New Orleans is bouncing back from Hurricane Katrina with a soulful vengeance! Everything old is new again in this town filled with passionate and creative spirits who are committed to the rebirth of this great city. I recently spent an action-packed, sleep-deprived, gut-busting 48 hours in The Big Easy guided by a New Orleans local, the travel writer Carrie Williamson.
Let the good times roll y’all!
A Place to Lay Your Head
Ooo-la-la my Creole cutie, this place oozes with New Orleans sensuality. Stylish and seductive lodging can be found at this boutique hotel, located a walk-able distance from the French Quarter in the central business district. The huge luxurious bed in your room is worth the trip, and at the end of a decadent night on the town it’s a welcome and inviting place to dive into.
Central Business District: 221 Camp Street; (504) 553 9550; www.ihhotel.com
The problem with only 48 hours in New Orleans is that there are too many great places to eat and not enough time! Still, within the short time I was there I managed to hit some major culinary high notes.
It’s a butcher shop! It’s a wine bar! It’s a hip meat locker! I’d read about Cochon Butcher in the New York Times a few days before I set out for my trip and was intrigued by Chef Donald Link and his Cajun homage to house-cured meaty goodness. Sidle-up to the “Swine Bar”, request the salumi plate from one of the young and enthusiastic bartenders (the lomo with fennel is outrageously good) and a glass of robust Italian red and prepare to rock your taste buds.
Warehouse District: 930 Tchoupitoulas; (504) 588-PORK
I have to admit, the fact that this restaurant is set inside of a chain hotel gave me pause, but I was familiar with the chefs so I knew that it would be at the very least good. Well goodness gracious me - turns out this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had anywhere! Husband and wife team Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing had made a splash in New York City with their classically trained Southern-inspired cooking at Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar and Dirty Bird To Go. They returned to the South to reconnect with their roots and the snazzy space at MiLa gives them a chance to spread their wings beyond the confines of tight Gotham real estate. What you will find when you dine at MiLa is dead serious cooking with a contemporary vision applied to seasonal and locally sourced ingredients - they even have a dedicated farm!
I was wowed by the food from beginning to end – it was soulful and confident, relaxed yet refined. Highlights included the silky and savory lima bean puree to slather on the bread; the pan-roasted sweet breads over black truffle-studded grits with a bacon jus (crack-like and I wanted to lick the plate clean); tender barbeque lobster that burst with fresh citrus; the butter poached chicken that was meltingly tender. All of it - a pure and delectable experience.
Central Business District: At the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, 817 Common St.; (504)412-2580; www.milaneworleans.com
Renowned chef John Besh serves up sophisticated regional cuisine prepared with European flair inside a warm and elegant carriage house. Dishes that continue to haunt me include the horseradish-crusted P&J oysters, the gnocchi with truffles and, not on the menu but served with your post-meal coffee, the dainty and addictive ginger snap meringues.
Central Business District: 301 Tchoupitoulas St.; (504) 299-9777
Established in 1919, this New Orleans institution is one of the best places in town to get your oyster fix. It’s an ancient and quirky place and it isn’t always open so be sure to call ahead. There’s usually a line and it’s worth the wait; I hear the oyster loaf is the stuff of legends. But you also have the option of standing at the tiled counter and enjoying a dozen of fresh oysters on the half shell with a view of the flirty fella behind the bar shucking an endless mountain of bivalves. Make sure you smile back and he’ll toss you a few extra! Note: Cash Only. Uptown: 4330 Magazine St.; (504) 895-9761;
Housed within a humble ramshackle building lies sandwich greatness. When they call your number order a “large half & half seafood dressed” (half fried shrimp, half fried oysters, ketchup, hot sauce, mayo, lettuce & tomato on a crusty loaf of Leidenheimer’s French bread) that’s more than enough for two.
Watch them fry it up while you wait and stalk the packed room for a seat. Be sure to get a bag of Zapp’s chips and a cold bottle of coke and settle in for a lunch that will ruin you for all other lunches. Note: Cash Only.
Uptown: 240 Annunciation St; (504) 899-9126
Franky and Johnny’s
Franky and Johnny’s is a bit off the beaten path and is a friendly local’s favorite that looks like an old man’s drinking bar. But don’t be fooled – this is where you go to get your spicy crawfish boil when in season (late January through June) with a side of gator nuggets, if you have to scratch that itch.
Uptown: 321 Arabella St; (504) 899-9146
We skipped room service and headed over to Ralph’s on the Park, located in a historic building on City Park (home to beautiful, ancient, moss-draped live oaks). Ralph’s is a place where the locals come to celebrate family events and enjoy a proper Creole brunch to take the edge off of the echo of the night before. Get yourself back on track with a Bloody Mary and the deeply satisfying “Eggs Sardou”, a plate of poached eggs, artichoke cakes, creamed spinach with a splash of Herbsaint and crispy Tasso ham.
Mid-City: 900 City Park Ave.; (504) 488-1000 www.ralphsonthepark.com
Bottoms Up! Notable Cocktails around town
You haven’t been to New Orleans until you’ve been knocked out by the famous “Hurricane” cocktail at Pat O’Brien’s. But there are other equally decadent and mind-numbing concoctions to be had, with a side of character.
A Bloody Mary at The Columns Hotel: You probably won’t want to stay here and my guess is it’s haunted (it was also the setting for the notorious Louis Malle film “Pretty Baby”). But you won’t want to miss having a Bloody Mary on the veranda at this historic Southern Gothic watering hole for a lazy afternoon of watching the streetcars and characters glide by.
Garden District: 3811 St. Charles Avenue; 504.899.9308www.thecolumns.com
Lucid Absinthe “La Louche” at loa: Enjoy the notorious elixir and ritual at the hip and sexy loa, the lobby lounge at The International House Hotel. Don’t worry, it won’t make you go all van Gogh and cut off your ear. But it WILL go straight to your head and make you go cross-eyed, in the most sophisticated way!
Central Business District: 221 Camp Street; (504) 553 9550
The Davenportini at On Trois: Here’s mud in your eye! This smooth yet tangy swirl of ice cold Grey Goose vodka, Limoncello, and a dash of pomegranate juice served up martini-style is inspired by Ritz Carlton-based, horn playing crooner Jeremy Davenport. Add a side of swinging live jazz and a dash of elegance and… I’ll have another one please!
On Trois is located on the third floor lobby level at The Ritz Carlton.
Central Business District: 921 Canal Street; (504) 524-1331
A Feast for the Ears
Frenchmen Street: Head over to this little area on the edge of the French Quarter for some of the best music in town. Notable clubs include The Spotted Cat, d.b.a. and Snug Harbor. Best of all, most places don’t charge a cover, the beer is cheap and you can get up and dance if the spirit moves you - remember when you could do that in New York?
Washboard Chaz Blues Trio: Gritty and soulful, Washboard Chaz lays it all out for you at his regular Saturday night gig at The Spotted Cat. He’s got the blues with a Cajun rhythm that will really ring your bell. www.washboardchaz.com
Sunpie Barnes: Harmonica playing hottie Sunpie can be found most Saturday nights playing his original swirl of Zydeco, Caribbean and blues tunes at the lively Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar. I dare you to try to sit still when he fires up the accordion! www.myspace.com/sunpiebarnes
George French: Kick-off the evening with classy cocktails and a side of jazz. Singing bassist George French is a New Orleans fixture and his band can be found at the On Trois Lounge at The Ritz Carlton at cocktail time most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. www.georgefrenchband.com
Magazine Street is a long stretch running from the Garden District to Uptown and is chock-a-block with hip and quirky boutiques, restaurants and more! Here are a few notable spots:
Trashy Diva: Sexy retro designs that are kind to the gal with an hourglass figure. They also have great shoes! Check out these fab kicks by Re-Mix.
Lower Garden District: 2048 Magazine St.; (504) 299-8777; www.trashydiva.com
House of Lounge: Celebrate your inner burlesque dancer with a treat from this boutique selling all things naughty & nice.
Lower Garden District: 2044 Magazine Street; (504) 671-8300; www.houseoflounge.com
Plum: “Cool stuff for stylish living” is the theme here. Great for hostess gifts and a fun little something for your pad back home.
Uptown: 5430 Magazine Street; (504) 897-3388
Mélange Sterling Silver Shop: Replenish your supply of sterling silver tooth picks at this shop specializing in affordable silver antiques to jazz up your next dinner party.
Uptown: 5421 Magazine Street; (800) 513-3991
Uptown Costume & Dancewear: Admit it, you’ve always wanted to know what you’d look like in a Louis XIV wig. Here you can try it on for size and even wear it around town if you like - no one will blink an eye (see photo under “The Characters”, below).
Uptown: 4326 Magazine St; (504) 895-7969
"I dust a bit...in addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
~ Ignatius J. Reilly in Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (see photo of his statue, found on Canal St. on the edge of the French Quarter, below).
Maybe we’re cray-zay! Like New York, New Orleans embraces and celebrates its eccentrics and I look forward to this as much as I anticipate the food and music. I was not disappointed! I was regaled with tales of a roving band of shoplifting transvestites that had been causing a problem for the shops on Magazine Street. I spied twin gray-bearded bald guys in black t-shirts and kilts checking out some blues music in the French Quarter. It wasn't even Mardi Gras! Here’s a few more:
Check out this guy in the wig and brocade jacket having a po-boy at Domilise’s. We saw him a few hours earlier shopping at Uptown Costume & Dancewear.
There Jet Blue,
Delta and Continental all offer non-stop flights from the New York metro area
to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. You know
you’re gonna have a good time in a place that names its airport after Satchmo! (photo credits: all photos by Mary Connolly except for - The International House Hotel & loa Lounge - courtesy of simoneink, llc; salumi platter - courtesy of Cochon Butcher; Restaurant August, courtesy of simoneink, llc; Washboard Chaz, courtesy of the artist; Sunpie Barnes - courtesy of the artist; George French - courtesy of the artist)
Jet Blue, Delta and Continental all offer non-stop flights from the New York metro area to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
You know you’re gonna have a good time in a place that names its airport after Satchmo!
(photo credits: all photos by Mary Connolly except for - The International House Hotel & loa Lounge - courtesy of simoneink, llc; salumi platter - courtesy of Cochon Butcher; Restaurant August, courtesy of simoneink, llc; Washboard Chaz, courtesy of the artist; Sunpie Barnes - courtesy of the artist; George French - courtesy of the artist)