My favorite kind of trip to New Orleans

By JOHN E. BIALAS
Broadmoor Bureau Chief

My favorite kind of trip to New Orleans is to go by myself, leave the house at the time I want to leave, go to the places I want to go and take my sweet old time at those places.

I’ve done this hundreds of times since I was in my late teens and my latest trip started at 2:20 p.m. from my home in Gulfport on  Saturday for the Magazine Street Champagne Stroll and Independent Bookstore Day, but I had other reasons to make the trip.

First stop:  The new Shipley Do-Nuts on Old Metairie Road in Old Metairie for vanilla cream- and chocolate-filled doughnuts that were as delicious as the ones I remember from the 1970s when I would go to the Shipley at Hewes Avenue and Pass Road in Gulfport, and I miss those visits because that Shipley has been history for a long time.

Second stop: Stein’s in the Lower Garden District on Magazine Street for the best challah around, as good as what my dad made at home, though I had to park two blocks from the deli and market because the lease for the Stein’s parking lot, above, was terminated April 30.

Third stop: Octavia Books on Octavia Street off Magazine to buy a signed copy of Ann Patchett’s little gem titled “The Care and Feeding of an Independent Bookstore,” and I saw so much more I wanted to buy, including Simon Griffin’s punctuation guide with a dirty word in the hilarious title.

Fourth stop: Antieau Gallery on Magazine, which features the work of artist Chris Roberts-Antieau, with beer for the Stroll.

Fifth stop: Young classical musicians were playing in front of a store just 350 feet down the street from the gallery. Never found out if they took requests, though I think they accepted tips. One possible request for next time: “How about a little ‘Eleanor Rigby’ for the all Catholic drinkers?”

Sixth stop: I completed my trifecta of daily dough with a bag of bagels at  La Boulangerie, a Magazine Street bakery, so I put it in my car with the doughnuts and challah.

Seventh stop: I think this pretty horse on Oak Street wanted to talk. We could have had a conversation.  I know drunks on Bourbon Street have had horse hallucinations, but I was sober and so was this creature.

Eighth stop: Surfin’ and turfin’ at Parkway Bakery and Tavern on Hagan Avenue with the best po-boy anywhere: Roast beef and fried shrimp.

I didn’t mean to offend my family and friends when I wrote the lead to this fine piece of quality journalism. They are always welcome to make a New Orleans trip with me, but just remember we will go to my places first and we might not have to go to your places.

Like Kramer said on “Seinfeld”:

I’m doin‘ what I do, the way I’ve always done it, and the way I’ll always do it.

Editor’s note: All the photos are mine and all were taken Saturday except for the featured image, which is from 2017.

 

 

 

 

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Phooey on all the hype for Dong Phuong king cakes

This screen grab promotes king cake season at Dong Phuong in New Orleans. DONG PHUONG FACEBOOK PAGE

By JOHN E. BIALAS
Broadmoor Bureau Chief

I’m sick and tired of reading all the craziness involving New Orleans East Vietnamese bakery Dong Phuong and its fab king cakes.

Back when the 2018 king cake season was calm, my daughter got one at a Dong Phuong off-site in Mandeville a couple of weeks ago and said it’s the best  she’s ever had.

I’m happy for her and unhappy for me.

I wanted to get one of my own on Monday so I drove from Gulfport and took scenic Old Highway 90, also known as The Jayne Mansfield Memorial Road, in hopes of getting a cream cheese king cake for $16 at 14207 Chef Menteur Highway.

I arrived at Dong Phuong at 4 p.m., walked through the front door and saw a barren bakery. Nothing. Nada. No king cakes at all. Sold out.

Son of a brioche.

I suffered in silence while taking the back roads home. Old Highway 90 runs through Lake Catherine Island, the home of fishing camps and their creative signage, and I stopped a couple of times to take pictures.

This sign on Highway 90 is just east of New Orleans East. JOHN E. BIALAS
This sign on Highway 90 is just east of New Orleans East. JOHN E. BIALAS

The fish camps are just minutes from Lake Pontchartrain, the Rigolets, Lake Borgne and the Biloxi Marsh, and the waters are loaded with redfish, trout, flounder, drum and sheepshead. I wish they would also be loaded with Dong Phuong cream cheese, cinnamon and pecan king cakes.

One of the fishing camps on Lake Catherine Island displays the logo of a New Orleans soft drink company. JOHN E. BIALAS
One of the fishing camps on Lake Catherine Island displays the logo of a New Orleans soft drink company. JOHN E. BIALAS

When I stopped to take pictures, I didn’t dilly dally because I feared a gator might cross the highway and attack me. I was right in the middle of a swamp or a bayou or what have you and I wanted to be home for dinner.

The next three days, the Dong Phuong sugar hit the fan.

I blame the James Beard Foundation. The bakery was named one of the winners of the James Beard America’s Classic awards on Jan. 18. Since then, the popularity of the Dong Phuong king cakes has skyrocketed to the point that demand has overwhelmed the business this week.

A Dong Phuong Facebook post Tuesday said, “We will no longer be taking online orders. King Cakes are now ONLY available for walk-in purchase at the Bakeshop through Lundi Gras!”

Lundi Gras is the Monday before Mardi Gras on Feb. 13.

I suppose that’s a good thing, because The New Orleans Advocate reported on Wednesday that “the bakery has even heard reports of people buying their king cakes to resell at inflated prices – essentially, king cake scalping.”

A $14 king cake was going for $60. I would like to see where that transaction went down. Venetian Isles? The 24/7 Fort Pike boat launch? Outside Mr. Bubbles on the West Bank?

On Thursday, Dong Phuong suspended deliveries to other retailers, such as the Mandeville business where my daughter bought her king cake.

Dong Phuong said on Tuesday it would stop deliveries and the news led to an entertaining thread on Reddit where 107 comments were posted.

Someone under the name DongPhuongDriver  kicked off the thread with a “PSA” that cited “multiple fist fights at locations we deliver to, and King Cake fraud with our pick up orders.”

OK, I’ve had enough.

I’ll take my business to Nonna Randazzo’s, which is just a few minutes from my daughter’s office in Covington.

Randazzo’s has excellent king cakes and tasty Mardi Gras layer cakes as well.

I’ll go there next week and get a Mardi Gras cake.

And I promise I won’t scalp it.

 

 

 

 

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Never met Fats, but I found his New Orleans home

This is how one side of Fats Domino's New Orleans home looked in July 2013, the last time I visited his old neighborhood. JOHN E. BIALAS

By JOHN E. BIALAS
Broadmoor Bureau Chief

The first time I saw Fats Domino’s New Orleans house was in 1974, when I was the editor and publisher of Boogie, a rock-music fanzine I printed at home.

I was 22 and fascinated with Fats for all he had done for rock and roll, and I hoped to show my appreciation. I had an ambitious plan: An interview with Fats at his home, just 75 miles from where I lived in Gulfport, Mississippi.

It would be a coup for Boogie and the envy of other fanzine editors and publishers nationwide. I figured I could get access.

I knew my way around New Orleans, where I would go shopping for records,  and on one of my many trips, I had the good fortune of meeting a collector who gave me directions to Fats’ home.

Fats lived off St. Claude Avenue, about a block north of Puglia’s grocery, a Lower 9th Ward landmark bulldozed many years later.

It was the middle of a sunny summer afternoon, one in which I scored a slew  of 44-cent bargain  bin albums at the Canal Street Woolworth’s, when I saw Fats’ home.

It was a big old pink and white split-level place at Caffin Avenue and Marais Street.

I thought about stopping and knocking on the door. Didn’t do it. Too timid.

Fats probably wasn’t there anyway. Maybe he was out of town, playing Las Vegas. Hell, he had more than 70 concerts at the Flamingo in 1974.

I got his 9th Ward address  and when I got home, I wrote him a letter on my custom-made yellow and black Boogie stationary. The letter was an interview request.

The interview never happened.  It was a fantasy and the reality was  my letter went unanswered.

 

 

 

 

 

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Company Burger makes up for Whataburger

The double cheese at the Uptown Company Burger in New Orleans is burger bliss. JOHN E. BIALAS

By JOHN E. BIALAS
Broadmoor Bureau Chief

Lunch at Company Burger in Uptown New Orleans on Saturday more than made up for my recent  experience at Whataburger in Gulfport, a disaster that led to a Perc360.com post.

Doug Barber and I went to Company Burger before the retired sportswriter, Biloxi Sports Hall of Famer and longtime friend took me to the South Florida-Tulane football game at Yulman Stadium.

I got the double cheese, fries and a bottled Barq’s Root Beer with a cup of ice.

The double cheese was two-at-one-time perfection. It was burger bliss. Hot, fresh and juicy with onions, pickles, mustard and ketchup.

A New Orleans restaurant critic from long ago would have called this a platonic dish. It’s far better than anything you can get at a national burger chain.

I had worked up an appetite after Doug let me make a stop at Stein’s Deli to buy a loaf of the best egg bread you will find anywhere.

Stein’s was packed because of what I call “The Blake Lively Effect.” The actress said on a TV show that Stein’s is one of her go-to places when she is in New Orleans, and now everyone wants to go there. I guess Mrs. Ryan Reynolds has that kind of influence.

Just up the street is Tracey’s, a bar and po-boy restaurant Doug and I went to after lunch. It’s a hangout for watching a lot of football games and the place was busy when Doug and I were there, only to get crazy busy hours later for the LSU-Ole Miss telecast.

It’s SRO when the Tigahs are on TV whether it’s morning, noon or night, though Tracey’s might need a bigger place if it ever got The Blake Lively Endorsement.

Doug, who has season tickets, says he wishes the Green Wave football team could be as exceptional as the fan experience Tulane provides. Season-ticket holders have a number of parking lots to choose from, and Doug’s lot is across from St. Rita Catholic Church.

Shuttle buses are available and they take you to and from the stadium, and they run in a timely manner. No waiting and no long lines.

Tulane gave South Florida quite a challenge after it appeared the game would be a rout. The final: Bulls 34, Green Wave 28.

The slant pass put Tulane back in the game, and after the game, fans caught slant passes of free jambalaya mix  as they left the stadium.

That’s naturally Uptown Nawlins.

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Walked into hot bar, walked out with cool book

The Saturn Bar on St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans hosted a book launch and reading Thursday night. JOHN E. BIALAS

By JOHN E. BIALAS
Broadmoor Bureau Chief

I walked into a hot New Orleans bar around 7 p.m. Thursday and walked out around 8:30 with a cool new book.

I was among the many who packed a back room at the Saturn Bar for the launch of “The Futilitarians: Our Year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, and Reading.” a post-Katrina memoir by New Orleans writer Anne Gisleson.

This is her first book, and she writes about being in the Existential Crisis Reading Group and their meetings from January 2012 to December 2012.

Had I known the temperature of the back room before I got to the bar, I would have come up with my own subtitle:  “Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, Reading and Sweating. A Lot of Sweating.”

Actually, it felt nice and cool when I walked into the bar.  The AC was going in the front room, but the back room was hot.

It was sweaty hot. It was drip-from-your-forehead hot.

No matter.

I was more than happy to be there because of the presence of Octavia Books, one of my favorite Uptown stores, and my first chance to go to the Saturn Bar, a Bywater dive on St. Claude Avenue.

Octavia Books had a table in the front room to sell copies of “The Futilitarians” and I was one of the first to buy one. I had cash in hand, money left over from a trip to Colorado in July.

Gisleson and other ECRG members did an entertaining hour-long reading that included music, and before I left the bar, she signed my copy of “The Futilitarians” after my short wait in line.

Now that I’m back home in Gulfport, I believe “The Futilitarians” will be a challenging, thought-provoking and emotional experience. I look forward to reading it starting this weekend.

And I predict no sweat will be involved.

 

 

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