October 22, 2003

If Alec Baldwin ate there, it can't be all bad.

The rationale behind choosing a restaurant in a strange city - or perhaps even a perfectly ordinary city but one that is foreign to you - is not often logical.

Mid-morning on a Sunday and nothing was open. New Orleans during Mardi Gras most closely resembles a sea. When the storm hits it is nothing but a froth of wildly drunk people cresting into one another and splashing giddily off into the side streets of Bourbon. When morning breaks it is a desolate sandbar strewn with flotsam. Sunday mornings are the most forlorn. New Orleans is a lady whore, coddling straying revelers in her bourbon-drenched embrace until the last strands of night are wrung from the sky. Ten o'clock in the morning ushers in a ghost town of recovery. Nothing is open. The bars have finally shuttered their windows, the neon of the sex shops have blinked out, and the daquiri shops have locked their usually wide doors. The saucy jazz that pours from every nook and cranny of Bourbon Street is finally hushed. Stray beads, tossed styrofoam cups, shoes, masks... the litterati of festivity crowds the gutters.

We walked through one of these neglected mornings in the errant hope of finding breakfast. Even the hotels were soundly slumbering, however, and food seemed a pipe dream of sorts. Until, while wandering down a now-forgotten side street off Bourbon, we spied a literal hole in the wall with a dangling neon 'open' in the window. Small it was. And dirty. Chipped tile and formica finishes were all we could see through the smudged glass. We turned to leave. And it was then that the clippings caught our eye.

Taped to the inside of the window were five newspaper clippings, curled at the edges, from different New Orleans papers all featuring the prominent visage of one Mr. Alec Baldwin. The stories in all were the same. Back when Alec was filming 'Heaven's Prisoners' in the New Orleans area, he had frequented that self-same diner every day of the city shoots. The photos, upon closer inspection, had Alec grinning in signature style with one arm each around one half of the proprietary couple. "If it's good enough for Alec Baldwin..." my host said with a shrug. And on the shaky foundation of such unassailable logic, in we went.

The food was beyond description. Heavenly. And seemingly endless. We sat at the formica tables on the vinyl-covered chairs and delved into a meal fit for gods while the proprietors looked on in evident pride. At the end, satiated and smug, we overpaid. Then we admired the framed glossy original of the newsprint photo with Alec, this one signed with a black Baldwin scrawl.

Never judge a diner by it's formica.

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