On June 27th, Colleen and I went to the Long Beach Bayou Festival, immediately adjacent to the Convention Center, and across the street from Shoreline Village and the Harbor. It was a perfect weather day and we’d been looking forward to the event for months, but in the end, we were left a bit unimpressed.
Both of us enjoy spicy food and we both love music, so New Orleans is at the top of my to-do list and one of Colleen’s favorite cities. Getting the opportunity to sample a bunch of Cajun food and music at the shoreline seemed like something we just couldn’t pass up.
We’d originally intended to get there shortly after lunch and stay through dinner, but a morning hike went way longer than expected and we ended up not arriving until almost 6pm. We parked at the Hyatt, and walked across the “Rainbow Lagoon” to the entrance to the festival. Tickets were $35 per person, so we were a bit irritated at ourselves for not getting there early enough to enjoy the whole festival, and we were worried we wouldn’t have time to sample all the food and visit all the vendors, but we quickly learned that wasn’t going to be a problem.
The food was almost all (all except the boiled crawfish stand, which was by the main stage) laid out along the outer sidewalk, but there was a lot less diversity and quantity than we expected. Only one place with etouffee and jambalaya, maybe two with gumbo, a couple with fried catfish and fried shrimp and fried gator, and a couple with dessert. There was also a standard bbq food vendor and a smoothie vendor and a lemonade and hot dog vendor, but no hot and spicy shrimp, and surprisingly little choice of food between vendors.
Despite only having three hours (the festival closed at nine!), we managed to make sufficient pigs of ourselves to try nearly everything we were interested in, and it was mostly good, if pricey. The main courses averaged $10 each, and we sampled an excellent bowl of gumbo, a pretty good bowl of etouffee (mine is better–I’ll write up this recipe soon), and some decent fried catfish (proudly displaying a certificate for “best entree” in the window). We also had boudin sausage, which neither of us had eaten before, and after the initial surprise that it wasn’t like andouille wore off, we enjoyed it greatly. We also shared a beignet and a slice of sweet potato pie, both of which were excellent. Unfortunately, several items we still wanted to try were already sold out by 8pm or so, which surprised us on the first night of a two day festival.
The biggest “What The Hell?!?!” moment was the beverage choices–a selection of mass market beers and boxed wines, with no hard alcohol to be had at all! No hurricanes? No rum? No bourbon drinks for a place celebrating Bourbon Street? Verrrry disappointing…
There were two music stages, with different varieties of music, one playing mostly straight zydeco, and one more blues and gospel (at least while we were there). They were also doing zydeco dancing lessons and people did seem to be having a good time.
The vendors were a bit of a disappointment as well, with really cheesy commemorative t-shirts for the festival, and a bunch of very similar clothing stands with a mixture of Bahama and African style shirts and dresses. And Laker shirts. And lots of hastily produced Michael Jackson tribute shirts. The entire festival covered remarkably little space and took no more than 15 minutes to survey everything they had to offer.
Aside from the excellent gumbo and beignets, the two highlights for me were an excellent bottle of hot sauce that they (Southern Delite Caterers, the same ones that made the excellent gumbo, boudin sausage, and gumbo mentioned above) gave me a very spicy spoonful of to test before purchase, and some coffee.
Ahhhhh, the coffee.
We bought a pound of Community Coffee’s “New Orleans Blend Coffee and Chicory” on a lark from one of the food vendors, and when we brewed it the next day, were very, very happy! It is a very dark, earthy coffee, with an almost muddy color. So much body, that you don’t really need to add cream, but I did anyways and it was excellent. And just strictly for research purposes, I used it as the base for an Irish Coffee the next Saturday with Jamesons and Irish Cream, with extremely pleasing results. I also used it in the recipe for “Emeril’s Bam-B-Que Baked Beans” (I’ll blog about this more extensively soon), which called for coffee, and while I can’t credit the coffee entirely for the success of the beans, they definitely didn’t screw it up!
After blazing through my pound of coffee quite quickly, I was happy to find that I can order more of this coffee online, for the unbelievably reasonable price of $5.49 a pound (plus shipping). In fact, I just bought 5 pounds of it, and no, I’m not kidding.
So in the end, we had a good time, and we had some good food and some excellent coffee, but $35 was really a bit much for what you got inside and what you had to pay for it after you’d already purchased the tickets. In their defense, it is intended as a fundraiser for Comprehensive Child Development, Inc., a Long Beach-based non-profit, but when you consider that the Renaissance Festival was only $25 per person, and all-day tickets with top name talent and way more food options at the Stagecoach Festival were only about twice as much, you really didn’t get much bang for the buck here. We were glad we went once, but we probably won’t be going again. At least not as long as I can order that chicory coffee online…