Tasting our way through the French Quarter.
I don’t try to pretend New Orleans is something it isn’t. I realize that some people love it and some people hate it.
It stinks. At times, the smell seems like something solid and tangible, clinging to the wrought iron balconies and wrapping itself around doorways. The number of people in the quarter is constant and oppressive. Crowds pulse through the streets at all hours. Crime is real and remaining ever vigilant is necessary. Bourbon Street really is as bad as you’ve heard.
But it is so much more than that.
I love this city. Right there, blending with the stink and the crowds, is a palpable exuberance, a joie de vivre, a mingling of hot sauce and jazz that sits on your tongue and rings in your ears and makes you feel alive.
Our friends had only been to New Orleans once, where they had a less than favorable experience. They were forever left with the impression that New Orleans was a dirty city in a perpetual state of partying and debauchery.
There is so much more to this gritty city than that. I wanted to show them my version of New Orleans – a city brimming with art and architecture, rich in history and culture, a city filled with wonderful things to sip and savor.
With mutual friends in Dallas, we decided it was a perfect place to meet up for a long weekend.
As I always do, I focused my planning on the French Quarter.
Some will tell you never stay in the French Quarter. Some go as far as to say don’t even visit it at all. There is no parking, it’s too dirty, it’s too loud, it’s too dangerous, it’s too crowded, it’s too tourist-centric, and the best restaurants are in other parts of the city.
I think the French Quarter gets a bad rap. Sure….other areas of New Orleans may have more class, more luxury, more posh….but none of them have more pizazz. New Orleans may be unique and colorful, but the French Quarter is the epicenter. It’s the mother ship.
The Garden District may be the prim and proper lady, always impeccably dressed and consistently using the appropriate fork at dinner. She never says the wrong thing and always crosses her legs demurely as she sits.
The French Quarter, however, is her rowdy younger sister. She’s the one that has all the cool parties, wears too much make up, drinks bourbon in the middle of the day, sleeps until noon, and says whatever enters her mind no matter how inappropriate it is.
She wears sequins to the grocery store.
I know who you’d prefer to live with, but which one would you rather spend a weekend with?
If the beautiful sunset that greeted us over the water as we landed at New Orleans’ Lakefront Airport was an omen of the weekend to come, we were in for a stellar time.
Ditto for the transportation that was waiting upon our arrival.
We were whisked away to a 3-story mansion in the heart of the French Quarter that took our breath away.
It was late, and we were hungry.
It was pure serendipity that we stopped at Orleans Grapevine for drinks and sustenance just as they began BACON HAPPY HOUR.
With a courtyard filled with twinkling lights and delightful drinks like my sugared hibiscus champagne cocktail or Matt’s neon-lighted hand grenade martini, Orleans Grapevine set an instant tone of awesomeness for our trip.
We munched on fresh, hot bread, BACON, saffron mussels, BACON, gumbo, BACON, and crab cakes.
With bellies full, we were off to One Eyed Jacks to meet up with our Dallas friends who had arrived before us.
We walked into a room with flocked crimson wallpaper; chandeliers; sparkly, scarlet banquettes; and pinup nudes painted on black velvet. The swanky vintage atmosphere was a nod to the building’s history as an old French Quarter movie house and speakeasy, but it looked more like a Mexican bordello to me.
One Eyed Jacks is home to the long-running and beloved Thursday-night “Fast Times '80s dance party,” and once I knew we were arriving on Thursday night….I knew we had to go.
One Eyed Jacks was a non-Bourbon Street bar with a rock and roll edge. It was the perfect place to get our New Orleans weekend party started.
The highlight of the night had to be this guy in his replica jacket and light up shoes.
I did feel a pang of guilt as I stumbled past the Saint Anthony Garden which is dominated by a large statue of Jesus, and wondered about those last couple of shots I drank.
When in New Orleans….
Matt and I woke up early and decided to sneak off to enjoy our favorite early morning indulgence in the French Quarter: Café du Monde.
You simply can’t go to Café du Monde after 8:00 a.m. The only time to go is before all the lazy tourists wake up from their hurricane hangovers, when all of the chairs are still on the tabletops and the streets smell like freshly sprayed bleach.
Some people prefer the beignets (and lack of line) at Café Beignet. Not me. They simply don’t do it for me. I’m not sure why.
Maybe it’s the lack of freshly hosed streets under my feet or the quiet that replaces the bustling activity of a bevy of shuffling waitresses in little paper hats . Or maybe it’s the absence of a heavy mug filled with the perfect and bitter chicory coffee that I can only find at Café du Monde, but for me, the experience is only whole when I am sitting under that happy green and white awning, watching a waitress in a crisp white apron clear a preposterous amount of powdered sugar off a marble top table with a quick swipe of her towel as the sounds of a lone trumpet player in the street drifts past.
Cafe du Monde at the right time is a moment of powdered sugar perfection, and it is worth all the indignities of being a complete tourist.
Once the rest of our crew had roused themselves awake, we made the short walk to Stanley for a proper breakfast.
Since the first time I discovered Stanley, it has been a “must do” breakfast on every trip to New Orleans. How can you not LOVE a place that puts ice cream on the pancakes??
I stuffed myself with a loaded bloody mary and the breakfast seafood platter, a mountain of cornmeal crusted Louisiana oysters, gulf shrimp and soft shell crab atop delicate poached eggs, Canadian bacon, and toasted English muffins slathered in decadent Hollandaise.
We spent the rest of the morning trying to walk off our colossal breakfast.
We were unsuccessful.
We decided it was best to simply eat again.
We found ourselves at Napoleon House.
This historic restaurant has a wonderful courtyard and is THE place to sample the famed “Pimm’s Cup.”
It is also home to one of the best muffaletta’s in the city.
So we had both.
The only thing we could really do at this point was keep eating and drinking, so it was off to Bourbon House for oyster happy hour.
Matt was VERY happy.
Sure, these look like sissy milkshakes, but they are, in fact, the Bourbon House’s famed frozen milk punch: a boozy blend of ice-cream, bourbon, and vanilla topped with fresh nutmeg.
Then it was back to the house for some much needed downtime (and stomach stretching exercises).
We strolled along Bourbon Street back to our place.
As we sat on our balcony, a terrible looking sky rolled in, and simply rolled past.
It was quite dramatic.
The skies cleared up just in time for dinner.
We headed out..........Because we needed to eat again.
We made our way to Deanie’s, because I had heard about their legendary seafood platter.
The place was PACKED, but when we saw the plates loaded with fried seafood exiting the kitchen, we decided it was worth the wait. We grabbed drinks at the bar and grew hungrier by the minute.
Deanie’s had the most unusual complimentary table snack I think I have witnessed to date. Not bread, not crackers, not bowls of nuts or popcorn.
Deanie’s gave us a bowl of whole potatoes.
They were perfectly soft, dusted in spicy crab boil, and served with butter.
We followed that with a few pounds of crawfish.
Then the barbecue shrimp.
The broth in the shrimp was absolutely one of the best things I have ever tasted. It was served with crusty bread to soak up the juice.
And a GIANT SEAFOOD PLATTER.
It was a mountain of soft shell crab, oysters, shrimp, fish, crab balls, and french fries.
Of course we ate it all.
Even if it did take us until almost 11:00 p.m.
After dinner, we strolled down Bourbon Street toward home.
While I am not a fan of Bourbon Street as an actual destination, I do enjoy taking a stroll along it when I am on my way to someplace else.
Our friends also felt a burning need to experience the electric green sweetness of a hand grenade. It’s something everyone should experience.
Bourbon Street is a mesmerizing blend of fun and depravity. It’s a place lined with bars whose music spills onto the sidewalk and competing sounds create a cacophony of noise, where signs advertise HUGE ASS beers, where drunken groups of 20-somethings help each other stumble down the street pausing only when one group member needs to throw up on the sidewalk; and where people walk around casually dressed as pirates or aliens, and where it seems perfectly reasonable to do so. It’s a place with smoke-filled nudie clubs and a live band in every corner. There are endless baubles and boas, cheap go-cup windows, and dried alligator heads. It smells of desperation, heat lamped pizza, and neon electricity.
The street was filled with girls with high heels and low self-esteem and idiot frat boys that seem to multiply by the hour. Proprietors with balding mullets stood outside open doorways advertising drinks with douchey names and offering 2 for 1 specials if you were only willing to step inside.
I knew better than to step inside. Entering one of those places would do nothing more than make me want to instantly run for the door, which I wouldn’t be able to do because my feet would be stuck to the floor by 15 years’ worth of spilled drinks, and where I would pick up a latent STD from the barstool.
Instead, we grabbed a hand grenade to go from a window and made straight for home.
A walk down Bourbon Street always makes me feel like a need a long shower afterward to wash off the sweat, smoke, and despair .
It was time to rinse of the night and go to sleep.
Apparently, we had to rinse off the night the next morning as well.
When your house is in proximity to Bourbon Street, even the quiet end of Bourbon Street, you can count on some mutant to leave the remains of his Lucky Dog by your front door after a night filled with booze and beads.
When a restaurant advertises that the BYOB brunch allows the first bottle for free but charges a $15 corkage for the second, you bring the biggest bottle you can find.
EAT offers a delicious brunch in a bright and airy space that was only a block from our house.
Good thing, because I couldn’t have carried that champagne bottle far.
Our bubbly was quickly put on ice and we were given a carafe of OJ.
Our banana fritters were brought out in a paper bag, perfectly dusted with crunchy sugar and cinnamon, and served with a bowl of creamy peanut butter and Nutella.
I opted for the Eggs Cochon: delicious pulled pork cakes over mustard greens, served with two poached eggs, Creole hollandaise sauce, grits and one of EAT’s giant homemade biscuits.
Matt ordered the Chantilly pancakes.
I just loved hearing him say, “Chantilly pancakes, please.”
Brunch over, we hit the streets with mimosa go cups in hand. We headed to Jackson Square to peruse the local art and street vendors.
If the French Quarter is the epicenter of New Orleans, then Jackson Square is the epicenter of the epicenter.
The colorful streets around the square are filled with original art and street performers – some good….some not so good….but all interesting.
Our wandering led us to the French Market where we shopped everything from handmade jewelry and paintings to $5 sunglasses.
Before we knew it, our go cups were empty. This called for a dash into Molly’s on the Market. I instantly fell in love the second I tasted the frozen Irish coffee.
It had been at least 2 hours since we had eaten, so we popped into Central Grocery so that our group could try the “other” muffaletta.
Many people think the muffaletta at Napoleon House is the best. I can’t disagree that the fluffy toasted bread and melty cheese were spectacular.
But Central Grocery is still my favorite. Maybe it’s because it was my first, maybe it’s because the shelves are lined with dusty cans of tomato paste and gallon jars of capers, maybe it’s simply the unlimited supply of Zapp’s chips and root beer that you can buy beside your sandwich….all I can tell you is that THIS is my favorite muffaletta.
We shared a bite and then hopped the streetcar to Mother’s.
To eat again, that’s why.
When it comes to dining, New Orleans is an embarrassment of riches. You can’t walk 10 feet without bumping into something delicious.
And in this city, it’s not about eating fancy or expensive…it’s about eating WELL. The best bite you have all day might come from a counter in the back of a convenience store.
Mother’s is old school and is the perfect blend of divey and delicious. It serves up mountains of comfort food like po’ boys and macaroni and cheese that you order in a cafeteria-style line. You know a meal is going to be good when the interior looks this dumpy, yet there are 20 people in line in front of you.
With so many options on its huge menu, it can be hard to decide what to get. I find it easy, however. I always get the debris po’ boy, dressed.
Debris is roast beef cooked until it begs for mercy. It’s the juicy bits, crispy fat, and charred goodness that falls off a roast beef when it’s cooked to death. These are served swimming in pan drippings.
My sandwich was drowning in roast beef shavings and gravy and was “dressed” in zesty cabbage, pickles, mayo, and creole mustard.
Believe it or not, we followed that with oyster happy hour and a delicious Sezerac.
We were here to sip and savor, so we stopped at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 next.
The bar was kitchy cool and the drinks were creative and tropical with awesome garnishes like a frozen coconut milk tiki and fresh orchids.
Because our house was located near the quiet end of Bourbon Street, there was then the inevitable Bourbon Street stroll that we seemed to do every day.
We took it all in.
By the time we got home, we were ready for fat pants and naps.
Our balcony provided us a perfect place to waste the afternoon before it was time to clean up and head out for dinner.
Before dinner, I made everyone pose for cheesy photos.
We like to call this one “Burger King Regret.”
We felt the need to step it up a bit and eat something that did not come in a paper sack, so we had dinner reservations at Sylvain.
I was instantly drawn to the “Champagne and Fries” appetizer. Sure, it was $90…but it was CHAMPAGNE…..AND FRIES!
The southern antipasti plate and pappardelle Bolognese were also quite delicious….but …..CHAMPAGNE! FRIES!
I tried to be more refined by making reservations at a restaurant so in demand that it required a CREDIT CARD to hold my reservation, but the truth is, in my heart, all I really want are some sweat pants and tater tots.
After dinner, we headed to Preservation Hall where I had pre-purchased the Big Shot seats to 1) put us right in the front and 2) avoid having to stand in that horrific line.
With “go drinks” in hand (Preservation Hall does not serve drinks but does allow you to bring your own) we spent the next hour enraptured by the sights and sounds of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Preservation Hall is an exceptional French Quarter experience, in my opinion. For an hour, you feel carried away to another time and place. You forget the bustle and noise of Bourbon Street just around the corner and instead feel transported to an intimate speakeasy where the sounds of a clarinet drip like honey onto the bare hardwood beneath your tapping feet.
It’s just a little bit of magic.
We ended the night at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, seated around the candle-lit piano in back with voodoo daiquiris in hand, tossing $5 bills into the basket to scream out the name of our favorite songs for the piano man to play.
He said he knew 18,000 songs.
I think we sang all of them.
A night of singing “Sweet Caroline” at the top of my lungs had left me hoarse.
I felt the best cure was an overstuffed bloody Mary from Café Lafitte in Exile, just around the corner from home.
This bar claims to be the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the United States, and they serve up a perfect bloody Mary on Sundays, shaken with all manner of spices and secret ingredients and literally stuffed with a load of pickled goodness.
We grabbed our stuffed Marys and headed to SoBou for “brunchertainment.” The Legs and Eggs Burlesque Brunch is something that could only happen in New Orleans.
I’m not sure what I loved most: the giant flask of hooch punch (the special that day was a refreshing blend of blueberry, coconut, rum, and basil) or the bedazzled cabaret dancer that kept shaking her tail feathers in our pancakes.
The spirited brunch is a lengthy 2-hour, 3 course affair with a live jazz band the Dapper Dandies and, dancing by Bella Blue.
My meal started off with the panzanella salad with spicy greens, roasted tomatoes, drenched croutons, and a five hour egg. Matt started off with the buttermilk biscuit doughnuts with a smoky bacon & cream cheese frosting.
Next up, I had the famed “Legs and Eggs,” with crispy confit chicken legs over crunchy brown sugar crusted french toast with poached eggs. Matt? Strawberry and banana pancakes. At least he didn’t have to say, “Chantilly pancakes, please,” this time. If he had uttered those words while holding that tiny little crystal cup of lavender punch, I might never have recovered.
I am not sure why every restaurant does not offer dessert with breakfast. It was genius.
I had the “Pecan Pie Not Pie” which was a jar of pecan pie filling topped with chocolate covered cracklin’ & peanut butter whipped cream. Matt had the chocolate coma bar which came with a darling little house made marshmallow.
We walked, strolled, browsed, and shopped until we discovered it was OYSTER HAPPY HOUR TIME!
Then it was back to the house for booze fueled naps (much classier than passing out).
We roused ourselves in time for happy hour at Cane and Table. Cane and Table is one of the most recommended bars on the craft cocktail scene in New Orleans, and that landed it on my “must do” list.
A cozy little cocktail bar built into an old carriage house with a rustic patio out back, Cane and Table was instantly charming.
We decided it was too hot to sit outside and opted for the cool, dark interior of the bar. The cocktails were wonderfully unique and right up my alley. One option was the “daily punch” which was literally served from an antique cut glass punch bowl on the bar.
I convinced Matt to order the Boss Colada, made with fresh pineapple and lime, Angostura rum, Baska Snaps, orgeat, and Peychaud's bitters. There is nothing wrong with ordering a drink simply because it is lovely.
Next, we headed next door to Coop’s place for some eats.
While there is typically a long line at Coop’s, we hit it just right and simply walked in and were seated.
Coop’s is one part restaurant and 3 parts dive bar. You have to be 21 to enter, so you could say it’s a bar that serves some food. It was dark and divey with a dozen rickety tables and a big wooden bar.
The service was friendly and the food was our favorite of the trip.
We started with marinated and fried blue crab claws.
That was followed with a hot bowl of delicious gumbo.
And then there was the “tasting plate” – a sampler of all the goodness that Coop’s has to offer: shrimp creole, red beans and rice, rabbit and sausage jambalya, and crispy creole fried chicken.
That chicken was intensely delicious.
For dessert, we grabbed a round of $5 frozen Irish coffees next door at Mollys.
We walked to Frenchmen Street, where we wandered into a couple of different art markets before heading to Snug Harbor for some jazz.
While I did love Snug Harbor, I didn’t find the experience as personal as Preservation Hall. It was simply a nice jazz show.
It was our final night in New Orleans so we decided to go out with a bang and stopped at Port of Call for late night burgers and loaded potatoes before calling it a night.
Oh what a night!
It was time for one last carb and fat filled meal.
We needed to hit the road air, so we went for something quick and easy.
I still maintain that the beignets at Café Beignet, while perfectly okay, are nothing like the beignets at Café du Monde.
However, Café Beignet had a delightful music-filled courtyard and offered up other breakfast goodies like waffles and breakfast sandwiches.
New Orleans had shown us a good time filled with delicious food, great cocktails, and days filled with sunshine and live music in the streets.
But we needed to leave before we all ended up with type 2 diabetes.
Three days in New Orleans had been enough. I had to throw in the white napkin.
If I stayed here any longer, I wouldn’t fit into my pants.