For breakfast today we sought out a well-recommended location in the French Quarter called The Old Coffee Pot – an original restaurant of old New Orleans established in 1696. The establishment’s history was evident in the historical paintings and objects located throughout the restaurant.
Maureen and I ordered “the Plantation Breakfast” — two eggs any style, ham steak, grits, biscuit and something called “Calla Cakes” — deep-fried sweet rice balls seasoned with vanilla and almond flavourings and dusted with powdered sugar.
On the plus side, the eggs were cooked a perfect over medium and the grits were buttery and well seasoned. The “ham steak” was tasty but was clearly a slice of processed, pressed ham which is kind of a sacrilege in the South. We were expecting a slice of off-the-bone ham. The biscuit was warm, light, fluffy and delicious – among the best we’ve had.
The calla cakes were, like the beignets of Cafe Du Monde, submerged under a tiny mountain of icing sugar. Once the cake was shaken off enough to get a bite without wearing some, the crispy treat was a warm, homey delicacy with dominant almond flavouring. Our server made it seem like it was a “secret ingredient” and looked crestfallen when we identified it immediately. They were good to try, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to order them.
The ham was wonderfully rescued by placing it between two halves of this amazing biscuit. All is forgiven.
2012 has been the Summer of Comedy for us. Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, Natasha Leggere, John Oliver, Stephen Merchant, Patton Oswalt, and Jerry Seinfeld. Today we are heading off to Montreal in the midst of its annual Just For Laughs Comedy Festival to see a favorite of ours – Jim Gaffigan.
A perfect July day awaits us as does the open road. The sun is high in the sky and insects buzz happily (I’m only assuming here). Cottonball clouds dot the field of blue sky like sheep. The highway is lined with a colourful blur of oncoming wildflowers. Our entertainment of choice today is a Nerdist podcast featuring guest Seth Myers. A good way to get in the mood for the festival.
As we pass neat rows of corn with silos rising soft in the hazy distance, I am reminded of the Indiana of a previous road trip. Could just as well be passing through there. When we cross the border into Quebec, the clouds flatten out and hills rise up in the distance. After a pleasant hour and a half we cross part of the St. Lawrence River and begin to see the outcroppings of a major metropolis. We are here!
Despite the brutal 30-plus degree heat, we head out to the festival grounds and beyond to explore. We are staying at the Hyatt and the festival is in full swing outside. Just for Laughs is a Quebec creation and it has spread to other parts of the globe. We visited the Chicago edition in June. Montreal’s festival is of a totally different and unique flavour. Quebec culture is very much in evidence here in all its government-funded, polka-dot fluorescent satin, mime-y glory, despite the fact that the majority of the comedy is in the English language.
Dinner tonight dinner will be at Laurier1936 BBQ, chosen because it is the 80-year-old original model for all the St-Hubert rotisserie-style restos, a classic Quebec tradition, curiously called BBQ, yet having no element of BBQ whatsoever. More famously and recently, the restaurant engaged Gordon Ramsay of Kitchen Nightmares to reinvigorate it, with a much ballyhooed falling out and competing lawsuits a-flying. Online reviews are alarmingly mixed but I am going with an open mind.
Laurier1936 is in a nice little university neighbourhood about 3 miles from the Hyatt. Many restaurants are not open in the city on Sunday evenings but Laurier is. We pull up out front and nab easy parking. We are greeted by a friendly staffer and the dessert case. She leads us from the main dining room, decorated in very modern white, to a back dining room which is faux distressed white french farmhouse with tin ceiling tiles, milk painted wainscotting and rustic brass fixtures. Clean and warm. The dining room is sparsely populated with two other couples and a small party, but the patio is hopping.
I must state right here that the chairs are the most uncomfortable in which I have EVER sat. Hard metal, cafe style with a narrow back braced at the seat that even my small butt could not fit between without bruising. I had to sit on the chair midway and spent the entire meal trying not to slip off. Why do restaurants never give their chairs a second thought?
The table boasts a complimentary jar of dill pickles, a salt shaker and the now rarely found, private pepper grinder. We place drink orders, pinot for me and beer for Rob. Both come in appropriate glassware which is a good sign. Nothing like a nice glass of red in a crappy, tiny, thick rimmed 50 cent wine glass.
I order the crispy chicken with fries and a buttermilk biscuit. The chicken comes with a honey mustard sauce but no gravy. I order a $1.50 side of gravy for $3. Rob orders the rib and chicken combo, with fries, gravy and coleslaw. Our meals arrive very quickly. My meal is presented in an artistic cone but needs to be emptied out onto a plate to eat it. Three pieces of plump crispy chicken, a biscuit, fries and a sweet, satisfying honey mustard sauce that actually compliments the chicken more than the gravy does. A note about the gravy: it is a good consistency, not overly salty and does not congeal. Strongly flavoured with herbs and tasty – but – tragically – and not a reflection on this sauce – I love the crap they serve at St. Hubert. THAT is hot chicken gravy to me and I cannot be swayed. Therefore I cannot judge the gravy here at Laurier. Rob, on the other hand, feels perfectly qualified to judge as he hates the gloppy, over-processed sludge that passes as chicken gravy at most rotisserie places (guess who added this sentence!).
My chicken is crispy and the homemade batter is lightly spicy. My only complaint is that the chicken is not deboned, which would be fine if the bones were large, but they opt to leave very tiny bones in the serving which you can’t really see, but you can feel with your tongue. You are left trying to politely spit them out. These pieces are all but boneless. Why choose to leave these bones in? In other news, my biscuit was barely warm and dry. It needed butter but it was not offered. I did not eat it. I have traveled in the southern US, home of the biscuit. I am ruined, yes, but even so, this was not a good biscuit.The fries were fine if not slightly over done for my taste. Rob enjoys this style — crispy, golden and not greasy.
Rob’s rotisserie chicken — 1/4 chicken, leg — was marvelous. It was plump, juicy and with a lovely golden skin. It was served on top of an open biscuit with fires and a small rack of pleasant, smoky ribs with a maple BBQ sauce.
We did not consider dessert as we were full. We waited over 15 minutes for our bill which was unacceptable despite the excellent service otherwise. Because it’s rare that I would deliberately go out for rotisserie chicken, I would probably not seek Laurier1936 out but would come back for the chicken if I was in the neighbourhood.
We are up early this last day we are to spend in Nashville, so that we can head into the pretty little town of Franklin for breakfast and to explore a little. We are breakfasting today at Merridee’s Breadbasket. It is a very busy place on a Saturday.
The atmosphere is warm and homey with blue-checked oilcloth covering the tables, rustic worn oak floors, brick walls and exposed rafters. We manage to snag a just-vacated table and take our spot at the end of a very long line to place orders.
After a long wait of twenty or more minutes our number is called. Both of us are having egg, ham, and cheese biscuits and one of their famous cinnamon rolls to split. The house coffee is fine but has a distinct hazelnut flavour. The orange juice is bottled from concentrate. Our sandwiches are made on an excellent, buttery ham and cheese biscuit which is too crumbly to eat by hand and we have to resort to fork and knife. The thinly sliced ham has been lightly pan fried and has a nice sweet-to-salty ratio. The processed cheese and fluffy egg omelet are delicious.
We savour the soft sweet buttery cinnamon roll that has a nice, loose, icing sugar topping which we prefer over a hard glaze. Overall the atmosphere at Merridee’s is one of hustle and bustle and noise. It’s clearly THE place to be for locals on a Saturday morning, but it is not the spot to enjoy some quiet time with a newspaper. Take your cinnamon bun home and enjoy it in the shade of your front porch. Or hotel.
We spend 45 minutes walking Main Street and enjoying the shops before heading over to The Factory, a 12-building complex that is a converted factory most notable for manufacturing stoves. One shop of note in the plaza is a well appointed antique store with numerous relics from the American Civil War. Oh how I would love a cannonball but my luggage was already over the weight limit on the way in. Instead we purchase some frames which contain small bits of the conflict and personalize it and let you feel the ghosts of a time gone by. A bit of pipe, a hand struck nail, buttons, dice, a harmonica reed, a bullet…
As we are leaving to meet our friends, Josee and Trevor for lunch, we get a surprise phone call from a another friend who I have known since she was just 1 year old. We did not think we would get to visit with her this time, but she caught us just as we were leaving the Factory and tells us she lives just three minutes away. After a short but sweet visit we head into town and have a refreshing lunch at Calypso Cafe, which specializes in Caribbean fare and makes a great salad.
We are a little early and pop into the Dog and Cat Shoppe around the corner. I am in kitty heaven. They have three cats and multitudes of kittens roaming free and sleeping everywhere. I spend 15 minutes with an adorable baby tortie sleeping in my arms while I look for “presents” to bring home two my two kitties. After lunch the boys head on out to shop at Nashville’s Guitar Center and us girls go on a two mile hike on the lovely walking trails in Nashville.
Dinner tonight has been suggested by Trevor and Josee. They tell us it is really a backwoods hole-in-the-wall which serves pretty good cajun food. We are game, especially if it is a hole-in-the-wall. That’s where you will find some of the best cooking.
Papa Boudreaux’s Cajun Cafe is an hour and fifteen minute drive from Franklin to Santa Fe, Tennessee (the locals pronounce it “Santa FEE”) mostly on a winding two laner through gorgeous country. Rolling green hills, pretty mansions and beautiful more modest bungalows, horse farms and fence rows and even the occasional beat up trailer add spice and variety to this drive. We hit two detours and are completely lost to the backwoods of Tennessee save for Stella 3000, our GPS. She finally pulls us up at a small, yellow building. The parking lot is full of cars and trucks. It is a surprise because I have no idea where they all came from. There is not the kind of population in the area it would seem, to support a restaurant here. We enter, give a name and go outside and wait to be called. No waiting time is given. Several more people show up and put their names in. Some of them are smarter and have brought coolers of beer knowing they will have to wait in the heat for a table.
We sit outside and enjoy a pleasant, warm Tennessee evening. After about twenty minutes we get called in. Papa Boudreaux’s is small, boasting only seven tables. The entire place inside and out is decorated in yellow and purple, with a side of beads and football memorabillia. A flattie on one wall is showing a game between Oregon and LSU. “Papa” alternately yells with approval and swears his disgust at the TV.
Right beside our table, Ronnie Fruge serenades us on his Gibson, and chats between folk, country and cajun tunes and some of his own. Trevor and Rob are a tough audience being guitarists/singers themselves. Ronnie is a treat and is the genuine article. Papa’s is old school and accepts only cash or cheques. There is no alcohol for sale but you are welcome to bring your own in.
As we peruse the small menu on the chalkboard, people continue to pour in and put their names on the waiting list before heading back outside to wait. Our waitress returns to our table with our drinks and some warm baguette and butter to take our food orders. I ask her what the best thing on the menu is as I am tempted by several things. She tells me it’s the crawfish-shrimp etouffee. I order that and skip apps because I want to have dessert here. Rob orders some boudin balls and pasta with chicken and andouille, Trevor orders fried scallops and garlic shrimp and pasta, Josee gets the shrimp creole.
The apps arrive first. Both the scallops and the boudin come with a chunky, spicy, tomato, onion, pepper relish. The scallops are large and perfectly fried. No greasy residue and great scallop texture. The boudin balls are fried as well, have strong pork flavour and go well with the tomato relish.
The mains arrive shortly and I am not disappointed. My etouffe is homemade, honest, authentic cajun food. The portion is quite large and I’m glad I skipped apps. The dish is chock full of plump Gulf shrimp and tiny crawfish tails. The creamy sauce is delicate yet contains a mild heat, cooled by the rice it is served over.
Rob’s pasta had a light barely there cream sauce that nicely tied together the flavours of the smoky andouille, the chicken and a little cajun heat.
I tried Josee’s creole and it was a classic, rich, smokey tomato sauce with onion and pepper and a good kick of heat, the kind that makes you sweat a bit eating it. Trevor enjoyed his pasta but I never got a taste. It sure looked good!
I’m glad we saved room for dessert. Louisiana chocolate bread pudding. And four spoons. It is a big portion with warm, rich, not overly sweet chocolate bread pudding with a fudgy sauce and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream all ready melting it’s descent into the goo.
Papa Boudreaux’s is an incredible treat in the backwoods of Tennessee and serves Cajun food as good as any you will find in the bayou state.
Here’s a local Tennessee TV bit on the place:
We had a great 3 days in Nashville and in Tennessee. It was a great mix of music, food and friends. The area is captivating and beautiful. Tomorrow finds us moving on to unfamiliar turf as neither of us have been to our remaining road trip destinations before, not counting Rob’s occasional overnight business trips, which are definitely not the way to discover a region and its offerings. Tomorrow the road leads through Kentucky, on to Evansville, Indiana. Goodbye to Nashville.
Monday morning is our last chance to grab a bite in New York. We fly out in the afternoon and have to head to the airport just after noon. A cloudy but warm day which holds some promise of a very nice spring day once the clouds disperse. We head on over to the Clinton Street Bakery a few blocks from our hotel. We attempted to eat here on the weekend but were faced with a 90-minute wait.
9:30 on a Monday finds the bakery very busy but with an empty table or two. We are seated near the window. The place is clean and welcoming, bright and homey. We order the Southern breakfast with biscuits and tomato jam on the side, and I can’t resist a glass of fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice.
The southern breakfast consists of two eggs however you like ’em, two slices of excellently fried green tomatoes, adequate cheesy grits (Rob makes them way better. His are cheesier) and four or five slices of thick-sliced sugar-cured bacon that is the BEST EVER bacon we’ve had. Juicy, flat, perfectly crisped, and almost candied, it would be a good enough reason alone to return to this breakfast spot. Their famous biscuits are in my opinion just good biscuits but I’ve had better cat-head biscuits (so named because they’re the size of a cat’s head — made with lard or bacon grease and whole buttermilk) in the south, in Nashville and North Carolina specifically. At Clinton Bakery they were served with good raspberry jam, not the tomato jam we ordered and were looking forward to, as good tomato jam was a treat, but we didn’t make a fuss. It was all good.