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Eat. Drink. New Orleans

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?

Exactly.

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Thursday:

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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.

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We were whisked away to a 3-story mansion in the heart of the French Quarter that took our breath away.

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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.

Happy, indeed.

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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.

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We munched on fresh, hot bread, BACON, saffron mussels, BACON, gumbo, BACON, and crab cakes.

And BACON.

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With bellies full, we were off to One Eyed Jacks to meet up with our Dallas friends who had arrived before us.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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When in New Orleans….

Friday:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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??

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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.

Yes, please.

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We spent the rest of the morning trying to walk off our colossal breakfast.

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We were unsuccessful.

We decided it was best to simply eat again.

We found ourselves at Napoleon House.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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As we sat on our balcony, a terrible looking sky rolled in, and simply rolled past.

It was quite dramatic.

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The skies cleared up just in time for dinner.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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They were perfectly soft, dusted in spicy crab boil, and served with butter.

We followed that with a few pounds of crawfish.

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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.

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And a GIANT SEAFOOD PLATTER.

It was a mountain of soft shell crab, oysters, shrimp, fish, crab balls, and french fries.

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Of course we ate it all.

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Even if it did take us until almost 11:00 p.m.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Saturday:

Apparently, we had to rinse off the night the next morning as well.

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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.

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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.

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Our bubbly was quickly put on ice and we were given a carafe of OJ.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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If the French Quarter is the epicenter of New Orleans, then Jackson Square is the epicenter of the epicenter.

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The colorful streets around the square are filled with original art and street performers – some good….some not so good….but all interesting.

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Our wandering led us to the French Market where we shopped everything from handmade jewelry and paintings to $5 sunglasses.

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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.

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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.

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We shared a bite and then hopped the streetcar to Mother’s.

Why?

To eat again, that’s why.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Believe it or not, we followed that with oyster happy hour and a delicious Sezerac.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Before dinner, I made everyone pose for cheesy photos.

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We like to call this one “Burger King Regret.”

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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.

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I was instantly drawn to the “Champagne and Fries” appetizer. Sure, it was $90…but it was CHAMPAGNE…..AND FRIES!

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The southern antipasti plate and pappardelle Bolognese were also quite delicious….but …..CHAMPAGNE! FRIES!

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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.

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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.

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He said he knew 18,000 songs.

I think we sang all of them.

Sunday:

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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.

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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.

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SoBou?

Try SoBOOOOOZY.

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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.

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The spirited brunch is a lengthy 2-hour, 3 course affair with a live jazz band the Dapper Dandies and, dancing by Bella Blue.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We walked, strolled, browsed, and shopped until we discovered it was OYSTER HAPPY HOUR TIME!

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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.

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A cozy little cocktail bar built into an old carriage house with a rustic patio out back, Cane and Table was instantly charming.

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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.

Loved.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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That was followed with a hot bowl of delicious gumbo.

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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.

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For dessert, we grabbed a round of $5 frozen Irish coffees next door at Mollys.

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We walked to Frenchmen Street, where we wandered into a couple of different art markets before heading to Snug Harbor for some jazz.

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While I did love Snug Harbor, I didn’t find the experience as personal as Preservation Hall. It was simply a nice jazz show.

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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.

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Oh what a night!

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Monday:

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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.

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However, Café Beignet had a delightful music-filled courtyard and offered up other breakfast goodies like waffles and breakfast sandwiches.

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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.

Posted by vicki_h 13:59 Archived in USA Tagged jazz new_orleans cajun creole mardi_gras french_quarter bourbon_street nola big_easy Comments (0)

A Deep Fried Bucket of Fun: New Year's in New Orleans

I was perusing the internet, looking for somewhere to go for New Year’s Eve when I ran across an article titled, “10 Ways to Lose Weight on Vacation.” It included tips like, “Pack portable exercise equipment,” “Surround yourself with Health Food,” “Avoid alcohol,” and “Dine in.”

This gave me some pause.

It was late December and I had already been celebrating Thanksgiving for 29 days because I think one day is woefully inadequate for a celebration that includes stuffing and potatoes in the same meal and pretty much requires that you eat at least three kinds of pie. I was soon to replace my 29-day Thanksgiving celebration with my Christmas celebration, which would require a minimum of 10 days to ensure I had consumed an adequate amount of red velvet cake, reindeer cookies, and potato casserole to hold me over until next year.

The truth is, my pants were getting a little tight. I found myself doing the “jumping dance” to get into my jeans more days than not and had taken to wearing them several times before washing them to get the maximum fit factor. (Every woman knows that washing your jeans is like instantly gaining 15 pounds.)

I had been wearing a lot of stretchy pajamas and sweat pants.

Maybe Matt and I needed to do one of those spa vacations for New Year’s Eve? You know, spend a few days in the desert drinking hemp milk and avoiding gluten while doing lots of yoga and mountain biking.

As I sat at my computer contemplating this possibility, I stuffed another piece of fudge in my mouth and hit the “Escape” button.

Not a fan of the Starvation Vacation, I decided to take an Alcoholiday. We were going to blow out the year end properly by heading to one of my favorite cities for eating & drinking: New Orleans.

Time to pack the elastic waist pants!

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Sunday:

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It was Sunday afternoon when the cab dropped us off at our cottage in the French Quarter. We didn’t even waste time unpacking, but unceremoniously dumped our bags by the door and headed around the corner to Johnny White’s for a Bloody-Mary-To-Go. This place was small and divey, but the Bloody Mary was made slowly and with lots of Worcestershire and spicy pickle juice, just the way I like it.

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We walked to Canal Street to pick up our friends at their hotel and go in search of food. I gave them a choice for lunch: classy jazz brunch or old school dive?

We dove.

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We made the short walk over to Mother’s and the line wasn’t too bad. After a short wait, we were ushered into the crowded dining room, got in the cafeteria style line, and perused our laminated menus, smeared with grease and crowded with offerings like file gumbo, red beans & rice, fried seafood platters, and bread pudding. When I reached the cashier I ordered the debris po’ boy and their “world famous” bloody mary.

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This red brick building has been open since 1938 serving up classic New Orleans dishes like jambalaya and gumbo, but their claim to fame is their famous baked ham and their debris po’boy.

The first time I went to Mother’s, I said “no” to the debris. I mean….. “debris?” Isn’t that garbage? Rufuse? I had no idea what it was and I wasn’t going to find out. I may eat a lot of things, but a garbage sandwich, I think not.

After my husband’s juicy sandwich came out, I learned the error of my ways.

Folklore in New Orleans says that po’boy roast beef is done when it falls apart from a hard stare. Debris is just that…….  Tiny bits and pieces of roast beef shreds that have been cooked until they fall apart and are left to simmer for hours to absorb more juice and seasoning. Swimming in juicy gravy, the debris is topped with shredded cabbage, sliced pickles, mayo, and Creole mustard and is served on a soft white roll that you can only find in New Orleans.

They say the quality of a po’ boy is gauged by the number of napkins required to eat it. There is nothing quite as satisfying. Or as messy.

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It was late afternoon and we were right around the corner from Luke, home of the 50 cent oyster happy hour, so we headed that way. Luke is a highly acclaimed restaurant that is supposed to have excellent food, but I will never know because, so far, I have only been able to go in there for oyster happy hour. Maybe one day I will actually make it in there for a proper meal.

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For now, I must remain content with watching Matt slurp his way through 4 dozen oysters while I sip my half price cocktail.

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All of this eating had left us tired. My OCD had also kicked in and I could think of nothing but the pile of unpacked luggage sitting by my door with all of my clothes wrinkling by the minute. We all headed back to our “places” for some downtime (i.e., stomach stretching exercises, purging, and donning of elastic waist pants).

Since we went low rent for lunch, we decided to class things up a bit at dinner and had a 9:00 reservation at a new French Quarter hotspot, Kingfish. This left plenty of time for a cocktail at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar before dinner.

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We managed to snag a table in the tiny bar, which was a miracle in itself. Repeatedly lauded as one of New Orleans’ best bars, this place had old school class. The centerpiece is the gleaming wood bar, custom built in the late 1800’s, but the soft lighting, animal print fabrics, 1920’s French music, and (my personal favorite) the monkey lamps, conjure up an atmosphere that makes you feel you’ve stepped back into an elegant bygone era. The bar is famous for one of New Orleans’ signature cocktails, the French 75, a delicious blend of cognac, champagne, lemon juice, and sugar.

Sitting on a velvet cheetah print chair, sipping my French 75, I may as well have been Daisy Buchanan.

We enjoyed it so much we nearly missed our dinner reservation.

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Kingfish is a fairly new restaurant on the New Orleans dining scene. With a vibe that is reminiscent of the 1920’s or 30’s, it was a perfect follow-up to our Arnaud’s cocktail hour. With robust dishes, an unconventional food and cocktail menu, and a chef mentored by Paul Prudhomme, I could quickly see why this restaurant is a current favorite.

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Dinner started off with a unique cocktail. The Cable Car was a blend of spiced rum, lemon, dry curacao, and cinnamon, served in a glass with a generous rim of cinnamon sugar.

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Appetizers included the Butternut Squash Lobster Bisque, a creamy blend of Carribean lobster, butternut squash, and crème fraiche, and the Shrimp Prima, two jumbo gulf shrimp stuffed with blue lump crab meat, wrapped in prosciutto and served over a tangy candied pecan cole slaw.

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For dinner, I dove into the Cochon de Lait Pot Pie: a tender pastry bowl filled with shredded slow roasted pork (cochon), crab boil potatoes, English peas, and carrots.

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It was no surprise that we couldn’t make it to dessert.

We walked it off with the obligatory trek down Bourbon Street. Our friends had never been to New Orleans, and we wanted to make sure they had the experience.

There were plenty of drunk 20 year-olds, three-for-one drinks, boas, beads, and Saints fans celebrating their win against Tampa Bay, earning them a place in the playoffs. To say they were celebrating was an understatement.

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Matt's friend wanted to try a hand grenade. Not a fan of something that looks suspiciously like anti-freeze and tastes like corn syrup and gasoline, I took a pass. Seriously, if I am going to consume something with that many calories, it’s going to come with frosting.

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Monday:

We took an early morning walk and enjoyed the Christmas decorations that many of the houses still had on display.

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We told our friends to meet us at Café du Monde. They asked what it was and I told them a “coffee stand.”

I think they were trying to decide if I meant a metal building manned by a guy named Frank that might drop the ashes from his Marlboro into our styrofoam cup or if I meant a shop painted in a painfully neutral palette playing oppressively boring acoustic music while a grim faced barista smirks superiorly when people ask for flavored syrup.

They were pleasantly surprised when they saw the quaint patio that looked less like an airport kiosk and more like an open air café you might see in Paris. If you hit it at the right time, like first thing in the morning when the mist is still rolling off the Mississippi River and there are no patrons in line, when the staff, in their starched aprons and stiff paper hats, are still pulling the green vinyl chairs from the table tops….Cafe du Monde is romantic. It reminds you of a time when people wrote actual letters on notecards with a pen and dressed nicely to go out for a meal. When coffee was accompanied by a crisp newspaper, not an iPad and it was served in a heavy ceramic cup, not cardboard.

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Unfortunately, we were not there at that time. Thanks to those stupid hand-grenades, the guys had slept in and by the time we reached Café du Monde, the line stretched farther than I could see and the place was more reminiscent of a queue at Disney, filled with families from Kalamazoo armed with money belts, name badges, and guide books, ready to check “coffee and beignets” off of their spreadsheet.

I promptly made my way to the take out counter and in moments, had my coffee and beignets. So what if my romantic café experience was relegated to a paper bag and a metal bench. Call me a tourist cliché, but my day in New Orleans has to start off with a chicory laced cup of hot café au lait and a bag of crispy-soft beignets drowning in powdered sugar.

You can never have too much powdered sugar.

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Because Matt and John were expecting a proper lumberjack breakfast and only got a bag of glorified doughnuts, they were hungry again by 10:30 a.m. We stumbled into the Gumbo Shop, located right off Jackson Square. It was warm inside and they were just setting up for lunch.

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We ordered up some barbequed shrimp and chicken and Andouille gumbo.

For a blatantly touristy restaurant, the Gumbo Shop served up some pretty good gumbo. It gets its fair share of respect from locals, being voted one of the best gumbos in the city every year. It was quaint inside, all frescoed out with wall murals of old New Orleans and light streaming in from the courtyard out back.

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Bellies full of gumbo at 11:30, we decided the best way to prepare for lunch was by walking down Royal Street to see some of the street performers. My self-diagnosed adult ADHD kicked in en route, however, when….BUBBLES!

Matt tried to drag me away. We got about 4 feet and then…..

BUBBLES!

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After about 15 minutes, my self-diagnosed adult ADHD kicked in again and the bubbles were no longer extraordinary.

TAP DANCING!

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We made a pit stop at the Pirate’s Alley Café and Absinthe House because 1) it’s cool in a small-dark-looks-like-you’re-on-a-pirate-ship kind of way and 2) we needed a restroom. Okay, it was mostly the bathroom thing, but the bonus was that the place was small and dark and looked like we were in a pirate ship. And……

GLOWING DRINKS!

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For someone who is easily distracted, New Orleans is an exhausting place.

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It had been at least two hours since our last feeding, so another food stop was in order. Somehow, we lucked into immediate seating at the Napoleon House where we tried the original Pimm’s Cup and their version of the famed muffaletta.

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We had barely wiped the olive spread off our chins before Matt was dragging us back to Luke for oyster happy hour.

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While Matt ordered up several dozen oysters, I took the classy route and ordered french fries and champagne.

You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can never take the trailer park out of the girl.

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Look y’all! It even came with a little ketchup bottle! Fancy.

Emboldened by the champagne, I decided to try the official cocktail of New Orleans, the Sezerac. American’s first cocktail was created in 1838 in a French Quarter bar. Rye whiskey, sugar, Herbsaint, bitters, and lemon peel served neat….this cocktail packed a punch…New Orleans style.

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Our next stop was Southern Costume Company, just outside the French Quarter. The guys had decided to go “all out” for New Year’s Eve. In a city where you can see a man in fishnets walking a miniature pony wearing a wig and sneakers for no reason other than it’s a Tuesday, you have to come up with something pretty special to attract attention.

Something maniacal had possessed my normally introverted-to-the-point-of-being-mistaken-for-deaf husband. The man least likely to draw attention to himself had made a decision and there was no turning back.

While the guys tried on their attire, we were allowed to wander.

Southern Costume Company provides theatrical quality costumes for the official Mardis-Gras parades and for local theater companies. Their costumes were not the “cheap polyester made in Taiwan”variety, but were handmade or vintage pieces.

And there were THOUSANDS.

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As I stood in front of a handmade mermaid costume running my hands along the hundreds of shimmering metal tabs that had been hand fastened to the tail, I looked over and saw and exquisitely beaded Marie Antoinette gown.

I was surrounded by spandex and glitter. I was high on the smell of old hats and shoe polish. I decided then and there that my greatest fantasy is to be locked inside a costume shop overnight.

Happiness is a costume shop.

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They finally managed to pry the mermaid costume out of my hands and drag me out of there.

Another group of friends was meeting us in New Orleans that night having just arrived from Dallas. They wanted to eat at Acme Oyster House, so we headed that way while John & Kelley went to their room to put on their elastic waist pants freshen up. I mean, we hadn’t eaten in at least an hour and running from the employees of the costume shop with that Marie Antoinette wig on my head had been exhausting, so it probably was time to eat again.

I’ll be honest, though. I don’t love Acme. I don’t dislike it, I simply don’t think the quality of the food is worth the time spent standing in line. Spending an hour in line needs to be for something important…..like clean water during a natural disaster or a bowl of soup during the Great Depression.

If I am going to stand in line for over an hour simply for the privilege of eating at a restaurant, the food needs to be so good it’s like a religious experience when I put it in my mouth.

Either that…… or someone needs to be handing out free cocktails.

Acme Oyster House is the kind of place I wouldn’t mind running into for a meal if I was in a big hurry and it was the only thing within a 20 mile radius and there was no wait.

But to wait in line for an hour on a dirty New Orleans sidewalk to eat a very average meal that is insanely overpriced is simply wrong. Acme is overhyped.

Unfortunately, the only other female in the group was still in her hotel room and it’s where all the guys wanted to eat, so I was outnumbered 6 to 1. Not that 6 to 2 would have been significantly better odds.

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To add insult to injury, as soon as we got in line they said, “Wait right here, we’ll be right back.” Forty minutes passed. I was getting dangerously close to the door and the little Line Nazi with the Clipboard kept reminding me that I would not be seated if my entire party was not present. He also threw in the fact that the restaurant was closing soon and if my party was not present when I reached the door, we would be turned away in disgrace.

I was just about ready to mutiny and go find myself a proper meal when the guys showed up, empty drink cups in hand.

Seriously? Not only did they leave me standing alone in a cold line for 40 minutes….they did it so that they could go sit inside a warm bar and have drinks????? And they didn’t even think to bring me one back?????

Even chargrilled oysters and a fried soft shell crab platter couldn’t make up for that.

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Tuesday:

To make up for abandoning me on the sidewalk at Acme the night before, Matt took me for breakfast at Stanley! and didn’t even make any snarky comments when I ordered the bananas foster french toast with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream and an extra, extra large mimosa.

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It was a gray morning, so we decided to jump aboard the St. Charles streetcar for some mansion and cemetery gawking.

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At least until we got hungry again.

We walked down to Magazine Street with no idea where to grab a bite and I saw that we were standing across the street from Dat Dog.

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The truth is, you can’t enter Dat Dog without feeling happy. They are making the world a better place by providing it with wieners made out of uncommon ingredients like duck sausage, crawfish, and alligator and covering them with all manner of toppings like bacon, Andouille sauce, Asian slaw, and crawfish etouffee. If that doesn’t do it for you, the brightly painted building and the staff clad in Hawaiian shirts will.

I warmed up with a Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum Hot Cider which was delightfully topped with salted whipped cream and toffee bits while I waited for my white trash fries (think chili cheese fries with bacon on crack) and mountain of hot dog.

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My eating plans for the day had only gotten started, so much like a coach tells a player to "shake it off," I encouraged everyone to “walk it off” by doing some Magazine Street shopping.

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It was late afternoon and a steady drizzle had started to fall. My feet were tired and I was getting cold. I could think of no better place to go than Port of Call for a giant burger and ridiculously overstuffed potato.

It has a big heavy door and when you walk inside, it is so dark that you feel like you should look at the person standing next to the door and say something like “the muskrat sleeps at noon” to gain access. Port of Call is crowded. It’s dark, the only source of light being an oversized aquarium that runs parallel to the bar. It’s divey. I think the ropes and nets hanging from the ceiling have been untouched since the place first opened in 1963.

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I don’t think I would want to see this room in bright light. It would be the equivalent of the guy that picks up a hot blonde on a Friday night only to discover that in the bright light of the morning, she’s a 78 year old man with a club foot.

Go at the wrong time of day and you could wait an hour or more (and I have already made my thoughts clear on waiting for food), but go at the right time of day, you don’t wait very long for one of the best burgers you’ll ever have.

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The fist-thick burger was made from a half pound of two-way chuck that is fresh ground daily and cooked over an open flame. It was perfectly charred on the outside and juicy and pink on the inside. It was a monster and it took my beef-loving breath away. They don’t serve fries at Port of Call, so the burger came with a loaded baked potato. If the burger was a monster, then the potato was a colossal beast. Loaded with butter, sour cream, a mound of cheese, chives, mushrooms and bacon, it elevated the Port of Call experience to another level.

The entire experience, however, was not complete until my burger and potato were accompanied by Port of Call’s signature cocktail, the Neptune’s Monsoon. The diesel strength, but oh so delicious, drink was served up classy-style in a 32 ounce plastic cup.

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It was the perfect combination of food and drink to send me off toward a nice afternoon nap.

You see, it was New Year's Eve and we had a long night ahead of us.

I know what you are thinking. "New Year's Eve in New Orleans? ARE YOU CRAZY?" New Orleans, a city that takes pride in its hard partying skills, is practically made for New Year's Eve. No doubt there would be plenty of revelers. I imagined that every 10 feet there would be someone throwing up, someone dancing, or a band playing while beads flew through the air. It seemed there was a party in every hotel, in every restaurant, and on every street corner. To top the evening off, there would be a giant street party in Jackson Square complete with fireworks, a fleur-de-lis drop, and live music.

It couldn't be any worse than the year we decided to spend NYE in Times Square and lasted exactly 13 minutes locked in our "grid" in 8 degree temperatures before decided that having ready access to a bathroom, a warm place to sit, and a bottle of champagne were worth ditching the grid and spending NYE watching the festivities from our corner suite windows rather than spending it in single digit temps about 8 blocks from the actual ball drop with some guy named Dino that was likely to either vomit on Matt or pee on my shoes before the night was over.

Besides, I had made us some dignified plans. I did not intend to spend my evening with a bunch of 19 year old drunks showing their boobs for beads.

We had reservations for our party of 8 at Tableau, Dickie Brennan's newest restaurant, housed with Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, one of the oldest community theaters in America, with roots stretching back to 1916. With an impressive foyer leading to a grand staircase and a maze of cozy, elegant dining rooms, this new restaurant was already considered one of New Orelans most sophisticated hot spots. The marble bar, crystal chandeliers, and massive arched fan windows create an enchanting atmosphere for Chef Ben Thibodeaux to perfect his culinary masterpieces. We had a 9:30 reservation which would allow us time for a leisurely dinner and give us just enough time to step outside the front door into Jackson Square to enjoy the fireworks at midnight.

I had a gorgeous dress, some dazzling heels, and a bottle of champagne. I hadn't left any details to chance. It was going to be a spectacular evening.

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You know how they say that the way you spend New Year's Eve will define how you will spend the rest of the upcoming year? My vision was to spend it in a beautiful dress, surrounded by good friends, having fun, and topped off with a romantic kiss from the love of my life as fireworks exploded in the sky.

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Unfortunately, MY vision of New Year's Eve and Matt's vision of New Year's Eve were not exactly on the same page. There was that little detail about the costumes.

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Oh yes he did.

Apparently, I am doomed to spend 2014 following my dumb or dumber husband from about 10 paces back to ensure he doesn't shake his ass so hard that he splits his peach polyester pants or drop his top hat onto a vomit stained sidewalk.

Oh dear lord.

Dinner was an uncomfortable 2 hours spent trying to enjoy my truffled crab claws and BBQ shrimp and grits, while my husband and his friend continued to call our waiter "Cordon Bleu" and proceeded to river dance for all of the patrons. The manager kept coming upstairs, no doubt because the light fixtures were shaking below. I could tell by his face that he wanted to ask us to leave, but the other patrons were enjoying the show so much that there was no way he could do that without looking like a jackass.

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I was torn between complete humiliation, extreme discomfort, and absolute hilarity.

I got my kiss at midnight and then spent the next few hours watching as half of New Orleans had their New Year's Eve photo taken with Lloyd and Harry.

I'm pretty sure Matt is in at least a dozen YouTube videos and an obscene number of cell phone photos. I feel certain he made quite a showing on any number of Facebook pages that night and I think he is engaged to about 4 women.

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I hope it's a myth that the way you spend New Year's Eve is how you will spend your year. Here's my alternative theory: Start the New Year in the most horrible way possible. Because, as long as you don't die, it will only get better from there.

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Wednesday:

After THAT night, New Year's Day demanded a big, greasy breakfast that was carb loaded.

That's why we headed to Camellia Grill for strong, hot coffee, a pecan waffle, and a breakfast platter with fried eggs, toast, bacon, and a pile of hash browns smothered in ketchup, just like I ate them when I was a kid and we'd stop at Waffle House on the road from Atlanta to Tennessee to visit my grandmother.

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I'd like to say that Matt and I shared that food, but in complete honesty, that was my breakfast.

We walked around a quiet city. New Orleans was licking her wounds, trying to recover from the previous night's revelry.

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It had been fun, but it was time to go home, repent, and try to come up with some New Year's Resolutions that would make up for all the indulgence of the holidays.

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It's now late January and we've sworn off sugar and anything that comes in a solo cup. I have promised to work out every day. I even just completed a cleanse where I consumed nothing but algae smoothies, aloe juice and fiber for 3 days. I can't remember the name of the cleanse, but I think it was called….oh yeah……… anorexia. The cleanse was a mixed blessing. Sure, I got rid of all those New Orleans toxins. I purified. I think purged my system. But I also fell asleep at work, fantasized about eating a squirrel that was outside my window, and almost crapped my pants in a Walgreens.

Maybe I'll stick with the whole food and alcohol thing in 2014 after all.

Happy New Year!

Posted by vicki_h 17:13 Archived in USA Tagged new_orleans french_quarter nola Comments (7)

A Caloric Fun Fest in NOLA

Great Things I Ate During a Weekend In the French Quarter

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The first time I went to New Orleans I was 19. I was working my way through college and I had been living on chicken leg quarters and Ramen noodles for over a year. We made the drive in my dove gray 1981 Pontiac T1000 and my muscles were sore by the time we got there, because the car had no power steering or power brakes. Four of us shared a cheap room at the Holiday Inn. I was young and poor, and the only food I splurged on while in New Orleans was a savory bowl of gumbo at the Gumbo Shop.

Laugh if you will, but in 1989 a bowl of seafood okra gumbo cost the equivalent of two 10-lb. bags of chicken leg quarters, and I could survive on those leg quarters for weeks.

The memory of that steaming bowl of gumbo still makes my mouth water. It was worth every penny.

I may not be 19 anymore, but heading to New Orleans is still as exciting to me as it was on that first trip.

Many people associate New Orleans with nothing more than the debauchery of Bourbon Street. They feel the only reason to go there is to be clad in beads while carrying a 28 ounce Big Gulp cocktail down the street. To think New Orleans is nothing but Bourbon Street is like saying New York City is nothing but Times Square. Bourbon Street is essential, don't get me wrong, but a quick stroll will show you a neon blazed circus filled with hard working transvestites that will let you take their picture for a dollar, strippers trying to lure you in with fish net tights and neon lipstick, and an overabundance of cheap frozen drinks in tacky souvenir cups that are strong enough to eat the chrome off Grandma Laverne's 1978 Lincoln Continental.

Don't see Bourbon Street at all and you'll wonder what you missed, but spend more than 5 minutes and you’ll have wasted valuable time better spent elsewhere.

New Orleans has so much more to offer than Bourbon Street. Let’s start with the architectural wonders that present themselves on every block. The place simply oozes history. You feel like a ghost or a pirate is lurking behind every gated door or in every shadowy courtyard. And what about the music? This city is so musical that you literally can’t walk a full block without hearing live music. Whether it’s pouring out the doors of a jazz club or being pumped through a tinny amp on the street corner next to a cardboard box reading, “Big Tips Only,” there is literally music everywhere.

You also can’t walk a block without running into original art. Turn your head for a moment while walking and you’ll no doubt run head-first into some guy offering to paint your dog from an iPhone picture or lining up original paintings against a fence that rival anything you’ve seen in your local gallery. And the shopping…..you can find everything from estate antiques to vintage war pistols, from colorful designer dresses to size 12 heels in glitter green.

Above all, though, I head to New Orleans for the food. Still taunted by that first cheap date with New Orleans, where she flaunted her goods but only let me hold her hand, is it any wonder that when I return to New Orleans today, all I want to do is eat? New Orleans is a wonderland of sublime eating experiences.

I had three days and planned to see just how much damage I could do.

Friday: Laissez les bons temps rouler!

When you fly your own plane, it’s hard to predict exactly when you are going to arrive in a place. We aren’t Delta and we can’t pinpoint our arrival to the minute. Oh wait, neither can Delta. Regardless, this makes it difficult for a compulsive planner like myself to know exactly what time to make a lunch reservation. Because compulsive planners can’t imagine NOT having a lunch reservation.

That’s why, at approximately 12:23, I began twitching like a 4 year old with ADHD that had just sucked down a 2 liter of Mountain Dew. I had a 12:30 lunch reservation and our wonderful hosts were still showing us around our rental for the weekend. While I was enjoying getting a thorough tour of what I am pretty sure is the most perfect historic townhouse in the French Quarter…I HAD LUNCH PLANS!

Like an idiot, I had worn high heeled boots on the way down, with every intention of changing into flats before walking to lunch. Because we were now in an extreme hurry, changing shoes was out of the question. Expecting a very clumsy person to walk in a hurry on ancient, uneven sidewalks in a pair of high heeled boots is a very, very bad idea. About halfway there, I started sweating, whether it was from the worry of doing a face plant on Chartres Street, from the heavy sweater that I had needed when we left cold TN but that was excessively warm in Louisiana, or from the fear that the possibility of a missed meal instills in my heart, I am still not certain.

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We made it to SoBou before they crossed our names of the list. I was only moderately sweaty and both heels were intact, so we’ll call that a success story. Hot Jambalaya! We had made it to the Twenty Five Cent Martini Lunch.

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You heard that right. Twenty-five cent martinis. You can choose a vodka or gin martini, pink gin, commander’s palace cha cha, or a pink elephant’s on parade for a quarter, with the purchase of an entrée. They do, however, limit you to 3 because, as the menu states, “that’s enough.”

A two bit martini later, everyone forgot that they were mad at me.

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SoBou is located inside the sleek W Hotel, but it’s no hotel restaurant. An offshoot of the Commander’s Palace family of restaurants, SoBou (South of Bourbon) aims to create a stylish restaurant where the cocktails are inventive and the menu is filled with snacks that encourage sharing.

We chose to share The Fries, which were deliciously salted skin-on fries served with your choice of cayenne ketchup, pimento cheese fondue, or pickled okra mayo. I’ll have the pimento cheese fondue, please.

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Because hearing the words “share” and “food” in the same sentence causes me to have immediate heart palpitations, I drew the line at sharing the appetizer and told everyone to get their own entrée. I had the crispy chicken on the bone: four adorable little Tanglewood Farms drummies with crispy skin and a Crystal hot sauce sweet soy glaze. Matt had the juicy SoBou Burger.

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We couldn’t end the meal without dessert. I mean, I had run 4 blocks in heels. I deserved something, right? The chocolate coma bar was calling to me. It was a flourless dark chocolate torte layered with white chocolate mousse, topped with candied pecans and sea salt caramel covered in milk chocolate. Apparently, the pastry chef did not feel this was enough decadence and also added a shot of chicory coffee milkshake.

Oh sweet little plastic baby Jesus buried in a king cake. This was beyond good. This was pure happiness.

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We shopped our way back to the townhouse, stopping in at some great little clothing boutiques and one amazing store filled with designer markdowns. Shopping thrown on top of martinis and lunch? We were definitely off to a good start.

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I love walking the streets of New Orleans. You never know what you are going to see and everything from the artistic to the downright weird takes on a level of "okay-ness" that it just wouldn't have anywhere else. Anything goes, and it's all cool.

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Even the tuba....that lonely fat guy of the marching band instruments...takes on a level of cool in New Orleans.

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We found our way back to the the townhouse and enjoyed a little down time.

I hadn’t stopped long enough to fully appreciate the place during the earlier tour. A two story townhouse with a rooftop balcony and secret backdoor courtyard, this place was smack dab in the center of the French Quarter. This place was FANTASTIC.

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Thanks to blog reader, Twolittlebirds, I knew about Luke restaurant's 50 cent happy hour. Matt couldn't wait to get his oyster happy hour on, so when the magic hour rolled around, we made our way to Luke, on Saint Charles just outside the madness of the French Quarter. The more casual restaurant offering of chef John Besh, Luke offers platters of huge ice cold oysters for just 50 cents from 4:00 - 6:00. We were all over it.

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Luke was all polished brass and wood paneling, crisp dish towel napkins and formal waiters, with an upscale atmosphere that somehow managed to still exude a warmth that let you picture yourself with a burger and beer at the gleaming bar and knowing you'd feel right at home. In addition to cheap oysters, you can sample some of Luke's signature cocktails for half price. The Riverbend, a refreshing blend of vodka, basil syrup, lemon juice, blueberries, and ginger ale went down as smooth as a Gulf Coast oyster during happy hour.

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When Matt had his fill, we walked a short distance to Bellocq, a dark and mysterious bar that serves as a tribute to the bordello era of New Orleans and is dedicated to the art of the 19th century cocktail. I loved the dim interior, filled with lush velvet drapes and plush sofas, it was like taking a step back in time. The bar takes its name from E.J. Bellocq, the famous photographer who secretly documented the prostitutes of the Storyville district — arguably the most famous Red Light District ever.

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A whole section of the menu is devoted to cobblers, a throwback cocktail that consists of a base spirit, sugar, fresh fruit, and ice — a lot of ice. Cobblers are lower in alcohol than many other cocktails and are meant to be refreshing, smooth, and cold. Just holding one in an ornate wing back chair, you can imagine that you live in the bayou, with the high sun and even higher humidity, and just need a refreshing beverage to soothe your over-heated body. With one sip, I was instantly transported to the veranda of some huge plantation on a sticky, summer day.

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I could have stayed in there all night, sipping cobblers and milk punches and pretending I was the southern belle and this was my decadent parlor, but we had dinner reservations at Cochon.

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The restaurant’s name is French for pig, and one goal of this restaurant that seems to show up on every top NOLA restaurant list is to honor a Cajun tradition of producing cured, smoked, pressed and shredded pork delicacies. My goal? To find a dinner that didn't involve any of the too abundant Cajun tourist traps that churn out the same predictable menu.

We started off with the crawfish pie, a delicate buttery crust hiding a smoky crawfish etouffee inside.

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Matt went for the oyster and bacon sandwich. A good choice if you like oysters, since Cochon makes its own bacon, deep fries the oysters, and throws some mayo into the equation. Even to an avowed non-oyster eater, that sandwich looked mighty fine.

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I, however, went for the signature dish: the Cochon: listed on the menu as “Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage, pickled turnips and cracklins.” It may as well have been deep fried, covered in bacon and slathered with mayo, what with the way that slow-stewed meat was molded and packed into a golden, crisp-edged, savory chunk, laying atop a pile of cabbage and turnips that were almost as magical as the pork itself, with a velvety rich texture and loaded with the perfect balance of salt, sugar and vinegar. All of this delciousness was topped with the world's largest (and most delicious) pork rind.

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Cochon has a big reputation to live up to. Did it live up to all the hype? One bite of that crispy pork cracklin and I was nodding a delicious, "Yes."

Saturday: Peench da Tails, Suck da Heads and Squeeze da Tip.

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Matt and I woke up early, and as our friends slept in, we made the short walk over to Cafe du Monde. Yes, Cafe du Monde, that French Quarter establishment so heavily touristed it makes Graceland feel quaint.

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I don't go here for the hype. I go here because I genuinely think they have the most delicious coffee and beignets to be had. Anywhere. Ever. Period.

I like to go early in the morning, when the wait staff are drawing slips for their table assignments and the green vinyl chairs are still piled up on the tables. The sidewalks smell of water and bleach and the tables aren't yet covered with the sticky mess of 13 previous customers. It's quiet and still and there isn't a line of people outside staring at you, willing you with their eyes to stop eating and leave already.

At that time of day, Cafe du Monde is just a wonderful little cafe with delicious hot coffee and tasty treats.

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Ahhhh....beignets. Those crispy golden pillows of dough piled high like a deep fried masterpiece. Moist and chewy inside, toasty brown, and buried in a pile of powdered sugar so deep that by the time you leave, you look like the clumsiest member of the Medellín Cocaine Cartel. Bags of powdered sugar beg for the honor of giving their lives this way...... the only honor higher than getting to play a bag of drugs in a movie.

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By the way, never wear black to Cafe du Monde.

We headed to Stanley! for breakfast because I heard they served their pancakes with vanilla ice cream. Pancakes with vanilla ice cream turned out to be exactly what I wanted on a Saturday morning.

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Although Matt's fried oyster benedict looked mighty tasty.

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It was a beautiful day, so we spent the rest of the morning just walking through the streets of the French Quarter, taking in the buildings, the musicians, and the art.

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There is more entertainment to be had on Royal Street on a Saturday afternoon than most cities see in a month.

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We even caught a couple of weddings, an absolutely spectacular affair in the French Quarter.

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Where else can you get this much entertainment for free?

Well.....mostly free.

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We did some sampling for lunch. Our first stop was unplanned. As we walked past the Jagerhaus, we couldn't help but notice the grill filled with sausages and the cooler filled with crawfish, potatoes, and corn. They were working up a crawfish boil! Apparently, after a couple of lean years, 2013 brought a bumper crop of mudbugs to NOLA and we were here right at the start of the season.

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Matt might like crawfish as much as he likes oysters.

Me....I think they are an awful lot of work for a mighty small reward. And they are messy. There is no way to look attractive while eating crawfish. You end up with crap on your face and ooze on your hands, probably a severed leg or two near your elbow, you'll smell like sea water for at least an hour, and all you'll have to show for it is a little bit of tail meat (if you are a lazy eater like me...you won't find me sucking on the heads or trying to dig those microscopic little bits of meat out of their tiny little claws, no sir).

So, I sat politely by, working up my own appetite, while Matt had his fill. We were practically next door to the Erin Rose, so I grabbed Matt's hand and ducked inside.

"What are we doing here?" he asked as he looked around the smoky, dark little bar lined with old bar stools and a few video poker machines. It was loud and crowded and was a total dive.

"Trust me," I said as I dragged him through the main bar to the tiny back room.

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There we found Killer Po Boys, the new Po Boy on the block. Who knew that behind the Erin Rose, you can find chef driven sandwiches with unique ingredients like Moroccan-spiced lamb sausage, shrimp with coriander and lime, and beef tongue finished with cream, plantain and pickled okra? Cam Boudreaux and April Bellow turn out inspired Po Boys at a tiny food window hidden behind a smoky little bar. And I was in on the secret.

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I ordered up the special of the day: local, wild-caught catfish piled with pickled slaw made on their crusty, light-crumb banh mi-style loaf. Matt grabbed us a couple of bloody mary's from Erin Rose and we were in Po Boy heaven. I took one bite and melted into my barstool.

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Sure, it's located in the back of a bar, seating was limited, it's cash only and you have to be at least 21 to enter, and it goes without saying that you must have at least a small tolerance for cigarette smoke and the ring of a poker machine, but with a po-boy like this coming in around $7 or so, this place was hard to beat.

We spent the afternoon with a fist full of dollar bills, wandering from one Royal Street act to another. There was swing dancing. There were trombones and acoustic guitars and bottle-capped tap shoes floating their way down the streets of the French Quarter.

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We decided to take things in a different direction for dinner. Our first stop was supposed to be Bar Tonique. I had read about this cozy, craft cocktail bar that took pride in its fresh squeezed juices and house made syrups, and thought it might just be the perfect remedy for the noise of Bourbon Street. It seemed like just the place to hang our hat long enough to forget the screaming hordes that were throwing up on the sidewalk just a few blocks away.

That was, until we walked in and were slammed with a wall of cigarette smoke.

Sorry, Bar Tonique. No matter how quaint your establishment is and no matter how amazing your cocktails, it's not worth losing 10% of my lung capacity to second hand smoke and coming out with my hair smelling like Grandad's old ashtray for the rest of the night.

We walked right back out the door and headed toward Frenchmen Street, where I had heard some great music could be found.

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Just past the edge of the Quarter, across Esplanade, you'll find historic Frenchmen Street where music pours out of every doorway and the sidewalks are lined with characters as colorful as the artwork that's painted on the buildings. You won't find shiny beads, frozen daiquiri stands, or t-shirt shops here. What you will find is an eclectic mix of jazz clubs and up and coming restaurants with a bit of art sprinkled in the mix. It's a unique and thriving bohemian neighborhood just a block from the French Quarter.

We put our names on the list at Three Muses, a relative new comer on Frenchmen's Restaurant Row housed inside a tiny storefront. When we were finally called inside, I marveled at the small space that was so incredibly warm and vibrant, with bold artwork, twinkling lights, and a bustling staff. And it was smoke free.

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"You typically order at the bar," a waitress shouted to us as she passed by, handing us a napkin with the number 14 written on it, "You're table 14. If you catch me as I pass by, I'm happy to take your order to the bar. If not, just run up there."

The menu was made up of an assortment of tapas and small plates that made my head spin. Every time I settled on a few, a waiter carried a tray by that made me rethink my entire plan.

Matt says I order every meal like it's my last.

I finally settled and basically ended up ordering several plates of carbohydrates. That's what happens when I let myself get too hungry.

There were marinated olives, deep fried pickle chips, mac n cheese with brussels sprouts, french fries with feta, and smoked quail on top of savory turnip greens. There was strawberry shortcake for dessert.

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It was lively and cozy all at the same time. The music played as people managed to dance in the few tiny spaces that existed between tables. The crowd buzzed and the band passed a hat from table to table for tips in between sets. I'm still not sure whether 3 Muses was a great restaurant with fabulous live music, or a music club with amazing food and cocktails, or a cocktail bar with great bands and terrific food. Whatever it was, it was a great place to spend a few hours on a Saturday night.

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Sunday: Where y'at? Da Vieux Carre, Boo!

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EAT restaurant was just a block away and with a BYOB Sunday Brunch, it seemed like just the place to start the day.

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As we were seated at a bright and sunny table inside the quaint little restaurant, the water saw my champagne bottle and immediately brought a carafe of juice.

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The day started with mimosas and sugary banana fritters dipped in peanut butter.

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Then it was on to the Big Breakfast, a plump and juicy fried chicken breast, grits, fried eggs, and a giant fluffy biscuit. I truly believe most of the ills in the world can be cured with a really good biscuit.

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A good way to ward off an impending biscuit coma is to walk and the French Quarter is a great place to do it.

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Our friends wanted to see a New Orleans cemetery, so we made the short walk over to the Saint Louis Cemetery Number One. Established in the late 1700's, this is the oldest cemetery that still exists in New Orleans. It's an absolute maze of tombs and alleys that holds the remains of pirates, politicians, heroes of the Battle of New Orleans, an international chess champion, victims of the Yellow Fever epidemics and even a voodoo queen within its walls.

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I noticed a tomb that was covered with triple x's and had an odd assortment of random items laid in front of it.

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This tomb is the reputed burial place of Marie Laveau, the most powerful voodooienne to live in New Orleans. Apparently, the markings and items are offerings that people regularly leave for Marie in hope of receiving a wish or good fortune from her.

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I am certainly not an expert in voodoo wish fulfillment, but if I sincerely believed that leaving some random junk beside the tomb of a dead voodoo queen would bring me a wish, I'd certainly think carefully about what I left. I mean, voodoo Marie might look favorably upon the guy that left her the bottle of Jamison or the the pretty scarf, but I'd hate to be the dumbass that left her that half used Chapstick or that soggy Sweet and Low packet.

We did some shopping in the French Market and decided to snack our way through the afternoon.

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Snack stop #1: More beignets. Yum. Powdered sugar goodness.

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Snack stop #2: Verti Marte Muffaletta. Olive salad + Zapp's Chips = supreme happiness.

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Snack stop #3: Domenica's 1/2 price pizza happy hour. $6 wood fired pies and half price wine. Oh, and free cookies. Enough said.

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Snack stop #4: (Are you feeling queasy yet?) Bourbon House for Oysters on the Half Shell.

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It was our last night and so far, we had avoided Bourbon Street like it was a radioactive pit of nuclear waste. I'd rather spend an 8 hour flight trapped inside an airplane bathroom with the entire cast of Jersey Shore than spend more than 3 minutes on Bourbon Street. But, in fairness, this was our friends' first trip to New Orleans. How could we not let them have the Bourbon Street experience?

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So, Bourbon Street it was.

My friend bought two wigs for $20 and really, really wanted to wear them. Hell. As long as I was going to be subjected to the torture of hand grenade drinks, pizza by the slice, and 32 ounce beers, I may as well do it in plastic green hair.

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New Orleans isn't just a walking city, it's a walking-with-a-drink city, so we needed to get started with one of Bourbon Street's delightfully tacky frozen drinks to go. We ducked into Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop for a Voodoo Daiquiri. Hey, just because we were about to get our drink on along the boozy debauchery of Bourbon Street...don't think I was about to go into one of those places with blinking signs that pump gallons of industrial alcohol, food coloring, and bottom-shelf booze out of a slushee machine and into a 24 inch tall neon green plastic glass shaped suspiciously like a bong. I was going to try to keep it semi classy. Well....as classy as one can in a plastic green wig.

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If you have to visit a Bourbon Street bar, well, this is as good a place as any. The tavern is one of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter and was reputedly once used by the privateer Jean Lafitte. The pub's dark, plain, authentic decor is made complete with wooden beams and walls, a long, plain bar area, and stark wooden tables and chairs. There is not a light bulb in sight...... candles are used during the late night hours. Many say Jean Lafitte still haunts this place. Not only one of the oldest buildings in the Quarter, it's reputedly one of the oldest bars in Americaes......or so we heard every time a mule-drawn carriage full of tourists passed by.

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Sitting in the gloom of Lafitte’s with a drink in front of you, it’s entirely possible to believe that somehow the calendar has come unstuck and the streets are thronged with dark-eyed Creoles and fine gentleman and you are a runaway damsel looking for adventure.

Although, reality slaps you quickly when a frozen purple drink arrives in a giant styrofoam cup. Ah well....it was Bourbon Street after all.

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The Voodoo Daiquiri is a simple combination of bourbon, everclear, and grape soda with crushed ice. It's tacky, but even I can admit it's delicious. You can't do New Orleans without at least one tacky frozen drink, so you may as well have it with a pirate. Right?

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Drink cups in hand, we walked out onto Bourbon Street and took it all in. We saw a lot of Tacky Tourist Shops, Pizza By the Slice, drunk college kids with a string of beads in one hand and a sweaty pile of hope in the other, strip clubs, Frozen Drink Bars, and dudes passed out on the sidewalk while their friends took their picture with their iPhones. The smell was one of overflowing garbage mixed with vomit, mule piss, and the slight stench of sewage. It was lewd and stanky, filled with cheap baubles and plastic turtles.

We did, however, meet this very nice transvestite who told me where I could find size 12 zebra print platforms with goldfish in the heels, just in case I needed a pair.

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And there was this guy. And his tiger. At a bar. Yes, those are whiskers on his face. I'd really like to know the story there.

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Our cups were empty, so we took our friends inside Pat O'Brien's...most touristy place in New Orleans, but one we knew they would love. Why? Because there is a big courtyard, and a fountain, and giant red drinks. It's an obligatory rite of passage to drink at least one hurricane at Pat O'Brien's on your first trip to New Orleans and I didn't want our friends to miss the experience.

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What's not to love?

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Next, we wiggled into some seats at the Funky Pirate and ordered drinks that did not contain Red Dye 40 or enough sugar to make an entire day care hyperactive for a week. True, this place is the home of the Hand Grenade drink, but they also have a good old fashioned bar and a pretty fine house blues band.

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Another first timer experience I didn't want them to miss was a 45 minute jazz set at Preservation Hall. The Hall is a ramshakle old building that has seen better days. After wandering through the sensory overload that is Bourbon Street, the Hall could easily be missed thanks to its understated subtlety. It's plain and old, free of neon and blinking lights. The building's face has been faded by time, now just a dingy gray facade fronted by simple shutters.

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During its life, it has been a tavern, an inn, a photo studio and an art gallery. Since 1961 it has been a music hall dedicated to the preservation and honor of New Orleans jazz. On any given night, people line up outside and wait hours to pay their $15, filling the place to standing room only capacity, just to hear true New Orleans jazz.

Not a fan of lines, or of waiting, I had paid the few extra bucks for the "VIP" pass - only a handful of advance entry passes are available to each show, but for about $10 extra, you can bypass the line and get the front row seat. That was $10 well spent, in my opinion. Besides, I got to wear a big tag that said, "BIG SHOT." I thought it complimented my plastic green hair and mardi gras beads quite nicely. If you are going for tasteless, you should go all the way.

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As the Preservation Hall Jazz Band played its mightiest, the room sat enraptured....some standing in the back, some sitting on plain wooden benches, others sitting cross legged on threadbare cushions tossed in the floor....everyone entranced by the lively show and the very history that the room seemed to throw you into as you listened. The single room's worn floorboards reverberated with the boom of the bass drum as dust and time and the steamy air of New Orleans swirled against the peeling walls and the smoky paintings of musicians long since passed.

For 45 minutes, we were able to be a part of something timeless and purely New Orleans.

It was late, and at our age, staying out until one of us passed out on the sidewalk wasn't really an attractive prospect. Besides, it just seemed wrong to follow Preservation Hall with a plastic monkey full of banana daiquiri and a glow necklace, so we decided to grab some late night eats and leave the bar hopping to those that were still young enough to recover the next day.

As we walked by a young girl whose friends were holding her hair back from her sweaty face as she clutched a giant plastic cup and vomited on her shoes, pausing in between gags to look up at them and tell them how much she loved them...I didn't envy their youth one bit.

Instead we walked over to Esplanade and into Port of Call. Two years ago, on our last trip to NOLA, I had spent the weekend dreaming of a juicy burger from Port of Call, but that burger was jerked mercilessly out of my clutching hands as we had to make a mad dash home half a day early because of a brewing storm front.

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I was going to have that burger.

It was nearly 11:00 p.m. and I did not expect the wall of people that blocked my entrance to this tiny, understated restaurant. Undeterred, I pushed and shoved my way through the crowd until I found the girl with the pencil and notepad.

"How many?" she asked over the roar.

"Four," I said, trying to sound hungry and pathetic.

"The wait's just under an hour," she said.

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I wimpered. I looked back at my grumpy crew, who was already mad at me for making them walk the extra 4 blocks in the cold when there were plenty of "Pizza by the Slice" places on the way to our townhouse. If one of them tried to pry that cheaply laminated Port of Call menu out of my hands at that moment, it would have been much like the time my mom forgot her wallet at the TG&Y in 1976 and they refused to take her check, leaving her no choice but the pry the box of Cracker Jacks out of my hands that I had been carrying around inside the store for thirty minutes.

I walked back over to where they were crammed against the wall by the door, sticky laminated menu firmly in my hands.

"Twenty minutes, tops." I said. Hey, all's fair when late night burgers are on the line.

Port of Call is the best kind of dive. If you didn't know it was there, you'd walk right past it without giving it a second glance. It has a cheap sign. It's filled with locals. It has a limited menu. It's dark and loud and crowded inside.

But I knew to go there for two things: A grilled burger topped with shredded Cheddar cheese and a loaded baked potato on the side. I wouldn't leave until I had them.

We were finally seated and I scanned my menu.

BURGERS

All our burgers are half pound ground fresh daily, and come with baked potato with butter. Lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickles on side. Sour cream, cheddar cheese, or mushrooms on potato extra. Chives and Bacon Bits by request—no charge.

I wiped the drool off my chin.

When these showed up, no one was mad at me any more. They were too busy eating.

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Yeah, it was worth the wait.

Monday: Bonjou, Y'all.

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The sun was shining bright on Jackson Square. Cafe du Monde was setting up their chairs, busy city workers were spraying off the previous night's fun from the sidewalks with soapy water, and the tarot card readers were setting up their colorful tables along the iron fence.

Our time in the French Quarter had come and gone. Ah, New Orleans. Where else can you buy vampire teeth, get your palm read, dance in a parade, pay $1 to have your picture taken with a guy painted silver, eat a gourmet meal and walk next door for a sandwich in a bag, and hear an original song played by what might be the world's best trombone player all on the same street corner? You'll be asked asked fifteen times in a day, "Bet I can tell you where you got dem shoes!" and everywhere you look someone has a bucket or a box or a hat stuck out trying to earn a dollar. You can buy a voodoo doll, a homemade prailine, and a lottery ticket in the same place and chances are you'll see at least one thing that makes you laugh out loud and another that makes you want to cry on each city block.

It's as rich as it is dingy, as refined as it is ecclectic. It's full of hope and promise and color. You don't even have to look very hard for it. Just show up, have a dollar or two in your hand, and the magic of New Orleans will find you.

Bonjour Mes Amis!

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Posted by vicki_h 19:32 Archived in USA Tagged new_orleans french_quarter nola Comments (5)

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