The only proper way to kick off a year of domestic travel is to go somewhere new. In this case.. the Crescent City: New Orleans. Better known to some (myself now included, as foodie paradise).
* all restaurants mentioned are listed below the post
Thursday. With a belly full of chicken & waffles (and my first ever grits) from Breakfast Klub in Houston, Thao & I set out on I-10, to a chorus of text messages from friends and family making sure we weren’t in the epic 40 car pile-up further down the freeway. On the outskirts of the city, we stopped for gas and Thao pointed us toward a nearby grocery / food stand for boudin and cracklin’. A few exits prior, I pointed at a billboard with those very words on it and said: “what’s that?” Turns out I do like boudin (deep-fried sausage and rice balls), but cracklin’ (fried pork fat) is a bit too much.
The weather alone was enough for me: sunny, 65 degrees – all thoughts of snow banished from my mind. We strolled Canal Street and wound our way around the city, eventually heading to Deanie’s for dinner where I tried my first bowl of gumbo (delicious). We walked off our dinner and made our way to Frenchman Street, stopping at Maison for some local jazz. Far too relaxed and full, the night ended early and I went to bed dreaming of food.
Friday. Consulting a 4-page list of recommendations from our friend Patricka, we went to Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe at the Whitney. Settled in a beautiful old bank with big ceilings, a comical mural and heavy leather chairs, I watched our jambalaya omelet being made just a few feet away. Paired with the best biscuit I’ve ever had and two huge glasses of orange juice, I was in heaven. Thao and I launched the first of a record number of meals with a rule: entrees are made to share. Easier on our wallets, and our stomachs.
Late morning was spent on the St. Charles streetcar ($3 for a day pass), taking a trip to the Garden District. We wandered Lafayette Cemetery #1 and soaked up the sunshine among the old stones. A glass of crisp sauvignon blanc and some people watching at Commander’s Palace preceded a life-changing sandwich a few blocks over. I had my first muffuletta at Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street (gracias, Natalie). I don’t care who else makes these things, I’m never going to eat them anywhere else (Apologies, Central Grocery). I should also point out that this is a legit Jewish deli, far from the owner’s homeland of Philadelphia. What’s on this sandwich? Several deli meats, cheese and olive salad on delicious bread. I inhaled mine with Zappe’s tabasco chips and Maine Root ginger beer.
Keeping with the theme of famous NOLA food we returned uptown to the well known Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. Thao kept our place in line while I ran up the promenade to see the mighty Mississippi. Deserted wooden benches were surrounded by piles of powdered sugar, evidence of beignets to-go. CDM has the beignet market on lock – we saw the line ebb and flow around the block every day of our visit.
I made room for a praline at Evans (I found I prefer the chewy variety). Walking back on Decatur Street, a promo girl for Sailor Jerry spiced rum stepped out of a silver Airstream trailer (really) and offered to take our photo. We hopped into the trailer and grabbed some props for a hysterical photo and a free drink ticket, which ended up in the trash a few blocks away. The Palace Cafe provided our dinner – crab legs to start, andouille crusted redfish to split and a flaming bananas foster for dessert. The wait staff were eager to please, and split our entree onto two plates prior to serving.
Saturday, New Year’s Eve. Another huge breakfast to start the day, a short drive away. Elizabeth’s Restaurant is compact, hip, and made for hungry people. As a group of three we ordered three entrees, with a side of their famous praline bacon (!) and a starter of boudin. The result was beyond words. Shrimp & grits, crabby eggs and a duck waffle. Duck Waffle? Right. A cornbread waffle with a scoop of duck and sweet potato hash with pepper jelly. Believe it.
By some miracle, I was ready to eat again by lunch time after some shopping on Royal Street. We stopped for po’boys at Johnny’s – Thao for the win with a cheeseburger po’boy; my shrimp po’boy paled in comparison. Next time – Mother’s? Street performers were everywhere – our favorite a female duet on Royal, one on guitar and the other on violin. They drew a crowd and played an endless set of Santana and other tunes. A brass band brought me to the door of a shop with their rendition of “Come Together” – brilliant.We gave in to the New Year’s craze and picked up a mask and some beads for the evening. Already the streets were full of drunken revelers, and the noise level on the rise.
The real miracle was the fact that we got a second floor table for two on the balcony at Royal Oyster House on New Year’s Eve, without a reservation. We spent our meal joking with the waiter about the parade of humanity on the street below. Down the block a severely packed Bourbon Street bumped along to brass and sirens, while the occasional party-goer stumbled toward Royal Street, weighted down by beads and Jim Beam. The meal itself was perfection: crawfish cakes and the Taste of New Orleans (gumbo, crawfish etouffe and jambalaya). Yet another famous dessert followed: homemade bread pudding. Roll me out to the river.
We rang in the new year along the banks of the Mississippi – not one for a ball drop, NOLA drops a fleur de lis from atop Jax Brewery. Fireworks boomed over the river and the hundreds of people cheering for the new year. The departure down Decatur was an absolute crush of bodies full of glitter and music and, strangely, cries of “Waldo!” heralding the fellow cleverly dressed in red and white stripes, and glasses.
Sunday. A final breakfast waited for us on Rampart Street at the Decadence Shoppe. We went in for coffee and a bagel and ended up with a fierce egg scramble, full of andouille sausage (my new favorite meat) and spices. It breathed life into our sorry souls, and sent us motoring home to Houston where of course … we ate again (duh, Tex Mex).
A huge thanks to NOLA natives and aficionados who provided us with a long list of to-do’s and must-see’s. Once I return to my regularly scheduled gym sessions, I’ll be sure to make a return tour!
- Breakfast Klub, Houston – 3711 Travis Street
- Deanie’s Seafood, NOLA – 841 Iberville Street
- The Maison, NOLA jazz – 508 Frenchmen Street
- Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe at the Whitney, NOLA – 610 Poydras Street
- Commander’s Palace, NOLA – 1403 Washington Avenue
- Stein’s Deli, NOLA – 2207 Magazine Street
- Cafe du Monde, NOLA – 800 Decatur St
- Evans Famous Creole Candy, NOLA – 848 Decatur Street
- Palace Cafe, NOLA – 605 Canal Street
- Elizabeth’s Restaurant, NOLA – 601 Gallier Street
- Johnny’s, NOLA – 511 Saint Louis Street
- Royal Oyster House, NOLA – 441 Royal Street
- Decadence Shoppe, NOLA – 806 N Rampart Street