For this year’s scenic tour of the American South, even if everything else went wrong or turned out boring, we kept our hopes high that the cooking would prove to delight our senses and heap shame upon our own meager kitchen skills. On Day Four we found two restaurants — one a fine-dining restaurant, the other an open-air market booth — that delivered the goods and won the week.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
This year’s trip began as a simple idea: visit ostensibly scenic New Orleans. Indianapolis to New Orleans is a fourteen-hour drive. Between our workplace demands and other assorted personal needs, we negotiated a narrow seven-day time frame to travel there and back again. We researched numerous possible routes, cities, and towns to visit along the way in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. We came up with a long, deep list of potential stops, but tried to leave room for improvisation…
During our walk through the French Market, we stopped for lunch at J’s Seafood Dock, the stand with one of the least polished setups and the most colorful chalkboard.
They were out of the first two menu items we tried to order. We waited 15-20 minutes before our entire order was delivered. By that time I’d grown impatient and skeptical, and was already making mental plans to go drown my disappointment in ice cream when we were done with this fiasco.
And then we ate and it was glorious. The crawfish beignets shown above cost more than twice as much as the non-meat beignets at world-famous Cafe du Monde, but they were ten times better, so the food math worked out in our favor.
Soft shell crab was a new thing to me, and I wasn’t sure if there were parts meant to be left uneaten. I scarfed them all down anyway without medical incident or regret.
But my meal was a school lunch compared to my wife’s order of Cajun BBQ shrimp. Spicy foods are one of her mortal enemies, but she opted to go adventurous. They were indeed spicy, but her eyes went wide with dual sensations of pain and paradise.
Afterward we stuck around and relaxed for a spell in the convivial French Market ambiance, taking time to digest and to let every last negative thought about the pre-meal inconveniences fade away.
Later that evening, our dinner plans took us to a different direction — an upscale brick-‘n’-mortar establishment called Oceana. It was the only place we ate in the French Quarter that had a long line to get inside. We took that high demand as a positive sign in itself.
Our wait was a mere fifteen minutes, much better than the hour-plus we dreaded could happen. While we hung out, several dozen folks paraded past us in unison up Bourbon Street, including several in a line of motorcycles and an entire jazz band marching and living it up. We wondered if this might be one of those jazz funerals we’d heard were a thing in New Orleans, but we didn’t see a coffin or any pallbearers. Maybe their funerals are more symbolic than ours?
Once inside, we learned our wait was largely caused by the necessary arrangements to accommodate a party of nineteen who’d beaten us there. We would’ve come over sooner, but our lunch and our post-walkabout exhaustion tided us over for hours. Regardless, service was eventually expedient and the results were worth the wait and then some.
Regardless of all the panicky safety warnings in our travel brochures, places like J’s and Oceana were upstanding role models that helped remind us why we’d come to New Orleans in the first place.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]