Tennessee Stout and Firecracker Shrimp

As I waited at the barbershop, I picked up a magazine.  The magazine had very few articles but instead focused on listing the “Top 5″s of New Orleans from the Top 5 nightclubs to the Top 5 places to get grits.

A bar called Parasol’s was listed as serving the #1 roast beef po’ boy in New Orleans.  This was a big claim to fame as the roast beef version of this iconic sandwich was the original, though now it was possible to get anything from fried oysters to alligator sausage on a po’ boy.

Parasol’s wasn’t too far from where I was staying in the Lower Garden District.  I walked into the tiny bar area to the raucous crashing of punk music.  The man behind the bar nodded to me as he poured a beer for another patron.

“How you doin’? What can I get for you?” he asked, his voice barely audible as the power chords thrashed to the galloping rhythm of the drums.

“What have you got that’s dark?” I asked.

“Not a lot, man,” he said, “We’ve got Guinness or we’ve got this one from Wiseacre that I like called ‘Gotta get up to get down’; it’s a coffee stout.”

“I’ll go for one of those, please, that sounds good.”

“You got it.”

The stout was smooth, cold, and with a strong taste of coffee.  It was an easy-drinker that could prove to be dangerous.  One minute you’re having your first sip, the next you’re 8 pints deep and about to go home; the fresh air hits you, and your legs forget how to function properly.

“Any food?” he asked.

“I heard you guys do a good roast beef po’ boy,”

“Yeah, we do,” he smiled, “But I’m afraid we’re sold out of the beef.  You want my recommendation?  Get the firecracker shrimp.  It’s spicy like how they do buffalo wings except we batter the shrimp then toss them in Louisiana hot sauce.”

I ordered it immediately.  As someone who loves both seafood, hot sauce, and the process of deep frying, I couldn’t resist.

When the sandwich arrived it was much bigger than expected.  Lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles dressed a French baguette that had been overfilled to the point of a fried shrimp avalanche.  The batter was tinted red with hot sauce though had lost none of its original crunch.  The smell of the hot sauce announced its vinegar base with a sharp stab to the sinuses.

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The spicy shrimp combined with the refreshing coolness of the lettuce and tomato, taking away some of the immediate punch of the hot sauce which instead gradually grew with every subsequent mouthful.

I’m an advocate of travelling light.  I had packed 5 t-shirts – all of which were black – and 1 light blue long-sleeve shirt.  I was wearing the long-sleeve shirt when I looked down and saw that I’d managed to get myself covered in hot sauce.  Oh well, I thought, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere and Parasol’s was my favourite type of bar; a dive bar. There were no tourists here (other than myself) and no pretence. Everyone seemed to know everyone and if they didn’t know someone (like myself) then they went out of their way to get to know them.

 

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Wanna’come to a house party?

When I got to Memphis, I met my hosts, Brendan and Yvonne. Yvonne was a full-time sculpture specialising in metal installations. She’d been successfully working as an artist for 14 years.

Both Brendan and Yvonne were amazingly passionate people when it came to me getting the most out of Memphis. Within half an hour of arriving, I’d been dropped off at one of their favourite BBQ restaurants: The Bar B Q Shop.

Their enthusiasm was well founded. I ordered the ribs (one of my favorite foods) which the waitress recommended that I have “half and half”; half dry rubbed, half glazed. That way I could try the house made sauces on the dry rubbed side “to get the full experience”.

The house made spicy BBQ sauce was easily my favourite. Their was no such kick the likes of which you would expect from a sauce that was habanero based. Instead it was more of a slow build that gradually warmed the mouth rather than assaulted it. I’m not sure what chillies were in the sauce but if it did contain habanero, then they were very polite.

The next day I went to the National Civil Rights Museum which is based in the Lorraine Hotel – the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. This would be the 3rd civil rights museum I’d been to on my trip and it was no less powerful for it. I’d implore anyone travelling through Memphis to visit the museum as a site of historical significance and to learn about the civil rights struggle.

After almost 3 hours in the museum, I decided to get something to eat and drink, and to get out of the midday sun.

I ended up drinking far too much with a couple visiting Memphis from Missouri. We got talking about boxing – a trigger for me as it’s the only sport I care about. I eventually left the bar around midnight after discussing who I thought would win what upcoming fights, where my money would be bet, and what fights I thought would be scheduled on the backs of my prophesized victories. 

The lounge light turned off as walked through the door only to turn back on again. At the end of the hallway was Yvonne dressed in stockings and a short black dress, her face made up in white with black tears.

“We’re going to a Goth house party, wanna’ come?”

I was tired, I was drunk, and I’d spent way too much money.

“OK,” I said.

When we got to the venue there were private security guards on the door. They asked us all for I.D which Yvonne and I were able to supply. Brendan’s had expired. Brendan is 15 years older than me so it could be assumed he was OK to go in but the security guards stood their ground and refused him entry.

Brendan got back in the truck and drove away, appearing to accept defeat. Yvonne sneaked off to find a way for Brendan to get in. Not even 5 minutes later, Brendan casually walked through the back yard of the house and into the party where awful techno music played as people dressed in fishnet everything danced as they drank overpriced beers. As I sat at the bar in jeans and a t-shirt, I felt overdressed but it was still fun to see people older than me – parents – reclaiming their youth and breaking the rules.