It’s becoming a Floreak family tradition.
Our bellies full from a nice mid-day meal in New Orleans, we pile into the rental car and somebody says: “Pull over. Now.”
Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s our gallbadders shouting one last warning before they explode from all the fat. Or maybe we’re just marking our territory to be sure we’ll come back. So far we’ve marked a freeway entrance ramp (rental car: Toyota Prius) and a sidewalk in the Treme (rental car: Kia Soul.)
Our latest marking came after an insanely good lunch at Lil Dizzy’s in the Treme (1500 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans.)
Before I go any further, I need to point point out that the yakking and the lunch were NOT specifically connected. Two out of three members of our party who ate the same lunch were fine. Three out of three thought it was the best lunch ever.
And even if the food were responsible, a few minutes of purging, temporary blindness, or loss of a lesser limb are a fair price to pay for the soul food/Creole perfection that is Lil Dizzy’s lunch buffet.
We were cutting it a little close to the 2 p.m. end of the lunch service, but the place was still packed. If you’ve seen Treme, you’ve seen Lil Dizzy’s, It’s the real deal, a mix of neighborhood residents, families, downtown office workers, cops, and a few tourists. It feels many miles away from the French Quarter. In a good way.
Because our time was limited, we had to make a quick grab for all the fried chicken (completely amazing), seafood gumbo (also amazing, bits of shell included), sweet potatoes, red beans and rice, and bread pudding (once again, amazing) we could handle. And although our intentions were good, an amateur eater in New Orleans is not able to keep up with the natives.
Our plates looked a little skimpy compared to those around us. But since it was all what you might call hearty food, we were feeling just fine. (Okay, so maybe the lunch, the heat, a bucket of sweet tea and quickly gulped seconds of bread pudding had something to do with the yakking. But still, more than worth it.)
Also more than worth it, was a post-lunch to the Backstreet Cultural Museum, a couple blocks away (16 St. Claude Ave. It’s a little hard to find, the street changes names.) My daughter, who had been living in New Orleans and working at an urban farm a couple blocks away from Lil Dizzy’s, suggested it. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure we would never have found this museum that preserves and celebrates African American culture.
In many ways, the museum is New Orleans writ small: unassuming and slightly crumbling on the outside, but full of warmth and life on the inside.
Although the museum houses lots of things, it’s most notable for two: the permanent display of handmade costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians and museum founder Sylvester Francis. Mr. Francis, who has been photographing and preserving African American culture of the Treme for decades, gave us a personal tour — including a mention of his own appearance in Treme.
The Mardi Gras costumes, their beadwork and feathers, are the stars of the show. They are amazing pieces of art that cost thousands of dollars, take hundreds of hours of to make and are worn for just one parade season.
But on closer look, there’s a lot more: jazz funerals, social organizations, race relations and more, much of it captured in Mr. Francis’ photos. Our visit was quick. Like a lot of things, the museum closes before the afternoon heat gets to be too much.
So, the summary of the report from the Treme. Put down your Hurricane and get out of the Quarter. Pace yourself at Lil Dizzy’s. Go to the Backstreet Museum. And watch out for Sweet Tea. Too much of that stuff’ll make you yak.