Friday, August 21, 2009

Eater's Remorse: Woe Is Lunch

It's always during lunchtime that I miss New Orleans the most. Well, lunchtime and the time spent walking from my front door to my car ... and the my little Baxterbear's walk-times ... and bar-times. But seriously, lunchtime in Long Island has proven to be the most painful hour spent away from the city of my heart.

A part of my long silence on this blog is due to nothing more than pure lack of inspiration. The other parts are due equally in part to the job-hunt (which is over -- I am again gainfully employed! And for grown-up money, finally!) and the house-hunt (which is almost over -- we're officially in contract!). However, if I were to eat something exceptional, believe you me that I'd be writing in my blog pretty soon after consumption of said exceptional foodstuff. So obviously, I haven't had anything super special (aside from my dad's ribs and lo mein ... I went on a rib-eating spree while I was depressed about the job situation when I had no situation) in a long while.

So anyway -- lunch.

In my days as a project manager at Mudbug Media in downtown New Orleans, we were walking distance to many a delicious and affordable lunch. The temperature specials at Palace Cafe during the summer were surprisingly reasonable. The way this promotion went was that the high temp of the day was the cost of a lunch that day. For example, if the high were 98 degrees Fahrenheit, lunch was then $9.80.

Across the street was Felipe's Taqueria. Sweet fried shrimp in burritos! Madness and brilliance all smooshed together in a flavorful explosion of vegetables, rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, and pico de gallo! Oh, how I miss thee, fried shrimp in burrito.

I also miss fried shrimp in French bread. In Long Island, fried shrimp is breaded in bread crumbs, not batter, and it's served on Italian bread with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It's pretty decadent, but honestly, I wish I had the option of crusty little shrimp on crusty, flaky bread, hot pickle-flavored mayonnaise oozing out, and cold shredded lettuce pouring down my shirt.

My favorite burger joint in all the world, Yo' Mama's, wasn't far either. Just a brisk walk down towards Jackson Square for the most inventive and flavorful $9 burgers I've ever had the pleasure of stuffing my face with. You felt bad about eating half a pound of seasoned meat with real bacon, an inch of peanut butter, mayonnaise, or any other seemingly vile combination of condiments and toppings, but not bad enough to opt for salad instead of a perfectly baked potato.

Drago's charbroiled oysters are also sorely missed. They sure as hell don't have oysters like that in Long Island, regardless of the fact that Blue Point oysters have built themselves a reputation. Fat, juicy, and unafraid to swim in hot butter, these babies were the best.

On days that we'd venture out further, the Marigny was always a happening place to grab some grub. Sukho Thai, with its sweet Dirty Noodles, crunchy broccoli, and super slow but intimate service, was always one of my absolute favorites. Not only does the food make me pine, but it seems wrong that my Thai food these days are served by people that are NOT my friend Curly-Headed Dude.

We went to Mona's pretty often, too. Mm, meals ending in Jordan almonds, those Easter Egg-looking hard candy-shelled nuts that threatened to break the enamel of your teeth before you could get to the flesh of the almond. The deep-fried cheese that fried but did not melt nor goo. It was a great conversation piece every time, and how often can you call a conversation piece delicious?

The Warehouse District was not without its attractions, either. John Besh's Luke's prix fixe lunches are beyond compare, and at (if I do recall) $15 for a three-course special, how can you go wrong? Cochon BUTCHER is a delight in pigging out on pig. La Boca's Argentinian steaks was also good value, as was U.S. Prime, whose crabcakes I pronounced, on the record, as "the best I've ever had!" (Yes, that's me quoted in their ads!) Crescent City Steaks can't be beat for classic sizzling butter goodness and affordability, with $5 sides.

Mat and Naddie's buffet lunch for $10, with outdoor dining; Lebanon Cafe's garlicky falafel and creamy babaganoush; Nirvana's $10 Indian lunch buffet; Domilise's tartar-sauce and Creole mustard covered po-boys; homemade salsa from Juan's Flying Burrito ... these are only the tip of the iceberg.

Faced with Bohemia, Long Island's options of McDonald's, Applebee's, Wendy's, Panera Bread (which actually is very good ... but lacking in originality and spirit), Subway, and other chain restaurants, I've grown despondent over my midday meal and have all but boycotted it. I know I still have some exploring to do to find the Mom and Pop shops that so liberally litter New Orleans, but they seem to all be pizza, bagel, or Chinese joints. I grew up on those three major food groups, but after five years in the Crescent City, they fail to satisfy my need for ethnicity and variety.

And so, with my newfound grown-up money, as soon as I can, I'm hopping a plane to Nola to stuff my gut. House-poor-dom be damned! Mama needs to eat.