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 search.com).

“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
nola.com).

“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 citysearch.com 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.