Two years ago, I went to New Orleans for an alternative newsweekly convention. It was held at the Ritz-Carlton in the French Quarter, just a block or so away from Bourbon Street.
(I realize that many of you right now scratching your heads and wondering: "Alternative newsweekly convention? At a Ritz-Carlton?" While it is indeed weird to imagine a bunch of leftist loopies, along with a few stunned conservatives, running amok at a chic hotel--that's not the point. Ponder it later, after the restaurant review is done.)
I did things during my four days in New Orleans that I had never done before. Most of those things will not be mentioned here. But I also did something that I had never done before that is quite appropriate for this portion of the newspaper: I ate true bayou-style food for the first time. And I found it much to my liking.
Thus, I happily anticipated my recent lunch at Nonie, the self-described "New Orleans Bistro" located on Grant Road near Tucson Boulevard. I was slated to meet Dweeb--the Weekly contributor who paradoxically wants to enjoy free restaurant-review meals, yet not have his name used in the actual review--at noon.
I arrived before Dweeb, and was seated by a kind, casually dressed server who called me "Brother." With my seating, only four tables were occupied.
Then I waited; Dweeb was apparently running late. Thus, I munched on the tasty complimentary French bread and corn bread while I checked out the décor of the place. It's nice without being snooty--wooden tables, ceiling fans and black-and-white framed photographs of people highlight the dining room. One wall is brick; beads adorn the various lamps. (It's a federal requirement that any New Orleans-themed establishment has beads prominently displayed.) And to top it all off, there's a large, plush alligator hanging on one of the walls.
After a while of pondering the implications of happy-looking plush alligators, Dweeb was still AWOL. The server had been by several times, without being a bother, to check on me in the interim. It was a nice touch.
Finally, at 12:20--thinking I may have been stood up--I went ahead and ordered: a cup of seafood gumbo ($4; $7 for a bowl; $5 and $9 respectively for dinner) and an order of crawfish etouffee ($10, $15 for dinner), along with a soda ($1).
Of course, since Murphy's Law rules my life, Dweeb arrived just as my server put in my orders. He ordered a bowl red beans and rice with andouille sausage ($5; $3 for a cup; $7 and $4 respectively for dinner). He didn't have to look at the menu.
The lunch menu is a tad smaller than the dinner one, although it's still pretty expansive, featuring three appetizers, two types of salad (with varying meat choices), seven sandwiches, a burger and seven other dishes. The dinner menu features more appetizers (mostly seafood), more fish and meat choices and even a three-choice children's menu.
I quickly chastised an unrepentant Dweeb for his tardiness--quickly, I say, because my gumbo was out in a flash. It was a wonderful stew--peppers, chicken, shrimp, onions, celery and rice, along with other ingredients, made for a tasty start to my meal. I scarfed it up in a heartbeat; it was delicious, and after all, waiting can make a guy hungry.
Soon after, Dweeb's red beans and rice arrived, along with my crawfish etouffee. There was little conversation between us as we chowed down on the contents of our bowls. Dweeb commented that his dish was great, with just the right amount of sausage. Spice-wise, he noted: "It's just hot enough."
I was also happy with my etouffee. It had lots of pieces of tasty crawfish floating around in the thick concoction. My only complaint was that I would have liked a little more spiciness--a little pep. But that's a minor complaint; I'd order it again in a heartbeat.
Because I had already messed up my calorie count for the day by a mile, I decided to try a beignet ($2), a donut-style pastry. It went nicely with an after-lunch cup of coffee.
It was a fantastic, inexpensive and unique meal. That raises the question: Where in the hell was everybody? At the most, six or seven tables were occupied during the lunch hour there. There are lines at freaking McDonald's at lunch in Tucson, yet this restaurant sits not even half-full. This is wrong.
After all, where else can you chow down on inexpensive, good gumbo--in the same room as a plush alligator?