My friend Ginger and I visit New Orleans every year. At this point, we’ve definitely got our traditions – a long list of things we can’t miss/must-do/always love. However, we’ve also got an equally long list of things we want to do, places we want to go, and – perhaps most importantly, here in New Orleans – restaurants we are excited to experience.
One of the restaurants on that list was Galatoire’s, where I was both intimidated and intrigued by the concept of waiting in line for Friday Lunch. (For those of you who are not familiar with Friday Lunch, it is a New Orleans tradition that basically involves settling in at your chosen restaurant…for the entire day. There is lots of alcohol involved, the scene gets rowdier and more fun as the day goes on, and people table-hop and socialize their way around the room, making new friends and catching up with old ones).
On our first trip to New Orleans, I was tempted by all of the excitement and possibility of interesting local drama at Galatoire’s; I read numerous madcap descriptions of lunches that could have been straight out of a screenplay. The lure and promise of Galatoire’s grew with each progressive trip we made; it always sounded like such a glamorous, indulgent choice. In fact, the idea of lunching at Galatoire’s became so infused with fabulousness that I began to worry that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to live up to that standard of glam. What would I wear? Would everyone notice that I was from out of town? Would anyone notice me at all? Did I want them to? What would I say if anyone stopped by our table to chat? Should I get up and visit other tables?
Luckily, my friend Ginger has the ability to remain calm in times of crisis. “Let’s just go,” she said. “You’re totally overreacting. Who cares what they think?”
I love Ginger. She’s the best. So we went. And I’m just going to come right out and say it: it was kind of boring. But to be fair, I think we did it wrong.
We got some stuff right: we got there early and put our names on the list. We asked for John to be our server. We followed the dress code.
But we didn’t want to camp out for the entire afternoon, we didn’t particularly want to start drinking at 11:30 am, and we were actually hungry for lunch. Those were all mistakes.
This is how it works: everyone on the list is seated all at once. The servers move slowly through their sections, chatting and storytelling and taking drink orders. Here is a glimpse:
After a good half hour of convivial socializing, you’ll get your drinks, plus some anchovy-stuffed olives and a loaf of bread.
Then it’s time to sit back and enjoy the show. Talk to your neighbors. Take in the scene. Eventually, your server will return. He will likely not have a menu for you, because you should know what you want. Our server offered to “feed us,” and we agreed. Not sure I would suggest that, but we were just going with the flow. He brought us shrimp remoulade and crabmeat maison:
And after a long while, he returned with grilled lemon fish topped with sauteed jumbo lump crabmeat. Yes, that is creamed spinach in the background, and a Sazerac in the foreground (we gave up and ordered drinks, because we realized that they weren’t going to talk to us unless we did).
The food was flavorful and fresh…but it wasn’t amazing. And I guess we weren’t there long enough for anything good to happen. No table hopping. No scandalous behavior. Just a room filled with locals on their way to a shared destination: five o’clock. So we enjoyed our time amongst them, but we left the party early, because we were done.
Perhaps that was scandalous to them?
We’ll never know.