The real magic of New Orleans doesn't come from Bourbon Street. That obnoxious thoroughfare is a Roman carnival of aggressive, pan-handling hucksters who cut you off mid-stride to the left and cheap novelty shops hawking junk souvenirs or lewd pornography to the right. Bourbon Street is overrated. It was when I went there six years ago. It was for most of my friends who've been there as well. The real magic of the Crescent City comes instead from the small, authentic restaurants packed into the adjacent avenues and side streets. Dozens of them dot the best parts of the French Quarter, most of them no bigger than a family room, their walls beautifully over-decorated with glittering, plastic tackiness in the form of beads, horns, and Imperial French sentimentality.
Forever addicted to the best parts of the Quarter, when I need my fix, I don't have to fly back to southern Louisiana to get it. I can find at home in Indiana in Mooresville to be specific. The joint is called Zydeco's, and it's here-in heaping bowls of gumbo and jambalaya, in tall drafts of Abita, and in the magnificent and beautifully ostentatious baubles on the walls this is where I go to relive those happy days in the Big Easy.
The Decor If for no other reason, a trip to Zydeco's is worth the chance to step through the doors and soak in the ambiance. Whether you're sitting in the dining oriented eastern half or slightly more open lounge area in the western addition, what hits you first is the color, which splays down the walls, across the floors, over the tables. The bright colors evoke a primary sense of happiness, as if you've stepped into the busiest of kaleidoscopes and mingled with the confetti. And where the colors are soft, the dark greens cast a Victorian hint and the transitioning browns hearken back to the colonial history which brought the Quarter to life. Beads hang everywhere, from the umbrella-covered deck tables (indoors of course), from every piece of threshold trim, from every available protrusion. Throw in the arrangement of abstract and expressionist art along with the iconic Abita logo along the eastern wall, and Zydeco's is awash with a character unlike any eclectic restaurant I've visited in the Hoosier state.
Food and Drink Midwestern attempts at Big Easy dishes always draw criticism, but they're usually from the likes of folks who think they remember the difference between the gumbo they had in New Orleans in the fall of '73 and the Black Cat they're dining on here at home. When I compared my memory of the meals in and around the Quarter, my first bite of Zydeco's jambalya (which arrived in a bowl big enough crawl into and paddle away from the Titanic if need be) took me back to that steaming warm August sitting at a balcony table overlooking Toulouse Street. The mixture of pork, chicken, rice and sauce swirled together for a delicious concoction. While it paired best with a pint of Abita Amber (the beer which became my exclusive choice when I visited New Orleans), I couldn't resist downing a couple Turbodogs. And like many of those establishments I happened upon during my trip to the South, Zydeco's strikes a balance with their menu: offering diversity for a range of tastes without overextending themselves and watering down their brand.
The Big Party Since expanding to the west, and virtually doubling in size, Zydeco's, which was always a good venue for live music, has become a great one. Besides allowing for the versatility of combining sit-down dining with a stand-up music event, the restaurant will spend the rest of this month celebrating its patron-city's greatest annual party. As Mardi Gras approaches, grabbing a stool next to a regular covered in face paint, a Bela Lugosi cape, a worn top-hat, and maybe a set of glowing earrings becomes increasingly common. And the people who love to dress up for their dinner, are the people who love to talk your non-decorated ears off. They're affable, jubilant, happy to be there, and happy to tell you how much they love the place.
Back to the Quarter Located fewer than 20 minutes from the Indianapolis International Airport, Zydeco's lights up the literal Main Street of a quiet suburban town. The food is great and the beer is solid. That alone makes the short trip worth the effort. But it's the party, and the people, which make that short trip seem like no bother at all.