Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!
We all know about New Orleans’ recent history: devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, followed by an ongoing story of what can only be described as a miraculous recovery. The losses from Katrina in property damage and, more importantly, of life and terrible displacement were unimaginable. The recovery that a visitor sees, both physically and in terms of the spirit of the people of New Orleans is truly inspiring and amazing. In short, NOLA is back!!
As an avid traveler, I have been a fairly regular visitor to New Orleans, dating back to when I was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base. A frequent 90-mile drive to NOLA from Biloxi was a weekend necessity. Besides the food and music, the real attraction of a visit to New Orleans is that it’s almost like visiting another country. The culture, a gumbo mix of French, Spanish, American and African defined as Cajun or Creole, is unique. Unlike in any other part of the U.S., “diversity” was embraced before it became politically correct. I love it!! Having visited and enjoyed many different places, I still find New Orleans a very special place and always return for more.
Our latest visit was for my son’s wedding. He and his bride fell in love in NOLA and even though they are both from somewhere else, they decided on a destination wedding. The ceremony was at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the reception was held inside the museum. We danced and dined to the Rebirth Brass Band and the Soul Rebels, surrounded by art by Picasso, Modigliani and Cezanne. WOW!! What a blast! Needless to say, New Orleans is a great place for a destination wedding and gives guests a darned good excuse to visit New Orleans!
Sights & Sounds
Similar to festivals in Rio de Janeiro or Venice, Mardi Gras is a much anticipated celebration in NOLA. Held 47 days before Easter, Mardi Gras can occur on any Tuesday from February 3 through March 9. If you enjoy parades, outrageous costumes, being surrounded by exuberant and noisy fellow parade watchers and witnessing an event that completely reflects the character of the community, then Mardi Gras is for you. The different parades seem to last forever, and the more adventurous dress up in their own costumes while viewing the parades. If you are traveling with children, you should be aware that kids don’t belong in the French Quarter or on Canal Street during Mardi Gras. Take the family to St. Charles Avenue between First Street and Napoleon Avenue instead, where the parade goers are mainly families.
New Orleans offers the best of Creole and Cajun food, such as beignets with chicory coffee or Po Boys. YUM! Forget your diet for a few days and indulge. I like to browse OpenTable.com for dining choices, or you can simply walk into any of the hundreds of restaurants and find good food. It’s required in NOLA. So-so restaurants do not last very long in this food mecca.
An old favorite, Commander’s Palace, was as amazing as ever. It started with impeccable service, followed for me by their classic Pecan-Crusted Gulf Fish with crushed sweet corn, spiced pecans, petite herbs and Prosecco poached crabmeat, and for Robin, Chef Tory’s Three-Course Special that featured a choice of delicious entrees: Lyonnaise Gulf Fish, Roasted Mississippi Flounder or Chicory Coffee Lacquered Texas Quail. The Lyonnaise Gulf Fish was delicious.
Located in the Garden District, Lisette served up an excellent family dinner for 10 guests, offering French-focused food and excellent service. Nola, Emeril Lagasse’s acclaimed “casual and funky” restaurant, hosted a rehearsal dinner group of 90 from the wedding party. Instead of typical banquet food for a large party, every guest was served a gourmet dinner. Of course, we had to have breakfast at Brennan’s. Eggs Hussarde is a Brennan’s original of house-made English muffins, coffee-cured Canadian bacon, hollandaise and marchand de vin sauce. It doesn’t get any better! We also had brunch at the Palace Café and were entertained by a traditional jazz trio. They played all of my requests. I had so much fun that I forget what we ate!
Cafe Amelie, a beautiful courtyard restaurant on Royal Street, serves the best pulled pork Po Boy on the planet. They call it a Cochon De Lait sandwich. I call it Killer! Martinis in the bar at Mr. B’s is another must.
During our last evening, it was just Robin and me. We were ready for something simpler… like a great steak. The Chop House New Orleans nailed it, serving up a delicious Prime Rib Eye, fries and salad along with the perfect steakhouse ambiance.
There is more to NOLA than just food (maybe).
Frenchman Street is the center of music in New Orleans. The street’s eclectic mix of people, bars, restaurants, shops, art galleries and live music comes together like a gumbo to form one of the most energetic and cultural hotspots in the world—24/7, 365 days a year, the music never stops. On any given night you will find the best jazz, funk, blues and everything in between. If you are there at midnight, be ready to party because it’s just getting started.
Situated in the heart of the French Quarter on St. Peter Street, the Preservation Hall venue presents intimate, acoustic New Orleans jazz concerts 350 nights a year, featuring ensembles from a current collective of 100+ local jazz practitioners. These musicians are all “master” quality. They share their love for jazz, the original American art form, with their audience. We packed the room, and for an incredible hour were lifted into music heaven. We danced and jumped for joy.
You might think that all we ever do in New Orleans is eat great food and party. That’s not too far from the truth, but not surprisingly, there is a whole lot more going on. The National World War II Museum, for instance, is a real gem. It tells the story of the American experience of that war, including why it was fought and how it was won. The first time we visited the main exhibit was an extensive study of D-Day. I was a history major and I’ve read extensively about World War II. Robin’s father fought the war from Normandy all the way to Germany. We were impressed by the depth and quality of the exhibition. The museum is ranked by Trip Advisor as the #1 attraction in New Orleans.
You can also take enjoyable tours of plantations, the Garden District, the French Quarter, the unique and spooky cemeteries or my favorite Swamp Tour, where you can feed an alligator his favorite snack, a hot dog. It’s also fun to spend an afternoon in Jackson Square where you can buy everything from trinkets to paintings or stroll down Royal Street and check out its great mix of shops and enjoy the many talented street musicians.
Far from a comprehensive review of everything NOLA has to offer, these are just a few of my favorite things to see and do in the area. Visit once and you will surely keep coming back for your own favorites. Happy Trails!