October 30 – November 3, 2013 (Wednesday-Sunday)
Because I am trying to get fully caught up and there is just so much to say about New Orleans, I’m going to do another bullet-point short-form post. Hopefully Sam and Kaitlyn, our extraordinarily generous hosts for four nights, will take no offense. If I did a full write-up here, it would be so long as to bore my dear readers. Even more.
But first, let me remind you that Louisiana is my home state. I really wanted to see if I could gain access to Barksdale Air Force base and see my Shreveport birth place, but it was far out of the way and time did not permit.
- Crossing Lake Pontchartrain and seeing the city appear is cool; it is also interesting to watch the hood end and the uber-wealthy Garden District begin so abruptly after crossing St. Charles
- Parasol’s on Constance was perhaps our favorite meal in a city known for its food; this po’boy place is Sam’s joint. I covered the pulled pork briefly in my BBQ post I think, the gumbo was delicious and the firecracker shrimp was outstanding. It’s a fun place with a bar on one side and food ordering on the other, lots of beer options. Oh, of course there is no open container prohibition here (and that is truly a game changer), but I had not considered that you can still smoke cigarettes in bars. Wow.
- New Orleans is kind of an “anything goes” town. It just seems so different from the rest of the country. So much flavor. So much good food and music and vivacity. So many cats and flags and wrought iron and shotgun style homes. There are not many places you will see a multi-million dollar mansion with a Go [Saints] flag hanging off a balcony. In the first hour here we saw two cars driving the wrong way down one-way streets.
- Magazine Street is awesome. Sam and Kaitlyn live just off this in the Irish Channel and it is a really fun area. Magazine here has tons of shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. Sucre has gelato and pastries. The Bulldog bar was packed. As were Salu and Rum House. Magazine also looked nice further uptown, where we got food at Boulangerie to go
- The homes in the Garden District are stunning. I think Sandra Bullock and John Goodman have pads here, and probably many other famous peeps.
- Bourbon Street is a must-see. During the night it can be fun and in the day too, but it is best for when you are wasted. For when you are sober during the day, the smell of piss and vomit can be overwhelming. But the live music compensates a lot.
- Lunch at Cochon Butcher was great. The line appeared really long but moved pretty quickly and was well worth the wait. I got a pork belly on white with cucumbers, mint and chili aïoli. Jenni got a pizzetta with mortadella, mustard greens and Parmesan. Both were excellent. The mac and cheese looked gut-busting. That day we took the trolley home on St. Charles
- Halloween on Frenchman Street was a highlight of the trip. What a party. I grabbed some sort of repairmen costume at the store. Jenni could not decide so she bought a Justin Bieber wig. This somehow turned into her being Tami-Lynn, one of the real housewives of Boston. She got into character and stayed there the rest of the night. It was epic. And Frenchman was just silly. The streets were not closed de jure, but they were de facto. Dudes would just roll out like six foot long bars and start making cocktails in the middle of the street.
- On Friday we did a swamp tour with Cajun Encounters in Slidell. We were so hurt from Halloween that we could not even call and instead just skipped our 12 pm reservation. Then we felt a touch better and they let us switch to the 2:45 pm with no questions asked. Captain Bishop was an able guide. We were disappointed we did not get to hold a baby alligator as we had heard happens. Captain said a bunch of stuff, again no fact checking…he said alligators hibernate 4-6 months, I had no idea this happened; they can go two years without eating; bananas on a boat are bad luck; the number of inches from a gator’s eyes to nose roughly equals its length in feet; wild rice grows in the swamp, and it is not technically rice but it grows freely and that is why it’s so popular in Cajun food; we saw wild boars with a raccoon right next to them and saw lots of turtles and some blue herons. Unless you want a lot of sun, consider requesting a covered coat. Check out the “Cajun Hottub”, and someone had a sign advising that trespassers will be violated
- On the drive there we saw next door signs, one said “Hit and Run Liquor” and the other “Chicken and Watermelon”…straight up
- We hit a newish spot called District twice…once for a Vietnamese coffee donut with tapioca balls and then for dinner where we had great sliders…fried chicken, pork belly, etc. And I got a croquenut, which was a croque monsieur with donuts as the bread, except they were not sweet so the concept was better than the execution, but it was still just a delicious croque monsieur. And we got waffle fries with cheese and jalapenos, and a great brown butter and pistachio donut
- I liked the Saint Arnold Elissa IPA, and that the store where I bought it (after Sam intro’d) is called Breaux Mart
- Sam told us about bounce music and Big Freedia, and also that Treme is a pretty hot area now, a lot of black activists and artists etc.
- Saturday was an epic day…
- we had brunch at Atchafalaya around the corner from home, with a killer Bloody Mary bar (I vaguely recall there was a green tomatillo juice option and I think Jenni said they should call that the Gangrene Mary) and live music…the bloody bar had a few juice options and I went with the house blend plus a touch of tomatillo juice plus pepper, horse radish, Louisiana hot sauce, mustard, pickled celery and olives and cauliflower and brussels sprouts, and a bunch of bacon bits…boudin cakes are a New Orleans staple and the cream cheese grits were terrific
- then walked the loop at Audubon Park where we tossed the disc, saw another public piano and visited the waterfront area (which does not feature as prominently in the public space as it should, and I think they may be trying to change this)…the piano man told us it is being used to help treat PTSD, and the piano had been submerged in Katrina but was restored and painted by YAYA (Young Aspirations / Young Artists)…there are some nice homes right on the park, like directly on it without any separation which I thought uncommon
- then to Luke for the first of our John Besch happy hours with oysters and cocktails
- then walked through the French Quarter (better than our unguided attempt a couple days earlier where we seemed only to hit the dirty and hoody parts and Louis Armstrong park, though Crazy Corner’s funk/zydeco was nice) where we saw Tanya and Dorise on Royal Street. They are a pretty famous street-performing duo playing violin and guitar. They played Out Walking After Midnight, For Once in My Life and You’ve Got a Friend. Some guy standing next to me was priceless, telling me about how this singer comes by sometimes and sings with the ladies and they tell her to take money from the bucket but she takes just a few bucks for cold beverage (which means soda). And he said the ladies are so good even the bums give em money
- then to Domenica for yummy pizzas and wine inside the Roosevelt Hotel which has an opulent art deco lobby
- then into Saint hotel which is like Miami meets red
- then to Tonique for fancy cocktails and hipsters. I asked the bartender for some recs on our trip as I guessed correctly she was from Sri Lanka. She went nuts that I knew this, gave me a free shot and then never any recs.
- then to the Byway area for Bachanal with even more hipsters and wine/food…really cool spot, too bad no jazz when we were there but…hosts ran into lots of people they knew…it is a wine shop where you can buy a bottle and drink out back and there is a window where can order food like chicken liver pate and bacon-wrapped dates. I would be really stoked if Los Angeles had a spot like this. Maybe I should open one.
- then to Frenchman where we entered Cafe Negril for good music…some places have instituted covers and we were being cheap so passed on Spotted Cat even though that music sounded fantastic…oh, at most bars they pass a tip bucket around for the musicians…before leaving we went into Vaso for a proper big brass band, that music style is so fun
- then to Bourbon Street and Pat O’Briens on the piano bar side…the guy sucked but the woman was great and such a fun atmosphere…range from Sweet Caroline to Blurred Lines
- then on the way to Cafe du Monde we passed Camelia Grill so popped in for bacon cheeseburgers and they also gave us free fries…I thought the burger was really solid, it had medium girth with great bacon and abundant butter flavor
- then to Cafe du Monde where sit outside for beignets dipped in decaf cafe au lait…I thought these were more like donuts but they are more like mini fried dough…Kaitlyn was such a trooper and drove the whole night
- On the 10 West heading out of New Orleans you drive through some swamp and it is pretty cool
- One night as I tried to fall asleep I heard someone playing the saxophone outside, and this felt like the perfect New Orleans moment.