Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Crawfish Boil Hotels 2015

          Just a reminder, the crawfish boil is being held at Winos and Tacos, 321 North Columbia Street in Covington, Louisiana on March 14, 2015. Covington is DGA headquarters. Winos and Tacos is about a ten minute drive from the office.  So we won’t have to travel far, but most everyone else will. With that in mind, we figured it would be a good idea to make some hotel recommendations for our out of town guests.

          Covington is on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. So we’ll divide the recommendations depending if you want to stay on the north shore or the south shore. For any one unfamiliar with the Greater New Orleans area, getting between the two is easy thanks to the Causeway that spans across the lake.

First, we’ll cover some accommodations in the Covington area. Covington has the standard range of visitors’ hotels, but we thought it would be better to recommend some places for guests who prefer a quiet location, close to the boil.  

In Covington, one of the best B&Bs is Annadele's.  Annadele's is a lovely plantation home near Old Covington.  The grounds are charming and the rooms nice. Doug’s eldest daughter had her wedding at Annadele's.  The restaurant is also usually pretty good, and would be a nice place for breakfast if you stayed there.

Maison Reve Farm is another lovely B&B about twenty minutes north of Covington in Folsom.  It is quiet, tasteful, and out of the way while still being close to the boil and New Orleans.

Meanwhile on the south shore, New Orleans boasts a bevy of great places to stay. We recommend that visitors make their accommodations in the city as much of the trip to Covington is on the Causeway. And if you’re going to stay in New Orleans, you may as well stay in the French Quarter (especially if you’ve never been to New Orleans before). Staying in the Quarter is a unique experience and puts you right into the action.  Most of the city's tourist attractions are easily accessible and there’s always something going on nearby.

Cafe du Monde in the Quater: beignets are good any time of day. 

The Royal Sonesta Hotel is a good place to stay in the quarter.  It is right on Bourbon Street which is a plus in many ways, although you will find it to be bustling, especially in early March.

Jamie likes the W New Orleans - French Quarter hotel.  She and her husband have stayed there before and recommend it highly.  Its restaurant, Bacco, is good, and the hotel is in a quieter part of the Quarter down on Chartres Street, but still only a couple of blocks from Bourbon.

The Omni on St. Louis is also good place to stay, and a bit more luxurious.  You'll find rooms with a lovely view of the St. Louis Cathedral.

The JW Marriott is on Canal Street, and is very close to the Quarter.  Here you can be within easy walking distance of the Quarter without being surrounded by it.

For the wedding of Doug’s younger daughter the guests stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, down by the river walk.  It is not in the quarter, but still close to the action. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

King Cake Season!

            It’s king cake season! For the uninitiated the king cake is a pastry of extraordinary simplicity and deliciousness. King cake season only lasts a short time, but is impossible to celebrate Mardi Gras without at least one.  

Cake to celebrate these guys? Sure, why not? 
            Before we dive into the cake, let’s briefly explore its history. King cake season lasts from January 6 until Mardi Gras, which this year is February 17. Why January 6? January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrating the visit of the Three Magi (or Kings) to the infant baby Jesus. The first king cakes emerged in France during the Medieval period as a way to celebrate this important moment in the Christian calendar. It soon became an important feature of Carnival (otherwise known as Mardi Gras). Carnival caught on in New Orleans thanks to the French who founded the city. Explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, landed on the coast about sixty miles south of present day New Orleans on March 2, 1699—the day before Mardi Gras. The French colony and the holiday stuck. The king cake, however, did not take hold until the early 1870s. French immigrants brought their king cake recipes with them and in classic New Orleans fashion, a new tradition merged with the old to create something wonderful. It took until about 1950 for the king cake to become a popular staple of New Orleans cuisine. In the past decade or so, king cakes have really entered into their own. Popular interest in all things New Orleans grew after Hurricane Katrina and next day shipping have allowed king cakes to be shipped across the country-spreading their influence and deliciousness.

Is that the baby Jesus there?
             Now let’s talk about the cake itself. The king cake began as a dry French bread dough topped with sugar with a bean inside. Over the past several hundred years the king cake has evolved into a sweet cake covered with sugar and icing. The dough is now braided, stuffed with cinnamon, cream cheese, or other fillings. The process of filling king cakes began in the early 1980s. The cakes are circular and hollow in shape. The colors atop a king cake are the same as the ones of Mardi Gras—purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.  King cakes also feature a small plastic baby hidden somewhere in or underneath the cake. Tradition holds that the person who finds the baby is responsible for buying the next cake. Some claim that the baby represents the baby Jesus. A 1990 interview with the owner of McKenzie’s, however, sheds serious doubt on this claim. Donald Entringer Sr. claimed to the Times-Picayune that McKenzie’s was the first to put the baby into a king cake. Entringer claimed that “I've heard people say it's supposed to represent the Christ Child, but that's not true. Why we picked this, I don't know. It was cute. It was just a trinket that happened to be a baby.” Whatever the truth may be, watch out for the baby when you bite into your first slice of king cake.

The former King Cake Capital of NOLA 
             Unsurprisingly here at DGA, everyone has their own preferences for the best kind of king cake and where you should get it. Bill is a big fan of the king cakes from Butter Krisp Diner in Covington. His favorites are the strawberry cream cheese filled and any homemade king cake. Jamie and Benson both have a lasting affection for the king cakes once made by McKenzie’s. The Tastee Donut chain in and around New Orleans, however, purchased McKenzie’s old recipe and sells them at their stores. Jamie doesn’t like a whole lot of frosting. McKenzie’s consists of a simple brioche without cinnamon or filling. There’s only colored sugar topping the cake. McKenzie’s king cakes are stripped down to their roots, letting the dough and sugar shine. Matt prefers the Mandeville Bake Shop due its easy convience near his house, though the best one he’s ever had came from Randazzo’s. And finally Doug’s favorite king cake is whichever one appears at his house. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Get Ready for the 2015 DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil!

The 8th annual DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil is right around the corner!

Saturday, March 14th

We had our boil at Winos and Tacos in Covington, Louisiana last year, and hands down it was our best crawfish boil ever.  We are headed back to Winos and Tacos for another awesome crawfish boil jam packed with some of the best food, music, and fun you will have all year!

The DGA crawfish boil has really taken off.  Every year the boil has been bigger, more exciting, and more fun than the year before.  The 2014 boil is going to be hard to top, but we are pulling out all of the stops to make our 8th crawfish boil the best one yet!  Formal invitations are going into the mail, so keep your eyes peeled and don't forget to wear your wristband.

If you are planning to come in from out of town, please let us know ahead of time and we will make sure to get you taken care of.  We can help you choose the right hotel, pick the best restaurants, and find the best places to visit before and after the boil to get the most out of your trip to the Big Easy.

We have invited Benny Turner and the Real Blues with Sam Joyner back to the crawfish boil.  Benny and his band played such a fantastic set last year that I knew right then we would have them back again.  I am eagerly anticipating the show, and we are having them play a longer set this year.

Davis Rogan remains a beloved fixture of the DAG crawfish boil and will be back this year.  We have all been really enjoying his new CD and I am very excited to hear it played live.

The third band in our 2015 lineup will be revealed shortly, so stay tuned for updates!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Saints Off Season Questions

          The Saints finished the 2014 season with a comeback victory over the Tampa Buccaneers 23-20.  They scored 16 points in the 4th quarter against a hodgepodge of Buccaneer reserve players. The win dropped Tampa to 2-14 and guaranteed them the first pick in the 2015 draft. The Saints finished the season 7-9, a half game back of Carolina in the NFC South. Now that this disappointing season is over, it’s time to turn to the biggest issues facing the Saints this offseason.

1. Getting under the salary cap.
According to Spotrac, currently the Saints have $161 million in contracts on the books for 2015. They must cut approximately $22 million off that figure to get under the projected salary cap by the time the league year begins in March. The Saints biggest cap hits include:

Cap Hit
Drew Brees
Junior Galette
Jimmy Graham
Jahri Evans
Jarius Byrd
$10, 300,000

Other players with significant cap figures include WR Marques Colston (9.7 million), G Ben Grubbs (9.6 million), LB Curtis Lofton (9 million) and DT Broderick Buckley (6.1 million). In order to get under the cap the Saints will renegotiate the contracts of players like Galette, turning some of their salary into signing bonuses so that they can spread the cap hit over multiple years. Releasing players like Colston, Lofton, and Buckley will free up about half that figure.
          But converting player salaries into signing bonuses is a double edged sword. It frees up money for the upcoming season, but strains the cap in future years. For example, taking Galette’s $12.5 million roster bonus and converting it into a signing bonus will lower his cap number this season. But it instead spreads the money onto the cap for the remainder of his contract. In order to pay for this year’s team, the Saints will be burdening themselves in future ones.

Will Rob Ryan be back? 

2. Rob Ryan and the Coaching Staff
          The Saints have already fired members of their coaching staff: tight end coach Terry Malone, wide receivers coach Henry Ellard, and assistant defensive backs coach Andre Curtis. Malone joined the coaching staff in 2006 and Ellard and Curtis were hired in 2012. But the biggest question remains the fate of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.  As we’ve discussed previously, Ryan is the fourth defensive coordinator of the Sean Payton era. He oversaw a surprisingly competent defense in 2013 and a wildly disappointing one in 2014. If the Saints want to retain Ryan, they can claim that key injuries to players like Jarius Byrd and Rafael Bush undermined the defense. Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis also know that defense, unlike offense, varies wildly from year to year. So why change coordinators when the defense is likely to be better next year? (Especially since there’s no way they could be worse in 2015) The biggest argument against retaining Ryan is the defense’s overall regression. It is difficult to point to a part of the defense or even a single player that improved from 2013 to 2014.  For example, according to Football Outsiders, in 2013, the Saints pass rush sacked opposing quarterbacks on 8.6% of passing attempts, good for fourth in the NFL. In 2014, they produced 34 sacks for an adjusted sack rate of just 6.0%, ranking just 26th.  So do the Saints give Ryan the opportunity in 2015 to turn things around or do they go shopping for a new defensive coordinator?
What does the Saints brain-trust have in mind this offseason? 

3. Free Agency and the Draft
          The Saints have a number of roster upgrades that they need to address through free agency and the draft. Due to their 7-9 record, the Saints will pick 13th. This season they have their full complement of draft picks, although GM Mickey Loomis is unafraid to trade away picks to move up in the draft. These kinds of trades, historical analysis has shown, tend to do more harm than good, but that’s a subject for another post. Currently the Saints offseason needs include a second starting cornerback across from Keenan Lewis. Opposing offenses frequently exploited Patrick Robinson, Corey White, and the other defensive backs opposite of Lewis. A middle linebacker capable of covering running backs out of the backfield should help the Saints improve their last in the league ranking against passing catching running backs. Offensive line help will help offset declines from aging players like Ben Grubs, Jahri Evans, and Zack Strief. While Jimmy Graham and Brandin Cooks should be healthy next season, a possession receiver, ala Lance Moore, would provide Drew Brees another option in the passing game.
           The Saints have a tough salary cap situation, major questions on their defense, and significant holes to fill in their roster. Next season’s success or failure will ride on the decisions that the Saints management make over the next few months.