The St. Charles streetcar provided my transportation between the Saenger Theatre on Canal Street and the hotel. Hotel guests stayed in suites named for celebrity patrons; The Mary Martin or The Richard Burton or The Helen Hayes Suite. There were also long- term resident accommodations for those who called The Pontchartrain home. The hotel boasted three distinct food and drink emporiums. What I remember about The Bayou Bar was an old Steinway piano manned by Tuts Washington tickling the ivories and the walls covered in extraordinary murals by artist Charles Reiinike. The Caribbean Room was the beautifully formal dining room, as opulent as a debutante ball gown, famous for Trout Veronique. For many, the Pontchartrain’s Silver Whistle coffee shop was comfortably delicious and an alternative to the Caribbean Room. Sharing the same kitchen, a meal in the coffee shop could be a simple breakfast of blueberry muffins and chicory coffee or a lunch of their famous Avocado Pontchartrain, over-filled with Lump Crabmeat salad. The chance to enjoy the hotel’s signature dessert in both casual and swanky settings held great appeal for me. Mile High Pie was composed of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and peppermint ice creams standing tall in a pie shell, crowned with brûléed meringue and warm chocolate sauce. As a guest of Mr. Albert Aschaffenburg, the hotel’s proprietor, it seemed rude to not only order the dessert he suggested, but to finish it.
Armed with a piece of Pontchartrain stationery scribbled with a series of names and addresses, I carried the naked shoe with me feeling cautiously optimistic. It was while traversing the streets within walking distance of the theatre that I spotted the line of expectant diners snaking around Chartres Street. The fact that K-Paul’s accepted neither reservations nor credit cards seemed not to squelch the spirits of the hungry mob. Clutching my brown paper bag with the Italian loafer, I made a mental note to return to K-Paul’s later in the day when the crowd had thinned. Three hours later with a friend in tow, I was successful in snagging a table for lunch. As far as securing a new buckle, I was still fostering a despondent loafer. My friend was mildly perplexed by the brown paper bag sitting on my lap under a white linen napkin. “Don’t you want to put that down?” she asked innocently enough. “No one is going to steal it.” In the past year one of the many things I had learned was that anything was possible. “I’ll just hold on to it,” I replied knowing that while trying to outfit one loafer seemed daunting, the idea of explaining why I was replacing a pair of shoes and buckles was more than I could bear.
Chef Paul Prudhomme’s restaurant was small, tables close enough together to ogle the meals on your neighbor’s plates. Reflecting New American regional cooking, the Cajun and Creole dishes were a delicious assault to the senses. Shrimp and crawfish swam against a sea of cayenne and Tabasco, tempered with dirty rice and hushpuppies. Lunch was starting to infringe upon my Buckle Quest but we couldn’t leave without having dessert. Chef Prudhomme’s Sweet Potato Pecan pie was a dessert I was totally unfamiliar with and that’s why I ordered it. Teaming two pie fillings in a single crust was a new-fangled idea and I loved it. The filling was warm with spice and sweet with brown sugar but then the pecans swept in under a cloak of Chantilly cream and I was a goner. It was simply Mardi Gras on a plate.
As for the loafer, despite an exhaustive search of the city I was unable to find a matching buckle. I did the next best thing which was to ship the shoes to the Assistant in Paris from whence they originally came. When I called to explain my predicament, the voice on the other end of the long distance line assured me in rapid fire Française that replacing the shoe accessory would be “Trés facile.” I guess what she really meant to say was, “Easy as pie.”