This was my first trip to New Orleans in, easily, 40 years. My second trip total in my life! Of the first trip I remember almost nothing…Just a luncheon, in a very fancy restaurant…don’t remember where. This trip, I was in the city for a convention, so I still cannot say I have really visited New Orleans. I was eager to go because my older son Gerry has been many times, has many friends there, and raves about the place.
June is not the ideal month for a trip to New Orleans. We found out that, just as Kitty warned us we would that New Orleans is hot in June. That wasn’t so bad for me – I was in the too-cold-air-conditioning all day at the convention, but Gerry did the best he could by seeking periodic respite from the heat and humidity.
If I had to sum up my New Orleans experience in one word, it would most certainly be “food”. And so begins a journal of restaurant reviews!
We stayed at the Omni Royal Crescent Hotel (on Gravier St) just two blocks from the Sheraton where the convention was. I was glad I didn’t stay in the convention hotel…You know how it is! You never go outside for fresh air!! At least my two block walk afforded some exercise and some fresh, albeit hot, air.
We were steps from the French Quarter. Our restaurant choices focused on the areas we could get to by walking.
So here we go! (Oh, PS I took all these pictures with my phone or my point and shoot Lumix, since I left my Nikon at home.)
First day, Sunday, June 9th, we arrived in time to go to lunch. Destination: Coop’s Place. This was described to us as a “hole in the wall”. It was an apt description. “Great food.” Also, correct! I had a jambalaya mad with rabbit, crayfish and andouille that I didn’t want to share with Gerry! He had gumbo. He didn’t really want to share either, but he wanted a taste of my jambalaya, so had to offer. And I had to share. The place was dark inside (It was a brilliantly sunny Sunday!) but the service was super friendly, and it was a delicious lunch and a great start to a whirlwind couple of days. I highly recommend it!
Afterwards we walked to the French Market where there was a creole tomato festival in progress: Lots of people, lots of local color, lots of fun. Having gotten a taste for live music in Memphis just a short week before, I especially liked the stages with the live bands. We were amazed at the “washboard” players!! And the lead played an accordion? It was loads of fun. We saw a second band too – here everyone was in the street dancing…not free form, mind you, but real partner dancing!
Rain threatened…we were tired. We checked in to our hotel, took a nap, and planned dinner!
For dinner, we decided to go to Deanie’s. It was recommended by Gerry’s sources – internet and hotel concierge. I am not sure what kind of vibes we give off, but the concierge warned us that the place was really “not very nice” but had good food. Well, we thought it was charming…”not very nice” turned out to be almost authentic “diner” style décor. It was a big place. No reservations. Pretty standard tourist destination, I think. The food was wonderful. I had redfish, blackened, and it was cooked to perfection. Gerry had the crayfish prepared four ways. The fried crayfish weren’t worth the calories, but the estouffe and the au gratin were out of this world. At this point neither one of us can remember the fourth… which is not the same as saying it didn’t get eaten! Our recommendation: Get the au gratin (you have to like cheese) and swoon through dinner! We also had an appetizer of baked oysters. I think Gerry ordered it for me…knowing I was not a huge fan of raw oysters…but though good, they were not to die (or break the diet) for.
After dinner we strolled on Bourbon Street. Going down the street (away from the hotel) it was really interesting. Coming back, going toward the hotel, it got to be too much. Too many weird people. Is that an intolerant and politically incorrect thing to say?? Probably! But what I mean is that I saw too many people trying to shock, and trying to make a statement. We saw two young women, topless, but painted. They were carrying some sign about paying to see the boobs. Really? Everyone could see the boobs…the paint wasn’t much of a cover-up! It reminded me of a Carnival we spent in Venice about 11 years ago: After a while, the white masks of the characters around you start to give you the creeps, and you just want to get away. That was my reaction to Bourbon Street. My son Gerry commented “I could have told you that wasn’t your scene.” Seems there were lots of things he could have told me before I went!
For breakfast Monday, we went to a place right on the corner near our hotel, called Majorias Commerce. This was really a local place: our fellow diners were from the electric company and other businesses nearby. People were friendly and helped us with the local protocol. Just a simple breakfast of eggs and toast – all served with grits!
Monday, I spent most of the day in the convention, and only emerged for the evening. We decided to try a place called Luke (umlaut over the u – which means I have no idea how you pronounce it!). This restaurant was a paean to the German influence in New Orleans, so our menu choices were a little different. I had duck with caramelized onions (yum) and jalapeño grits (one of my new favorite foods!). Gerry had a pork shank with potatoes, sauerkraut and sausage that was enough to feed an army (and which we boxed and took back to the hotel for Tuesday … either my lunch or Gerry’s dinner).
Tuesday, I was in disposed thanks to a back spasm I spent the night with…but Gerry went to The New Orleans School of Cooking and learned a lot about the history of the city and especially the culinary influences. He learned how to make gumbo, jambalaya, bananas Foster and pralines. When is he going to make them for family and friends??? Good questions! I am waiting to find out, too!
Tuesday night I sat through most of a banquet at my convention in a pain-drug induced stupor … who knows what I ate or didn’t eat.
Wednesday was the final day of my convention, but I was finished in time to go to Antoine’s for lunch. You see a lot of advertising for the place, from the moment you step off the plane. The place is huge but there weren’t even 10 tables occupied for the late lunch we had there. The service was very attentive. It was a pleasure to dine there. I don’t know, and never have, what is the criteria for being seated in the room one is seated in… but at Antoine’s we did not get to sit in the “front” room (think white and bright) but neither did most of the other people in the restaurant! We were led to a rather dark interior room, big, and had a wonderful lunch from the prix fixe menu which was just $20 dollars plus $0.25 (yes, a quarter!) for the cocktail of the day…a peach martini? We tried it. Gerry wanted “a typical cocktail that a New Orleans’ businessman would order” and was served a sazerac (rye whiskey, bitters, simple syrup and licorice. If you’re from New Orleans, please comment on this drink! Were we “had” because we were tourists?)
I didn’t write down in my notes what we ate (and, of course, several days later I cannot remember!) but I did write down that I tried a mint julep and that we had Oysters Rockefeller, the restaurant’s specialty.
Felicitously or otherwise, our flight back to Chicago was cancelled that afternoon so we were accorded an extra day in New Orleans. We returned to the same hotel (they gave us an even better rate) and we had dinner that night at GW Fins.
This was my favorite place of all the places we ate. The restaurant was big, and arranged on several tiers around the room, which gave everyone a sense of privacy that was very nice. The food was really good and the service was excellent. Actually, the service involved two servers – only one of whom talked. We had blue crab pot stickers and lobster dumplings to start. Gerry’s main course was grouper which he thought was fantastic. I had something called “Scalibut” (scallops and halibut, a specialty of the house, with lobster risotto. Very, very good!
It was a late dinner, because of the time wasted at the airport, so we went to sleep late and lazed the next morning.
Once we were out and about, I wanted to go to Café du Monde and have coffee and beignets. It was crowded, but we finally got a table near the outside, and at my insistence, split a single order of beignets (3). We also got a chance to run around the museum next to the cathedral that houses the Katrina exhibit and the Mardi Gras exhibit, and I went to run through the History of the City of New Orleans museum (which Gerry had already seen) before we returned to the hotel to check out.
We had our final New Orleans meal practically across the street from the hotel, at a place called “Red Gravy.” Not a typical menu for New Orleans, but Gerry really enjoyed his brisket and I had an egg and cheese concoction in puff pastry that was good (but could have used a little hot sauce). It came served with grits and garlic bread – a heavy dose of carbs, to say the least!
With the extra time we had between lunch and the airport, we took the St. Charles streetcar to the Garden District and walked around a bit. Gerry said his city guide told them that the upkeep on the houses in that area was really high, and we guessed it must be true because so many of the houses and buildings looked run down.
Our second attempt to get home went pretty smoothly, and if not for all the construction on I-95 between Chicago and Milwaukee, we would have been home and in bed long before we were.