That’s me in BLACK at Cafe du Monde, what was I thinking???
I don’t know when I have been more excited about a return trip to one of my favorite places, than I was about our last week’s excursion to New Orleans. The funny thing about my adventure is that this nostalgic trip BACK for me to the Big Easy, showed me a city that could not be moving more FORWARD than what I saw going on in NOLA. The positive spirit in the city was contagious! I was undoubtedly in Who Dat country as that victory was the icing on a very rich cake, full of many delights! Everywhere we went looked cleaner than I had remembered it, yes even Bourbon Street?! Wonderful pockets of shopping, ala Magazine Street and many of its surrounding avenues were chocked full of unique, quaint stores that were so indicative of this one-of-a-kind city. Absent to the eye were the chains and brands of stores that you normally encounter on every corner in other major cities. I know they were there somewhere, hidden in the decor of the city? Alas, the Borders Bookstore on St. Charles was in a wooden, New Orleans style building that I had to check out twice to realize that the Book Selling Giant was housed within. The dining experiences were unforgetable. My biggest frustration was not enough time and/or eating opportunities to enable me to hit all of my past favorties and new recommendations that were so eagerly given to me by my friends. An interestng exercise for us was to be at a dinner party and ask for recommendations of N.O. restaurants. We would get bombarded with excited, antimated descriptions and friendly joking as to whose rec. is better. I think I even saw a friend of mine lick his lips just in anticipation of the meal that I was about to have??! We decided to go the new route and try those restaurants that we had never been to…….only exceptions being Cafe du Monde and Camellia Grill, of course, which there was no way we were going to pass up. Since my hubby and I are “foodies”, we figured we could remember every meal we had ever had at the legendary eateries and went only for new Crescent City Cuisine from the likes of my new favorite Celebrity Chef, John Besh. (made it to two of his restaurants, August and Luke, while I was there)
I have to say that the only negative vibe we felt, while visiting NOLA, was the fear that was apparent from the BP oil mess, it’s effect on local fishermen and what an upset any weather mishaps could bring. Every restaurant we visited addressed the shortage of oysters and shrimp and some were bold enough to post signs on their exteriors and interiors with disclaimers that the cost of these very special Gulf Coast delicacies made serving them prohibitive. I know there have been fund-raisers in our community for these folks,(ala, Muse Boutique) I hope all will make an effort to give a hand!
With much anticipation of my trip to the Big Easy and the eating frenzy that was about to occur, I must say my biggest dilemna when we motored down Poydras St. to our hotel was what was my first bite(hey, get it, this is Vampire Country isn’t it?!) going to be? Beignet and Cafe au Lait at the charming open-air Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter was my choice. There was no real hesitation other than convincing my hubby, that YES, I could have dessert BEFORE the fabulous fine dining experience that was awaiting us at Restaurant August. What a way to start my food journey! Hence, my unwise apparel choice…..wearing black, as I oft-times do, was not my brightest move to devour the delightfully piled high powdered-sugar covered beignets that are the signature of not only this cafe but of this city, as well. Did I mention that you sit under ceiling fans, get the picture?! What a mess.
PHOTO NOTE: I was not doing an elvis-look-alike with the collar action I had going on here, it was a little windy, so it’s mother nature to thank for that styling aid! This late afternoon highlight began my reacquaintance tour of a city that I knew I used to love and was sure to confirm that the flame was still burning in my heart (and my stomach too, actually, after a few spicey meals!)
Here are some highlights of my trip that I would love to share……
**Magazine Street: Unfortunately, I had only hours to spend on this not-to-be-missed New Orleans shopping street. I must say, I was overwhelmed by the 6 mile stretch of stores and eateries and the fact that walking that in the heat of summer in NOLA was a little unbearable. Some stand-outs for me were:
*Perch, a home furnishings store that I loved! This quaint cottage from Beaumont born, Caroline Robert and friends was stocked full of very tasty offerings from NYC and L.A. with a touch of local. The great find for me here was that perch-home.com
keeps an updated site for online purchasing and I already have a few things that I want to order after doing some specific measuring of mi casa when I got back. The most memorable for me were unique furniture pieces and awesome lighting. Check it out.
*Storyville, a funky T-shirt company that prints its own shirts right there on Magazine Street. This Baton Rouge based company boasts custom styling unique to the locale and happy to say that they opened on South Congress in Austin. Good news here is that they do custom orders and a 12 shirt minimum is all that they require.
*Orient Expressed, the children’s boutique that annually sits across the aisle from my Italian sauce booth at the Nutcracker Market is home based on Magazine Street. This smocked-everything headquarters can be purchased locally by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org, Meredith Turner.
*Joey K’s local eatery where I took a break from the heat, sat at the bar and had a fab shrimp remoulade salad, a cup of gumbo, of course and listened to the local chatter as I read all of the unique signing all over the walls that are a signature of this fun spot.
**Restaurants: Restaurant August was fab for fine dining, New Orleans style, I loved it!!! Also on the other end of the Besh spectrum was Luke, a luncheon hot spot in the Central Business District that had tasty burgers/fries and the best cup of gumbo I had in the city. (I tried as many as I could fit in to my eating repertoire) Cochon, a chic casual restuarant that has a focus on pork (Cochon is French for pig), but is not limited to that. The menu was unique, the seafood was tasty and the Butcher Shop next door with a counter for sandwich noshing is probably the hippest restaurant and best people watching of our trip. Cafe du Monde, should never be missed and Camellia Grill, I was happy to see had not lost an ounce of grease since I was last there, making for great counter-served burgers and those amazing chocolate freezes! As I keep saying, my biggest challenge here was just not enough time for more meals from this top dining city in the country!
As shopping and dining are what I do best, that is all I have recs on, plus I know that attention is limited! However, the message here is simple, New Orleans is a great city that is in our own backyard that we have probably all visited so much in our past that we have replaced in our must-see travel logs by some of the newer, hauter places in vogue. So, do yourself a favor and take a week-end and go back and feel the spirit of this reborn city!