Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

We had mentioned (see the December 24 and 25 entries) that we would save the Christmas Eve fireworks display for tonight. Our first experience with the tradition of the bonfires at Gramercy, LA, several years ago did not include fireworks, so the inclusion of this display was a surprise for us.

Once the initial burst of brilliant flames, fueled by kerosene, had diminished, the flames achieved a steady burn.

With this, the mission of providing a guide for Papa Noel was likely to succeed.

This burst was interesting to say the least. I've never known a firecracker that would create what looks like the number "5" or the letter "S".

We end with this photo with an effect that we cannot explain. How the movement of the flame became paired with the stationary position of the explosive burst is very intriguing.

Sometimes I'd rather not know how thess effects occur; I'll just enjoy the result.


Friday, December 30, 2011

It’s All About Time(ing)

The shuttle leaves the RV park at 3:45 p.m. and arrives in the French Quarter at 4:00 p.m. The Cathedral concerts begin at 6:00 p.m. That leaves two hours for a pre-concert dinner, right? Wrong! You’d better be in the Cathedral around 5:15 if you want a good seat. Arrive after 5:30 and you might not get a seat at all.

So that makes finding a restaurant for dinner a challenge. So before our first Cathedral concert we decided to try a spot just a half block away and one that was new to us—The Gumbo Shop—which, it should come as no surprise, is best know for their gumbo.

“Each summer we poll our readers for Gambit’s popular ‘Best of New Orleans’ issue. In the ‘Best Gumbo’ category, Gumbo Shop is the winner every time”—Margo DuBos, Publisher, Gambit Weekly.

As you enter, you pass the heated courtyard and a small bar. We chose to eat in the main dining room with its tall windows facing St. Peter Street, dark murals or paintings, and interesting artifacts.

“Even given a few modern touches—like the vegetarian gumbo offered daily—this place evokes a sense of old New Orleans. The menu is chock-full of regional culinary anchors: jambalaya, shrimp Creole and rémoulade, red beans and rice, bread pudding, and seafood and chicken-and-sausage gumbos, heavily flavored with tradition…The patina on the ancient painting covering one wall seems to deepen by the week, and the old tables and bentwood chairs are taking on the aspect of museum pieces” (

“…In New Orleans, the French influence over local cooking was just the beginning. Throughout the years African slaves were often the cooks. Through one of the nation’s busiest ports have come new citizens from Germany, Ireland, the French Caribbean Islands, Italy, Greece, Croatia and more recently, Asia. The Choctaw Indians were already living in this swampy mosquito-infested piece of land, below sea level and shaped like a crescent on the Mississippi River. They introduced powdered sassafras or file—which they called ‘kombo’—to settlers as a staple for one of many styles of the indigenous soup we call gumbo—from the African word ‘kingumbo’ meaning the vegetable okra. A gumbo usually contains either file or okra as a thickener. Just as gumbo is a blend of many cultures, so is the origin of the word. However, the base of most gumbos is ‘roux’—flour and fat with seasonings that is browned to provide an almost nutty flavor (

Our plan was to each order a bowl of gumbo and share an appetizer. From the list of appetizers that included spinach and artichoke dip, blackened fish nuggets, grilled boudin with Creole mustard, shrimp or crawfish rémoulade, shrimp salad, blackened chicken salad, and blackened catfish salad, we chose the blackened fish nuggets. This proved to be a heaping plate of catfish pieces that were not overly spicy and had a somewhat grilled flavor. This was one of those cases where had the fish been removed from the heat thirty seconds earlier they would have been undercooked, but thirty seconds more cooking would have left them overcooked.

Chuck chose the Chicken Andouille Gumbo made with boneless chicken, andouille (a Cajun Sausage), okra, and seasonings simmered in chicken stock. This is the gumbo that has been selected by locals as the best in the city. This was a very good version, but I was surprised that it had been made with a milk chocolate colored roux rather than the dark and intense roux that I expect in a meat-and-sausage-based gumbo.

That dark roux seemed to be reserved for my Seafood Okra Gumbo, which contained okra, onion, bell peppers, celery, and a bit of tomato (remember that New Orleans is Creole cuisine and not Cajun) blended with shrimp and crabs. I subscribe to the theory that seafood gumbo should be made with a lighter roux that doesn’t overwhelm the delicate flavor of the seafood.

“The secret to making a good gumbo is pairing the roux with the protein. A dark roux, with its strong (dense) nutty flavor will completely overpower a simple seafood gumbo, but is the perfect compliment to a gumbo using chicken, sausage, crawfish or alligator. A light roux, on the other hand, is better suited for strictly seafood dishes and unsuitable for meat gumbos for the reason that it does not support the heavier meat flavor as well” (

The menu lists a third gumbo—Gumbo Z’herbes (sometimes called green gumbo) that I may have seen offered as a special at other restaurants but not as a regular menu item. “The tradition behind Gumbo z'Herbes is that it was usually made on Holy Thursday for consumption on Good Friday. Since Good Friday was (and still is) a day of fasting and abstinence from meat for Catholics, something meatless had to be prepared for dinner. Catholics in New Orleans normally had no difficulties with the Church's no-meat-on-Fridays rule, since we have such an abundance of seafood in the area. Good Friday was a bit different, however, since it is also a day of fasting. The regular Friday seafood feast had to be toned down dramatically in keeping with the tone of the day” (

One recipe I found on-line called for collard greens, chicory, dandelion greens, mustard greens, spinach, parsley, beet tops, carrot tops, or turnip tops. I may have to try this someday.

Well, we are off to hear some music following our 3.5 Addie light dinner.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Music of Christmas

Our December 10 entry presented information about the free Christmas Concerts at St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square in New Orleans.

Since that first concert with Ellis Marsalis, we have attended four other performances. Since we were asked not to take photographs during the concerts, I will include some photographs of the activity around the Cathedral while giving a brief description of the performances.

We will take a look around Jackson Square (photo on the left, looking south from the Cathedral) and the different aspects of life that take place in the plaza in front of the Cathedral before heading into the Cathedral.

You will find a variety of musicians, costumed walking-advertise-ments, tarot card readers and palm readers, travelers on long journeys, visitors pausing on one of the benches, artists, photographers and their subjects (see photos #10 and #11 below), and a number of people watchers.

The first concert of the next four was a perfor-mance by Philip Manuel and Shades of Praise.

Songs included both secular and traditional religious songs. In particular, we enjoyed
"Mary Had a Baby" with its refrain:
"The people keep a-comin' an' the train done gone." Known primarily as a jazz vocalist, Manuel sung this beautiful traditional African-American Christmas song in an elegant style.

In contrast to the more energized interpretations of gospel songs, the interracial, interdenominational gospel choir presented "Silent Night." Three singers were featured, each singing a verse. Of particular note was the verse sung by a strong man with elegant facial features. We expected to hear a strong baritone or bass voice, but instead, and surprisingly, we heard a magnificent falsetto. It was glorious.

As an aside, my favorite artists' interpreta-tions of
"Silent Night" were those of Enya and The Tempta-tions. Shades of Praise's version, sounding very similar to that of The Temps, now shares second place with the Temptations.

The Preservation Hall All-Stars performed several familiar Christmas songs and carols. Santa had joined the group for the vocals and the trombone parts in this fun performance.

A few nights later, we attended an Irvin Mayfield concert. A jazz trumpeter, Mayfield noted before his perfor-mance: "I am very nervous about playing Christmas music, because if I mess up, everyone knows it."

Well, that may be the case when playing "Ave Maria" and "O Holy Night," but Mayfield performed these flawlessly. But with songs like "Winter Wonderland,"
"Let It Snow," and the Charlie Brown classic "Christmas Time is Here," his artistic interpretations shown through to the great pleasure of the crowd that lined the Cathedral's walls.

The fourth perfor-mance discussed today was presented by the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church Gospel Choir. The selections sung by this group were traditional religious hymns and showed the group's talents well.

The choir was joined by Clyde Lawrence for two songs. Mr. Lawrence led the chorus at McMain Secondary School and was Orleans Parish’s Middle School Teacher of the Year.

"...singing is life itself to Lawrence. The very core of his being is so packaged by musical notes that he was nicknamed 'Mr. Music' by a friend years ago" (

As Mr. Lawrence walked down the aisle, one could tell that the gentleman with the Santa Claus build took joy in singing and teaching others how to enjoy their own voices.

And then he began singing. This jolly fellow's voice filled the Cathedral. As he sang "O Holy Night," his voice became stronger and the tones mesmerizing. When he finished with the words "O night divine," without a break he made the transition to "How Great Thou Art." There was neither a sound nor a movement among the audience until he reached "great" in the last three words of the song. Those in attendance rose as one and applauded loudly. He found it difficult to begin his walk back to his seat because the sign of appreciation did not soon wane.

The choir seemed inspired as they finished their last couple of songs, and this earned them an equally enthusiastic sign of appreciation from the audience.

When we left the Cathedral, we said very little; I think we both were still replaying the performance.

As we were doing some window shopping while waiting for the shuttle back to the RV Park, Mr. Lawrence came walking down the street. We took this chance meeting to tell him how much we appreciated his performance. A wonderful end to the evening.

The route back "home" took us up Canal Street with its decorations.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It Used to be Easy…

to take the Vieux Carré trolley through the quarter and get off at Esplanade Avenue. Walk just a few short blocks and there you were at Port of Call, the home of one of the world’s greatest hamburgers.

But, alas, the Vieux Carré trolley no longer runs. I don’t know if this is one of the changes Katrina brought to the city or whether the trolley ceased running prior to that. But the always iffy parking situation in New Orleans had deterred a return visit until now. But we were not to be denied and on that day the Patron Saint of Parking blessed us with a spot on Esplanade just a block and a half away.

You enter through the weathered double doors (This is a nice way to say the door needs a coat of paint. But such weathered doors are part of New Orleans charm.) The first thing you notice is that this restaurant is dark—even when lit with a profusion of Christmas tree lights that will give a decidedly red tone to all of the food photographs. The next thing you notice is that the room hasn’t changed in the almost twenty years since our last visit.

“Port of Call is a New Orleans gem, a real, honest-to-goodness JOINT that does not pretend to be anything but a dive (New Orleans-speak for ‘Casual Restaurant-Bar for the Locals’)” (LA Barrister at city

“The Port of Call was established in 1963 as a steakhouse located on beautiful, historic Esplanade Avenue in the French Quarter. The Port started as a quiet, small neighborhood restaurant open only at night, and has grown into an extremely popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Today the Port of Call is world famous for the burgers and steaks. The awards are many including Zagat Survey's Best Burger, Citysearch Best Burger in New Orleans, and Gambit Weekly’s Best Burger” (portofcall

“Everything is wood--wood paneling, wood chairs, wood tables. A thick rope net covers the low ceiling and paintings of schooners and ships line the walls. A rustic seating area glows with the light of a metal ship illuminated by small, white Christmas lights. A friendly din rises from the mix of locals and tourists as everyone talks to everyone…” (Contributor at citysearch. com).

All of this nautical décor produced in Kitty Humbug a profound urge to engage in “pirate speak.” (Did you know that September 19th is International Talk Like A Pirate Day?) But not wanting to sound like a “Drivelswigger" (one who reads about nautical terms too much), he removed himself to a more holiday appropriate perch and resisted this impulse with nary an "Arr, me hearty Ahoy,”
“Avast,” “Shiver me timbers,” “Thar she blows,” nor “Hoist the mizzen” escaping his lips.

The menu is brief. There are three steaks—filet mignon, rib eye, and New York strip. There are the restaurant’s signature burgers with or without cheese. All burgers are a half pound with the beef ground fresh daily. Lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and pickles are served on the side. And the few sides are mushrooms in wine sauce and the Schooner salad.

Notice what’s missing? French fries, that’s what. All hamburgers come with a baked potato with butter.

We both ordered cheeseburgers which came more medium rare than medium. Port of Call’s burgers are smaller in diameter than most half pounders and thus are thicker and retain more juice which runs down your hand with the first bite. They are flame-broiled rather than grilled on a flat top and come served on a buttered toasted roll. Shredded medium sharp cheddar replaces a plain slice of cheese.

As RayRay504 at wrote: “…After a 20-minute wait for the burger, you hold it in you hands and try to fit it in between your wide-open lips. You bite down. ‘My, God,’ you say aloud, ‘Where has this been all my life!?’ You devour the sandwich and loaded baked potato. You're stuffed and overly satisfied. You feel as if you should pay the waitress an extra $20 for the unbelievably delicious orgy that was in your mouth and now in your stomach. As you leave the small dining place, you smile and ask yourself ‘When am I going back?’”

Food purists maintain that potatoes should never be baked in foil since this causes the potato to steam and become starchy. I don’t know Port of Call’s secret, but these were as fluffy a baked potato as one would want.

Before departing, I went to use “the facility” (if you get what I mean), and when I returned to the table I told Chuck that I needed to borrow his camera. The walls of “the facility” were covered with découpage that resulted in an almost dizzying effect as if one had consumed one too many Neptune's Monsoons—described on the menu as an old recipe used frequently as a last request by pirates condemned to walk the plank....

Like RayRay504 above, I want to know when I am going back for another 5.0 Addie cheese-burger.

Kitty Humbug suggests we go on International Talk like a Pirate Day.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Get on the Canal Street Streetcar,

making sure that you are on the one that reads “City Park and Museum” and not the one headed to the cemeteries. A block after the streetcar turns onto North Carrollton, you disembark and hurry to another of New Orleans treasures—Angelo Brocato's Italian Ice Cream & Italian Desserts.

“Angelo Brocato looks like it would be completely at home in Boston’s North End, Manhattan’s Little Italy or on Arthur Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx. But it’s not—it’s on one of the busiest streets in New Orleans’ Mid-city district…

“Shortly after the shop celebrated its 100th birthday, fate intervened. On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the city and the rest, of course, is history. Sadly, Angelo Brocato was one of the worst hit businesses when the levees broke—over four feet of water poured into the shop and destroyed absolutely everything. Many thought that the place would never be rebuilt, but optimism was high in the Brocato family and announce-ments were made that the legendary gelato/ pastry store and cafe would again re-open… After over a year, on September 26, 2006, the store re-opened, to a great amount of fanfare” (Jason Perlow at

“A century ago, 12-year-old Angelo Brocato began an apprentice-ship in one of Palermo, Italy's elegant ice cream parlors where he learned the special recipes for the world's finest desserts. It was the beginning of a saga that would eventually take him to America and the realization of a dream…. In 1905, he opened Angelo Brocato's Ice Cream Parlor, a replica of Palermo's finest emporiums and one of the city's first sit-down parlors… One hundred years later, the Italian ice cream business is still run by his descendants and continues to bear the name, and the portrait, of its founder” (

Brocato’s is not just ice cream. The cases are filled with an assortment of cookies that includes Italian Seed Cookies (Biscotti Di Regina), Italian Assorted Cookies (Chocolate, Pink, White, Yellow & Green Biscotti), Italian Fig Cookies (Cucidata), Italian Biscotti, Scadalina (Hard Cookies or
"Deadman Bones"), Anise Biscotti, Almond Biscotti, and Pigniolata (Sugar Coated Con-fections). Many of these are sold in “grab and go” bags.

And even though it is mid-afternoon and one needs to make considerable effort to reach Brocato’s, the shop was a beehive of activity with patrons ordering gelato, spumoni, cassata, and cannolis—often with a shot of espresso. “The new gleaming brass Italian Espresso/Cappuccino machine is the centerpiece of the new store. While many mourned the passing of their previous antique coffee machine, which served the store for many years, the new machine serves probably what is the best Italian coffee in the entire city” (Jason Perlow at

We gazed at the pastry case.

We gazed at the gelato case.

We gazed at the menu posted on three wooden boards on the wall. When confronted with such luscious yumminess, what do we order?

We decide to order a large three-flavor dish of gelato to share and two cannolis to take home for dinner that evening. From the list of gelato flavors, we opted for a scoop of Baci or Italian Kiss (Chocolate Hazelnut), a scoop of Caramel Cafe Au Lait, and a scoop of St. Joseph Chocolate Almond. The first tasted like an intense Nutella; the second was streaked with soft caramel; the third was dotted with large pieces of roasted almonds.

And the cannolis? These are filled to order so that the crisp shell doesn’t soften from the chocolate cheese filling, stuffed with chocolate chips and embellished with pistachios.

It is sad that so much of New Orleans was lost due to the post-Katrina flooding, but it would have been sadder yet if places such as Angelo Brocato’s hadn’t survived. I’ll close with a quote from “In a constant stream of heartbreak, the sight of this sweet, genuine ice-cream parlor, which was celebrating its 100th birthday…under five feet of water, its classic sign askew, was particularly painful. By that same token, the news that the Brocato family…would be back was particularly joyful and inspiring. And that's even before you get to the goods. They make rich Italian ice cream (made fresh daily), cookies, and candy in the kind of atmosphere that is slowly being lost in this age of strip malls and superstores.”

This is the perfect 5.0 Addie way to take an afternoon break.