After eating at the two places to be covered yesterday, I got the idea of writing about them. I think I've rationalized it in this way: I would like to share experiences at specific places that I found to be positive. I thought it would be fun to write about this. But mostly, in figuring out why people are in New Orleans and what they do, and why I'm in New Orleans and what I do, and also what and how I write, I thought this might be part of that exploration, in a helpful way. And so, on come the reviews of New Orleans establishments, maybe for the only time, maybe as a series.
Of course, I'm not sure why I bothered to write this self-justifying introduction. Between the fact that this is my blog and I do what I want, and the fact that I have about, if I flatter myself, 4 readers, all of whom will be supportive, I don't think it really matters what I write about. A writer is a writer is a navel-gazing solipsist is a writer, I guess.
Eco Cafe -
On Monday morning I went for a walk eastward. I sought not the morning sun but a bicycle shop I deemed to be closest to my hotel; I needed a lock for my newly purchased used bike. I wanted to find a place to have breakfast, or at least to have tea and a pastry. I strolled through Mid-City thinking I would probably have to go past the bicycle shop and over towards Esplanade Avenue, which held, I had read, a few eating establishments. I crossed Canal Street, began walking past this main road, and then noticed the Eco Cafe.
If we continue the theme of first impressions that I so ponderously introduced in the previous post, we can explore why this cafe interested me, impressed me enough for me to stop in my tracks, retrace my steps, and tread curiously on the stone steps leading into the cafe. People, two men of a distinguished age if I recall, ate inside, which caught my attention - the place wasn't deserted. The place advertised that it served coffee, breakfast, and lunch. In the end, I helped myself to none of those things, but this still seemed significant. The pleasant red vinyled-building and the confusing existence of three sets of stairs that could serve as entrances to the cafe (I believe only two actually did) also attracted my attention. Ultimately, the fact that the place was on my way also played a major role.
In any case I entered. I met with a kindly New Orleans dame, also of distinguished age (both servers fit into this description, actually). I asked for tea, and then if they had any pastries: they didn't, only bagels. But there in front of my face, protected by a plastic cover, stood a most tantalizing piece of chocolate cake, the type of chocolate cake that is so luscious there's no place for asking about the price. I said I'd take that and she warned that if I didn't, she would, and we laughed as she offered to bring the tea and cake to my table. "I'm going to put the tea bag in the water first," she said, "I had an Englishman come in who showed me how to do it right." Reassured, I sat down by the window.
That's most of what there is to say about the Eco Cafe. Coffeehouse or cafe tea, 95% of the time, is straight from a bag and no better than what I can make at home when I don't have any infusers or tea pots, and worse than what I can make when I do have the tools. I fully acknowledge that when I order a tea in a cafe, I am spending $2 or whatever to enjoy the atmosphere and feel ok about it, like I'm not gypping anybody because I sit at their otherwise unoccupied table and read or write or judge others or what have you. The atmosphere at Eco Cafe was nice on a sunny MLK day morning, with sunlight streaming in through the windows, a sparse crowd, the kind servers, and unobtrusive music on the speakers (if any at all - I can't remember, proof of how unobtrusive it was). Eco Cafe filled the bill, in other words, despite being in a quiet area.
|How can one not cover this cake (with saliva, forks, hands, teeth, etc.)?|
I didn't expect the actual cake part to crumble in my mouth as it did; I thought I was going to get moist, almost juicy cake. Instead it crumbled, broke apart in neat cubist fashion but hardly stale - if I counted up all the great-looking cakes I've eaten that have broken my heart due to staleness, unexpected nuts or fruits embedded inside, or the horrible realization that it was a German chocolate cake, it would easily outnumber the number of fair maidens' once innocent hearts that I've broken. Easily. Karma I guess. This cake did not break mine heart.
It wasn't a perfect cake, though it was better than the purported best chocolate cake in the world I sampled in NYC. As you might guess, if the cake didn't disappoint but wasn't perfect, that probably means it was a little too much of a good thing. The frosting and the inner chocolate (the chocolate that splits the cake, you know what I mean) was stickily rich, just a little too much so. I'm not complaining; I loved the cake and would return. When a piece leaves me weary and not sure if I want to finish or throw in the fork, it's not a comment on the cake's lack of quality. The quality was there, and then some.
Oh, and despite being too luscious-looking for me to ask about the price, it weighed in at a dainty $2.50. In these modern times, one cannot complain about that.
Corner Muse -
Later on Monday, equipped with my new used bike and already moved into my room for the month, I cut through the Big Easy streets as if New Orleans was my oyster. A muddled metaphor, but in any case indicative of the surge in joy and freedom I feel when I'm on my own in a new city and blitzing through the streets on a bike, able to see the architecture and the people at a reasonable pace while still getting where I need to go when I need to (admittedly, I didn't really need to be anywhere at anytime), flouting the traffic rules with relentless abandon (something that used to drive me crazy as a car driver; in Israel I would justify it by saying I had little alternative, and everybody drives like that anyway, car bike or motorcycle; now, I just accept my role as rule-flouting traffic pest), able to get to all the parts of a bikable flat city like this one. Somebody told me Uptown was a good place to check out for young folks, which makes sense as it's near Tulane and a couple other universities besides. Magazine Street is the major shopping street in New Orleans from what I've read (though my investigation has found it to be more eclectic and bohemian than I thought, far closer to Durham's 9th street or Toronto's Kensington Market than LA's Rodeo Drive or Chicago's Michigan Avenue, and yes I'm showing off in ass-like fashion) and leads through the Garden District, home to many cool mansions, and Uptown, so I thought I'd take it. I didn't make it to Uptown until Tuesday, though, and finding the Corner Muse was a large reason for it.
Again, circumstance played a big part; the sun had already begun its westwards drift, I ready to eat had been on the lookout for a likely spot. While a part of me feels that it is better to explore as many options as possible in moments like this, another part of me senses that when a good option appears, one should take it. Corner Muse, with its purple and gold sign and its humble outdoor tables, appeared as that good option and I, a hungry young man of means as it were, took it.
The owner/server greeted me kindly and enthusiastically, breezing about the room as she waited on me and said hello to everybody in and near the coffee shop (I mentioned her in the previous post). I noticed at one point that a piano sat in the corner and that the cafe advertised live music; I naively thought to ask with my own amateur performance career in mind (I dance on my head while playing a bike horn in each foot, you gotta check it out) about the music. She gave me a genuine response, maybe knowingly, that served as the best possible response that didn't involve, "You play? We were just looking for someone for tomorrow night..." She told me that the music is geared towards kids who attend the school next door; Celtic music is on the bill in February, for example. I thought this was great. Unfortunately, I didn't think to ask, "So, do any of those kids like songs about minivans?"
The cafe was also sparsely populated and played pretty standard coffeehouse for the modern young person music; yes, that's right, they played Fleet Foxes, which I've definitely heard in cafes in at least two other cities, one in another country. The food they served was cheap and of high-quality: I ate a chicken salad sandwich that was actually a chicken curry salad sandwich, i.e. the chicken was curry sauced, which I found interesting and tasty if not extraordinary. Also, grapes on the sandwich, a nice touch. I also ordered an apple, a tea, and a very tasty cupcake that was essentially a Hostess chocolate cupcake, cream filling and all, if someone actually baked it. All this for just a shade over $11. Again, conceding that I paid a little bit for atmosphere and the right to sit somewhere besides in my room at my computer while I read and wrote, and that it's not quite nice enough to go lay in the park where it's free, it was a good deal. The Corner Muse is a new place, I think, but they're doing the job right.
Blue Cypress Books
My bike ride today took me to Uptown through the back way, the Northwest. It was again a high as a kite bike-riding day, at least until my bike chain snapped off (a story not for here, possibly for there). On my planned route, I stumbled on an interesting little street whose artisan signs drew my attention, drawing me away from my plan. The street was Oak street, a street home to a few cafes, the Maple Leaf Bar, and a bunch of other shops, apparently all local (i.e. not founded by carpetbagging Yankees, or at least newly carpetbagging Yankees, I infer). A nice community feel hung in the air over the street, even though it was mostly empty as it might well be on a January Tuesday about noon.
I detoured down the street, going until the signs stopped popping up, and then returning down the other side. Oak street is a little one, better compared to Durham's 9th Street in size and scope than Magazine Street, for example, so this detour didn't take me long. Didn't take me long, that is, until I decided that I just had to check out Blue Cypress Books.
It was just a used book store, not very big and not necessarily boasting anything unique except a few New Orleans themed shelves and a gray calico cat who, once she sniffed out my dropped backpack, was very upfront in getting to know me as well. Additionally, I am in a position where the last thing I need is more books; I brought 7-8 books with me, more than enough to make it through the month, and there are books at the house I'm staying in that I'll want to read if I get the chance. Buying books, no matter how cheap or interesting they are, is not what I need to be doing.
So consider it a mark of the quality of BCB's selection that I walked away with four books to stuff into my backpack, including one hardcover. My back and spine can justly complain to upper management about the wisdom of making them carry more weight for the rest of the day on my ride. I'm just afraid that upper management, while dutifully listening to their pleas, will do nothing about it, as they are the ones after all who benefit from the books.
Ok, that's enough for today. In case it hasn't come through yet, I am enjoying my time here. We'll see what's out there tomorrow.