Labor Day weekend in N'awlins marks the annual return of the Southern Decadence Festival - an annual celebration for happy people of all ilks - with the emphasis being on those who are living a gay life style. The weekend includes parades, various contests, and oceans of alcohol. While one can find evidence of Decadence in our city any day of the year, this weekend the Quarter overflows with it - revelers matched only in strength by New Orleans' finest - assuring everyone has a safe and sane celebration.
As any public crowd draws a certain opportunistic element, the Decadence folks have been promised confrontations with local religious right groups, who will exercise their first amendment rights by trying to convince onlookers or anyone who will listen, of the "dangers to our society" that the party goers represent.
Hopefully, calmer "heads" will prevail, and the visitors to our fine city will successfully turn the other cheek (or both) towards the protestors, and the weekend will end without a major incident.
Not being the type who would participate in such an event, I went looking for my own variety of Decadence - which usually involves "overindulging" of some sort, and ended up at the Ernst Cafe, at 600 South Peters.
I wanted to share a quiet casual cocktail and meal with a friend, away from the gaiety goings-on in the Quarter - and also try to avoid the Friday nite after work office brigades that one will occasionally find at other CBD establishments.
While not exactly quiet (a N'awlins wanna-be "gyspy kings" band was playing on the sidewalk) - Ernst more than filled the bill of most the criteria I was seeking.
Open for a century, Ernst typifies the phrase "local watering hole," and while their own publicity claims they have been on the "cutting edge" of the food and beverage industry for the past one hundred years, I'm not sure I would agree (or even admit that I know what that refers to).
What Ernst does offer is inexpensive drinks and bar food (ever notice if you combine those two words they can be "barfood" or "barf ood"???), a friendly staff, and, if you dine al fresco, a picturesque view of the back of Harrah's parking lot.
The staff of Ernst was eager to please - potentially even at their own expense - by offering plenty of free happy hour munchies (popcorn, nachos and the like), thereby discouraging most people from perhaps ordering from the menu.
My companion and I were not to be deterred however, we were living the high life courtesy of ample gift certificates from her employer, that were due to expire momentarily.
After ample beers, and a few shots of Sauza Tequila, courtesy of an in-house promotion during our visit, we tried the onion rings (you know me, I try them everywhere), voodoo buffalo wings, and catfish strips.
The rings were "medium" thickness - not the thin and crispy style of Huey's diner - and not the thick battered type offered so many places in the city. They were crisp and salty - my only real objection was their batter was similar, if not the same as that used on the catfish - and had that "cornmeal" taste - akin to the batter used on so many "onion blooms" these days. Personally, I don't think cornmeal has to be included on everything fried - there are lots of other variations of flour and batter that can be interesting, but cornmeal does seem to rule in the Big Greasy....er, Big Easy.
My friend pronounced the wings a success - hot and spicy, served with the usual accompaniment of blue cheese dipping sauce, celery and carrots. She did say that they were "awfully small," but maybe Mr. Ernst, if there is one, purchases his chicken from the same farms that Chicken Box uses...whose pieces also seem to be diminutive in size.
I liked the catfish - it too, was crispy, and that's a requirement for me when it comes to frying; the fish was accompanied by thin and crispy fries - ala "pomme frites" style, and were salted to my taste. Traditional salt - apparently no need to try and "cajunize" them.
I was game for plowing through the rest of the menu and burning up the gift certificates - it was our waitress's first night, and she was overly attentive, which makes dining a pleasure anywhere, of course.
Ernst is uniquely situated in an area of the city that isn't very busy at night - thus their offer to hold private parties might provide an interesting venue. They can accommodate smaller groups inside (300 maybe?) - but closing off any of the streets surrounding the joint can probably provide ample room for a block party for thousands - and they have a catering menu that would be more than adequate for such an event.
Ernst has been the home to the Bacchus Bash for the past 15 years, thousands of people gathering the Sunday before Fat Tuesday, so they certainly must satisfy the large group event planners.
Located near the Casino, at the corner of Peters and Lafayette, the 150 year old building, with its original tin ceiling, provides a great place for an "evening away" right in the CBD.
Appetizer, two entrees, 8 drinks (yeah, I know): $34.00.