Over Labor Day weekend, I went to New Orleans with two friends. The list of cities I feel the need to visit, in the US, is dwindling. I’m down to Minneapolis, maybe Dallas/Houston, Miami, and apparently, Memphis. Then, I’m on to National Parks and other countries. I wanted to visit New Orleans for years. I didn’t want to visit alone. After a failed attempt to go to New Orleans last New Years, three busy people managed to plan a trip together. I was happy to travel with like-minded friends. We worked on a Google Doc of restaurants/bars for weeks. A few days before, we figured we should add in a few cultural events. Terms like “strategic reservations” were thrown about. An itinerary was typed up.
We found an AirBnb in the Bywater. The shotgun house was a fifteen-minute drive to downtown and walking distance to at least one bar. Upon arrival we went directly to St. Roch Market. I had been following this food hall on Instagram for months. There are about ten food vendors inside the gorgeous space. We had oysters and po’ boy sandwiches and cocktails. What is glorious about the market is that you can buy food from anywhere and sit anywhere, including the bar. Thus, you can drink a bit, go order whatever kind of food you feel like (tacos, pho, sandwiches, oysters), drink while you wait, and your food will come to you. It’s an ingenious plan I haven’t seen elsewhere. The system does seem to create more of a community feel in the space.
After checking into the AirBnb we walked over Bacchanal Wine. Again, this wine store/wine bar/cocktail bar/backyard music space was something I’ve never seen. The organization of the restaurant is so specific, yet relaxed at the same time. You buy a bottle of wine inside, take it with you, and sit wherever you like. There’s a cocktail bar upstairs. You can buy cheese and salami out of a cooler; they will plate it for you and bring it to your table. They also have a kitchen window where you can order hot food. There’s a backyard patio with various tables and live music. The whole concept seems too involved for Philadelphians. But, everything about it was easy. Nothing was stressful. Maybe it was something about the atmosphere of New Orleans. If I lived nearby, I would be a regular patron.
In our planning emails, we decided upon a few reservations. One was at John Besh’s Restaurant August. Unfortunately, we were rather underwhelmed by this very fancy, white-table cloth spot. We felt like we were rushed and a bit condescended to. Yes, we look young, but we are are serious about eating. The dishes were very acceptable, but not spectuar. Most were too salty. Somewhat disappointed, we walked to Sazerac Bar for after-dinner cocktails. This was the most time we spent downtown and the latest we were out and about. This fact might suggest that our priorities ran counter to the typical New Orleans visitor.
The next morning, I made it up and out for 8:00AM yoga. After, I grabbed coffee for all of us at Mammoth Espresso in the warehouse district. The owner and I had a nice chat; I learned the New Orleans saying that “anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” I learned that no one in New Orleans is roasting coffee and that third-wave coffee is still developing in the city. [Yes, I just used the term “third-wave” to describe a coffee renaissance and not feminism.]
One of the other “strategic reservations” we made was Commander’s Palace for their Saturday jazz brunch. We were all looking for at least one traditional New Orleans experience. We were not disappointed. We ended up overly full and very impressed. The service, the food, the deep-dark French sauces, the bread, the garlic bread, the desserts, the everything. After lunch we walked around St. Lafayette cemetery across the street. Somehow, we continued on to the New Orleans Art Museum and sculpture garden. It’s a very nice, compact art museum. A life-sized, gilded log cabin proved surprising and useful (I showed my US history class photos).
|Habanero Oysters - N7|
|Smoked Salmon - Willa Jean|
|Cubano - Cochon Butcher|
After music, we soldiered on for beignets. We weren’t going to miss them. I thought they were alright. I was, after all, the person who pushed for each of us to order our own bag. In ninety-degree weather, we sat on a bench by the Mississippi and ate fried doughnuts. I drank chicory coffee. We contemplated how much food we had consumed in a mere 48 hours. We contemplated never eating again. In fact, we were done for the day.
In the end, New Orleans was the unique, eerie, and delicious experience I thought it would be. New Orleans is an American city. I’m happy I went with friends. Despite that I travel alone quite a bit, I wouldn’t have felt entirely okay in New Orleans by myself. While I’m often happier to be alone, I enjoyed eating and hanging out with friends who also love food and drink as much as I do.
|The Larry Bird - St. Roch Market|
|Cornbread - Willa Jean|
|Salami and Cheese - Willa Jean|