Damn you, NOLA my love. You’ve ruined me.
As a big foodie, I’ve long loved visiting new cities and dining at the locals’ favorite spots. Not the fancy places, mind you, but the places tucked away in this neighborhood or that one. The ones with up-and-coming chefs preparing out-of-this-world meals.
NOLA has taken that pleasure away. I realized it this past weekend while visiting Atlanta for the first time. I dined at two restaurants that the locals loved.
The food was good one evening, really good the next. But it wasn’t great. The same thing has happened to me the past few times I’ve returned to Boston. Good food, not great food. Ditto New York. Really good, not great.
“What the hell has happened to me?” I asked myself on Sunday night as I used my twelfth piece of crusty bread to sop up the very good sauce in my perfectly adequate Mussels Meuniere. Then it hit me: I now live in New Orleans.
The food just tastes better here. Great here. It shares the same joie de vivre for the place that we humans do. The meats, the fruits, the veggies, the grains … they’re all just happy and grateful to be part of the dance … even when staring up at you from the dinner plate.
I’ll never forget the first time I learned this simple truth. Like most truths, I found this one in the most unexpected of places.
It was last October. I had just moved into my house in the Treme. I was exhausted from the move and hung over from the night before — a very bad combination given that my task that day was to unpack the kitchen (if you’ve ever unpacked a kitchen you know exactly what I’m talking about). Surveying the 5,785 kitchen boxes that were staring me down, I thought to myself, “I need to eat.”
I went to my corner store, Laban. Inside, I found three aisles of dusty cans, the world’s tiniest bags of Fritos and Doritos, sodas you have never heard of and “tuff enuf” trash bags that looked neither “tuff” nor “enuf.” The TV hanging over aisle 2 was blaring a Saudi melodrama. Things did not look good for me or my exhausted, hung-over hunger.
Then, a miracle happened.
I looked up and over past the hanging melodrama and saw four faded poster boards tacked high up on the wall. There, in a scrawl that reminded me of my Dad’s writing, I saw hope: Laban’s had po’boys (which remains a very curious thing to me because I did not and still have not ever seen any semblance of real food there).
“What do you like?” I asked the surly, roly-poly, hairy man who was behind the counter.
“Hot sausage,” he barked.
“Is it good?”
He looked at me and started unbuttoning his shirt.
“Oh Lord,” I thought. “I’m so not into bears. This is not going to end well.”
My jaw dropped as he proudly pointed at the two incisions that went from his chest to his stomach. “Two bypasses I’ve had because of hot sausage and still I eat them. My wife says they will kill me. I say we all die.”
With a sales pitch like that, how could I refuse? With his back to me, my gruff bear of a friend did his magic. Three minutes later, he turned around and handed me a sandwich, dressed, of course (he doesn’t even ask), as big as my arm … or one of his incisions.
It cost $5. And it was heaven on Earth.
From that moment, neither my life nor my taste buds have ever been the same. We’ve been better. Damn you NOLA. I love you, so.
Visit Brett Will Taylor’s blog at thestoryblogbwt.wordpress.com. Click on his byline to read his other columns.