No one is completely sure when or by whom the city of New Orleans, Louisiana was dubbed “The Big Easy”, but after our trip 6-day trip there, it is certainly easy for us to see why. New Orleans, or “NOLA” as most refer to it, is a mecca for foodies and adventurers alike. Let us explain…
First thing’s first: the location.
Often referred to as the “most unique” city in the United States, NOLA is located in southeastern Louisiana, straddling the Mississippi River. Well known for its cross-cultural and diverse heritage, music, Creole cuisine, and multilingual languages, the city is surrounded by centuries-old French and Spanish Creole architecture.
This now brings us to NOLA’s second most important attribute: the food.
Can we first just say YUM? Shrimp and grits, chicken and sausage gumbo, and last but not least beignets (we will explain more about these later in the post), are just a few of the signature dishes NOLA frequently offers.
For dinner on the first night, we visited Hotel Monteleone, a long-time luxury hotel located one block from Bourbon Street and a 9-minute walk from the French Quarter. The hotel is home to the Carousel Bar – the city’s only 25-seat revolving bar. (Hint: it really IS a carousel!) After cocktails, we walked across the lobby to Criolla, a high-end restaurant that offers fresh, home-grown products from local farms and the Gulf of Mexico.
Criolla also gives guests the opportunity to dine privately in one of two luxurious rooms named after William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. A four course meal is served to diners while they are surrounded by original works and pieces of NOLA history.
Now, to offset this delicious and spicy food, you of course have to wash it down with some good ole fashioned alcohol (that you can carry around on the street as you walk around (HOLLA no Open Container laws!)
We would highly recommend the the wonderfully fruity and fresh Hurricane – a NOLA staple. The best and most inexpensive place to find one of these bad boys is on Bourbon Street at the legendary Pat O’Briens bar.
A good second choice is “The Fishbowl”from Fais Deaux Deaux (pronounced “Fay dough dough”) also on Bourbon Street if you are feeling adventurous – and have a decent amount of food in your stomach – before attempting to take on this endeavor.
“The Fishbowl” is the equivalent of 10 cocktails lumped together and mixed in a giant “goldfish bowl” connected to a lanyard you wear around your neck. The perks of this colossal cocktail? It is only 10 dollars! Pro Tip: This sucker is heavy, so wear it around your neck AND make sure to hold it with both hands at the bottom!
If you find yourself able to get out of bed the morning after consuming one or both of these, you are already one step ahead of the game. Hydrate with some coffee and get back out there and explore!
We decided to check out the French Quarter more in-depth with a stroll through the nooks and crannies surrounding Jackson Square. Every corner is something different with row houses beautifully painted and neatly stacked together like the colors of a rainbow.
We stumbled upon a peacefully quaint bookstore in Pirate’s Alley that just so happened to be the house previously owned by writer and poet William Faulkner. The space, although small, is magical. Filled with books to the brim, the house boasts the history of Faulkner, a NOLA native, and offers an array of books from the classics to political theory. We of course picked up this book below (we couldn’t resist the beautiful cover!)
After roaming through the bookstore, we stopped in Cafe Du Monde, a traditional coffee shop that was built in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market. Its menu consists of dark roasted coffee and Chicory (we will explain this later), Beignets, White and Chocolate milk, and fresh squeezed orange juice. While all of the items on the menu are tempting, it is the chicory and beignets that draw the massive crowds (it was no different for us).
Chicory is the root of the endive plant, which is a type of lettuce. The root is roasted and ground and mixed in with the ground coffee to soften the bitter taste of the dark roast. Beignets are square French-style doughnuts, deep-fried and lavishly covered with snow peaks of sweet powered sugar.
We decided to walk to Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 at the north end of Canal Street after consuming the delicious – and high calorie – treats to visit the grave of Marie Laveau, the famous New Orleans VooDoo Queen. Laveau, who helped the practice of voodoo become a thriving and well known cultural staple and business throughout NOLA during the nineteenth century, passed away in 1881.
Many claim that if visitors draw three “X’s”on the tomb, spin around three times and yell out a wish, Laveau will grant it. (Come to find out those people are dumb and the myth was only a rumor. Now you will get slapped with a serious fine for even touching the tomb.) Because of this myth, the tomb was recently vandalized by a maniac and was closed for renovations for a few months, so we were lucky to have had the chance to witness it.
The cemetery is also home to the remains of Homer Plessy, the plaintiff in the notorious Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court Case, and the future remains of actor Nicholas Cage (no, he has not died yet. He is just obnoxious and built a ridiculous looking “tomb” that resembles the Egyptian pyramids.)
After exploring, we worked up an appetite and decided to head back to the French Quarter to grab a bite to eat before heading to the airport. We stumbled upon the Huck Finn Cafe, which offered an array of New Orleans fare in a cozy space that featured interior brick walls.
What made this particular spot special were the different forms of alligator meat the restaurant provided. The grilled alligator sausage po’boy and the fried alligator nuggets were our feast-of-choice. We opted for a side of chicken and creamy crawfish etoufee (a thick stew seasoned to perfection and filled with delicious, plump crawfish.) Made with a blonde roux, it is poured generously over white rice before devouring. Trust us – you will devour.
So if you have gained any knowledge from this post (and we hope you have!) it is to: drink on Bourbon Street (a lot), eat (a lot), walk around and explore (a lot), and keep an open mind! Oh, and make sure you support local tourism and businesses by purchasing plenty of souvenirs before you leave! We recommend a box of fresh chocolate pralines, a container of Cafe Du Monde beignet mix, assorted beads (the one thing you *don’t* want to get for free), and post cards for your friends.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!