Friday, March 6, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Overly Overindulgent

Image borrowed from

I'll admit it loud and confess it proud: I've recently been on an uber-fat kid kick where every other day, I'd seek out a new place to have a fried shrimp po-boy. (Click that link to get to a sweet recipe.) In New Orleans, this is not difficult to do, which I've proven by the fact that I've been on this mayonnaise- and grease-drenched bingefest for over two weeks, and only once returning to the same place.

However, it ended tonight.

I knew it had to come to a close, but I decided that I was done because the craving stopped taking over my waking thoughts and instead became a dull ache. Realistically, I should have terminated this mission purely for health reasons, but although high blood pressures and heart disease has reared its ugly head in my family, I luckily have the cholesterol and blood pressure of a young, healthy ox. Lord knows how, considering I celebrated this revelation by promptly frying up half a pound of center cut bacon and eating it while watching a Gilmore Girls marathon. (No regrets.)

Based on the fried green tomato and grilled shrimp with remoulade po-boy Irish Channel shop Mahony's had for the Po-Boy Preservation Festival, it seemed appropriate for this to be the final leg of a wonderful journey, especially so close to St. Patrick's Day. My Partner in Dine Leah had been raving about Mahony's since she'd visited months ago, and I had not a trace of trepidation to halt my step as I excitedly (and ambitiously) ordered a footlong fried shrimp po-boy.

There were a heap of great combinations--the Oysters Remoulade were a promising special for the night; Cochon de Lait is always a treat; root beer-glazed Chisesi ham (a Louisiana staple which I've still to knowingly try); their famous "Peacemaker," a behemoth of P&J's fried oysters, cheddar cheese, and bacon; and of course, the fried green "tomaters" with shrimp.

But when you're on a kick, you are on that kick and that kick only, hence the boring but tried-and-true order.

The fries were a delicious and moist surprise, not having eaten house-made, fresh-cut fries since I was the grill girl at my parents' restaurant. Sweet, juicy, and pure of flavor (and remember--I am a purist when it comes to my food), these were an unexpected treat.

Needless to say, with this kind of quality in something as simple as French fries, I was stoked to see what my deli-papered cylinder would hold. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed.

Before y'all get riled up, I wasn't disappointed because it was bad, or because the quality was poor or the taste bland. It was rather the opposite. Huge, perfectly cleaned, sweet-fleshed Gulf shrimp at least 2-1/2 inches across curled up filled the innards of a soft-centered, crusty topped Leidenheimer bread. The lettuce was crisp, clean, and aplenty; the tomatoes were ripe and juicy. Of pickles, I could have gladly stuffed more in there, and you can't give me enough mayonnaise ever, but other than that, the sandwich was technically flawless.

Now here's my problem: when I go out to eat something bad for me, I want something REALLY bad. I wanted the little shrimp, the traditional fried shrimp po-boy shown in the picture in the header. I mean, yes, I love a dressed up version of a poor man's food, but dress a wolf in sheep's clothing, and eventually, it's going to start to bleat in mournful baas.

What I'm trying to say is that fancying up a pauper's dish and making it too refined,causes it to lose its identity, which causes the food to lose its soul. You just can't go too far or the dish's sense of place or self disappears.

The owner of Mahony's knows his seafood, having been the executive chef at RioMar, and that's a wonderful thing. However, his expertise and taste for the finer things has become overly apparent in that something so simple as a dinner of fried shrimp po-boys can cost as much as a dinner out. Where's the "po-boy" in that? In fact, I intentionally don't get shrimp that often when I eat at restaurants because local chefs are huge fans of the distinctive flavor of local Gulf shrimp, those colossal, meaty, monsters that leave a funky aftertaste that just isn't to my liking. Sorry, guys ... but I don't like the muddy, briney taste of crawfish, either, so I guess I shouldn't offer an opinion on this matter.

But basically, there's a fine line between classing up a down-class favorite and going too far left-field with it. The concept of using Gulf shrimp for a straightforward po-boy is a great one, but in practice, it leaves me wanting my little innocuous white shrimp, which has far more surface area for breading than their gigantic warm-water cousins. The Gulf shrimp start to just taste like ... well, really nice boiled shrimp. The cornmeal breading is a valiant attempt to create bigger crunch for lesser exposed space, but there's just not enough fried texture to have me thoroughly enjoy the eating experience. When I want stuff fried, I want it fried like nobody's business. I most definitely do not want to chew through the thick flesh of a giant shrimp.

The fried green tomatoes run into this same problem, more or less. The slices are cut so thick that the oil-drenched flavor doesn't come through. Instead, the abrasiveness of the unripened tomatoes come through instead, without the sweetness that cornmeal breading brings. The little bit of heat in the remoulade is really nice in this sandwich, and the smaller Gulf shrimp is a fantastic complement, but I do wish that the green tomatoes were thin slices layered atop one another rather than a whole tomato cut into five rounds.

Essentially, my point is this: a prime steakburger with aged cheddar cheese and applewood bacon on a soft, toasted potato roll topped with heirloom or Creole tomatoes, green-leaf lettuce, canola oil mayonnaise, and good old Heinz ketchup with some black pepper is great. A dry-aged steakburger with Beluga caviar, arugula or baby spinach, Brie, Italian pancetta, grilled sweetbreads, Creole mustard, and exotic striped fried eggplant on parmesan-rosemary ciabatta is not. It's overkill, because it's true--too much of a good thing is sometimes just too much.

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