Chowing Down South: Po' Boys, Gumbo, and Beignets in LA
When I stopped by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau to pick up a packet, I asked the lady in the shipping and receiving department where she would go in the neighborhood for lunch if she was hungry for some of the famous local fare: Po’ boys and gumbo.
She told me to cross the street and check out The Trolley Stop, located right along the Charles Avenue trolley line. It has that hole-in-the-wall feeling down pat, very modest looking and friendly service that treats you more like a friend than a customer (they love to use the word ‘baby,’ as in, Whatcha need, baby?).
Feeling good about the recommendation upon entry, I sat at the bar. I think it’s an absolute must when you’re dining alone or with one other person, especially as a tourist – it’s the perfect chance to chat up some locals and ask for further suggestions (at the very least – sometimes you make a friend). I ordered an Abita Amber and asked the waitress what she liked on the menu. She asked if I trusted her and I nodded my head, indicating that she should feel free to order for me. I received a roast-beef po’ boy with a side of chicken and sausage gumbo, both of which really impressed me (Trick: When ordering gumbo, especially small cups, see if they’ll put the rice on the side as you’ll get more gumbo this way).
A po’ boy is a submarine/hoagie made with New Orleans French bread, giving the sandwich a crispy and flaky backbone. This particular one at the Trolley Stop came with hot roast beef and an au jus, the juice seeping into the bread and providing a rich finish (and though I’m typically not a fan, the mayonnaise did well to balance the salty au jus). Open 24-hours on the weekend, my jesting thoughts were that I should come back: If I enjoyed it this much at noon, imagine how it would taste at 4 a.m. after a night out in downtown New Orleans.
I left with a huge smile on my face – satisfied physically by the authentic meal and mentally by the fact that I had found a gem of a place that I didn’t know about that morning when I woke up. Maybe it’s a travel writer thing, but I eat that sort of thing up, literally. There’s a lesson in this as well: When you don’t know one thing from the other, always follow the local advice.
Strolling the streets of Uptown New Orleans (Garden District) reminded me of St. Simons and Savannah, the live oak trees providing plenty of shade (or in this case, acting as an umbrella) and creating a canopy effect at times. They are some of my favorite trees because of the way they spread out in the sky, and the way in which the Spanish moss can often be seen dangling over their branches.
It’s the definition of a beautiful disaster: The moss will eventually suffocate the tree. I was told in Georgia the average live oak takes 300 years to grow, 300 years to live, and 300 years to die, and as I walked under them it was hard not to wonder how many people have walked under the same tree, how many have looked up at it and enjoyed it as much as I was in that moment. Cheesy, but true.
Also try: Coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde. I went into it thinking Cafe Du Monde would be touristy and overrated, however I was promptly proven wrong (the beignets are ridiculously good, honestly). You sit comfortably out of the sun under the shade of a large awning, and we could hear the music of the street performers come through with the breeze (the street performers can be quite good). They only serve coffee, juice, and beignets, so don’t be scared off by a long line (which there will be). There are many tables and high turnover – we only waited 5-10 minutes on a Sunday afternoon (which happened to be Mother’s Day).