"We should enjoy food and have fun,
it is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life"
State 28: Louisiana February 3, 2018
We woke up at a Walmart in Harvey excited to continue our exploration of Louisiana. Yesterday, we visited the slave quarters in a 19th century sugarcane plantation, and today were in search of something more uplifting. A few days ago, we visited Avery Island where Tabasco Sauce is manufactured, and had acquired a few sample bottles of the hot stuff. I have been staring at these tiny bottles of Tabasco in my center console for a few days now, and decided to seek out some authentic Louisiana food to put my Tabasco sauce to good use. The food in Louisiana is heavily influenced by Creole cuisine, Cajun cuisine, and soul food. It did not take long to realize there are dozens of dishes native to Louisiana, and choosing just one was a futile endeavor. After much research and debate, we successfully narrowed our options down to 3 selections most reflective of the states cuisine. Off we went for a 7 mile drive North to New Orleans for the Cross Country Couple's "Famous Foods" for Louisiana; gumbo, po’ boy, and beignets.
Designated as Louisiana's official cuisine in 2004, gumbo is a stew consisting of a robustly flavored stock, meat or shellfish, a thickening agent, tomatoes, and the “Holy Trinity” of vegetables consisting of celery, bell peppers, and onions, frequently served over rice! Since gumbo combines ingredients and culinary practices of French, Spanish, German, Filipino, West African, and Choctaw, the origins of the dish are not known! Gumbo as the world currently knows it was first documented in a recipe from 1802! There are 3 primary varieties of gumbo. The first two are the Cajun and Creole varieties, and the primary difference between the two is the type of meat included. Since both varieties are not vegetarian, our conscience will not allow us to partake. The 3rd and lessor known variety of gumbo is Z'herbes. Similar to the Creole and Cajun gumbo, the origins of the dish are a blend of various cuisines and cultures. Since Catholics were expected to abstain from meat during Lent, a meatless gumbo consisting of 7 varieties of slow cooked greens called Z’ herbes was served instead. This is exactly what I needed to find!
There are hundreds of restaurants in New Orleans serving gumbo, and narrowing it down to the best would be quite the challenge. Complicating matters further, I needed to find the lesser known variety of gumbo called Z’ herbes. After an intense Google search, one restaurant stood out above all others with 4.2-star rating and 1,588 reviews; Gumbo Shop. Established in 1948 in an historic 18th century building, the Gumbo Shop is a restaurant serving the finest examples of New Orleans cuisine. Every year since 1999, the Gumbo Shop has won the award for the Best Gumbo in the “Best of New Orleans” Gambit readers’ poll. Since the name of the restaurant is “Gumbo Shop”, then their gumbo must be pretty damn good, and they had the vegetarian
Z’ herbes gumbo we were searching for! Off we went to the Gumbo Shop for a cup of their homemade gumbo.
Entering the restaurant required walking down a long dark hallway to the hostess desk leading into the main dining area in an open air courtyard. The restaurant was overall quite small, and the place was packed with people! Instead of waiting over an hour for a table, we ordered 2 cups of their Z’ herbes gumbo to go, and then walked back to Rosie to have our first experience with gumbo! As a vegetarian, I have a more intimate relationship with vegetables compared to others, and even I was not ecstatic about eating what was essentially a bowl of stewed greens. As soon as I took my first “slurp”, it became clearly evident this was an expertly constructed dish. The gumbo consisted of a dark robustly seasoned broth with a variety of finally chopped tender greens. I know my description does not sound overly exciting, but it was actually quite delicious! If I ever find myself in New Orleans again, I would seek out another cup of Z’ herbes from the Gumbo shop. Please see the pictures below.
Although we had found our gumbo, we still had two more famous foods to find: po’ boy and beignets. A po' boy is a traditional sandwich consisting of a variety of meat or seafood, dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickles and sauce, and is served on crispy and crusty New Orleans French bread, which can be served either hot or cold. The definitive origins of the po’ boy has been lost to time. According to a local legend, New Orleans restaurant owners Benny and Clovis Martien served street car workers free sandwiches during a 4-month strike in 1929. The restaurant employees referred to the strikers as poor boys for their lack of income and lack of tips. Over time, the sandwich took on the name Poor boy, which has been shortened by Louisiana dialect to be called po’ boy.
As it pertains to Louisiana, beignets are a French variation of a fried pastry, topped with powdered sugar and are customarily served as a dessert. They are traditionally prepared right before consumption, and are best eaten fresh and hot. The origins of beignets date as far back as ancient Rome, and have been enjoyed by civilization across the millennia. In 1986, beignets were declared the official state doughnut of Louisiana.
Beignets, and po’boy sandwiches are traditionally not vegetarian. However, I found an awesome Vegan restaurant in New Orleans offering omnivorous versions of these two classic Cajun delicacies called Seed. With a 4.5 star rating and 458 reviews on Google, Seed Vegan Restaurant was sewn with a vision of providing healthy nourishment by utilizing the highest quality, local, organic, and purely natural ingredients to grow a fresh and sustainable dining experience grounded in New Orleans taste. It has been a very long time, and thousands of miles since we came across a great vegan restaurant, and you can read about the last one by clicking here. We had high hopes for Seeds, and could not wait to partake in their vegan variations of po'boy, and beignets. The restaurant was located on the first floor of a building on a street corner. The atmosphere of the restaurant was casual dining, and was clean, uncluttered, and floor to ceiling windows flooded the main dining area with natural light. Our waitress was friendly, prompt and perky. However, it was now time to see if Seed's vegan food was as good as their service and ambiance. Please see the pictures below.
Nate and I shared an order of the eggplant po’boy consisting of pan fried thinly sliced eggplant dipped in a cornmeal batter, topped with roasted red peppers, red onions, fresh leafy lettuce, dressed with a housemade garlic aioli, served on crispy Louisiana po’ boy bread with a side of quinoa. The sandwich was even more delicious than my description. However, I do have one point of critique. the sandwich was very light on the veggies as you can see from the pictures. I would rather see them double up on the veggies in the sandwich even if they had to raise the price a few bucks. Aside from the limited veggies, Seed’s vegan eggplant po’ boy, was one of the best sandwiches I had eaten in my entire life!
When Nate and I dine out, we have an agreed upon a code of conduct. If the main course is delicious, then we will partake in dessert. However, if the meal is less than satisfactory, then we will respectfully decline the dessert menu. Why prolong the agony of an awful dining experience? Albeit scantily clad, our po'boy was quite delectable, so we decided to place an order for the 3rd and final famous food for Louisiana; beignets. Soon thereafter, our cheerful waitress presented us with 5 warm puffy pockets of goodness served in a warm bowl bombarded with a blizzard of powdered sugar. The sensation of biting into your very first beignet is impossible to describe. Despite its simplistic appearance, the temperature, texture, and taste transcends ones taste buds. Pardon my French, but these beignets were an orgasmic experience!!! If you have eaten a beignet before, then you know exactly what I mean, and if you have yet to partake, please make a point to visit New Orleans to do so before you die!
After departing Seed, I returned to Rosie, and made a very disturbing discovery! In the center console were my 4 tiny bottles of Tabasco Sauce!The whole purpose off seeking out Louisiana’s finest food today was to put my recently acquired Tabasco to good use. I can’t believe I left it behind! I am certain to encounter bland food somewhere further down the road, and will save my Tabasco Sauce for such an occasion. With our bellies full of the finest food Louisiana had to offer, we drove across town to the Cross County Couple's “Roadside Attraction” for Louisiana; Mardi Gras World”. Mardi Gras World is a 300,000 square foot working warehouse where floats are made for Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. Founded in 1946 by Blane Kern Sr, today the company has grown to build floats for parades in Las Vegas, NV; Mobile, AL; Galveston, TX; Montreal, Canada; and the Universal Studio's Mardi Gras parade in Orlando, FL; and of course New Orleans. In 1984, Mardi Gras World was created as a tourist attraction to provide visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the fine art of float building.
Admission to Mardi Gras World was high at $22.00 per person, but nowhere else can you have a sneak peek of the construction of Mardi Gras floats. However, after reading a few of the reviews, we made a very disturbing discovery. Reviewers who visited within 2 weeks of Mardi Gras stated most of the floats were not present at Mardi Gras World. The reason being, the floats were moved to locations throughout New Orleans for daily parades during the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras. We were currently in New Orleans on February 3, and Mardi Gras was scheduled on February 13, 2018. We were not about to pay $22.00 per person to see an empty warehouse! So much for Mardi Gras World! Wait right there! We were not about to give up that easily! We are the Cross Country Couple! Over the past 7 months, we have traveled 30,000 miles through 28 states to discover America and to find a new state to call home! If there is one thing we have learned as vandwelling vagabonds, it is flexibility! If all of the Mardi Gras World floats were currently spread throughout the city at various parades, then we needed to find ourselves a New Orleans parade! What better place to find such a parade than the Cross Country Couples “Can’t Miss Attraction” for Louisiana; The French Quarter.
Finding parking in major cities is always a challenge when driving in a high top van. However, New Orleans was the absolute worst city we had encountered in regards to parking! Many people park outside of the French Quarter, and take the trolley in. However, New Orleans did not appear to be a safe place, and we did not want to be so far away from our Rosie. After a extremely stressful 45 minutes of navigating through the narrow one way streets and low balconies of the French Quarter, we finally found an open parking lot to park Rosie. The price was $42.00 for 8 hours! You have to be kidding me!!! With no other viable options, we willfully allowed ourselves to be financially exploited! This was the most expensive parking of our entire cross country trip! When our year long journey is over, instead of working as a nurse, perhaps I should instead buy a parking lot!
While I cursed at the automated parking machine processing my $42.00 payment, Lori had found the only parade scheduled for the day in the French Quarter; The Krewe of Barkus. Neither one of us had any idea what the heck a “Krewe of Barkus” parade was, but with no other viable options, we decided to just roll with it. Unfortunately, the parade featured no floats, and could best be described as the most glorified dog walk I had ever seen in my life. I am not going to lie; I was very disappointed to miss out on seeing the Mardi Gras floats, but the dogs were cute all dressed up. I have learned in life and in cross country travel alike, sometimes despite one’s best effort, things just don’t work out! Please see the pictures below of the Krewe of Barkus Parade in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
After departing the parade, we decided to engage in some freestyle exploration of the French Quarter, and what better place to do so than on the famous Bourbon Street? While I can’t say walking down Bourbon Street was a good experience for us, it certainly was an experience! Please see the pictures below.
We took a side street off of Bourbon Street, and found ourselves at Jackson Square. Named after the former president Andrew Jackson, Jackson Park is a 2½ acre park, and the site of the Louisiana purchase in 1802. The focal point of the park was a large bronze statue of President Jackson on horseback. Around the perimeter of the park were dozens of artists selling New Orleans inspired art, street performers doing magic tricks and a man on a unicycle juggling knives. Please see the pictures below.
After seeing all we needed to determine New Orleans was not our new home, we drove 33 miles Northeast to a Walmart in Slidell where we spent our last night in Louisiana.