How to Eat, Drink and Celebrate in New Orleans!

May 4-7, 2017

Marci took us all (me, my two sisters, and my sister-in-law) to New Orleans for her birthday.  What a nice treat!  She made reservations for us at the Windsor Court Hotel which was just off Canal Street and walking distance to the French Quarter.  I was the last to arrive, so the girls sipped cocktails while they patiently waited for me in the hotel’s Polo Club Lounge.

With the afternoon ahead of us, we wandered through the French Quarter while shopping at all the local boutiques.  We did a little clothes shopping and a little antiquing.  Those that know me realize I’m not much of a shopper, but it is OK to browse around new places for a few hours especially while catching up with much of my family that I have hardly seen over the last few years.  Whenever the pace was a bit slow, I’d just go outside and people watch.  After all, we were in New Orleans!

Fortunately, I was spared a long afternoon of shopping as our dinner reservations at August we early.  Our server was so good at describing the dishes on the menu, I think saliva drooled from mouth.  We wanted everything and proceeded to order four out of the five hot appetizers which included duck dumplings, flash fried oysters, truffle gnocchi, and fried squash blossoms.  We each had our favorite.

For dinner, we all ordered fish.  I went with the flounder which was topped with crabmeat and mushrooms, Liz and Christian got the snapper, and Marti and Marci ordered the Dorado.  We decided even at the fancy restaurants, there is no way to be healthy in New Orleans.  Our food was drenched in rich cream sauce!

Marci’s birthday dessert was excellent.  While we were at her birthday dinner, she gave all of us a present.  Just taking us to New Orleans was enough, but we each got a long strand of pearls that we put on and posed for a few photos.  It was a fun night.

A few of us are early risers, so we walked a block to Mother’s Restaurant.  This place was a true Louisiana diner.  Upon entry, a gentleman greeted us as he pointed to the box on the wall, “Grab a menu and order at the register when you are ready.”

We had a choice of a few kinds of eggs with biscuits, grits, and a variety of meats including sausage, ham and brisket, but no bacon!  Since bacon wasn’t an option, I went with the special for only $6.50…scrambled eggs, grits, a biscuit, smoked sausage, and coffee…NO SUBSTITUTES!  After taking my order, the lady looked at Liz, “Do you want coffee while I’m over hear?”  Efficient…  Waiters came around, collected our receipts, and brought us our food in a flash.  The “No Tipping Allowed” sign really wanted to make us tip!

After that heavy breakfast, I went to the gym while everyone got ready for lunch at 11:30 at Galatoire’s.  This fancy, French restaurant has been a mainstay in the French Quarter since 1905, and is one of the best restaurants in New Orleans.  Apparently, many famous people dine here and coats are required for the evening.  We ate in the upstairs dining room at table right next to the window offering a pleasant view.  The bread and butter were definitely worth every calorie.  I was hoping for a bit more seafood in my seafood gumbo, but I made up for it with an avocado stuffed with crab meat.

We strolled a little further down Bourbon Street, and decided we needed to stop in at the world famous, Pat O’Briens.  Neither Marci nor Christian had been to New Orleans, so it was time they ordered a Hurricane.  The fruit punch like drink is too sweet for me, so Liz and I decided to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a chilled shot of Patron.  Tasty!

The ladies were on a mission to find sunglasses so we went to Krewe.  Everyone came out donning new shades.  I, on the other hand, have my old ones.  Liz, Christian and Marci wanted to antique and shop for linens which didn’t make the list for me and Marti, so we wandered back up Bourbon Street where we sat on the curb and listened to a street performer play jazz.  When he finished his set, we decided to drop into the Cat’s Meow, for old time’s sake.  We had both been there previously and sang karaoke.

The Cat’s Meow was dead at 4:30 in the afternoon, but it didn’t stop us from singing.  Marti got on stage first and belted out “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” while someone on the staff pretended to play the fiddle.  It was quite entertaining.  I was too chicken to get on stage alone, so Marti joined me in singing “Sweet Caroline”.  By this time, people were trickling in.  Too bad they had to listen to our terrible tunes!!

It wasn’t too long before Marci, Liz, and Christian joined us at front row tables as we cheered on other singers.  We had to wait about an hour before we got to sing our third song.  The staff was probably hoping we’d leave before they were subjected to more screeching, but we waited until Liz, Marti, and I sang our final gig, “Son of a Preacher Man”.

By this time, I had to eat.  Liz directed us to Mr. B’s Bistro on Royal St.  It was between the Cat’s Meow and our hotel, so it was a perfect location for dinner.  The appetizers were AMAZING and the lamb, spectacular!  This may have been the best restaurant we tried all weekend.  We were lucky to get one of the few open tables in the back room at 8:30pm.

On Bourbon Street…headed to Mr. B’s

There weren’t as many early risers on Saturday morning.  As such, just Marci and I tried The Ruby Slipper Café.  We arrived just before 8am which was a good choice as by the time we were served our fancy meals with pig candy bacon, the place was full.  We had bacon and egg biscuits with a fried green tomato.  The food was tasty, though the service a bit poor.

Marci scored tickets to Jazz Fest.  We walked a few blocks to the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street where buses lined up beginning at 10:30 to shuttle festival goers to the event.  We had been told to arrive early to get a spot at one of the two main stages and then walk around to look at the craft vendors, food vendors and other stages.  We placed our recently purchased $10 chairs at the Gentilly Stage, the second largest.  Had I realized how easy it was to get to Jazz Fest and had I known headliners were not Jazz Bands, like Megan Trainor and Stevie Wonder tonight, I think I would have come to this event a long time ago.  I especially liked that it ended at 7 too!!

Jazz Fest takes place at the infield of the horse track.  Had it rained or been sweltering hot, I can imagine it might not have been quite as enjoyable, but the windy weekend kept us somewhat cool on this sunny day.  We followed a road that wound around the food and craft vendors as we checked out the different stations and mingled among the light crowd.

By the time we had purchased our food and sat down to listen to a few acts at the Gentilly Stage, scores of people streamed past.  As much as we wanted to see a little bit of Stevie Wonder and Megan Trainor, the thought of leaving Jazz Fest at the end of night with the whole crowd seemed daunting.

We decided to leave early and go watch the Kentucky Derby at Red Fish Grill.  The bar was quiet and the bartender kindly turned down the music while increasing the TV volume so we could hear the announcer call the race.  While we didn’t don hats or drink mint juleps, we snacked on BBQ oysters as we watched Always Dreaming, with hardly a splatter of mud, join the winners circle as he led most the way.  I would really like to go to the Kentucky Derby just once…any takers?!?

With dinner time nearing, Felix’s called our name.  It had a much shorter line than Acme Oyster House which is across the street.  Nothing like some good ole fried food!  I’m pretty sure I gained 5 pounds on this trip.  I had to leave early on Sunday morning so I missed out going to Café Du Monde for beignets, but my waistline thanks me.  We really had some great laughs, and I’m thankful I got to see everyone together…it doesn’t happen much.  ETB

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Eating Our Way Through New Orleans

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Day 96 – Louisiana Bayou Byways Part 2

The dogs and I spent the morning walking the trails and geocaching in Lake Fausse Pointe State Park where we camped last night.  We completed two loop trails for a total of 2.35 miles through the woods.  In the process we found five caches!  One trail, Cardinal Run, was aptly named.  Cardinals were everywhere!  I only had my point and shoot camera with me, so I couldn’t get any good close ups…oh well.  Upon returning to VANilla, I was able to grab the zoom lens and snap a few good shots of a great blue heron.

After a lovely, though slightly nippy morning outside, we took the levee road north to Henderson where jet boats tours of Atchafalaya Basin leave from McGee’s Landing.  I pulled off at Pat’s Restaurant to look at a map and get my bearings when a former client Max called.  This area of Louisiana used to be her stomping grounds.  She knew exactly where I was, told me to have lunch at Pat’s, check out the dance hall at Whiskey River Landing, and go on the swamp tour.

The crawfish etouffee at Pat’s was excellent.  The Cowboys were playing at the same time the Saints were playing, so I settled for Saints football over lunch.  I returned south about a mile and turned on a gravel road cut over the levee to find Whisky River Landing on the other side.  I would have never known it was there!  The Cajun music and dancing didn’t start until 4 on Sundays, so I drove a half mile further down the levee to McGee’s to check on the swamp tours.  I just missed the one o’clock tour and no one was signed up for the three o’clock tour, so it wasn’t going to launch unless I paid the price of five people.  I decided to listen to the Cajun band and walk the dogs around instead.

The dogs and I left Louisiana and headed to our home state.  Max’s parents, Pat and Gerald, put us up for the night in Groves, Texas.  Pat is a big football fan, so we enjoyed an evening of chatting and Sunday night football.  Pat and Gerald have been married over fifty years, have four children, seven grandchildren, one great grandchild, and a boxer named Harley.

websites:  www.mcgeeslanding.com, http://patsfishermanswharf.com/, www.crt.state.la.us, www.notablenotecards.com, http://www.etsy.com/shop/nichenotecards

Day 95 – Louisiana Bayou Byways

I awoke to another cold, rainy day.  I had hoped to take an airboat tour, but with a high of 45 forecast, I couldn’t imagine that zipping across the swamp in the rain would be much fun.  Not to mention, the main attraction, alligators, hibernate in the cold weather.  I opted for a slow start to the morning and enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal and a hot cup of coffee at IHOP.

After a few more circles around town, I finally found the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Barataria Region.  The Reader’s Digest book failed to mention the preserve includes six, separate park locations.  No wonder my GPS wasn’t taking me to the section I wanted to visit.  In addition, the roads were under construction which resulted in further detours.  Alas, I arrived ready to walk the dogs in the rain.  Unfortunately, for safety reasons, the dogs were not allowed to tour the boardwalks with me.  The boardwalks wrap through swamp land past pines, cypress, palms, and sugar cane.  If the sun were out and the temperature were above 50, I might have spotted a resident alligator with her babies, but instead I gazed skyward toward spotting a variety of chirping birds flitting from tree to tree.  I even heard a woodpecker, but I couldn’t find it!

Since the dogs really hadn’t enjoyed a good walk for almost 24 hours, I followed the ranger’s instructions and proceeded to a park located aside the intracoastal waterway.  The area stunk of fish, so we stayed long enough to see if a cache was hidden nearby.  Fortunately, an ammo can was hidden about half a mile down the road behind the Louisiana Marine Fisheries and Museum.  At first glance, I was hesitant to get out of VANilla.  The weathered museum’s front lawn showcased two beat up fishing boats.  Rusted cars and run down homes lined the opposite side of the street.  According to the cache description, the museum curator was aware the cache was hidden on the premises, so I quickly ducked behind the building and briskly strode toward the water’s edge to find the cache hidden underneath yet another boat situated in the yard.  While there, I took a minute to glance in the museum window.  I was startled to see a well kept display of fishing memorabilia.  A sign posted on the locked door requested any interested parties to knock on the double doors at the adjacent building.  I gave it some thought, but being before 10 on a Saturday, the property was deserted, so I moved on.

We drove west, close to 100 miles, looking for the Oaklawn Manor, once part of a 12,000 acre sugar plantation.  We found an old home very close to Gina’s directions, but it wasn’t called Oaklawn Manor.  A few hundred yards away, smoke billowed into the air releasing an odor that I couldn’t decide if it was fragrant or foul.  I suppose since I chose odor over aroma, I’m leaning toward foul.  Upon returning to the main two-lane, pot-holed road strewn with shredded sugarcane dropped from the trucks transporting the stalks, I realized the smoke was coming from a cane mill.  In fact, I was surrounded by sugarcane fields.  I continued on a few more miles and arrived in a lovely historic town, Franklin.  It was like it popped out of thin air…another time warp for me.  The rough roads and messy cropland transformed into a historic square lined with attractive buildings.

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After mostly busts since yesterday morning and with the sun slowly poking through the clouds, I decided to continue through town and drive an additional 40 miles to Avery Island.  I knew it existed as it is the home to Tabasco!  The island includes the factory, a gift shop, pepper fields, a salt mine, oil wells, and the Jungle Gardens.

Edmund McIlhenny cultivated pepper plants and created a pepper sauce, Tabasco, shortly after the Civil War.  After tinkering with his sauce and storing it in perfume bottles for his friends to taste, McIlhenny patented his recipe and sold his first bottle of Tabasco in 1868.  He went on to sell over 600 more that year.  Today, Tabasco produces over 700,000 bottles daily!  Tabasco’s pepper plants are grown on Avery Island and in Central and South America.  The peppers are harvested only when they turn a distinct red.  The pepper pickers are given a baton rouge painted the color red that the peppers should match.  All Tabasco peppers must be ground and mashed with Avery Island salt the same day they are picked.  This process takes place on both Avery Island and in Central and South America.  The mash is aged for three years in white oak barrels whose lids are drilled with holes and packed with salt.  The barrels are purchased from bourbon distilleries and cleaned of any alcohol prior to use.  The fermenting process only takes place on Avery Island.  After three years, the mash is mixed with a premium vinegar, stirred for 28 days, strained, and bottled.  When the barrels are rendered useless, the wood is chopped up and sold as wood chips in the gift shop.  The bulk leftover from the straining process is bagged and sold as seasoning for seafood boils, and the remaining seeds leftover from the straining process are sold to a company in Michigan that extracts the oils for an ingredient used in Bengay, Icy Hot, and Colgate.  Almost nothing goes unused!  New pepper plants are grown from the strongest seedlings of existing plants.

Edmund McIlhenny’s son (E.A.), a naturalist and explorer, cultivated Jungle Gardens which include both native and exotic plants.  Four miles of roads and trails wind past lagoons, palms, cypress, azaleas, camellias, wisteria, bamboo and more.  Though obviously most flowering plants weren’t in bloom, just being able to walk uninterrupted for an hour in the sun without retracing any steps was a joy and worth the $8 I spent.  E.A. McIlhenny helped save the Snowy Egret from extinction by establishing a colony on the island.  Now 20,000 egrets nest on special platforms in a pond nicknamed “Bird City”.  During my visit, I only saw one egret, and it was in a lagoon on the opposite of the garden!  After our visit to the island, we zigzagged northeast along some back roads to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park to camp for the evening. ETB

websites:  http://www.tabasco.com/tabasco_history/avery_island.cfm#targ, www.notablenotecards.com, http://www.etsy.com/shop/nichenotecards