon appetite and laissez le bon temps roulez! Let's do crawrfish!

Anonymous said...

Just a restaurant reccomendation for the new time you make it down to New Orleans: Jacques-Imos. I use to live in NO (Durhamite now) and this is my favorite restaurant ever.

It isn't in the quarter, however, it is down in the Riverbend area on Oak St, just south of Carrollton St. There is also a great coffee shop at the corner of Oak and Carrollton called Rue De La Course.

Thanks for the great food blog. I often use it when I can't decide where I want to go for lunch in RTP.