Walking to New Orleans, “it’s time I’m walkin’ to New Orleans, yes. I’m walkin’ to New Orleans”, get that classic Fats Domino song in your head and come along with me. “New Orleans is my home, that’s the reason why I’m goin'”, well, I’m actually going for the IFBC, International Food Bloggers Conference. I’ve written this post for my fellow IFBC bloggers.
I’ve been traveling to Sacramento the last two years to attend, but last year it was announced the conference was headed back to New Orleans. The last one in the Big Easy was in 2011. When the announcement was made, I think I was just about the only one that didn’t immediately cheer. My first thought was how much I was going to miss my Sacramento trip and my second and most foreboding thought…New Orleans…in August!!
New Orleans in August. For locals that’s all that needs to be said, but for others, let me explain. It’s HOT. I mean HOT, VERY HOT. For those not used to humidity, get ready, it will hit you upon arrival in the City. If you’re flying in, it will hit you in the face as you exit the plane. Heat and humidity, a combination that will make you want to say a few unkind words but at least you will be clean, for you will be taking multiple showers in a day. For my female friends with beautiful natural curly hair…prepare yourself for a whole new hairstyle. When packing, sure you may need a light shawl or sweater in the cold conference rooms, but after that dress accordingly. Shorts, even if you don’t usually wear them, you’ll want to or skirts and light sundresses for the girls. Think of breathable fabrics, too, I would definitely leave the jeans at home. If not, you’ll be in for the rare treat of having denim stick to your legs. Yes, it’s hot, so hot in New Orleans in August that most of the fancy hotels offer incredible discount rates for locals, just to tempt us out of our air-conditioned homes. A quick additional note as to packing, girls leave the big purses (too hot to be lugging it around) and those high heels at home. The City is a walking town filled with beautiful streets with old charm, meaning lots of uneven surfaces, cracks, and crevices. Guys, if you are dying to wear a new pair of fancy loafers, I’d pull out the old ones, walking the streets of New Orleans can get a little dirty, even with the great street cleaners.
I have really enjoyed the recent New Orleans IFBC posts, “Time to Live It Up #IFBC in New Orleans” and “Here’s A Little Taste” by Kristy Wenz. If you haven’t read those, do so before heading this way. Since I grew up in New Orleans and still consider the City my home, for home is where my heart and family reside, I thought I would share some of my favorites. These are all my own hometown girl recommendations, no endorsements, just my honest opinions.
Getting Around: From the airport, sign up for a shuttle or take UBER or LYFT. All meet across from baggage claim, just look for the red ropes (makes you feel like royalty) for the car ride services. The city is super saturated with Uber and LYFT so you will never have any trouble quickly getting one. The New Orleans Streetcar is a piece of New Orleans history and a scenic way to see the city. Each ride is $1.25, so have exact change. I recommend having $3.00 and getting the 1 day Jazz pass for unlimited rides, if you going to be exploring more than one day, buy their $9.00 Jazz Pass online for 3 unlimited days. There is no A/C on the streetcars but the clickety-clack-clack-clack of the moving car will help keep your mind cool. The St. Charles streetcar line is the most scenic ride. The oak tree-lined route passes by mansions, churches, Tulane and Loyola Universities and Audubon Park. The Canal St. Line will bring you to the cemeteries, which are actually something to see. Since most of the City is below sea level, most tombs are above the ground and some are quite elaborate. There are plenty of Cemetery Tours to take, too. The Canal St. Line will also bring you to City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art. If you want to go on a short streetcar trip, or go to Harrah’s Casino or to shop at Canal Place or Outlet at the Riverwalk, ride the Riverfront Line from the French Market to the Aquarium of the Americas or IMAX.
Walking is an easy way to get around the French Quarter and a great way to take in the architecture. New Orleans is a big city, so like all big cities, be street smart when doing so.
Things to Do: The focal point of the City is Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral.
Plan some time to walk around both the outside and the inside of the Square. The outside perimeter boasts local artists and entertainers, everything from painters and poets to palm readers and magicians. Even if you are not Catholic, step inside the Cathedral to marvel in its beauty.
Museums sit on each side of the Cathedral, the Cabildo, which is currently closed for a new exhibit, and The Presbytere.
I highly recommend finding the time to go The Presbytere. The two exhibits, “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time” and “The Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond” tells the compelling tales of the City’s best and worst times. The admission is a steal for only $6 bucks, too. If you get enthralled in the Mardi Gras spirit, call for the free shuttle to take you to Mardi Gras World.
You’ll need most of a day to take in The National World War II Museum but is well worth it. The “Beyond All Boundaries” 4D film will move you in so many ways.
If bugs and butterflies are your thing or you find yourself craving some tasty insect treats, head to Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.
Around the Quarter, there are museums for just about all interests and all presented well. There is the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, the New Orleans Jazz Museum, New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, if you don’t go and still want a quick glimpse into the Voodoo world, just step around the corner to Bourbon St. and inside Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo.
Take a ghost tour. There are plenty to choose. You’ll see large groups of people following a “Questionably” dressed tour guide throughout the City. They are very interesting and entertaining and tell of some of the colorful stories of the city’s past occupants.
Just a short ride from the Quarter and definitely one of note for us foodies is the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. In its 10th year, it is a celebration of Southern food and cocktails. If you are a Popeye’s chicken fan, there is an exhibit you will drool over. Yes, for us food bloggers it is a dream come true, they even speak our language, for what happens when you look at food exhibits…you get hungry and they have us covered. Toups South is there with the most amazing Sourdough biscuits with Crab Fat Butter.
Speaking of FOOD: When it comes to New Orleans food there is simply never enough time. Trying to decide where to eat is the most difficult decision I have to make each time I head to the City. Here are a few insights into some of my favorites around the Quarter that may help you in your decision. Many are what I call “old-school” and I’ve been enjoying most since childhood. For me, eating in New Orleans is all about traditions not trends.
Café Du Monde: Goes without saying, but it’s not just for breakfast. You can get beignets (3 to an order) and café au lait (coffee and chicory with hot milk) 24 hours a day. Something to keep in mind if you want to avoid the lines and there will be lines, either to go or for dine in. I recommend dining in for the true experience, although I don’t recommend wearing dark-colored clothing. If you do take it to go, walk along the Mighty Mississippi River on the Moonwalk (no, not named after the King of Pop, named after a former mayor) and find a nice spot to enjoy your beignets with a view.
Central Grocery: Home of the Muffuletta, a cold cut and olive salad sandwich like nothing you have ever seen. Yes, you can find others in the Quarter, but for me , it is the one and only, and its been like that since I was a child. Grab a friend or two, or three and go get a muffuletta, it’s big enough to share. Even if you are not in the mood for a muffuletta, please do me a favor (and yourself) and at least open the door, step inside, and take a deep breath.
Port of Call Jimmy Buffet wasn’t talking about Port of Call’s burger in “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, but he could have been. The paradise may be a dive bar, but the Mushroom Cheeseburger and loaded baked potatoes are consistently ranked best burger year after year and they have been doing it for over 50 years! Treat yourself to one along with a Neptune’s Monsoon.
Louisiana Pizza Kitchen is my go-to when I’m looking for a wood fired thin crust pizza, make sure you request the hot olive oil bottle for drizzling. When I want a thicker pizza, I head to Mona Lisa’s.
Mother’s Almost always a line down the street, but if you happen to pass by and the line is short, get in it and grab a Ferdi Special, world-famous baked ham and roast beef debris and gravy. Get used to that debris term it is a wonderful thing. It is all the goodness in the bottom of the pan after a perfectly seasoned roast has been cooked down to tenderness. Around town, there will be debris po’boy’s, debris fries, debris nachos, debris pasta, debris oysters…you get the drift.
Po’boys or Po Boys or Poor Boys or Po-Boys, however they are printed on menus they are everywhere and you’ll want to indulge. It’s the South’s version of the hoagie or submarine sandwich, only better. Why? It’s all in the bread, and there is nothing quite like New Orleans French Bread. You’ll be asked if you would like your po’boy “dressed?” No, it’s not an attire question, it is whether or not you want lettuce, mayo, tomato, and pickles on your sandwich. My favorite ‘boys come from Johnny’s Po boys, recommend the Roast Beef, it’s a 5 napkin rating, it’ll take you at least 5 napkins to finish it. Mahony’s Po Boy Shop, a good place for lunch and some of my favorite ‘boys there are the French Fry Debris, Oyster Brie, Crawtator Catfish, and the Peacemaker of fried shrimp, oysters, and cheese. Split a po’boy with a friend and order some fried green tomatoes or Pimento Caprese, fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese. A must try combo! The day we are free for lunch you will probably find me at Mahony’s on Iberville St., the Gumbo Shop, or Cafe Amelie . See, told you, always a difficult decision.
Oysters: This is an easy one, just look for the lines almost across the street from each other. Acme Oyster House, the oldest oyster bar, and Felix’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant for some good old ice-cold oysters, chargrilled oysters, oysters rockefeller and other oyster dishes. If you want to splurge on oysters with caviar, head to the Bourbon House. We love our oysters down here and these three can be found within 200 feet of one another.
A short ride will bring you to Dooky Chase’s and Wille Mae’s Scoth House. Just for fun, do your own Fried Chicken tasting at both. I have tried for years to decide who has the best and I’m not going to stop anytime soon. They are both out of this world.
Since the conference ends on Sunday, I’m including my favorite brunch spots. Yes, Breakfast at Brennan’s is as famous as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and is a real fine dining treat along with Mr. B’s Bistro and Muriel’s for a jazz brunch.Buffa’s also puts on one helluva jazz brunch, too! The Ruby Slipper Cafés and Daisy Duke’s are also nice treats and worth the wait in line for creative breakfast fare. If you are saving your streetcar ride until Sunday, ride up St. Charles to the Trolley Stop Cafe.
Of course, you can’t come to the City without treating yourself to a fine dining meal. There are so many classics to choose and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. If you have already decided on one, I suggest when calling for reservations inquire about dress code, too, so there are no surprises. For my money, 1918’s Arnaud’s is my all-time favorite, from beginning to end with their Cafe Brulot. Their jazz bistro room has live jazz nightly. Even just a trip to their bar, French 75, is well worth it. Arnaud’s also has a small Mardi Gras Museum, free, to view. My other old-school favorite is Tujague’s, the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans, behind Antoine’s. It is home to the Grasshopper cocktail in the stand-up bar and their traditional 5 course meals. K Paul’s, makes my list for I so admired the great late Chef Paul Prudhomme. If you never heard of him, I’m sure you heard of his famous culinary style of “blackening”. I go for the excellent blackened fish and the over-the-top bread basket filled with all sorts of baked treats. Want to be daring, or as it says on the menu, “At Your Own Risk”, order a vodka or gin Cajun Martini, infused with jalapenos.
Speaking of Cocktail’s: New Orleans is the city that never sleeps, you can eat and drink all day and night, so it’s a good idea to pace yourself. A quick insight, if a cocktail boasts a detrimental sounding name, like “Hand Grenade”, “Hurricane”, “Monsoon”, etc., heed it as a disaster warning. One is usually enough. Another insider tip: If you are walking on Bourbon Street and someone wants to “bet” you they can tell you where you got your shoes…just keep walking in them, the answer is Bourbon Street.
Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar–yes, it is a revolving Merry-go-Round bar and was recently named one of the top 20 bars in the World. Climb aboard and take a ride.
Pat O’Briens’s the Home of the Hurricane, even if you are not in the mood for a drink, walk through the series of bars to the outside flaming fountain for a picture, after all that is the tourist thing to do.
Napoleon House Bar and Cafe–for some good eats and an incredible Pimm’s Cup. Want some fresh herbs in your cocktail? Head to Bar Tonique.
For nostalgia, head to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop–one of the oldest bars in the U.S. If you have caught the recent absinthe bug, pop in Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House, since 1807, for an Absinthe Frappe.
Galatoire’s 33 Bar–a great way to get a taste of Galatoire’s for less.
If a martini is your thing, do not miss a trip to The Bombay Club. Their martini menu reads like a novel and their Chocolate Martini complete with chocolate shavings rimming the glass, is a nice dessert choice. Hit their happy hour for some incredible small bites.
While walking, drink in hand, take a walk down Royal Street for some “will give you something to talk about” window shopping. When you come across the $25,000 martini shaker, no need to have it gift wrapped for me!!
When the time has come when you are done drinking, tired, and starving, the famous LUCKY DOG stands on almost every corner will seem to call you out of rigor mortis with their hot dog aroma. Trust me, even if you are not a hot dog fan, a Lucky Dog at the right moment is priceless. I recommend reading the “Confederacy of Dunces” before you come to New Orleans for a true appreciation of the treat.
Lagniappe: It’s what we call in Louisiana, “a little something extra”. New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz so there are plenty of great Jazz clubs, like Preservation Hall, but jazz musicians are all over the streets, so stop and give some a listen. If you find yourself without a hat or sunglasses or anything you just can’t live without, head to the French Market. Want to take home some Cajun treats, go to Rouse’s on Royal, a grocery store, but will be cheaper than most gift shops. Want to sample pralines or bring a box of home? Aunt Sally’s (love the triple chocolate praline), Southern Candymakers (sweet potato praline), or the New Orleans School of Cooking are my favorites. But considering pralines are simply sugar and pecans, it’s not like any of them are bad! Looking for kitchen gadgets, don’t miss Roux Royale, On a cookbook hunt? Call for a ride to take you to the Kitchen Witch.
When dining out, chances are high that you will see Maque Choux on a menu. It is pronounced “Mock Shoe”. It is smothered corn and something I always order. If you don’t get to try some while here, plan on making it when you get back home. Here’s my grandmother’s recipe.
I’m looking forward to seeing my old IFBC friends again and making new ones. Yes, I have embraced the fact that the conference is in the Big Easy and I’m excited and ready to show off my hometown, my HOT hometown. I hope everyone planned more time to see the City for it is so much more than just the French Quarter. See Y’all Soon!