|New Orleans Sykline from the mighty Mississippi River|
|This local saying became our motto. "In between" was cocktail time!|
We have been to New Orleans in the past, when we explored some of the more traditional sights such as Gallier House, Hermann-Grima House, the Historic New OrleansCollection and the New Orleans Museum of Art as well as the plantation homes along the Mississippi, so we decided to do some different things on this visit. It was a good idea to visit New Orleans in November over the week of Thanksgiving to warm up as the chilly gray weather was descending on
. Our flight was uneventful, and we arrived at
the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel
in the business district of New Orleans in the early afternoon. We slept
well, the housekeeping was good, the water was hot, and the location was
perfect, right off Philadelphia Canal Street,
walking distance to the French Quarter and the Warehouse District.
Johnny's Po-Boy Restaurant Exterior
After we unpacked, we set off to explore the French Quarter. USAir doesn’t even offer pretzels or nuts any longer, so we were really peckish, having had only a quick early breakfast. Our first stop was at a local place called Johnny’s Po-Boys. Dane had a fried fish muffaletta sandwich and Joan had the classic oyster po-boy. We enjoyed filling food and lots of local color.
Muffaletta Sandwich (Yes, there's bread under all that seafood!)
We strolled through Jackson Square, all decked out for the holidays, and paid an obligatory visit to St. Louis Cathedral then listened to an impromptu jazz concert on the street.
|Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter of New Orleans.|
After some café au lait from the take-out window at Café Du Monde in the French Market, we walked up onto the levee and enjoyed a late afternoon view of the mighty
as we sipped our warm drinks. The French Market, which was just closing, used to be more food
oriented, but over the years it has suffered the invasion of the tchotchkes,
although it still had some charm. Mississippi
The graceful entrance to the French Market in New Orleans
Street we spied a bar (What, a bar in ?!) called El Gato Negro that called to us. The drinks were something else. New Orleans
NOLA is not a place known for its fine craft beers. This put Dane at a disadvantage, so to console him, Joan set forth to introduce him to the world of cocktails – something this city of
is quite good at. El Gato Negro had a carrot-lime margarita that called out to
Joan, and Dane thought the cucumber ginger mojito was pretty tasty. Saints
Pirate's Alley Cafe in New Orleans
Having enjoyed two traditional beverages of New Orleans, café au lait and exotic cocktails, we continued by stopping at Pirate’s Alley Cafe, a small corner bar known for its absinthe drinks. Joan loved the ceremony of serving the “green fairy”. Our friendly pirate-hatted server put absinthe in a small wine glass, and then put a small slotted silver tool which looked like a tiny pie server on top of the glass to hold a cube of sugar. She put the glass on a big coaster affair equipped with a green LED light, and then put it all under the tap of a good sized ceremonial iced water urn. She turned on the water in a slow drip onto the sugar cube then into the glass of absinthe. What a show! One of the “Big Six” cocktails in
is the Pimm’s Cup, so Dane had to try one.
(The other five: Ramos Gin Fizz, Hurricane, Vieux Carre, Sazerac and Absinthe
Frappe) We had to try them all! New
Absinthe Frappe being made at Pirate's Alley in New Orleans
According to Fodor’s there are four hot chefs in NOLA—we only got to two. We ate at Donald Link’s flagship restaurant Herbsaint that evening. It was really impressive. Joan had a cassoulet and Dane had a Muscovy duck, both excellent. They also offered flights of three wines, Joan had the white and Dane the red flight. A memorable meal.
The glasses for our flights of wine at Herbsaint.
The next day we did two walking tours of the French Quarter. The first, with a National Park Service guide, had as its main focus the
The Park Service has a very nice visitors’ center on
Street near the waterfront. As always with the NPS, our guide, an
anthropologist, was excellent. It is
popular to bash government, but the NPS does an exceptional job and our taxpayer
money is well spent. Our second walking
tour, led by a volunteer of the Friends of the Cabildo was centered on the French Quarter, a National
Landmark Historic District, and included a tour of their 1850s . House Museum
Though our guide was a volunteer, she still had to have a license requiring an extensive test. This was of interest to Dane, since he is a proponent of licensed tour guides and is a certified tour guide in
|Latrobe Park, honoring Benjamin Henry Latrobe, designer of New Orleans water system|
|The faded grandeur of Napolean House; notice the bust over the cabinet|
|A beautiful example|
of Newcomb Pottery
We especialy enjoyed an exhibit by the Louisiana State Museum at Madame John's Legacy called The Palm, The Pine, and the Cypress about Newcomb Pottery of New Orleans. As collectors of Van Briggle and Woodcraft and Forest patterns of Weller art pottery, we loved looking at the fabulous pieces of Newcomb Pottery.
A property of the
Madame John's Legacy in the historic French Quarter is one of the finest 18th
century building complexes in .
Of special interest because it escaped the great fire of 1795, which leveled
much of Louisiana ,
Madame John's is an excellent example of Louisiana Creole residential design at
the end of the 18th century. Because of its fine architectural character, it
has been designated as an official National Historic Landmark. Its unusual names was taken from a story by
George Washington Cable. New Orleans
|The 18th century Creole cottage known as Madame John's Legacy in New Orleans|
After some more wandering, we ended up at Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop, a cottage built around 1730, perhaps the oldest building used as a bar in America, and reputedly a front for the famous pirate Jean Laffite to peddle his booty. It was also of the
décor; these buildings are cared for but they just don’t want you to know it.
We think this option is far better than over-the-top restoration. Joan enjoyed one of their potent Hurricane
cocktails while Dane finally got to try a local beer. Notice the container in which Joan's cocktail is served: a "go cup". Drinking from an open container on the street in New Orleans is not only legal but common; hence the oft-provided cup to go! New Orleans
|Joan enjoying a Hurricane cocktail at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop|
That evening was special; we had reservations at the famous Commander’s Palace.
Dane was expecting something very flashy and touristy. Well, it was impressive, but not at all touristy. On the way to our table we were greeted by at least six staff members--as we walked by, they all said “welcome.” To start, Joan had to try the official cocktail of
New Orleans, a Sazerac, made with rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters and absinthe, while Dane enjoyed a traditional . We had the chef’s five-course tasting menu
with wine pairings. Manhattan
What a treat to not have to ponder the menu. The staff, especially our serving captain, was very friendly and convivial, and the food was spectacular! The servers and the captain were able to go into great detail about the menu items, and when we remarked how impressed we were with the first course, a demitasse cup of honey roasted parsnip soup, the captain even gave us the recipe, hand-written for us by the chef.
Honey Roasted Parsnip Soup
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
3 onions, (medium chop)
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 quarts heavy cream
1/4 pound unsalted butter
3 tablespoons local honey
salt and white pepper to taste
Peel and chop the parsnips, pan roast in butter over medium heat. Add chopped thyme and red chili flakes, and then cook until parsnips begin to soften. Add honey, stir well then roast whole pan in oven for 10 minutes at 375
Sweat onions in a large pot with butter. Season the onions with salt and white pepper. Add roasted parsnips and all the pan drippings to the pot. Stir well, add cream and let simmer for 20 minutes; the cream will reduce by 20%. Puree, season et voila!
Luke Hidalgo, Sous Chef,
Commander’s Palace Restaurant,
It was followed by Wild Burgundy Escargot Gnocchi; then a palate cleanser called Saint 75 made of elderflower liquor, Bombay Sapphire Gin, crushed citrus and basil syrup. Next was the five hour egg (coddled for five hours at 141
followed by the main course of smoked loin of Wild
Antelope. The last courses were a
selection of artisanal cheeses and finally a frozen dark chocolate
terrine. Each course paired with a
delicious wine. We waddled home. Texas
The next morning we decided to pass on breakfast at the hotel and went to a local cafe called Mother’s Restaurant. Since 1938 this has been a place with down-home food, best known for their baked ham and brisket. "Debris" on your biscuits or grits means slathered with meat shreds and juice. Debris is delicious!
During Hurricane Katrina the building took water, but the real problem was that a lot of the staff became homeless. The owner arranged for FEMA trailers to be set up in the parking lot for his staff, and they got the place back into shape in a few weeks. Mother’s also has a
connection. The Marines have designated
this place a “Tun Tavern New Orleans,” an honor they bestow on places they
like. The original Tun Tavern, where the
Marines were formed in the late 1700s was in Philadelphia , about where I-95 would
intersect with Philadelphia Chestnut Street.
After breakfast we walked down to the
riverfront and strolled through
the Riverwalk shopping complex, which must be a popular place for tourists and
conventioneers, although we had it to ourselves the day before
Thanksgiving. At the far end of Riverwalk is the Southern Food and Beverage Museum
which was great fun for us foodies.
Perhaps the best part was the area devoted to cocktail
history. Please don’t tell this to
anyone, but Dane is growing to like cocktails, and admits that knowing a little
history about them helps. Did you know,
for example, that the Mississippi
was first crafted to celebrate Samuel Tilden’s election as Governor in 1875? (Dane’s middle name is Tilden, and he’s a
distant relative.) Manhattan
After the museum, we hopped a shuttle to visit Kern’s Mardi Gras World. As is often the case, Dane was concerned that this was going to be hokey. Well, it was, but really interesting, much like the behind scenes tours at Disney World, for whom the Kerns have done some work. Most if not all of the major floats in the Mardi Gras parades are made by the Kern’s workshops.
It was interesting to see how they build the figures and floats, and it was a photographer’s dream to plot out good shots of the assembled figures – after the tour we were allowed to wander around their huge warehouse at will.
|Some of the float decorations at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans|
A visit to a city wouldn’t be complete without a museum visit, so we stopped at the Ogden Museum of Art, a small and very manageable museum. We have a game we play at museums--we walk into a room and try to decide which painting we would like to stuff under our coats and take home. Well, this time, Dane found a roomful he wanted by William Henry Stevens 1889-1949. (Wikipedia: an American modernist painter and naturalist. Stevens is known for his paintings and tonal pastels depicting the rural Southern landscape, abstractions of nature, and non-objective works.) Of course now you all know what to get Dane for his birthday. Alas, it was warm in
, so we had no
coat to stash anything under. New Orleans
we walked back to our hotel, exploring what is called the Warehouse
District. We had early dinner
reservations at August, John Besh’s flagship restaurants. (He is another of the “Hot” chefs in NOLA.)
|The meal started with a decadent amuse-bouche: a seafood and egg custard with a hint of truffle and topped with caviar served in a hollowed out egg shell.|
Of course the food and service were outstanding. The starter was an unusual egg concoction that was served in an egg shell that had been perfectly topped. We asked how it was done, and our friendly server went back to the kitchen to get the special little device to show us. One unusual thing about this restaurant was that they had a small but very nice beer list – Dane was happy, not that he minded the cocktails.
Dane ordered an excellent Belgian beer, and then simply asked the chef to choose an entrée that would go well with it.
Next we were off to Preservation Hall for a jazz concert. Our auction package included “skip the line” tickets, and we were glad to have them as although we got there early, the line was already to the end of the block. Preservation Hall doesn’t serve food or beverages; there are just three 45 minute sets of jazz every night.
The place is
“faded grandeur” on the outside,
so it is no surprise that the interior is similarly rustic. There was seating for about half the audience
– on hard wooden benches with no backs, and almost no amenities, not even a loo. It was just music and everybody was
happy. When we left the line was even
longer for the next set. One interesting
thing – that evening they were recording an album, so there were extra sound
checks and a few re-takes; it was fun to be in on the special event. New Orleans
Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving. After breakfast at the hotel, we went back to the French Quarter for a self-guided tour since we knew nothing much would be open on the holiday. By this time we knew our way around, but still enjoyed see some new neighborhoods. We had early dinner reservations, so we again stopped by the Café du Monde for a snack of café au lait and fresh beignets to tide us over. We were amused to see powdered sugar spills all over the sidewalks of New Orleans-apparently many people enjoy those puffy doughnuts all over town!
Then we hopped on a free ferry for a 15 minute ride up the river to
just across the .
Mississippi is a
residential blue collar town, much quieter than NOLA. Gretna
We did a little self-guided tour, then waited for the return ferry on a bench on the levee; the highlight of the trip was chatting with a colorful Cajun local who told us his life story.
We stopped at the Hotel Monteleone, the grande dame of NOLA hotels for a bit of sustenance at the Carousel bar. The bar really does rotate, very slowly, and above is the top of a vintage carousel. Fun to look at but we were there for something else.
Joan had a Ramos Gin Fizz and Dane settled into what has become his favorite cocktail, a Vieux Carre.
Vieux Carre Cocktail
½ oz. rye whisky
½ oz. cognac
½ oz. sweet red Italian vermouth
Dash of Peychaud bitters
Dash of Angostura bitters
½ teaspoon Benedictine
Mix all ingredients in an ice-filled old fashioned glass, and garnish with lemon twist.
We had reservations for Thanksgiving dinner at Tujaque’s, one of the classic restaurants of
with special meaning for us. New Orleans
You see, we had dined there our first night in New Orleans in 1984, and our daughter Elizabeth, like any one-year old, was a tad fussy. We recalled our server explained that the owner’s wife was in back and loved children; he offered to let her mind
so we could
enjoy our meal in peace. Talk about service! This Thanksgiving, we talked to Mark, the
owner’s son who is now in charge, a pleasant young man with a good sense of
humor, who promised to thank his mother for us for her kindness nearly 30 years
ago. Tujaque’s is known for its stand-up
bar and back mirror imported from our baby in 1856. It works very well with the France faded grandeur décor. New Orleans
The dining rooms, however, are very nice and well cared for. This just goes to prove that NOLA faded grandeur is really a desired objective – old and authentic. It was a nice meal and a very pleasant trip down memory lane for us. Plus we enjoyed their traditional Thanksgiving menu with
flair. New Orleans
|Shrimp Remoulade-a traditional New Orleans dish |
for an untraditional Thanksgiving starter at Tujaques.
Our last day, we took a bus (alas, the famous
St. Charles Avenue trolley was out of service due to
extensive track repairs) to the Garden District, where the grand folk
live. We did a self-guided tour of the
great residential architecture in this area. The Garden District has lots of cast iron
decoration, and one home is known for its cornstalk fence.
In fact there are several such around NOLA. Dane did a little research and found out that much of the cast iron came from
. In fact the Wood & Perot foundry, which
was at 1136 Ridge Pike, Philadelphia ,
made the cornstalk fence and more. They even had a sales office, Wood &
Miltenberger, at Philadelphia 57 Canal Street
in . New Orleans
|An above-ground grave, called a|
mausoleum, in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Though there were more buildings to explore, and more cocktails to savor, there was an airplane waiting for us, so we had to head north, back home to Philadelphia, Dane’s beer drinking city.