Lenten Lull and Food Porn

I was thinking, “I got nuthin’.” Nola’s covered the Streetcar Named Inspire sponsor party last week and there’s a quick write-up on StreetcarArt.com. So what to write about?

One thing to note is that it is Lent in Southern Louisiana. Forty days of sacrifice in preparation for the Easter celebration of Christ’s resurrection. For Catholics that’s supposed to mean a 40-day (not including Sundays) fast, along with various penances and abstinences. Not too much is going on in the city, although St. Patricks day falls during Lent, and, Lent or not, we will parade and drink. There Will Be Cabbage.

A cornerstone of the Catholic fast is the “no meat on Friday or Ash Wednsday” sacrifice. At one time the church required no meat for the entirety of Lent. It was in anticipation of all of this sacrifice, fasting and penance that Mardi Gras (carnival, from the Latin for “farewell to meat”) was invented. If you want to get technical, though, author Henri Schindler says in Mardi Gras New Orleans that carnival’s roots lie in ancient pre-Christian pastoral rites performed by shepherds in search of “greener pastures and the remission of sins.”

So, if you’re not to eat meat, what does that leave? Seafood, vegetables and diary products; the point being that, in New Orleans, is it really a sacrifice when your faith forces you to eat seafood?

I say yes, to the extant you have to make a conscious commitment to not eat meat, it is a sacrifice. You have to be aware and not pop a sausage biscuit into the microwave when half asleep, or pull up to the drive-through and say “cheeseburger” like you always do.

Once the conscious commitment is made and remembered, though, the sacrifice seems not so terrible when faced with the seafood choices abounding in New Orleans. Take, for example, the following à la carte entrée choices from Antoine’s:

Filet de truite meuniere $23.75
Fried filet of speckled trout with a lemon-butter sauce
 
  Filet de truite amandine $23.75
Fried filet of trout with toasted sliced almonds and a lemon-butter sauce
 
  Filet de truite Pontchartrain $33.50
Grilled trout with lump crabmeat sautéed in butter
 
  Filet de truite aux ecrevisses/crevettes cardinal (de saison) $31.00
Grilled or fried trout with crawfish tails/shrimp in a white wine sauce-our creation
 

Mind you, that’s just a mere snippet from Antoine’s menu of seafood items. You say you, like me, don’t have the cash for Antoine’s? Don’t worry, there are lots of places around town where you can keep the faith with a meatless meal. One of hundreds is Venezia; its Metairie location was where we stopped for dinner after the streetcar sponsor party last week.

Venezia is another old-school New Orleans creole-Italian joint that serves some of the best pizza in town. It also has a full menu of Italian standbys like lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken and veal Parmesan and antipasto. They also serve a lot of seafood, including a regular menu item of trout almondine.

Thursday night I saw on the board of specials as we walked in that they were going hog-wild with the almondine sauce. Soft-shell crab almondine and shrimp almondine were on the board. I asked the waitress if that was fried shrimp with the almondine sauce on top, and she said it was. I said, “I’ll take it.” For $12.95, it could not be beat. And it comes with a side of spaghetti and, what we call in New Orleans, “red gravy”—that’s tomato sauce to everyone else.

Here it is (with Nola’s lasagna and Sun’s toy monkey lurking in the background):

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The pasta closer…

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And the shrimp…

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Let’s sum up:

It’s Lent in New Orleans. Not much is going on. You can’t eat meat on Fridays, but you’re in New Orleans, and seafood choices are plentiful and delicious. You could go to Antoine’s for white tablecloths and a tuxedoed waiter and spend $40.00 for seafood. But you’re in New Orleans and you can choose one of hundreds of more casual restaurants (where drinks are in plastic glasses and it’s o.k. to have babies and baby toys on the table) and still get food like that pictured above for under $15.00.

So, suck it, Ohio. (and Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, both Dakotas, Nebraska and every other landlocked, snowbound…well, you get the picture).

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4 Responses to Lenten Lull and Food Porn

  1. Nola on February 26, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    I think this is my favorite post of yours (so far). I don’t know if it is because you said, “in New Orleans” like five times or “suck it, Ohio . . . and both Dakotas . . . .” Both Dakotas! Or if it was, “There will be cabbage!” I think is was all three. And for that, I L.O.V.E. this post.

    Oh, and the good eats, too. Yes, not much of a sacrifice to avoid meat in NOLA. Be warned, however: you WILL smell like fried seafood all day after eating at many of the fine establishments that serve Lenten fare.

  2. stacey on February 26, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Oh man. I love the seafood down here. Now I have a hankering for some seafood. Shrimp.

  3. Lisa on February 27, 2008 at 8:30 am

    You forgot Pennsylvania. *sigh*

  4. Pete on February 27, 2008 at 11:07 am

    I really had the core midwestern states in mind when I was ranting. Also, I believe Philly has a more highly developed food culture beyond scrapple and cheese steaks, although I have heard Pennsylvania described culturally as “Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, Alabama in between.” Then the question becomes: Who’s insulted more—Bama or Pennsylvania?

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