Ever have that feeling of being completely disoriented? Like when you close your eyes for what you think will be an hour, tops, and the next thing you know it’s eight hours later and you’re spooning a Boston Terrier in the front seat of your corolla. I must have needed sleep more than I thought I did. I had to really coax the dogs out of the car for a pee since it was nice and cozy even with the windows rolled down a bit. As I was trying to shake the cobwebs out, I did a bit of Yelp scouting for a place to stop for breakfast and some much needed coffee. With a destination plugged into the phone, we were on the road.
But not for long. Serda’s Coffee Co. in Mobile, Alabama wasn’t too far away and we parked shortly after they had opened. I was thrilled to hear that the dogs would not only be allowed on the patio, but I was welcome to close the gate for the fence and let them wander since I was the only person there. Oh and would they like to have a puppacino? Would they?! Trick question right? I brought the dogs out of the car along their bowls of food and water which they promptly ignored once they saw that someone was coming to visit. And that someone brought little cups of whipped cream with dog cookies. Jack was in love. Pretty much all of the staff and some students that were cramming for exams all took a turn getting dog loving. Soon a plate of chai spiced pancakes and a small bowl of fruit were placed on the table before me. The pancakes came with butter and maple syrup but hardly needed either as they were moist and full of warm spice flavour. There was a steady stream of traffic for the drive thru and Piper stood by the fence watching all the cars and trucks go by, her little stump wagging slightly as she waited for someone to notice her. She was kind of hidden by some foliage so I don’t think most people knew they were being watched but if they saw her, I knew it because Piper’s stump would wag as fast as it could.
The woman that I thought of as the manager came out to check on me and we chatted for a little bit about dogs and such. There was one thing that stood out for me and the fact that it stood out is a bit odd. A couple of times, she mentioned her wife. OK cool. I have no problem with same-sex marriages. But there’s always been this perception of southern states not being so accepting. So either the perception is far from the reality or she just didn’t care what I thought. I was happy with both explanations and just re-affirms why I like to travel so much and actually get out to meet people.
With a full tummy and the contented feeling of being caffeinated, I walked the dogs along the side of the property before we continued on. After a little while down the road, I reached into the bag of peaches and started munching on the tiny nuggets of happiness. They were a little hard and underripe which I thought was not a bad thing since it kept me from turning into a walking juice slick. That was until I licked my lip and felt a sharp edge on one of my teeth. I poked at it with the tip of my tongue. Yup I had chipped a tooth. It wasn’t bad, but of course I had to keep working the jagged little edge with my tongue almost as though I had to confirm that it was there.
A few hours later, and we entered Louisiana. If you read this trip series from the start, you’ll remember that I said there were three segments to it: getting to the start, the actual trip, and getting home. Well, Louisiana is where the real trip begins.
If you read enough of my blogs, you will eventually find references to Alton Brown and his series “Feasting On Asphalt”. The first season was a trip across the United States and the second…well in the second season, Alton and his crew travel the Great River Road. This road follows the Mississippi River from it’s headwaters in Minnesota to where it enters to Gulf of Mexico. This was a trip I have been wanting to take for years. I watched the series, I read the book, I wanted to stand there and eat there and do that. And now, finally, I did.
Shortly after noon, and having driven 3072.8 km, we arrived at the end of Highway 23 just past Venice, Louisiana. There is a sign that says you are at the southernmost point in Louisiana. It’s not a pretty place to sit and you can’t really see the water through the tall grass and the ships that are docked nearby. And it was hot. So hot.
I sat there and I wanted to be nervous or excited or overwhelmed about this trip that I have been aching to take for years and I just couldn’t. I looked at the dogs who had found the shade of the car, or like Leo the shade under the car, and realized that to them, this was just another series of days spent on the road. They didn’t care where we were as long as we were all together. And it made sense to me. If I had put all of these expectations about what an amazing or momentous trip we were going to have, it wouldn’t be the trip. It would be an ideal and we all know that reality never lives up to ideals.
Now a little bit about that trip. The Great River Road runs along both sides of the Mississippi River through and along ten different states. My plan was to go through each state with stops at some of the restaurants and locations featured on Feasting on Asphalt. Unfortunately, in the time since the show was filmed, several of those restaurants had closed. Even more unfortunate was the fact that the list that I had made of places that were still open was sitting at home. Whoops. All part of the fun figuring out what’s still open. And I wasn’t going to get too caught up on going to the same places. If I can great. If not, oh well. Alton didn’t have a car full of dogs to worry about so some of those places weren’t going to be an option any way.
After everyone drank their fill, I strapped them all back into the car and headed north. Now when I had done research on the Great River Road (yes I actually researched it), the website suggested that the road was well-marked with placards. In Louisiana, it isn’t. At all. I saw one sign. One. I think. It was in the opposite direction so I could be wrong. At first, it’s not a big deal since there is only one highway going north anyway. And along that highway, were signs for things like crawfish and boudin. I had passed all those places on the way south but you better believe I was going to stop on the way north.
I stopped at Dad’s Restaurant and bounded in, excited for crawfish and felt myself deflate when I was told they were sold out. She told me their seafood is fresh and so I ordered a shrimp burger. Soon I was holding a soft burger bun loaded with fried shrimp. It was good. It was very good and even with the fried crust, I could taste the freshness of the shrimp. But it wasn’t crawfish.
So we drove on and when we came to a stand that had signs for boudin and crawfish and boiled peanuts, I thought we had hit the southern jackpot. Nope. All they had was some boudin and peanuts. I had to ask what boudin was and watched them struggle to explain what they all just knew and what they told me is that it’s a sausage casing filled with rice and pork. Well I like all of those things so I ordered a boudin. I did not expect to be handed a hot foil-wrapped package from a slow-cooker. When I sat in my car I unwrapped, well, a sausage. I had to wait before I could eat it but I didn’t wait long enough and I think I gave myself minor burns, especially on my newly raw tongue. It’s not what I would think of when I think of sausage: the texture is soft and it seemed like I could have just sucked it out of the casing. It was tasty with a mix of spices that I could not quite put my finger on. I would soon learn that I would be feeling that way a lot.
I had hoped that as we got closer to New Orleans I would start to see signs or placards or something to show the route. Nope. It didn’t matter because we were going to be spending a couple of days in New Orleans anyway. I drove to the Welcome Centre and parked in the lot right beside it. Of course I didn’t see the car behind me with the smashed out window and destroyed dashboard until after I had paid for our spot. Ohhhhhhh kaaaaaaaay. I felt a bit of hesitation as we walked away but I thought that since it was in the middle of the day and there was nothing of value visible, hopefully the car wouldn’t be a target.
We wandered around the narrow streets of the French Quarter. It’s not the best place to take three dogs, especially if one is bigger as Piper is. I’m sure I could have carried the boys into several stores but there really isn’t enough space to tie them up outside. Seeing as most of the stores seemed to be catering to the tourist crowd with kitschy offerings, I’m not sure I would have gone in many anyway.
Now I pride myself at being a good navigator and I made a point of noting the intersection where we had parked the car. But I got myself turned around at some point and when I punched “Welcome Centre” into my phone, it showed me three and none of them were near the streets I had thought we were at. Not a big deal in and of itself, but the streets were getting warm and Jack does not deal well with heat. Partly because he has that squishy face but also because he is a diva. I’m not kidding. But there are times when he will be panting his fool head off and sounding like a congested train then go outside and find the HOTTEST part of the yard, which is usually the brick patio and flop himself in the sun. So I wasn’t too terribly concerned about him.
With plenty of shade and water stops, and directions from a woman working at a tour company, we started making our way back to the lot. We did stop in Jackson Square on the grass under a tree where a little girl came to visit with the dogs. I didn’t realize until much later that dogs aren’t allowed in the park. Apparently there are signs posted although I didn’t see a single one.
Eventually, we made it back to the car. And the car was intact. Yay! With the dogs loaded and air conditioning cranked to 11, we continued north to an Airbnb that I had booked for our stay in New Orleans in a quiet residential area north of the Quarter. I met our hosts, who are just lovely people, and flopped down to give the dogs a chance to rest and consider my food options. I was hungry and so happy to see that a highly recommended place was less than 10 minutes away. Sorry dogs, back in the car. We could have walked the distance but I figured that since I don’t know the area and the dogs had done a bunch of walking already, we would just drive. I mean, what’s another 10 minutes?
There was a couple of concrete tables and benches out front of Sassafras Creole Kitchen and I was able to bring the dogs to sit with me. The poor waitress had no idea how to deal with this white girl who just kept saying “I want the southern experience” but she did a great job recommending the gumbeaux and smothered okra and shrimp. The gumbo is off the charts good. I was torn between guzzling it back and savouring each bite. I couldn’t, and still can’t, figure out the spices and she was a bit cagey with them. She did let it slip that there is file powder but that was it. The shrimp and okra wasn’t quite what I expected as it was a thick stew with lots of tomato, thick chunks of okra, and shrimp. It was good and I was stuffed after I practically licked the bowl clean. The dogs had tried to wiggle their noses in for some samples but with Piper’s delicate belly, I didn’t want to deal with any possible aftermath. Leo sat on the bench next to me since I obviously didn’t see him when he was sitting on the ground. We certainly provided plenty of entertainment for the people going inside.
It was close to 10:00 pm when we parked the car for the night after a very long and good first day with the river.
Note: The bandannas the dogs are wearing are courtesy of HOGdogSwag