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Smoke Signals At the Tailgate Show Better Days Ahead

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Ian McNulty
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Ribs cook on the rack at a New Orleans barbecue.

When I caught that first big whiff from the grill I knew it wasn't coming from just one. It was a parking lot full of them. Soon I realized just how much more than the sum of its parts it represented.

I was at a tailgate party again, at long last. The smoke and the smells rising and merging was a carnivorous chorus and somewhere in the crowded, cluttered spaces of the mind where we keep food memories, it was singing a tune I had not heard in far too long.

This was a tailgate before a NOLA Gold major league rugby game at the Gold Mine on Airline, the former ballpark in Metairie that's now a rugby stadium.

Before the first whistle, fans gathered, set up campers and trailers and pop-up tents and got down to cooking. Many were teams from Hogs for the Cause, the charity cookoff that returns the first weekend in June. The tailgate before the NOLA Gold rugby match was a warm-up of sorts.

It was fantastic - the jambalaya with smoked sausage, the German Louisiana style mash-up po-boys, the barbecue tacos, the tempura-fried pepper poppers stuffed with cheese and more smoked sausage.

My sense memories immediately sent reminders of how much I have missed this particular type of scene. We cooked through football season last year, but It was just for the game day pods, the small gatherings that felt okay back then.

Now though, as more people get vaccinated, we’re doing more and this pre-rugby tailgate checked all the boxes. Friends reunited, Louisiana people enjoying themselves, the excitement of knowing a big game was to come, the music, the laughter, the anchor of food at the center.

Socially speaking, we were stretching muscles we hadn’t used in more than a year.

After so long with so many of our staples of local life on hold, I felt old connections being stitched back together. Grill smoke filled the air, and all around people filled with those intangibles we get from pursuing good times together.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.