We arrived at Sam and Kaitlyn’s for a solid several days of eating, drinking, and cousin time. They live in a a super trendy area, less than a block off of Magazine Street, in a traditional shotgun style apartment, which means that there are no hallways, and all the rooms are connected straight through from the front to back (e.g. you walk through the living room to get to the bedroom, to get to the kitchen, to get to the bathroom). The idea is (at least back in the day) you could shoot a shotgun straight through the house with the front and back doors open and the bullet wouldn’t hit anything. This style is also supposed to help keep the place cool by helping with airflow, and the ceilings tend to be really high because heat rises and the hot air gets trapped in the upper parts of the rooms while the people stay cool down below.
Our first night in town they took us to one of their favorite po’ boy spots – Parasol’s. Though upon arriving in NOLA I had always thought a po’ boy was an oyster based sandwich, I quickly learned that all po’ boy really means is a sandwich on a crusty French bread type roll. The classic does have shrimp or oysters, but there are also roast beef po’ boys and other varieties. At Parasol’s we ordered a spicy shrimp and a pulled pork po’boy. The shrimp one was AMAZE. Probably my favorite eat while in New Orleans, and we ate a lot of good food down here. We also tried the gumbo and fried oysters which were tasty, but if you go, you simply must order the shrimp po’ boy. I’m telling you. We walked off a little bit of these calories after dinner wandering through the stunning homes in the Garden District, just across on the other side of Magazine.
Our initial observations on New Orleans: there are stray cats everywhere, so cute – I love this! The people at least in our neighborhood seemed to ignore the “one way” streets as we saw no fewer than five people drive the wrong way down their one way street in the few days we were there. People are really into decorating their homes for Halloween, especially in the Garden District. Flags for your door are very popular (not just state/country flags but decorative flags to celebrate holidays). You can smoke in bars here. And of course – the game changer: no open container laws. It’s really crazy how that impacts a party scene. Kaitlyn told me how after she finished her exams once she just stopped in a bar on the way home for a “pina colada to go.” I mean, is there any better way to order a pina colada? There’s no waiting at the bar for the last person to finish their drink (they can just stick it in a cup and walk with it!), and boy oh boy did it change the dynamic of Frenchman Street for Halloween (which I’ll get to later).
Our next day we got some work done in the morning, before heading out for a long walking tour of town. We stopped at District – a spot that sells only donuts, sliders and coffee – on Magazine for a Vietnamese coffee donut that had tapioca balls in the cream filling (woah). Donuts are so trending right now. Then we walked all the way down Magazine to Cochon Butcher, which was super crowded on a Thursday late lunchtime. Alan loved the pork belly sandwich with cucumbers, mint and chili aioli. I got the pizzetta with mortadella, mustard greens and parm, which was also divine. One thing I’m realizing on this trip, I keep ordering “snack” sized “bites” or appetizers to try to not gain 8,000 pounds, and it’s more than enough food. Not that its news to me how oversized portions are at American restaurants, but when not traveling full time and eating out on fewer occasions, I guess you feel justified in splurging more whereas now as a full time homeless eater outer I’m realizing the gluttony of it all. We kept walking after lunch down to Jackson Park, through the French Quarter (my first time seeing Bourbon Street – not recommended at day time – attracts a pretty trashy crowd and smells like stale booze and vomit), and over to Armstrong Park. We took the trolley back on St. Charles to Sam and Kaitlyn’s neighborhood.
A few hours before going out we began the process of fighting the last minute Halloween-ers in the search for a costume. Alan found a workman’s jumpsuit with the name Jerry on it. I found a Justin Bieber wig for $4 and thought I’d try to pull that off with jeans and a white tank top. No such luck, I looked like me with a bad haircut, so this quickly turned into my alter ego, Tammy Lynn, a trashy, heavily-Boston accented woman, her good-fer-nothin’ husband Jerry and our son Mario (Sam) who still lived at home. I got really into the role play here. Anyway, before heading out in costume we went out to a nice dinner at a restaurant called Coquette, as this was Sam and Kaitlyn’s anniversary and the day after the five year anniversary of when Alan and I met (who could forget that fated night that Alan met Sarah Palin at One Sunset in Hollywood? ;). Then we hopped in the car (with an open bottle of wine, because we can!) and headed over to Frenchman Street. (Thanks Sam for driving!). This is where the game changing effect of no open container laws takes effect. Frenchmen Street is lined with bars (including many great live music spots) , yet the party was largely in the street. The street was not technically closed off, but no cars could drive through (though some did try, futilely). The street was FILLED with people in costume, all carrying drinks in hand, and then there were even people pushing around drink carts made on wheels, selling cocktails on the street. There were also people with grills set up on the street selling food. Alan ordered a chicken and mushy ramen type concoction from a guy on the corner that I don’t imagine he would have eaten quite so voraciously had he been sober. It was definitely an experience. I’m so glad we changed out plans to be in NOLA on Halloween. The city knows how to party.
The next day it took us a little bit longer to wake up, but luckily we still got up in time to make a swamp tour. We grabbed coffee and sandwiches from Boulangerie (the brie sandwich is SO good, but how could it not be right? Brie and butter. Mmm). We drove over to Slidell (passing some interesting stores on the way, including one called Hit and Run Liquor, and a store simply called Chicken and Watermelon) to get on our boat and see some gators with Cajun Encounters. I was very disappointed we did not get to hold a baby alligator. We did see some gators though, big and small, and learned a thing or two about them. First of all, I had no idea they hibernate?? They fed one of them some marshmallows and he came over and ate them off a stick. We also saw some wild boar and a raccoon, which fought over the marshmallows our guide threw at them. Though this was nothing compared to what had happened on one of his tours previously. If you want to see some wildlife action, check out this youtube video (WARNING, not for the faint of heart, or for boar lovers… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2BmY_XYqas). I was most surprised to hear that bananas are bad luck on boats. There were several homes on the banks of the waters we boated by, though many spaces were empty and some still filled with remnants of old homes that were destroyed by Katrina. This area got hit very hard.
Back in New Orleans, the four of us walked back to the District, this time to try their sliders. I had the fried chicken and it was fabulous. Alan got a pork belly and the “Croquenot,” which is ham, gruyere and béchamel on a griddled donut. He was disappointed by the latter. We split a brown butter and pistachio donut that was fantastic. We had planned on going out again later in the night, but made the rookie mistake of coming home and laying down for a minute first. To be fair, before I went lights out I reminded Alan that I don’t do naps… I go to bed. And that we did.
It’s a good thing we got our rest in, because the next day was a big one. We started with brunch at Atchafalaya, which boasted live jazz flute, an impressive build your own bloody mary bar, and a menu full of New Orleans classics. Alan and Sam split the duck hash and eggs treme with boudin cakes (a New Orleans classic which is kind of like a sausage patty). I had a savory bread pudding and we all split the cream cheese grits and jalapeño corn bread on the side. All delicious.
Sam, Alan and I then drove to Audubon park for a walk and a frisbee session for the boys. Later in the day we went down to the central business district and hit up Luke for happy hour – 50 cent oysters and half price drinks. I also tried the crab bisque. While not discounted for happy hour it was worth full price – definitely order that! We walked around the French Quarter while we waited for a table at Domenica, and got to see Sam’s friend, Tanya, playing violin with her musical partner, Dorice, on the guitar. They are phenomenally talented. Check their music out here: http://tanyandorise.com. And if you are ever in New Orleans, do go see them perform. It’s absolutely beautiful. One of the other men listening told us a story about how they’re so good, even the bums give them money. I bought a CD of theirs and we listened to a few songs before rushing back to Domenica for our table.
Domenica had some great pizzas, my favorite being the gorgonzola. And the happy hour deals there were fantastic as well. We went next to Tonique for a few cocktails. Alan correctly guessed that the bartender was from Sri Lanka and her reaction was hilarious. Alan got a free shot. Next we hit up Bachanal, which is a super chill venue where you sit outside at tables set up in a backyard, order food up at a window which is then brought out to you, and wine from a little wine shop inside. We had a bottle of Pinot, but sadly had missed much of the jazz. Still, it was fun hanging out there and we bumped into a handful of Sam and Kaitlyn’s friends. We also tried a dessert they offer when is basically just dark chocolate drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. So simple and so divine.
Next up (and yes, this is still the same day, so many bars, so many restaurants, an epic day of food and drink and it’s practicually just getting started), we went back to Frenchman Street and popped in a number of bars to listen to music. Spotted Cat sounded like the best music, though we just stood and listened from the street for a minute rather than pay cover. There was a little outdoor market by the Spotted Cat, which was kind of like a farmer’s market but all art and goods.
We checked out the legendary Pat O’s on Bourbon Street, and went into the Piano Bar for a hurricane and some piano dueling. The woman was awesome, the man not so much. The song choices ranged from Sweet Caroline (go Sox!) to Blurred Lines.
On our walk to Café du Monde, we were enticed by the smell of the burgers at Camellia Grill and so grabbed a cheeseburger and were treated to free fries. I thought it was hilarious they have maple syrup containers full of a melted butter concoction. Our waiter was even more entertaining.
FINALLY, we made it to Café du Monde where we tried our New Orleans beignets. They were a steal at $2.50 for 3 big ole hunks of what is very similar to fried dough, LOADED with powdered sugar. I’d always assumed they were more donut-y than fried dough-y, but they were definitely delicious. [Big thank you and propers to Kaitlyn for driving and hanging out in the midst of a seriously busy week working on her PhD]
The next morning Sam and Kaitlyn picked up bagels for us from Stein’s (where they apparently yell at you, and that’s part of the “charm”) while we packed up the car to get on the road again.
Whirlwind stay in New Orleans, thanks for being our fabulous hosts and tour guides Sam and Kaitlyn!