Rediscovering New Orleans, Nov 2007

Day 1: Daiquiris, Muffulettas, & Shopping
Day 2: Andre Agassi, Good Food, & Local Music
Day 3: A Pound of Butta & Napoleon

The very first time I saw New Orleans, I was 12 years old and it was a hot and humid July. My parents were attending a week-long conference, so I was shuffled off to the day-camp that was provided.

I saw the amazing Audubon Zoo and the park with its crazy live oaks, and was mesmerized by Oak Alley Plantation with its canopy of oak trees swathed in Spanish moss.

I ate Red Beans & Rice with a dollop of Tabasco every day and beignets every other day.

I remember riding on the paddlewheeler along the Mississippi River, thinking of Huck Finn. One day we went to the shops at Jackson Brewery, where they had a whole floor dedicated to dining. I was both curious and revolted by some of the southern menu items, such as alligator. However, when my father ordered some raw oysters and bit a real pearl (admitted small and rough-looking), that sealed the deal for me.

I determined that this city was a magical place, more exotic and foreign than it was southern, a place where you might find gems in the most unexpected places. And, the crush hasn't really lessened over the years; I've visited New Orleans five more time since that first time.

As a college student, I spent my fair share of time on Bourbon Street on the lookout for flashers and cheap drinks. Even in the years after college, I still walked around with my frozen daiquiri and enjoyed a conga line as much as the next gal, but I also started developing more interest in good but affordable restaurants and spending quality time with friends.

<--- Um, yes, the second one is me. For the sake of this story, I am willing to share this with you!

It's been nearly five years since my last visit, and I was excited to see what New Orleans would be like. A lot has happened in the Crescent City, namely Hurricane Katrina, the renewal of corruption (they'd been doing better for a while), and an explosion in crime. Apparently, New Orleans has the highest murder rate in the nation right now. A lot has changed in my life, too. Nothing like a hurricane, mind you. But, I have grown up a bit. I'm more interested in people and the history of a place and while I like to get my drink on from time to time, I'm no longer a Bourbon Street party girl.

Instead, interesting architecture, the sight of a tantalizing menu, and a shop window full of pretty things have a lot more impact on me these days. And seeing, really seeing the people who generously open up their city to me, well that's more meaningful to me these days.

It all starts here! Day 1

New Orleans Day 1 -- Daiquiris, Muffulettas, & Shopping

ExpressJet ROCKS. You can get a direct flight to Nola from KC for about $150 RT. Beautiful, sunny weather … okay, so it was hot … in November … in the morning.

I still have a little party in me (I'm not THAT old), so after we (me, and my friends, Kathryn and Sarah) dropped off our bags at the Pere Marquette, we stopped in at one of the many Mango Mango shops and grabbed a to-go daiquiri to cool us off as we walked to Central Grocery.

There are a few requirements to be met when visiting New Orleans and one of them is to eat a muffuletta from Central Grocery. Introduced to me by an old friend many years ago, I discovered that the muffuletta is also best enjoyed with a Root Beer (I don't know what it is, but it's guaranteed delicious!).

We grabbed our sandwiches and drinks, and then headed across the street to sit by the river. You can watch paddlewheelers go by, see the comings and goings of the Riverfront Streetcar, and throw menacing glances at the dirty pigeons waiting for you to drop something. Due to the high salt concentration of muffulettas, we began swelling immediately, but managed to push through and do some shopping.

Magazine Street claimed to offer "six miles of antiques, gifts, jewelry, and more." What more could three women with some spending cash desire? A car.

I had requested a Magazine Street Merchants booklet in advance and we identified shops we wanted to visit, because you will kill yourself trying to see six miles of shops, right?

Hazelnut was our first stop, as it is known for its New Orleans Toile. I got a yard of blue New Orleans Toile and while I have no idea what I'm going to do with it, I figure I can come up with something more creative than the toile-covered tissue box they were selling for $45.

Other shops we liked included Scriptura, Objets Trouvés, and Aux Belles Choses. This last shop was full of wonderful provençal linens, including the French kitchen towels I fell in love with when I was in Provence a few years ago. I picked up several of the Provence-style fabric napkins.

Here I demonstrate how to wait for the local bus. --->

When we were finally burnt out on the Magazine Street shopping experience, we caught the local bus and headed back to the French Quarter. We were ready to relax for a bit and then head out for dinner. At the hotel, we had a slight fiasco with the lock system on our hotel room door … it wasn't working at all. "Engineers" finally had to break the door in order to get into the room and retrieve our luggage for us (many hours later). In the meantime, we were put in a new room and got to lounge a bit before heading out for the evening.

Due to tiredness and lack of access to our luggage, we determined we wanted something easy and reliable for dinner the first night. What better place than Acme Oyster House on Iberville St. Inexpensive and reliable menu items of po' boys, hushpuppies, red beans & rice, and seafood gumbo, Acme's is a noisy and fun eatery.

Post-dinner drinks were had at Pat O'Brien's for its famous Hurricanes on "The Patio" by the flaming fountain. Okay, it sounds kitsch, but it's pretty great. The Patio is like a little oasis off Bourbon Street.

We knew we didn't want souvenir mugs (thank you, Kathryn!), so we were told we could just turn in our glasses at the bar on the way out and we'd get a cash refund of $3 per glass (knocking down the Hurricane price from $10 to $7).

Only after we left, did we realize what a great money-making scheme it would be to just go around collecting glasses off of peoples' tables … because the staff doesn't tell you can turn in your glasses usually! Arrg. We thought of all the money we could have recouped from the day's early shopping frenzy.

Since Sarah had never been to New Orleans, we naturally had to do the requisite walk down Bourbon. It was the same as ever with people being drunk, people fighting, people laughing, couples holding hands, people trying to touch you. I'd like to add something about seeing boobies, but weirdly enough, I only saw a few men flash for beads. Maybe with so many celebrities these days 'accidentally' flashing their melons (or lack thereof), ginnys, and more, the novelty of it all has worn off. It seems that gone are the days when you couldn't turn around on Bourbon without being slapped with a perky or low-slung set.

<--- Here Kathryn demonstrates the proper way to drink Huge A** Beer on Bourbon.

The evening ended with beers at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, a rural shanty right out of 1700s France. Legend has it that Jean Lafitte's brothers operated, what else, a blacksmith's shop here. Who knows. I can, however, tell you some very factual things about the place: it's so dark you practically need a flashlight (cool!) and no matter who's playing at the piano that night, he/she will make your ears bleed (but that's part of the fun).

Back to Main New Orleans Page / Or go to Day 2

New Orleans Day 2 -- Andre Agassi, Good Food, & Local Music

A trip to Nola always requires at least one stop in at Café du Monde for beignets and café au lait.

The Café has been around for over 150 years, orginally serving just coffee. When competition started growing fierce, Café du Monde had to come up with something that would bring customers back time and again. And, that's when the beignet came in.

French in origin, the beignet is basically a fritter that starts with a sweet batter that is cut into squares and deep-fried, and then topped with mounds upon mounds of powered sugar … much of which ends up on the ground. Excellent place to people-watch.

Day 2 was "culture" and oh-my-god-there's-Andre-Agassi day. First I will show you the trunk … He was amazingly attractive … and here, he looks like he's talking to me, doesn't he?

Okay, so we had some learnin' that day, too. We visited the Historic New Orleans Collection and went through the exhibit "What's Cooking in New Orleans?" We learned that gumbo originated as a Bantu word, and that filé is made from sassafras leaves.

We also toured the 1850 House, located on St. Ann (next to Jackson Square). Many of the buildings around Jackson Square were developed and then rented out as retail and family townhouses by the Baroness Pontalba.

You follow a short self-guided tour, getting an upclose look at period furnishings and a close idea of what life was like in the mid-1800s. You also see the big differences between the owners' and the hired help/slaves' living areas.

Based on a recommendation from a local, we found Café Amelie tucked in behind an iron archway at 912 Royal Street.

This was a really wonderful little oasis hidden away. With a trickling fountain and a nice lunch menu, Café Amelie was the perfect place to take a mid-day break, and I would highly recommend it for lunch. The menu offers a nice selection of seafood, salads, and a dab of champagne if you're in the mood.

Café Amelie is located in the very historic courtyard of the Princess of Manaco Carriage House & Courtyard. During the 1830s-1850s, a series of townhouses, a carriage house, and the courtyard were built off Royal Street. Here's a touch of interesting history about the family that built and owned this courtyard.

Much of the afternoon was spent dreaming about Andre Agassi's tush, whom we spotted as we were wandering down Royal Street looking for a fancy antique necklace Kathryn had remembered from the day before. Sarah was the master of secrecy as she snapped a few photos of Agassi's backside.

Aside from this exciting event, we wandered the side streets of the French Quarter taking photographs of musicans and artists selling their wares, and stopping in at the many galleries, shops, and antique stores throughout.

As we headed into the evening, we were excited about our dinner reservations at Irene's Cuisine! New Orleans is full of excellent restaurants that run the gamut from humble red beans and rice to haute cuisine. Whatever your budget or "scene" you're going for, you will certainly always find good service and good food.

Irene's was one of those places where reviews varied. Some said it was much ado, while others said it was the one restaurant they dined at every time they were in Nola.

With flickering candles and flowers on each small table, and walls plastered with framed photos, Irene's was just the kind of place I knew we'd love. Being the smart ladies we were, we had made reservations, so we didn't have to wait. (Irene's does, though, have a special waiting room. It's in the back and offers a piano player and drink menu.)

We got a corner table in the front room and a warm, friendly, and knowledgeable waiter. I ended up ordering two appetizers for my entrée (crab gratin and deliciously stuffed ravioli), while Sarah ordered the crab cakes and Kathryn had a fish dish with whipped sweet potatoes. We shared a slice of simple cheescake for dessert, and even Kathryn who doesn't "do" cheesecake said it was good enough to almost make her a convert.

After dinner, we were off to Faubourg Marginy, a section of neighborhoods that border the French Quarter. Full of cafes and more specifically, live music locales, this area was definitely more full of locals than tourists. Interestingly, Sarah had picked up an issue of Travel + Leisure at the airport because there was an article about New Orleans. Once we read the following, we thought, "Wow, we've got to check this place out!" …. [There are still places like The Spotted Cat, a bare-bones bar in the Marigny that could have been dropped in from 1933. There’s no PA, no amplification at all, and no spotlights per se—just a dim yellow bulb above the stage, a worn patch of floorboards beside the front door. The door stays open all night to the breeze, and passersby gather on the sidewalk to listen to the band. Travel + Leisure]

We weren't disappointed! The Spotted Cat has just a small, carved wooden sign hanging out front and great music coming out the door. We nabbed a few seats (not easy), and settled in for a few hours. We heard two bands, one of which was Washboard Chaz Blues. Chaz sang vocals and played a washboard, and was accompanied by a guitarist and harmonica player. It was great way to end off the evening.

Back to Main New Orleans Page / Or go to Day 3