New Orleans: A Whole Different Country – Part One
Along our wanderings through the French Quarter in New Orleans, my (now-ex-) boyfriend Eric and I managed to stumble blindly across a place we were actually looking for: the Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone. The hotel itself is pretty swanky, but too close to the craziness of Bourbon Street for my taste. I’d rather just come here and drink enormous Sazeracs at the round and slowly-spinning merry-go-round of a bar, striking up conversations with other tourists and locals…and losing track of time.
Deeper explorations of the French Quarter yielded increasingly quiet streets in a swirl of France, Spain and Disneyland, with horse-drawn carriages, low brick buildings and ornately wrought iron. Don’t forget to look up, and around corners, as well: there are amazing little details everywhere.
While you’re in the neighborhood, pop into the trippy, impressively overstuffed Voodoo Museum and have them whip you up a custom potion, find some cheap candles to encourage love and prosperity, or bring home a voodoo doll. (I’ll leave you guessing as to which one I purchased for myself.)
Don’t miss the elegant St. Louis Cathedral, built in 1727 and now overlooking Jackson Square. (As if you could — this is one of the biggest buildings in New Orleans.) Eric and I were lucky to glimpse it on a foggy day, when it looked not unlike a fairy tale castle. Between the French-style exterior, the gilded interior and the square’s exotic windmill palms, it can be hard to remember you’re in the U.S.
Next door at the Louisiana State Museum, we visited a deeply moving, permanent exhibit on hurricanes. (Thank you to my NOLA-phile friend, Jessica, for making this tremendous suggestion.) Looking mutely at emotional videos, photos and artifacts, we wavered between awed and angry, and I cried more than once. If you want to get a picture of how hurricanes in general and Katrina in particular have affected the city — and may again in the future — put aside an hour for this profound experience.
If you’re a bibliophile like me, head behind the State Museum and duck into Faulkner House Books, a bookstore set in author William Faulkner‘s former New Orleans home. I have no idea how I got out of there with only one book, or really, got out of there at all: every single tome in its fiction collection is something I wanted to read until my eyes hurt.
Then, like us, you can walk across Decatur Street and console yourselves with beignets and chicory coffee from Café du Monde. Rather than sitting on the crowded patio, wait at the take-out window (the line moves quickly) and bring these ridiculously powdery treats on a romantic stroll beside the Mississippi River, a whole block away. These weren’t the best beignets we had in New Orleans (that honor belongs to John Besh’s Lüke Restaurant), but there’s never anything wrong with eating a warm, fried and sugary dessert out of a waxed-paper bag.
If you’re still hungry for a sit-down meal in the French Quarter, get yourselves to EAT. Set in a former private home, this neighborhood joint turns out some seriously delicious Creole and Cajun specialties that haven’t exactly escaped notice. Go ahead and try to score a dinner reservation while you’re in town — we were lucky to visit our first night for an introduction to authentic Louisiana cooking — but don’t kid yourselves that you’re going to get a table for one of their non-reservable weekend brunches unless you arrive close to opening, at 9am.
Knowing it was BYOB, we picked up a bottle of 2010 Barbera d’Alba at Keife & Co. on our way over. (We cabbed it to the restaurant, as it’s pretty far east into the French Quarter.) This earthy, only slightly dry vintage paired perfectly with EAT’s rich, cheesy crawfish pie, zingy shrimp remoulade with fried green tomatoes, and absurdly delicious deviled eggs topped with none-too-lean bacon. All the views from the big picture windows are of historic homes, taverns and boarding houses, and it was romantic to feel so immersed in the past.
The sweetest move I made the entire trip? Stopping into family-owned Southern Candymakers to stock up on pralines. (Praline every single day with my morning coffee? Why, yes.) This local institution hand-makes a gabillion types of candy, but their traditional cream-butter-sugar-and-nuts pralines were the only object of my desire.
The Decatur Street branch of Southern Candymakers was starting to put out quite a spread for then-impending Mardi Gras, but it was clear that any Tuesday here can be, um…a fat Tuesday.
To be continued in
New Orleans: A Whole Different Country – Part Three
I turned to the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau
for some welcome help planning my NOLA itinerary,
and they were kind enough to arrange (amongst other things)
some comped cab rides, reservations at EAT (I paid for our meal),
passes to the Louisiana State Museum, and beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde.
All opinions and observations here, though, are my solely own.