Friday, April 6, 2018. A Mini-Vacation. A few weeks ago I mentioned to Mary Ann that I needed a short vacation. She became an advocate for that idea, while not including herself in the break. Instead, her idea was for me to be a sort of demi-traveler whose itinerary would appeal to almost nobody but me.
The route we came up with was about 200 miles each way, from New Orleans Union Station to Meridian, Mississippi. In Meridian, I would meet up with our daughter and have lunch. Then she would show me the projects she is undertaking in her work, and take me on a drive around Meridian, which is more striking an environment than I would have guessed. I have traveled this route a number of times before, but I don’t remember the hilly geography.
Lunch was at a restaurant that has interested me for years. Weidmann’s (pronounced “wade mans” claims to have been in business since 1870. I have a taste for old restaurants, and I’ve looked at this one several times from the vantage point of a sleeping car on a train. Today, I finally had lunch there.
Weidmann’s was founded by a Swiss immigrant who came to America as a chef aboard a transatlantic steamship. That would have been around the time when being Swiss was a strong resume item for anyone breaking into the newfangled restaurant trade. As time went on, ownership changed and the concept of Weidmann’s did so as well. There seems to have been five generations of owners from then until now. The current menu is quite modern, in the realm of an upscale Southern bistro. Specials include quiches, seafood ranging from fried platters to saucy originals. Steaks and chops, big salads and poor boy sandwiches, muffuletta and the like. All of it would be very familiar to New Orleans diners.
I arrived at Weidmann’s after orienting myself to the neighborhood, parts of which looked like rough territory. That was merely the working side of the tracks–never a place for local color. The large train depot looked new, which was reassuring. With my daughter’s instructions, I found Weidmann’s right away, but early. I scored a table in the empty room–one that would shortly be filled with local people ready for a pleasant Friday lunch.
We ordered more or less the way we would at home, after a snack on housemade peanut butter. Then came fried green tomatoes, an immense salad, and a very curious rendition of quiche with black eye peas. ML–in her typical ordering style–had an oversized cheeseburger. By now it was clear that if you eat at Weidmann’s, you eat a lot of food.
ML gave a tour of Meridian, which impressed her more than she was expecting. She will be working there another few months before returning to New Orleans, but she sounded as if remaining long-term would not be a bad idea.
She returned to work as I walked to the train station. I was due to board the southbound Crescent at about 3 p.m. But at the station the man running the place said that the Crescent to New Orleans, having gotten caught up in heavy freight traffic on the main lines in the vicinity, was running two hours late. This projection grew hour by hour, until the best guess was that it would leave at something like six-thirty. There was nothing to be done at the station, and the book I’d brought to read didn’t fill the time agreeably.
Once we finally resumed rolling, I worked my way through four sleeping cars into the diner. It was nearly empty. The waiter–who knew my name because he lives in New Orleans and listens to WWL Radio–started me off with a green salad, then followed with a surprisingly avant garde entree of squash gnocchi in a buttery sauce studded with fresh herbs, one of which was kale. I accompanied this with two glasses of red wine. I needed it.
The train pulled into New Orleans after several dull hours. It was puzzling to tell where we were along the road, and when we arrived in New Orleans Center City, it was a few minutes before midnight. This meant that indeed I had gone to Meridian and returned home to tell about it later the same day.
Only a train buff would question the worthiness of this funny little vacation. But I don’t think even I will ever do it again–unless my daughter decides to move to Meridian. For that purpose, the train still beckons.