February 12, 2013 11:16:14 AM
So it finally happened. After years of making and buying King Cakes, I finally got the prized plastic baby. Now granted, my chances dramatically increased due to the fact that the only other person in the baby race was my wife. My sister-in-law, who lives in Pass Christian, sent us a delicious blueberry and cream cheese-filled cake from Paul's Bakery in Picayune. It was scrumptious way to celebrate Mardi Gras.
I love Mardi Gras -- it's one of my favorite times of the year along with college football season, Christmas and the Fourth of July. As someone who has lived in both Mobile and New Orleans, I have some very fond memories of Carnival -- most of which I experienced in Mobile. I've attended Mardi Gras parades up and down the Coast and my favorites were the Pass Parade in Pass Christian and the Fairhope Parade in Fairhope, Ala.
Parades aside, I enjoy Mardis Gras because I enjoy reminiscing about New Orleans. The time I spent as a much younger man living and working in the French Quarter on the corner of Chartres and Esplanade are some of my favorite memories. The French Quarter was a world of wonder for a man in his mid-20s, especially this one. It was living in an exotic locale that was both foreign and familiar. I tried to make every moment count while I was there.
One of the many things I love about New Orleans, as do many, is the music. I am obsessed withe regional music -- the soul and power pop of Memphis, the country music of Nashville, the blues from the Mississippi Hills and the hodgepodge of musical styles true to New Orleans. I can talk The Meters, Dr. John, Allan Toussaint, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Fats Domino all day long. And no, I didn't forget to include the Neville Brothers in that list. I love bands that include Nevilles such as The Meters and Dumpsta Funk, but I think the Nevilles are a bit overrated as a group. Give me a choice of seeing the Meters or the Neville Brothers and I will always choose the Meters or even the Funky Meters without Zig (Modeliste) and Leo (Nocentelli).
Because of my job at the time, I had somewhat of an insider's glimpse into New Orleans' music scene. I was living in a house owned by acclaimed producer Daniel Lanois, who produced U2's "Joshua Tree," as well as Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan. The house, formerly known as Kingsway, is now owned by Nic Cage.
I'm not name-dropping, this is just how it was. I was hanging with Cyrill Neville and I got to meet Meter's guitarist Leo Nocentelli. I met John Goodman at the House of Blues before a Leon Russell show. I also saw blues guitarist Snooks Eaglin, Meter's bassist George Porter and his band Runnin' Pardners as well as the Iguanas at Mid-City Lanes, home of the world famous Rock-N-Bowl. For those who haven't been, Rock-N-Bowl is a bowling alley that has live bands in a setting that is very Quinten Tarantino. Mick and Keith and Ronnie played a set there with a local band once -- yes, that Mick and Keith and Ronnie.
One of the highlights of my time in New Orleans was going to Sea-Saint Studio in the Gentilly area. Sea-Saint was owned by Marshall Sehorn and the legendary Allen Toussaint. Some of the greatest sounds of New Orleans were recorded there including Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" and Dr. John's "Right Place Wrong Time." I got to check out Lenny Kravitz recording some songs at Sea-Saint. Kravitz was living in the Quarter on Dauphin Street at the time.
The other thing we all love New Orleans for is the food. Having married a native of the Coast and a Tulane graduate, trips to New Orleans are more frequent than they once were. It also has made her an Alabama fan and me a die-hard Saints fan. That was part of our marriage agreement.
We were there during the Christmas holidays and it was on that trip that I met my new love -- the fried chicken liver and coleslaw po' boy at Mahoney's on Magazine Street. It was exactly as described, fried chicken lives and cole slaw made with creole mustard on Gambino's bread. It was fantastic. It ranks right up there with the chicken livers, white beans and rice from Praline Connection, which, despite its touristy name, is some serious soul food, and the shrimp-oyster po' boy from Verde Mart on Chartres Street in the Quarter. On a side note, for everyone who thinks you can't get a descent muffaletta outside of Louisiana, check out United Deli in East Columbus.
I suppose I romanticize the season of Mardi Gras because it reminds me of my time spent in New Orleans -- those hazy, humid days that went by too quickly. There's a photo hanging in my home of my parents in New Orleans during Mardi Gras in 2003. It was taken just a couple of months before my father died. I spend a lot of time looking at that photo nowadays, pining for days gone by. It looks like everyone was having a grand time on Bourbon Street and that Mardi Gras would last forever.