Just like Hong Kong, Lyon, and Paris, I had an inkling that I would fall in love with New Orleans. And that was before I had even stepped foot in the city! Sometimes, as they say, you just know...
From the moment I landed at Louis Armstrong, I was captivated by the mid seventy-degree spring weather, the warm local hospitality, and the spattering of palm trees. After all, it made for quite the welcome change from frigid NYC.
Because of the St. Patrick’s Day parades that Saturday, I was bummed to have to cancel my 1PM brunch reservation at Commander’s Palace, as the concierge informed me that, due to street car-closings, getting to/from could be quite unpredictable for a new visitor to the city. This deviation in plans actually led me to Luke, a John Besh restaurant, located much closer to the Hotel Monteleone (my residence for the week). I mention this particular meal because of the friendly local folks that I met while dining solo at the bar. From this early first impression, the residents of New Orleans seemed incredibly welcoming and genuinely enthusiastic to have me in their town.
Post-lunch, I must have meandered down every street in the charming French Quarter. Although I knew about the city’s open-container “leniency,” I still did a double take every time I passed someone sucking down their ‘Bloody in a plastic cup while strolling down Royal Street. When it was my turn to grab a cocktail, I was tickled to note a stack of plastic “to go” cups located at a table near The Carousel Bar’s exit. That wouldn’t be the last display I observed during my trip, either...
Being a self-proclaimed Francophile, staying in the French Quarter transported me back to the cobblestone streets of Lyon and Paris. On a daily – and nightly – basis. Beyond this famed neighborhood, however, the French influence was also present in the names of streets, parishes, food items, and cocktails. And, speaking of food, I made the following observations:
- It seemed like most seafood dishes were composed of local Gulf treasures, from fish to shellfish.
- French bread is standard/default at nearly every restaurant's table.
- For tourists who wish to immerse themselves in local cuisine, it is not hard to go a full week without eating a raw vegetable or fruit.
- Everyone has their own rendition of gumbo.
- Turtle soup is a delicacy that can be found on most “high end” restaurant menus. And, despite the fact that I adore sea turtles, I was informed that the meat used in the famous soup is from that of the "mean, snapping turtle" variety. "Honey, these are the kinds of turtles that will gladly bite your finger off." It was this tidbit of information that finally convinced me to order a bowl during my brunch at Restaurant Revolution.
There were only a handful of nights when I didn’t go to sleep to some sort of pulsing car bass or the music from a jazz instrument. New Orleanians will find any excuse to party, even when celebrating the lives of the deceased. In fact, on our walk to Dooky Chase’s, I was warmly taken aback by the large group of family and friends eating, toasting, dancing, and reminiscing over the life of a fellow father/brother/friend/husband (I know that is was a male because his picture was prominently displayed on a tripod).
In terms of race and culture, I found New Orleans to be just as segregated as any other city in the US. From observation, alone, it appeared as though most races/cultures stuck together, both socially and residentially. However, where poor neighborhoods remained heavily ravaged by infamous natural disasters (with the exception of the houses built by Brad Pitt’s organization in the Lower Ninth Ward), wealthier areas were thriving. The racial divide and disparity between rich and poor could not have been more blatant and, quite honestly, it made me very uncomfortable. During any given day, there were moments where I felt like I was in Detroit. Then, not more than a few miles later, I was transported to ritzy Charleston proper.
Some interesting factoids I learned during my trip:
- “Dixie” comes from the French word “dix,” which means “ten.”
My favorite experiences during the trip were:
- Lunch at Café Reconcile
- Tour of and dinner at Antoine’s
- Shopping, strolling, people watching, and architecture-awing in the French Quarter
- Street musicians/talent
- Driving through vacant, hurricane-ravaged neighborhoods
- Daily praline sampling
- Southern Candy Makers It's true. They really do have the best pralines in Nawlins. My favorite being the peanut butter variety.
- Gazing at the Natchez river boat on the murky Mississippi
- Crawfish boil at Mary Plantation
- Jazz brunch - and the life-altering "peanut butter crunch" ice cream - at Restaurant Revolution
- Enjoying the Downtown Irish Club's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, complete with floats, parade queens, and green beads!
- Snoballs (snow cones) topped with sweetened condensed milk
- Class luncheon at Galatoire's
- Scratch-made biscuits at The Ruby Slipper
- Southern breakfasts, in general, namely from the daily buffet at Criollo: Sausage gravy-drenched biscuits, grits, bacon, roasted potatoes, and scrambled eggs
- The best damn airport grub I've EVER eaten - in the form of shrimp 'n grits - courtesy of Ye Olde College Inn
The Big Easy is an incredibly special and complicated place that is chock-full of beauty, tragedy, sweet and sour history, and a “gumbo” of cultures and races. Having had the privilege of seeing New Orleans through the lense of many resident experts (thanks to my very well-connected Master's program at NYU), I can honestly say that this trip was positively life altering.
I left a piece of my heart in New Orleans.
Laissez les bons temps rouler, y'all!
The Lunch Belle