Super Nola: Insider’s tour of New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — One thing you can say about New Orleanians: They know how to punt.
When the date for Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII was set, there could have been a loud gasp: It was scheduled right in the middle of the city’s hectic Carnival season.
The powers that be decided to start the parades a week early, break for the National Football League events, then launch back into crazy Carnival party mode, culminating with Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — on Feb. 12, the day before the start of Lent.
New Orleans, which displayed its survival skills after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, knows how to recover and celebrate life like no other place.
Here’s a personal take from a lifelong New Orleanian. It targets food and music, the essentials of life in this city, and some extras.
New Orleans 101
The French Quarter is required. Jackson Square is headed by St. Louis Cathedral, which is flanked by two Louisiana state museums (https://www.crt.state.la.us/museum), the Presbytere (Mardi Gras exhibit) and the Cabildo (site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer and now, yoga classes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings (www.facebook.com/yogaatthecabildo).
You must have café au lait and hot beignets at Café du Monde (800 Decatur St., https://www.cafedumonde.com). Walk down Chartres (CHART-is — we mispronounce a lot of French words) toward Esplanade (Es-plan-ADE) to see the noncommercial French Quarter where most Quarter residents live. Brangelina own a home on Gov. Nicholls Street, near the river. Check out the flea market on Decatur Street.
Meander beside the Mississippi River from Jackson Square to Canal Street, and when a brash guy says, “I’ll bet you five bucks I can tell you where you got your shoes,” stare back and say, “I got them on my feet.” Take the free Canal Street ferry across the river for photo ops of the city skyline at dusk.
Ride a streetcar down St. Charles Avenue; get off at 1st Street to see the mansions in the Garden District where John Goodman and Sandra Bullock own homes. And of course, stroll down Royal Street and poke into its antiques shops in daytime. At night, gawk on Bourbon Street. It looks tawdry in sunlight.
Chef-owner Phillip Lopez describes the menu at his year-old Root (200 Julia St., in the Warehouse District, https://www.rootnola.com) as “modern American cuisine rooted in old-world flavors and techniques.” OK, it’s gimmicky. But, a recent amuse-bouche, a sliver of smoked beet sprinkled with dark chocolate powder and mustard green twill, was delicious. So was the $20 Ménage á Foie, a trio of foie gras bites, including one that was a smidgen of the liver on a lollipop stick and surrounded with foie gras-flavored cotton candy. Bread pudding was covered with gin. Staff is friendly and dress upscale casual (no T-shirts, but jeans with intentional rips are fine). A tasting restaurant, Square Root, will open soon on Magazine Street.
Two name chefs, Rick Tramonto and John Folse, opened Restaurant R’evolution (https://www.revolutionnola.com) in the Royal Sonesta Hotel (777 Bienville St. at Bourbon), focusing on “revolutionizing” Creole and Cajun cuisine. How about red snapper with pork belly, cabbage and root vegetable purée? Prices at night can be astronomical, but weekday lunch specials for less than $20 pay tribute to specialties of long-gone local restaurants.
Chef Michael Doyle opened Maurepas Foods (3200 Burgundy St., https://www.maurepasfoods.com) a year ago in Bywater, an artsy neighborhood about 10 minutes by car from the Quarter. Décor in the storefront restaurant is whimsical. It’s affordable, with inventively named cocktails; goat tacos are a fixture on changeable menus. Closed Wednesdays.
Eight blocks of Freret Street (https://www.thenewfreret.com) from Napoleon to Jefferson Avenue in Uptown have become a go-to place for casual restaurants in the last couple of years. Among the 13 places to eat and drink are High Hat Cafe (4500 Freret St., https://www.highhatcafe.com), the destination for New Orleanians craving Southern fried catfish, gumbo, collard greens, black-eyed peas and mac ‘n’ cheese; Company Burger (4600 Freret St., https://www.thecompanyburger.com), a high-tech haven for hand-ground burgers; and Dat Dog (5030 Freret St., https://www.datdognola.com), with hot dogs and sausages so good fans willingly join a queue. Cure (4905 Freret St., https://www.curenola.com) is an upmarket bar (no sign outside), with cocktail concoctions made by using eyedroppers filled with unusual liqueurs. The small-plate menu includes comfort food with a twist (roasted pork and caramelized onion Frito pie).
Similar to a hoagie, a po-boy is a sandwich with meat, seafood or whatever between two pieces of French bread. In the Quarter, head for Johnny’s (511 St. Louis St., https://www.johnnyspoboys.com, closes at 4:30 p.m.). Order fried catfish or fried shrimp “dressed,” a localism for tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise and pickles, and eat it on the Moon Walk overlooking the river.
If you have a car, find the Parkway Bakery & Tavern (538 Hagan Ave., across from Bayou St. John, https://www.parkwaypoorboys.com, closed Tuesdays). A cross-section of diverse New Orleanians waits in line, as did President Obama and the first lady, who ate shrimp po-boys and andouille gumbo. The sloppy pot roast po-boy is worth the mess.
Don’t expect to see the big-name chefs regularly cooking in their kitchens, but you might spot one in-house.
Emeril Lagasse has three restaurants (www.emerilsrestaurants.com) in New Orleans: the flagship Emeril’s (800 Tchoupitoulas St., in the Warehouse District), rustic trendy with the most celebrities, “‘New’ New Orleans dishes” and $22.50 three-course, weekday lunches; NOLA (534 St. Louis St., in the French Quarter), more casual, with a daily gumbo and Vietnamese po-boys; and Emeril’s Delmonico (1300 St. Charles Ave., near Lee Circle), contemporary Creole, extensive menu, dressier.
When Paul Prudhomme opened his K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen (416 Chartres St., https://www.chefpaul.com/kpaul) in 1979, the former Commander’s Palace executive chef’s blackened redfish became an international sensation. He expanded from 62 to 200 seats and now accepts reservations and credit cards. Deli lunch specials include gumbo, sandwiches and plate lunches.
John Besh (https://www.chefjohnbesh.com) owns seven restaurants in the New Orleans area. His flagship is the James Beard award-winning August (301 Tchoupitoulas St.) in the Central Business District. It’s formal and serves French dishes with Louisiana ingredients. The casual Domenica (123 Baronne St.) in the Roosevelt Hotel half a block from Canal Street, has creative pizzas (my favorite is Gorgonzola with pecans, speck and a seasonal fruit). Besh’s American Sector serves classic American meals and sandwiches in the National World War II Museum in the Warehouse District.
Only a couple receive critical raves, but when New Orleanians of a certain means and social status want to celebrate, they often head to Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Brennan’s (home of bananas Foster) or Galatoire’s — all in the French Quarter — or Commander’s Palace (bread pudding souffle) in the Garden District. Locals always wear so-called Sunday clothes to eat at any of these, and they look askance at tourists who do not.
Antoine’s (713 St. Louis St., https://www.antoines.com) and Arnaud’s (813 Bienville St., https://www.arnaudsrestaurant.com) have casual annexes. Antoine’s Hermes Bar, a front room with a huge mahogany bar and live music on weekends, opens to the street and offers the regular menu, bar food and po-boys (try oysters Foch). Arnaud’s family-oriented cafe is Remoulade (309 Bourbon St., https://www.remoulade.com), with a raw oyster bar and plate lunches (shrimp creole), besides some Arnaud’s menu items. You don’t have to eat at Arnaud’s to tour its free Mardi Gras Museum. Also, its French 75 Bar is a classic antique with legendary cocktails.
Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon St., https://www.galatoires.com) is popular any time, especially for Friday lunches that linger through dinner. Don’t book a table upstairs. No reservations downstairs, but it’s a slice of local life, with table hopping and waiters leading “Happy Birthday.” Trout almondine, stuffed eggplant or whatever your waiter advises.
The sound of music
The heart of the New Orleans music scene is the 500 and 600 blocks of Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny Triangle directly behind the French Quarter.
Names of the clubs don’t matter as much as who’s playing inside: Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Glen David Andrews, John Boutté, Davis Rogan, Spencer Bohren, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Jon Cleary, Topsy Chapman, Sunpie Barnes, Tom McDermott, Treme Brass Band and Kermit Ruffins (a huge favorite, he plays everywhere; schedule at https://www.lat.ms/14flrzk). Legendary musicians such as jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis (patriarch of the Marsalis clan) and singers Charmaine Neville and Germaine Bazzle are among the regulars at Snug Harbor (626 Frenchmen St.).
The sound of bowling balls knocking down pins mixes with live music every night at Rock ‘n’ Bowl (3000 S. Carrollton Ave., https://www.rocknbowl.com); Thursday is Zydeco night. Tipitina’s (501 Napoleon Ave.) dates to 1977, and the greats still perform there. Chickie Wah Wah (2828 Canal St., https://www.chickiewahwah.com) features many of the Frenchmen Street performers. National and local musicians play at the House of Blues (225 Decatur St., https://www.lat.ms/SOP1rU. Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse (https://www.irvinmayfield.com) in the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street provides local music in posh surroundings.
This two-lane, 6-mile corridor from Canal Street to Audubon Park includes old and new restaurants (Coquette, La Petite Grocery), antiques and clothing shops, coffee, bakeries (macaroons at Sucré, 3025 Magazine St., are better than those at Ladurée in Paris), everything.
This is a French word meaning “a little something extra,” as in other good bets.
The National World War II Museum (945 Magazine St., https://www.nationalww2museum.org) honors “the greatest generation.” It started small but now is a big complex; the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center is now open. You can see a movie, WWII shows and, even now, some old veterans.
Faulkner House Books (624 Pirate’s Alley, between the Cabildo and St. Louis Cathedral, https://www.faulknerhouse.net) is dedicated to works by William Faulkner and other Southern writers. Owner Joe DeSalvo Jr. is a literary gem himself.
Good swamp tours are available within an hour of the city. But the new Lost Lands Environmental Tours (https://www.lostlandstours.org) gives a close-up of the disappearing wetlands that’s well worth the price; tours begin at $90 a person.
Clever souvenirs and NOLA T-shirts are the specialty at Fleurty Girl (https://www.fleurtygirl.net), with four shops, one at 632 St. Peter St. in the French Quarter.
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