Sunday, August 28, 2011

Alex and Jeff's Excellent Adventure, Part II

Thursday--A Full Day

Although New Orleans was our primary destination, I wasn't going to travel that far into the Deep South without seeing countryside and the Gulf, and knocking another state off my list (it's now down to six unvisited). Thursday was a beautiful sunny day, and we drove our rented car east on Hwy 90, through the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, past Lake St Catherine into Mississippi and along the Gulf Coast's Long Beach.The car's air conditioning was very welcome, for as beautiful as the day was it was also hot and humid.

I admit to real bigotry about the region, wondering why the hell anyone would want to live there, especially outside New Orleans. I also admit to being a dumbass. The drive to Gulfport, through a wide variety of woods and waterways and beaches, was utterly beautiful (and some of the most picturesque, seen from bridges and causeways, frustrated the photographer).

The Hwy 90 bridge over Chef Menteur Pass, which connects Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne. The highway then travels along an isthmus bordering Pontchartrain and soon enters Mississippi.

We saw ample evidence of the rebuilding along the coastal areas with homes built on platforms high above the ground. Virtually every residence we saw was brand new or under construction.

A long stretch of white sand (appropriately called Long Beach) runs from the mouth of Bay St. Louis all the way to Gulfport, Mississippi, and almost certainly all the way to Biloxi. It was hot and nearly empty. In contrast to the ocean I'm most familiar with, the Gulf was extraordinarily warm and murky. The temperature really was like a bath, but neither of us was tempted to swim in it.

The "goal" of the trip, or at least the target, was lunch at the Half Shell Oyster House. Lunch turned out to be very late, and we were ravenous. Grilled oysters got us started. Alex had a seafood pie and I ordered the Royal Red shrimp, which were luckily in season. Big shrimp, with a flavor more like lobster than the usual taste. The only downside was that they resisted peeling.And grits.

And for dessert, my first-ever real Key Lime Pie. It was good. Alex had to get his own.

And a busy evening

Our great friend, Jenaya, had recently repatriated to New Orleans, having been washed out by Katrina in 2005. She had made us promise to give her one night to get a taste for her city, which we looked forward to eagerly. Jenaya picked us up at our hotel and drove us on an apparently random and twisted path through the French Quarter to the Bywater neighborhood. On the way, we saw our first "second line", this one for well-loved club owner Ray Deter, and a huge brass band of youngsters in bright yellow t-shirts. (Our first brass band but by no means the last. Music everywhere!)

It's almost impossible for me to describe Bacchanal, other than to say it's just about the coolest place I've ever been. From my perspective, it's in the midst of nowhere immediately across from an old Army depot, railroad tracks and the Mississippi River. It seems obvious that Chris, the owner, isn't relying on pedestrian traffic for customers. This is a place that you make an effort to go to, because you've been there, or you've heard great things about it, or you're fortunate enough to be taken there by a friend. If you were looking for it, you might easily pass by entirely.

When you watch the first season of Treme (which you absolutely must), Bacchanal is featured in at least two scenes. In the first, Sonny buys his girlfriend a bottle of wine--the interior of this brick building is a funky and well-stocked wine shop, and was the original Bacchanal. Customers enter, choose a bottle of wine or two and take them and their glassware out to the large and wild backyard. We got there early enough to select a table, but later on, with the band playing and the chef knocking out superb food, it was filled with happy guests in the warm and sticky night. Many of the guests were attractive women of all ages.

Jenaya's friend Chris had been out fishing the day before, and provided 60 pounds of tuna for the chef. And, oh god, was it good, along with our ceviche and flatiron steak. And wine. Lots and lots of ros├ęs. In Episode 9 of Treme, there is an entire scene set in the back yard, and Janette's portable kitchen is set up exactly where the new outdoor kitchen is now located.

Which seems like a good time to apologize for the general craptastic nature of the photos. I've come to the conclusion that a combination of good photos and a rousing night out is difficult to pull off. Bacchanal has much better photos on their website and their Facebook page. Check them out.

Update (9/15): Bacchanal is having some problems because of their live music. There's a good piece here.

Much of what followed is a bit blurry. The three of us walked through the neighborhood, visited her shotgun house, and then two of her local dive bars. In the process we twice passed the bar in which Kermit Ruffins was playing, with a huge crowd spilling outside during a break. Both the bars were called JP's or JJ's. I think. The one we landed in was packed and the music being played was excellent. In New Orleans, the rules about smoking in bars are very different than they are in Portland. As far as I can tell, the rule is: whatever the owner wants is fine. I think people in this bar were required to smoke. Next to the jukebox was something I hadn't seen in years, a cigarette vending machine.

Still more to come after a good night's sleep.

1 comment:

J. said...

J&J's is the first local: it used to be Sugar Park before the storm, and then it was the Yellow Moon.

The one we landed at was BJ's, where they spin amazing 78s on Thursdays. That's what we heard. And an amazing, AMAZING jukebox.

9th ward represent!