Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Orleans Activities

From time to time, a friend will ask me for some recommendations for things to do/places to eat in New Orleans.  A few years ago, I wrote up a llllllllong email response to one such request, for a person who was coming into town for a few days.

Now, every time I get a similar request, I update the email (That place is now closed; This place is now on my list) and pass it along.

Last year, a much cooler, younger, hipper (not hipster - there is a difference) friend of mine gave me her list.  I immediately scanned it, looking for areas of overlap.  And there was VERY little.  Truth is, for such a small city, New Orleans really packs a lot of different activities in.  Regardless of what you like, you will have a hard time exhausting the options. 

I am posting below the most recent version.  As soon as I get permission from its author, I will post Danielle's list. 

Crorey's Recommendations for New Orleans:

I'll address the music first off. The French Quarter is bounded by the river on one side, Canal Street on another, Rampart paralelling the river, and Esplanade paralelling Canal. Across Esplanade from the quarter is a neighborhood called the Marigny - and this is the home of some of the city's best music. Any night of the week, you can go into one of a dozen places and listen to great music on Frenchman Street. It is an easy walk, and safe (an important distinction in a city with a serious violent crime rate) and well protected. You still have to watch out, but that is the case in any large city.

The other places to hear music will require a cab ride. The moment you get here, grab a copy of the Gambit - a local newspaper available for free almost everywhere - and go through the music scene section. You can also check it out online at Find an out-of-town act that you want to hear.  And find something local you have never heard of.  Both will be incredible.

There is also music in the Quarter, and it will be good. But the homespun local talent will be playing on Frenchman street - check out the infamous Snug Harbor, but also check out the Apple Barrel, the Spotted Cat, or d.b.a. Or just walk down the street until you hear something you like, and step in for a drink and some groove. Or you can do the same in one of the dozens of local clubs around the city. The Howling Wolf, the Carrolton Station, Maple Leaf, the names are endless, and there is almost always great music being played.

Drinks? We are a drinking town. One place is the Columns, right on St. Charles. Beautiful setting, and sitting on the porch is nice. Dos Jefes is a cigar bar with a great selection of cigars and alcohol - they also have decent music every night. Cooter Brown's has the best selection of bottled and draught beers in the city; they also have a good selection of sandwiches you can order, and then carry across the street to sit on the levee and eat, and drink (levee is currenly being lifted, so that is out). And there is a nice drive-thru daquiri stand on the opposite outside corner at Riverbend (you can see Camelia Grill from there). If you go somewhere fancy, order a sazerac - the original cocktail (probably apocryphal) and originated in NO.

Food. Bad restaurants don't last long in this city - there are simply too many good ones around to waste time or money on bad food. But for food in the quarter, there is a requisite visit to Cafe du Monde - in front of Jackson Square. Great late night sugary caffeine hit, and cheap. Great people watching, too. Just don't wear black - the confecioners sugar is going to get all over you. Breakfasts in New Orleans have been a little harder to come by - NO is a night town, with fewer options for morning people. But my wife and I love the Croissant d'Or on Ursulines.Great pastries, great desserts, good quiches, good coffee. Only thing we have found that I don't love is the sausage croissant (link sausage that just didn't sit right).

Other breakfast locations are the Clover Grill - owned and run by flaming queens - and used to have great omelettes and waffles. Not quite the same post-Katrina, but fun. Horns - in the Marigny - is a fun breakfast place, and their guatemalan breakfast is to die for. 

And then there is the Camelia Grill. It is an institution in the city, and even has a song written about it (probably apocraphal, but Cheeseburger in Paradise, anyone?) Their omelettes are a fluffy dream.But anything you order is likely to be worthy of writing home about. Mom once ordered a piece of apple pie a la mode, and did not watch as they placed it on the griddle.... with a whole stick of butter. 

Two different references to the streetcar. It is a beautiful way to see uptown and the Garden District - lots of beautiful homes and amazing architecture. This was the American part of the city when the city was divided into Fr and Am sides. To get there - walk down to Canal Street, and grab the green trolleys. Best $1.50 you'll spend. (This summer, there is a lot of construction, that disrupts the line.  But with a couple of exchanges and a little patience, you get there anyway.) When you get to the end of Saint Charles (riverbend area) that is where the Camelia Grill is. About half way back (another 1.50) is Superior Grill (not Superior Seafood, which will be discussed in a moment). The Grill is a nice meat market Tex-Mex; no real reason to stop, except to go for breakfast at Couli's (a block off of St Charles) - the restaurant that replaced the Bluebird as Kathe and my favorite breakfast in town. The streetcar is pretty reliable, and kept clean for the tourists - the buses less so - except the streetcar transfer buses.

Superior Seafood at the Napoleon stop on the streetcar line was a nice surprise. They have really good seafood, affordable steaks that are pretty tasty, and the service is nice. It is also a great place to watch people as they go by at a busy intersection. The happy hour deal on wine is really good - a bottle of french wine for 9 dollars? Thank you.

Streetcar to Washington gets you within a block and a half of Commander's Palace. Jazz brunch there is good for a Sunday, if you want.Food is great; ambience is awesome, and the cache is hard to beat. Expensive, but you owe yourselves a treat there. And if you catch the time right, a walk through the Lafayette Cemetery across the street is a treat.  It is a beautiful example of a traditional New Orleans Cemetery - above-ground crypts are the norm in NO because of the water table....

In case you were wondering, I think a lot about the breakfasts.I am a morning person, and have even considered starting a blog entitled "Morning Person in a Night City". There are others that are famous (and expensive), like Breakfast at Brennan's, that I have not yet experienced. That hits most of the easily accessible locations, but just about anywhere will have good food. I would probably choose the Trolley Stop (unsurprisingly, on the streetcar line - they have very good pancakes) over a Brennan's b-fast. But then, I haven't done the B@B. Other good breakfast spots are starting to crop up - Mid-City's Ruby Slipper or Wakin'Bacon, Panola Street cafe uptown....

Lunch and dinner are different.I'll just divide them up into expensive suggestions and cheap. Most of the cheap will require a little more exploration of the city, but are generally worth it. The best places are the least likely to be visited by tourists. I went to Mother's once, and had a good meal. It is a tourist spot, within (long) walking distance of the Quarter, and is known for their debris po-boy - a lovely mixture of roast beef and juices that makes a mess no matter how you eat it. I got an oyster po-boy instead, and enjoyed it. But it is no better or worse than the debris po-boy at Parasol's, located in the Irish Channel. And not as good as the roast beef po-boy at R&O's in Bucktown.

Cheap eats
Domilise's sandwich shop and bar (oyster po-boy is to die for, as is the shrimp), Parasol's (roast beef po-boy is elbow-lickin goodness).Central Grocery (on Decatur) has the best (and first) muffaletta's around.Grumpy service (my wife would be horrified that I was recommending it, because of the terrible attitudes), nowhere to sit and enjoy the meal, and yet.... there is nowhere that does it better. Order one and split it - they are huge sandwiches. Mona's in the Marigny - good, plain middle-eastern food.On Magazine is a bar called Le Bon Temps, and they serve free food just about every night. Buy a beer, get a bowl of gumbo. Another beer, another gumbo....

Liuzza's by the Track - great po-boys - near Esplanade, but not walking distance. Bywater is the other side of the Marigny - more than a hike, but not a far taxi ride. A place called Elizabeth's there has a great breakfast. The Joint is a good BBQ place (NOLA is not much of a barbeque town, but this is good stuff). And Vaughan's is another good place for beer, free food (buy a beer, get some red beans...) and fantastic music. It is Kermit Ruffin's place. Fun. Haven't tried Jack Dempsey's, but it is next on my list.

It is a problem is that there are no dearth of great neighborhood restaurants outside of the quarter. Proximity to the quarter makes them conform to a different standard, get different clientele, and increase prices (see comments on Mother's). I found a run-down building a block from where I work with bad lighting and grimy surfaces, and Singleton's has some of the best roast beef po-boys I have ever had. Another incredible po-boy shop is Parenton's, just off of Jefferson Highway - a hole in the wall with some of the best food ever (and the boudin balls are to die for...) And you can find that kind of place anywhere except two places - the French Quarter and Uptown (grump). Real estate prices have simply moved them out or forced them to be more shishi. (Double grump). 

Middle of the road -
Port of Call, on Esplanade Avenue at the edge of the Quarter, and the sister restaurant Snug Harbor - have the best burgers this side of the Beacon.Medium prices, and there is often a wait. Snug Harbor is also one of the best jazz clubs in the area, and always has known performers. Higher cover, too.

Lola's - Spanish food; fabulous paella. Was BYOB; I think they serve wine now. Was cash; I think they accept cards now. Both were OK - there is a grocery store across the street that sold decent wine and would give cash back. But if you have a garlic fetish, Lola's will satisfy your craving. Escargot is amazing, garlic shrimp appetizers equally so.

My restaurant when my wife and I are celebrating anything is Cafe Degas. It is a small French bistro with patio dining and great feel. Down Esplanade towards City Park (and the New Orleans Museum of Art), it has a limited menu, but almost everything on it is really good. Prices are about 18-25 for an entree, but there is a downloadable coupon that will get you a free ap or entree up to $15.

Galatoire's is famous for its waitstaff. There are no reservations, so it requires you to wait in line.I went for lunch (there is no lunch menu) and it was VERY expensive. But wow. The food was worth it.

Upperline. Hole in the wall, Uptown, two blocks off St. Charles. Really good food, and we got very good service. We make that an annual stop for the Revillon dinners during the Christmas season.

Gautreau's. Pricey, but with fantastic food.It also has no sign that it is a restaurant from the outside. So you just have to look for the house with the chair on the front porch. (Really?)

Brigsten's (Uptown, about three blocks from the Camelia Grill) fun small house - good architecture, good food, a little expensive, but worth the trip.Same with Matt and Naddie's, located across the street from the levee, three blocks further down.

Clancy's (click here) is also a step higher on the foodie's list.Uptown, housed in an old house, it has a nice, elegant flair. One of Kathe’s perennial favorites.

Dick and Jenny's - on Tchoupitoulas.Kathe and I are trying to go there - I have been after her for two years, and we have stopped three times, all without ever making it to a table. Everyone agrees that it is worth it, and a co-worker went to be seated and saw Ella Brennan (the matriarch of the B fam) sitting at the bar waiting on a table.Waiting patiently - the food is apparently that good. And they are a block from Tipitina's - a local music scene that gets really good local and regional acts. Get there (D&Js) early for dinner, though, because the wait quickly becomes unconscionable. Update: they now take reservations....)

Cochon - on Tchoup (pronounced CHOP-ih-too-lus) has very good food.I have had a couple of their entrees when they have served at the Farmer's Market. (They also have a sandwich shop next door - Cochon Butcher - that serves amazing food)

Coquette (click here) is where Kathe and I celebrated our anniversary a few years ago.Specialty cocktails, good service, great food.

Crepe Nanou (click here) is one of the most perfectly French bistros I have been to in town.It probably falls somewhere between Cochon and Clancy's.

Bistro Daisy is a fun place in a single shotgun on Magazine Street Uptown.A little pricey, and good food. Not a showstopper on either front, but a nice place to go for some good local feel.

Marigny Brasserie - located on Frenchman Street.Great food, great setting, and very close to the live music scene.

There are a host of new restaurants by top chefs - Susan Spicer and John Besh (including Luke, which is good) are among the best known of the new crop, but there are also old favorites like Brennan family restaurants (Mr. B's, Brennan's, Commander's, Palace Cafe, etc) and Emeril restaurants, and Prudhomme's restaurants. If your intent is to talk about the better known restaurants when you get home, they are the way to go. Besh is probably better at it than the others, and I like Spicer. But the others are commodities, and are based on a combination of reputation and decent food. I don't mind paying for the food, but I would rather help someone out with the 'building the reputation' bit. Still, Commander's is nice.... and a friend of mine came on the recommendation of this email and said the Jazz brunch at Commander's was the best stop of the whole trip.

And, of course, most of the hotels have really good restaurants in them. Pick a name - Mariott, Hilton, whatever - and check out the attached restaurant. Kathe and I have recently had some good meals at either of the Domenica's restaurants....

Other stuff
Now on to other activities. I have minimum ideas about the swamp tours - I have arranged them as part of my job, and have been into the swamp doing archaeology more times than I care to remember. So I infrequently make use of the busman's holiday express. It is fun, though, and the concierge at any hotel could hook you up. A friend recommended one specifically out of Houma - about a 75 minute drive away.  Said it is awesome. Annie Miller (website here) or Zam's (website here)
The first Saturday evening of every month are gallery opening nights. People get somewhat dressed up and walk along Magazine street at Julia Street, drinking free wine and eating canapes and making snarky comments about art and each other while the artists listen in. So much fun - Kathe and I go whenever we can. Julia Street is in the Warehouse district, across Canal from the Quarter. There are also plenty of good restaurants in that area; picking one would be tough to go wrong.

The Zoo is fun. It has been completely redone - I am not much of a fan of caged animals, but they did a good job with this one. Across Magazine from the Zoo is a Golf House that serves lunch on the veranda with one of the prettiest views in the city (My advisor held my exit interview there, so I won't be going back... but it is still true.) There is a ferry that shuttles people back and forth from the zoo to the aquarium. I do not know the aquarium at all, but I hear it is fun, as well. But that ride could get you to the zoo and back. And there is really good birdwatching at Audubon Park; just walk around the track from the golf house. (Humidity during late August is still VERY high, though).

The Misery tour is not as miserable as it once was - I am not sure that you would get as much out of it. When I first came back to New Orleans, driving through the Ninth Ward was an amazing thing; ditto the Lakeview area. You would see the devastation, and know what people had suffered. Now that the houses have been taken away, the cars moved, the marks on the sides of the remaining houses faded, the impact is much less.

The New Orleans Museum of Art is worth the trip; if you take a side trip to get some Popeye's chicken (on Canal and Royal, I think), City Park is a great place for a picnic. Kathe and I used to do that pretty frequently. Finish up the food, move into the museum to cool off. They have an exhibit that is entirely made up of Kathe's museum treasures right now, and it will be the main attraction until mid Oct.WELL worth the visit.

If you were to rent a car for a day trip, going out of the city along river road is a fabulous way to see the area around the city.Oak Alley is one of the prettiest plantations you will ever see; it is simply a nice trip.Another Popeye's picnic possibility.

I have not been, but I am told that Harrah's is a top flight casino - John Besh's flagship restaurant is there, too.There are other casinos in the area, and you can get a steamboat ride on some of them.

Walking the Quarter is about the best entertainment you could ask for - Kathe and I do it about once a month, just to get us out of the uptown rut. There are great antique shops (but better deals out on Magazine street uptown) and fun stuff to see. The French Market is a nice place (albeit the tourist crap, tshirt, and stuffed alligator quotient [tctsaq] is high), and the Mint is a surprise - it is a decent museum on the Esplanade side.

Other museums include the Confederate museum - it is nice but small - and the WWII museum (formerly the DDay museum). I did some archaeology there for an expansion of that museum - about the coolest arch I have ever done!). The lunch there is rumored to be quite good - it is another of the Besh products, and one day a week the lunch is accompanied by an Andrews Sisters-style group.

OK, my fingers are tired. But this has been a good exercise in remembering why I love New Orleans. There are still things that I would recommend (Bucktown's fried and boiled seafood is fabulous, but not easy to get to without a car; same story with the music that is played at Rock-And-Bowl) but this provides the basics for a week. If you want more, or different, let me know.I'll find out, remember, or look it up.

Pick a few that sound good to you, and if you want, I can help tone down the list a little. Truth is, there is simply too much to recommend to risk leaving anything out. I think you need to stay for two weeks.

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