LSU road trip includes NOLA side journey
I am ashamed to admit that I, Melissa Kahan, former college student, have never been to an away football game. Despite my many years of tailgating, Gator chomping and chanting, I have never had the thrill of logging on to the Gator student ticket site and chomping at the bit to purchase an away game ticket at the exact moment they are on sale, beating out my fellow Gators. But this year I am determined to absorb every ounce of college experience I can.
My desire was granted, as I packed my orange and blue apparel and my hope of a Gator win and headed on the road with my boyfriend, Thomas, for a battle of the pigskin against the Louisiana State University Tigers. Baton Rouge was our final destination, but a trip to Louisiana would not have been complete without a stop—regardless of how brief—to the infamous city of New Orleans.
Home to Mardi Gras and the potent Pat O'Brien's Hurricanes, New Orleans is well-known for their spirited residents, lively night life, and good old fashioned Louisiana cooking. From jambalaya to gumbo, there is a plethora of hearty options native to the state and best known at various restaurants. It was by luck that the Louisiana Seafood Festival would be held at City Park the very weekend of our LSU road trip, so of course my foodie senses were tingling.
The three day celebration boasted everything from live music to multiple authentic Louisiana food vendors to artists and craftsmen selling their Louisiana-themed artwork complete with multiple paintings and snapshots of the symbolic fleur de lis. I was overwhelmed not only by how beautiful a day it was on Saturday at the festival but how many food vendors participated. The dozens of food booths each provided anywhere from two to five menu options, giving this indecisive food adventurer some anxiety as well as some déjà vu of being at food truck rallies previously.
After prefacing the food hunt with an Abita Amber — one of my preferred beer selections and native to Louisiana, so it is sold as commonly as we would Bud Light — we walked the length of the vendors in gaping awe and excitement. Thomas and I tagged along with a few of his family members, who live in Mandeville, Louisiana, and all decided to try something different to my delight.
Of course being in another state I had to gain all of the diverse mealtime experience I could. I was hooked on the idea of a po boy, a sub sandwich using thick New Orleans baguette-style bread, so I scoped out the booths and landed on a fried shrimp BLT po boy with remoulade sauce. Note: There were so many choices of po boys it was a feat to narrow it down, especially after the temptation to the sophisticated side of my palette in the form of a roasted duck po boy. Without a doubt, everyone was set on also acquiring an order of the famous Drago's Seafood Restaurant charbroiled oysters which I have had once before while dining at the restaurant itself.
The breeze accompanying the shade under a tree on the open field provided an ideal spot to enjoy our meals. I thought, "If you're going to do it, do it right, even if it means sitting on the ground."
After settling in to the grass and to a constant array of country-style live music, I took a bite of my large $8 po boy. At first I got a mouthful of just the fluffy, thick bread, the insides of the sandwich spilling into the paper serving tray. It took a few heaping bites to reach the crispy fried shrimp sandwiched between thick-cut strips of bacon. The welcome crunch of lettuce and juiciness of the tomato aided the somewhat dryness of the shrimp and bacon, as there did not seem to be much sauce on the sandwich. Despite that, this bread lover was thrilled to have the opportunity to try a regional style of sandwich breading, and it was a satiating experience.
In between bites of po boy, I ventured over to the serving of oysters I waited about 10 minutes to acquire. Whatever the wait, these are beyond worth it, stealing my taste buds' love after the first encounter I had with the charbroiled oysters this past summer. And at $8 for six oysters, the ratio says it all: Drago's name carries weight in the Louisiana community, or in this case a pretty steep price tag. The steam rising from the oysters and black, crispy edges persuaded me that this would not disappoint either. My assumption was correct, as the juicy yet slight crunch of the char over the typically slimy oysters was just as tasty as I remember. I also love that oysters are an acceptable hands-on food that takes some finagling to acquire.
As full as my food selections made my satiated belly, I was convinced by Thomas and his family that no experience was complete without a sweet, icy Sno Ball, the texture I can only describe as a combination of that of ice cream's and a Snow Cone's. I am the dessert queen, usually veering toward the richer flavors such as chocolate, so naturally among a sea of tropical flavor choices the ice cream-flavored Sno Ball caught my eye. It was as refreshing as I could have imagined, the unique texture unlike any I have experienced. Too bad these haven't made their way to humid Florida!
I can say with certainty that I have not experienced a disappointing meal in Louisiana, and I intend to be back as soon as possible. Even witnessing — from the front row, I might add—the slaughter on the football field of our beloved Gators in Tiger Stadium could not dampen the delicious bevy of cultural goodness I consumed.