New Orleans: Mostly a Food Experience

My sister-in-law came to visit on September 2, arriving just after 5:00 in the afternoon.  My wife and I had talked to her about coming to visit; we’d all decided a road trip to New Orleans was the thing to do.  Though my wife and I had been to New Orleans several times, my sister-in-law had not, so it would be a completely new experience for her.

We headed out early the next morning, September 3 Labor Day, with a plan to get to New Orleans by 5:00 pm.

We stopped for lunch in Alexandria, Louisiana, expecting to find a Cajun place open and ready to serve, but that was not to be. Instead, we had lunch at El Reparo Mexican Restaurant. It wasn’t bad, but it was not the best LouMex I’ve ever had.  The one thing none of us were thrilled with was my sister-in-law’s chile relleno; it has a flavor unlike any spice I’ve had.  We joked it was like powdered cleanser, which prompted our renaming of the dish as Ajax Relleno.  The dish in the photo was actually quite tasty; a mix of beef, chicken, shrimp, cheese, onions, peppers, and who knows what else.  The rest of the meal?  Not memorable.

Aside from a pee stop here and there, we pressed on to New Orleans, arriving about 4:30 pm.  We stayed at the Prytania Park Hotel, located near the edge of the Garden District on Prytania Street, just a block off of St. Charles Avenue.  We had planned to use the St. Charles streetcars as our main means of transportation; unfortunately, they apparently had not been running for quite some time due to reconstruction of the rail lines.  Fortunately, though, buses were following the street car line, so we had easy access to the French Quarter, as well as the Garden District as far as the St. Charles streetcar went.

Once we arrived and got the lay of the land, we went out and caught a bus, just up the street from the cross street where our hotel was located.  The bus stop was just outside the Irish House Restaurant, where we would go later in the trip.  We took the bus to Canal Street, where we got off and wandered into the French Quarter.

I had planned to go to Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar, but the reports I found online said the place was closed; I called before we left and got a recording saying the number was no longer in service, so I assumed that to be the case.  Once we arrived on Iberville Street, though, there it was…open!  We went inside to find that it was just barely open: a waitress told us there were no oysters because of Hurricane Isaac (the week before) and no beer (no excuse).  We quickly declined being seated and, instead, went to the place we’d been aiming for all along:

Oysters on the halfshell, ACME Oyster House

Acme Oyster House.  We got a dozen raw oysters and a half dozen chargrilled oysters, both of which were fabulous.  I wish I’d taken a photo of the chargrilled oysters…they were beautiful…but the raw oysters shown here will give you an idea of how we dined.

From there, we wandered through the French Quarter, looking in the windows, listening to the music, and getting acclimated to the city.  And the horrific heat (102+) and swamp-like humidity (felt like 102+).  We went to the riverfront to gaze at the Mississippi River, then walked toward Jackson Square and the French Market, popping in on shops along the way.  Somewhere along the way, on Bourbon Street, I spotted a place called Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, a bar recommended to me by my friend known affectionately as Little Jimmy.  We stopped in and decided Little Jimmy had been there years before…or he had poor taste…or his age (he’s a good 15 years younger than I am) causes him to like the unlikeable.  At any rate, I informed him of our homage.

From there, we headed back toward Canal on Bourbon Street and came across a huge gay pride celebration.  The crowd, mostly men in muscle shirts, very short shorts, and wide smiles, was overflowing from almost every bar along the street.  As we walked down the street, we came across another Lafitte-named bar, which was among the loudest and most overflowing.  This one had signs claiming to be the oldest gay bar in the Quarter, or something like that; my wife had asked Little Jimmy if the place he recommended was a gay bar (which he must have thought was an odd question)…she was thinking about this place, which we’d noticed several years before when on a trip to New Orleans.

We finally caught the bus back to our hotel, where we relaxed for a bit and then went out for dinner at The Blind Pelican, a restaurant very near the hotel. There, my sister-in-law and I had hurricanes (you have to have one when in New Orleans).  After I sucked mine down, I ordered a gin and tonic, which was among the weakest G&Ts I have ever had.  I mentioned that to the waitress, who apologized and got another one made for me.  The second one at least had a gin flavor. I ordered a Pelican Burger, which was made not with pelican but with beef.  My burger was, by far, the latest thing to arrive at our table.  I am convinced the cook in the kitchen had only one burner and/or could devote his attention to only one item at a time.  We were in no rush, so it was no big deal, but it did make an impression.

Cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde

The next day, we headed back down to the French Quarter, where we stopped in at the Café du Monde, where we had the obligatory cafe au lait and beignets.  I was surprised at how much I liked both of them; coffee with cream is not my thing, especially coffee with cream and a sugary treat.  But I did like them very much, in fact.  I remember years ago having a black coffee at the place and loathing it immensely.  I suspect it was the same, chickory-laden coffee, just without the cream.  Cream must take the edge off chickory coffee.

My travelling companionsWhile sitting in Café du Monde, I simply had to take a photo of my two companions.  Their presence, after all, was what made the time I spent in New Orleans enjoyable.  You can see from their smiles here that they, too, enjoyed the place…that, or else they were responding to my prompt to “smile for the camera.”  And that they did.

So, so tasty!After wandering around the French Quarter, going into shops, sampling (and buying) pralines, and generally behaving like tourists, my wife suggested we go to Arnaud’s for lunch. Bloody marys!The group of restaurants of which this one is a part is comprised of some rather pricey places that would be unlikely to welcome casually-dressed riff-raff like me, but this one is more informal and more forgiving of geezers like me who don’t take kindly to coats, ties, and close-toed shoes.  Not only were they tolerant, they were welcoming.  Our waitress, whose name I unfortunately did not write down, was an exceptionally friendly  and helpful person.  We enjoyed bloody marys, jambalaya, shrimp creole, gumbo, and turtle soup with sherry.  Magical!  When we left the restaurant, we were very, very, very full.  But that cannot stop me from forging forward to more food.  All it can do is slow me down just a bit.  It didn’t slow me down for long.  As we wandered up and down the streets of the French Quarter, we came upon yet another New Orleans institution, a place known worldwide as one of the symbols of New Orleans.  Like so many of those places (e.g., Commander’s Palace), though, this place has its rules.  Men are expected to wear jackets and close-toed shoes and slacks and other such things that make no sense in any climate, much less one in which temperatures and relative humidity exceed 100 degrees and percent, respectively.  But that’s for the dining room.  Not the bar!

So we went inside Brennan’s and to the bar, where a very nice young bartender who grew up in New Jersey, went to school at Tulane, then returned to New Jersey only to return, again, to New Orleans, served us.  My wife has always absolutely loved a good Ramos Gin Fizz and this is THE place to get it in New Orleans.  So, we sidled up to the bar and asked for three of them.  We watched as the bartender made the drinks.  After he served them to us an and we engaged him in conversation about what’s in them, how they’re made, etc. , he offered to give us the recipe.  I readily accepted his generous offer.  The only trouble is that the recipe is for a batch, not a single drink.  So when I am in the mood to make a gin fizz, I need to have a deep, deep thirst for them and/or have a rather large group of like-minded people around me to help me drink them down.   Here, my friends, is the recipe:

Ramos Gin Fizz Recipe from Brennan’s in New Orleans

1 bottle gin (1.75 ML)
3 tablespoons orange flower water
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (NOT concentrate)
½ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 cup simple syrup
2 and ½ quarts half and half
10 egg whites
Mix vigorously in large container and pour into cold glasses

We were, after having a very nice cocktail, in the mood for another one.  So, off we went in search of another drink that has been made into a New Orleans institution.  Our target was the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans, which a Waldorf Astoria property.  It was on the other side of Canal from most of our wanderings earlier in the day, but close enough for a quick but leisurely walk.   When we entered the place, we were struck by how dark it was…but it was a very lush, dreamy, exoctic dark.  It is the sort of place I think of when I think of cocktail society.  I discovered that I rather LIKE a Sazerac cocktail!

We went back to the hotel to relax and recover.  When sufficient time had passed so that we felt at least moderately hungry, we walked to the bus stop and took a bus deeper into the Garden District, where we aimed for a place my wife had seen featured on Diner, Drive-Ins, and Dives, a television food show hosted by Guy Fieri.

The restaurant, called Joey K’s Restaurant, is on Magazine Street.   There is no question that it’s primarily a neighborhood place.  When we were sitting at our table, we overheard a number of conversations between patrons and staff…about how their families are doing, what’s new in the neighborhood, etc. For dinner, between the three of us we tried oyster po-boys, red beans and rice, and an interesting pasta dish.  I’d certainly recommend the restaurant.  It is a very casual place, my kind of restaurant.

Camilla GrillGrilled pie!The next morning, we took the bus to the far end of the St. Charles line, where we went to the Camilla Grill, a place my wife had discovered is an exceptionally popular place that normally has long lines stretching out the door.  But we left late for breakfast, so when we go there we did not have to content with lines.  The place has no tables; there is only counter seating.  The staff is highly trained for EXACTLY the kind of experience the owner wants customers to have: it’s a diner that has specific terms to describe the way in which foods are ordered and how they are to be prepared so, for example, if two people order scrambled eggs, one with bacon and one with sausage and pancakes, the counter person might shout out to the cook, “Scramble two! One with bacon, one with cakes and pig!”  Each of us ordered something a bit different; I had eggs with bacon and grits, my wife ordered a pecan waffle, and my sister-in-law ordered something else.  All of the items (as far as I know) were excellent.  One of us had read something about pies being warmed on the same grill as the breakfast meats, etc. were cooked; we HAD to order a piece.  We shared a piece of  pecan pie among us; it was outstanding!  Later, each of us had a brief conversation with the guy who makes the pies.  To get to the bathrooms, you have to go through the kitchen, where the pie-maker was doing his job; that presented an opportunity to chat, which we did.  Interesting place!

MuffalettaLater, for lunch, we stopped in at Mahony’s Po-Boy Shop, where we ordered a large muffaletta to share.  It was huge.  I ordered a beer I’d never had before, an Abita Andygator, which was good but not as good as the Abita Turbodog I’d had at Acme. The muffaletta was a bit dry for my taste, but probably better than any I’d ever find in Dallas.

After lunch, as we were wandering down Magazine Street, popping in to shops, we came across a place that wasn’t initially of much interest to me, but my wife and sister-in-law took a liking to it. It’s a jewelry store called Fleur d’Orléans, owned and operated by a woman named Jann Fenner.  We learned quite a lot about her as we looked at jewelry and chatted about what we were doing in New Orleans.  She and her husband, Thomas Laird, who is a photographer and journalist, spent quite some time in Kathmandu, Nepal, where they met many people who made their living by doing crafts.  It was fascinating to hear her tell about her time in Kathmandu; she said here husband was on a plane to Asia for his work as we were talking.  My wife, who rarely spends money on herself, bought a necklace and earrings; her sister bought a necklace, as well.

As unlikely as it might seem, after all we had for lunch, we were willing to stop at the Creole Creamery for ice cream later in the day, where the orders were one-scoop cups, one each of white grape sorbet, coconut sorbet, and coffee pecan brittle.  I was highly impressed with the ice cream there, and deeply envious that there is not remotely close in Dallas.

Later than day, after a rest back at the hotel, we popped in to the St. Charles Tavern, just a couple of blocks from the hotel, for boudin balls.  I had two rather nice gin & tonics to go with them.  We had stopped in at a barbeque restaurant just across the street, but were first told we had to pay cash because the credit card machine was down, then were told we could not order happy-hour drinks because the bartender had not yet arrived; as we were standing there, the card machine came back up, but since we’d chosen the place on the basis of a happy hour drink special, we bolted!

After our boudin ball amuse bouche, we had our final dinner of the New Orleans trip at the Irish House Restaurant.

 

And it was a fine meal, indeed!  My sister-in-law ordered an English Garden martini, which consisted of Hendricks Gin, elderberry water, and muddled cumber.  My wife had a pomegranate “no-jito,” a non-alcoholic drink like a mojito, with pomegranate juice (my wife had to keep alcohol consumption down, as she just started on a new heart medication that requires near-complete abstinence from alcohol).  I had an English IPA beer. For appetizers, between us we had eggplant soup, tomato and basil soup, and mussel soup.  Then, for dinner, it was duck with brie and figs, pork cheeks, and for me, fish and chips.  It was one of the more expensive meals we had while in New Orleans and well worth every penny.

Despite the relative paucity of photos and narrative about non-food and non-drink activity in New Orleans, there was more to the trip.  We attempted to catch a ferry across the Mississippi River, but the ferries had been closed due to Hurricane Isaac and hadn’t reopened.  We went into the library on St. Charles and my wife bought some books, as they were having a book sale.  There was more.  But mostly, it was about the food and about being with my favorite wife and her favorite sister.

One the way back, we stopped in Nachitoches for lunch at Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant, where we had (surprise) meat pie.  And a crawfish pie.  And other stuff.  But I had to take a picture of my 1/3 of our meat pie for posterity.  And a photo of the outside of the restaurant.  To prove we were there.  I have to say I enjoyed both the meat pie and the crawfish pie.  There’s just something about them that’s, you know, Louisiana!

All in all, the trip was excellent.  It was wonderful fun!

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to New Orleans: Mostly a Food Experience

  1. I’m glad to hear Mardella was intrigued…and I hope the New Orleans experience adds to it! Thanks for the comment; made my day!

  2. Carol Morgan says:

    A couple of evenings ago in my daily phone call to Mardella, I read her what you had written under “Interests\Food”. Mardella was fascinated…. So tonight, I plan on reading to her about this New Orleans Experience. You’re really helping to open up her world.

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