Ignatius is the perfect stop after wandering forty-five minutes from our hotel. There are rows of wooden tables and chairs on each side of the room with one row of tables in between. The walls and shelves are also made of wood and they stock various items: boxes of rice and spices, tubs of Creole mustard, glass bottled Coca-Cola and Sprite, chips, etc.
Our waitress brings us four little glasses, a pitcher of water, and slices of French bread in a paper bag. I order a Coke, which will be served in a glass bottle with a straw. I think of old school soda fountains and Where the Red Fern Grows as I sip at the sweet bubbly drink with a tourist’s romanticism that can make even Coke feel new. I look at the chalkboards, which have the daily specials and B.Y.O.B. written on them. We order.
Joy and I, who will later be dubbed Meal Buddies for consistently ordering the same entrees, get seafood stuffed peppers. I also ask for an alligator sausage appetizer, and Michael and Whitney order red beans and rice. The alligator sausage comes first, and I am particularly excited. I have wanted to try alligator meat since I saw it advertized at our local Catfish Cabin on North Highland, but now I am happy that I waited (in part because no one wanted to risk trying the Catfish Cabin’s seafood with me) to try this dish in New Orleans.
The ‘gater is served with slaw and a side of Creole mustard, which is sharp and spicy and makes my mouth water. The sausage is textured, colored, and almost tastes like pork. I take an oval piece, diagonally sliced, with my fork and dip it into the mustard—sweet, salty, and richly, yet perfectly, spiced. My fellow diners are backlit by the large front windows that extend slightly onto the corner of a sidewall, and I watch people bicycle, walk, and stand outside. Across the street there is a Vietnamese restaurant with patrons overflowing onto the patio, but the warm breeze comes in through Ignatius’ open door, and we are satisfied, as our entrees arrive, with our choice. Seafood stuffed in a green pepper, breaded and covered in a shredded cheese, with potatoes and corn on the sides. My first bite into the seafood stuffing reminds me of a crab cakes, but the round bites of crawfish juicily correct this mistake. The potatoes are perfectly textured and flaky, and when mixed with the stuffing creates the perfect juxtaposition of textures and flavors. Juices spill out from the pepper as my knife splits the green flesh.
“Do you think you can get to know any city by way of its food?” I ponder this as I scoop up and balance the pepper, seafood, and corn with my knife and fork. “I think that depends on how diverse a city is.” “Mmhmm.” “When I stayed in LA, I didn’t come across any one food that seemed to define the city for me. There was great Mexican food because of the proximity to the boarder, but there was also incredible Korean food in Koreatown, and Thai and Eastern European.” “Yeah, I think it depends on how much of a city’s identity is tied up into a mono-culture, or plural-culture, I guess.”
“What does that taste like?” “Go ahead, try it.” We share stories about our other travel experiences, past and future. Whitney tells us about the trip she’ll be taking to Italy for her research on Flannery O’Connor. She plans to visit the places O’Connor did, as well as the Keats-Shelley house, where Keats’ life and death masks are on display, and which looks out over the Spanish Steps in Rome. I eat my food slowly and let the flavors fuse in my mouth. I think of how much I am enjoying this slower, more intentional eating and wonder if it’ll be possible to continue this new practice at home. I sip at my Coca-Cola. I eat the corn, the pepper and seafood, and the sausage dipped in Creole mustard. The flavors coalesce on my tongue, smoldering like a light sunburn, not to the point of fever or pain, but like a lazy, lingering sweat.