Tennessee Williams and I have a lot more in common than I thought.
It extends beyond the written word and a love of the South.
How I came to know this is because I saw it, printed on a tea towel in New Orleans, Louisiana, for $12.95 and it said: “The USA has only three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” Whilst I’m sure this is not true, the connection lies in that these are my three favourite US cities from a foodie perspective and admittedly, I’ve been a repeat visitor on many occasions to these three.
New Orleans (or NOLA, for those hipsters in the know), is a city of juxtaposition. Real south, real soul and real dirty-pretty. As you may well have heard before – A city of saints, of sinners, of elegance and of decadence. Returning to this wonderful place, after an 18 month hiatus, is like coming to visit that dirty old friend you have, the one that cackles and wheezes, possibly with crooked/chipped teeth, with a glint in their eye and a wicked sense of knowing. I was back for the New Orleans Heritage & Jazz Festival and just a little bit excited.
Waiting to board my flight from Chicago, I indulged in a favourite airport past time; thumbing through magazines. I was drawn to my favourite, Bon Appetit and quite possibly squealed out loud when I saw on the cover, there was a NOLA feature. I can’t be sure.
On the plane, sitting next to a handsome Chicagoan, we struck up the usual plane chit chat. Quickly we both discovered a mutual appreciation for food and traded must try/must eat places for Chicago/Cali &NYC. He was looking for a place to take his client in NOLA for dinner. I suggested Galatoires. I hope he did. He suggested I try a crawfish boil. I was dubious.
NOLA has a wonderful, broad culinary history. French, Spanish, Cajun, Creole, Modern American. Importantly, there is real pride in the food that is served at every table. The kitchen is an important feature in this culture and the quality of what is served, even at what you think may be mediocre premises, is delicious.
Whilst I did follow some of the NOLA food trail highlighted in Bon Appetit, which you can read in the author’s own words here
, I wanted to share some of my own discoveries.
Where to Eat & Drink
Magazine Street, Garden District
A lovely interior and good service, with an array of fresh fish and seafood, this is a great place to go to escape the heavier meals in greater abundance in the French Quarter. Go for the Teriyaki Bento. At $9.50 it’s terrific value, with a broad array of compartments. If you’re looking for hand rolls, skip the chef specials. They’re overpriced compared to the standard hand rolls.
Magazine street is located in the beautiful garden district. The street is lined with restaurants and boutiques. As an aside, it is so worth doing a walking historical tour of the streets. Steep in colourful history, beautiful architecture and gardens and a walk through the charming Lafayette Cemetery No.1, it’s worth a visit.
Cnr Barracks & Decatur Streets, French Quarter
Hands down best espresso coffee, tea and breakfasts in the French Quarter and hair of the dog readily on hand, anyway you please. This was my local for my stay, frequented by ultra hip locals and staffed by Über friendly, attentive buddies. They catch on quickly and they remembered my order before it even came out of my mouth. My favourite was the Farmers Omlette with asparagus. Served with an American style biscuit and hash brown, if you like that sort of thing. Everything is good on their menu. Open 18 hours a day, aside from their staff, one of the many things I rate EnVie for is the quality of their cup of tea. Hard to find in the USA, but they manage and fits the bill for anyone that appreciates a good cup of tea.
Bourbon Street, French Quarter
Tardy, tacky and terrific Bourbon Street is lined with bars. Choice is overwhelming, so the sign said Fresh Mex and 2-for-1 Margaritas and this seemed like as good a pick as any. Wander out back to the courtyard and order the filet steak tacos. They’re tasty, with a lovely smoked grill flavour. If you’re not up for a slushie Margarita, order one on the rocks with lime. It rocks.
Cnr Dumaine & Bourbon Street, French Quarter
At the heart of the rainbow end of Bourbon Street lies this gem. A real greasy spoon and on first inspection, you may walk in and walk out of this 1950s diner without ever experiencing the finest example of the dressed hamburger I have ever consumed in the USA or anywhere else for that matter. Open 24/7
we did a couple of late night dashes to this place. Their self-proclaimed world’s best hamburger adorning their window is a rightful claim. Order one with bacon and cheese. The mastery is that these burgers are cooked on the grill, under a hubcap. Seriously.
Frenchmen Street, French Quarter
It’s worth the visit to this dingy bar-come-cabaret styled concert venue. Frenchmens Street is a great place to escape the sensory overload that is Bourbon Street, yet still enjoy the music scene. This is where the real muso’s play and you’ll get your fill of jazz/blues or Dixie any night of the week. Good old-fashioned gumbo and jambalaya here and there’s no shortage of hot sauce to spice things up. If you fancy a burger, try the sliders – there are almost too many sliders to eat from the one plate and if you’re looking to share some snacks, sweet potato fries are a must.
Back of the Erin Rose Pub,
Conti Street, French Quarter
A Po’boy is a fancy name for a sandwich. Well, a filled bread roll, like Bahn Mi, if truth be told. I’d read about these in Bon Appetit and I had to see for myself whether these lived up to the hype. To doubly make sure, I ordered two. Bourbon braised pork belly with lime slaw and a gulf shrimp, pickled veggie one. OMG. These are worthy of deconstruction and served degustation at a posh nosh place. Amazing flavours.
Bourbon Street, French Quarter
Also featured in the Bon Appetite special feature, my visit here was a repeat one. It’s a place where old class still rules. A chic bistro where women should be bedazzling and men, swilling scotch in tumblers, expected to wear sports jackets. If you don’t have one, they’ll fix you right up with one in the vestibule.
I went straight for the same thing I had last time. Any protein you like, “Clemenceau” style. A heavenly, garlicky blend of peas and mushrooms (I ordered it with shrimp). Also recommended is the cherry & pistachio duck crepe and the special – two soft shell crabs glazed in a white wine, butter and caper reduction. To avoid disappointment, steer clear of the potato soufflé. This was a thin potato cylinder crisp, jam packed with, well, thin air.
Though prices are reasonable given the quality of this restaurant, we did see some diners frequent just for the bread and butter, which is outstanding, though I don’t recommend you do this.
Spring is the season for Crawfish. Served at many pubs and bars in the French Quarter, I was weary of sampling this real street food. Cooked close to the ground on dirty streets, in plastic sheeted lined eskies/chilly bins/cooler boxes…whatever you fancy calling them, these little muddy red critters come tumbling out, steaming, followed by taters and corn cobs. There is an art to shelling these for the tiny morsel of flesh, but once mastered, it was quite good. At jazz fest, I saw chicks with buckets of them in one hand, shelling them and throwing them down the hatchet with the other, not missing a dance beat. Impressive.
St.Peter’s Street, French Quarter
Whilst Bourbon Street is lined with bars that you hop between with your takeaway traveller, and the pours are usually generous, the fastest way to get high on the happy side is to stop in at Pat O’Briens, home of the original hurricane. Make sure you order one. Delicious and even seasoned drinkers will be guaranteed to get their drunk on. Consume with care.
Where to stay
Provincial Hotel 1024 Chartres Street, French Quarter
One of the oldest building clusters in the quarter, this is a quaint hotel, with some great civil war history as a hospice run by the Ursuline nuns. Located on a quiet street in the heart of the French Quarter.
Y’all gonna have a great time in N’awlins, sugar!