Euphoria and a sense of dizziness sets in. I am going to New Orleans. For seven days. Memories of my college trip to Mardi Gras rush back. To protect the people involved I won’t go into details but I can say there was a tattoo acquired as well as an escorting out of the famous Audubon Tavern Two. I am giddy with anticipation as I start to plan in my head all the fantastic and sensuous things I will be experiencing. Jazz music wafting from dark bars, haunted stories swirling around Garden District and French Quarter homes, art, iron balconies and slowly swaying trees, the Mississippi River and food. Glorious food. Uh Oh. My smug “I can’t wait to brag to all my friends” attitude has just been sucked out of me and I am in full panic mode. This is serious. This is New Orleans’ cuisine. Only the well-prepared will survive.
I grab every book I can get my hands on. The Food Lover’s Guide to New Orleans, Wallpaper Guide to the same, Lonely Planet and of course a desperate call to my friend Jessica Collins, who is also a chef besides a talented actress on The Young & The Restless. She knows everything about food and loves New Orleans.
Jessica is a saint and responds to my frantic request with “Absolutely I can help. I love talking about New Orleans”. Immediately we get into a discussion about why New Orleans is the food capital of the United States, as far as we are concerned, and why extreme planning is necessary to fit everything in. Jessica points out, “New Orleans cuisine is undeniably from Louisiana, no other place in the United States has cuisine as specific to its region. Gumbo, etouffe, jambalaya…”.
Jessica fell in love with New Orleans because it has everything she loves packed into a small but vibrant town – music, art, food and great people.
Her first trip to New Orleans wasn’t until 2010 surprisingly, but she knew where to make her first culinary stop. Commander’s Palace. “I couldn’t believe how amazing Commander’s Palace was. The food was so specifically Southern and regional that I knew exactly where I was just by sitting in the restaurant. My first sip of turtle soup was the greatest thing. Every course was perfect and I knew this introduction to New Orleans would last forever in my mind”.
Part of what I love about owning a bookstore is the excitement and fun I derive from talking about my trip with other travelers. Fantasizing about New Orleans’ restaurants with Jessica fired me up and I was ready to map out a food tour that rivaled Alexander the Great’s conquests. I have created a perfect 24 hours of eating in New Orleans. I challenge you, dear reader, to recreate it next time you find yourself hungry in The Big Easy.
Start your day with a stroll outside the Quarter to Surrey’s Cafe & Juice Bar for breakfast. Cash only. A funky cafe with bright voodoo art and a hipster staff. You can order delicious tofu ginger saute with black beans but really why bother? You can get that at home at your local vegan joint. Go straight for the shrimp and grits. Jessica’s favorite and mine now too.
It’s lunchtime and Peche is a must. A winner of two James Beard Foundation Awards this is what Son of a Gun wishes it could be. Oops. Did I just write that? When we had the pleasure of sipping a chardonnay, while perusing the menu at Peche, the waiter was so enthusiastic about each option we told him to just order for us. Fish sticks, shrimp toast, hushpuppies, spicy ground shrimp with noodles, crawfish, fried brussels sprouts with chili vinegar… heaven on a plate kept rolling out and we kept eating.
Your stomach starts to rumble mid-afternoon and lucky for you Luke has a fantastic happy hour with oysters the size of softballs, jumbo shrimp and perfectly mixed cocktails. When the clock strikes five I tend to order a Sazerac. I know it’s touristy but there is something about it that makes perfect sense in New Orleans. Luke made a wonderful Sazerac but my favorite was probably at Loa bar in the International Hotel.
After a quick change into cocktail attire, head out to that 8pm reservation at Commander’s Palace.
If Jessica’s emphatic endorsement didn’t do it for you take it from me. Everyone who visits New Orleans must dine here. It is quintessentially Creole and its location next to Lafayette Cemetery number 1 means that even the dead still dream of eating there. Order turtle soup, cast iron seared fois gras, pecan crusted gulf fish and Creole bread pudding souffle. The menu changes so you might have to make your own decisions. Good news is you can’t go wrong.
Perhaps you grab drinks at a local dive bar or you venture to the local bartender’s hang out Tonique. Either way after midnight it’s time for one last snack to ward off the evil ever-looming hangover. Go to Coop’s. “Where the not so elite meet to eat”. Their slogan says it all. Slide into a booth and order Jambalaya Supreme – rabbit, smoked pork sausage, shrimp and tasso (Cajun seasoned ham). Add an Abita Amber to that and you’re good to go.
Time for bed so you can wake up and do it all again the next day. I stayed at the Sheraton which had amazing service, plush beds with crisp linens and the best feature – truly incredible lighting in the bathrooms. I woke every morning looking like I just came back from a spa week and not 24 hours of sin in New Orleans. At least in the bathroom I did. It’s worth staying there just for that alone.
Read: “Why New Orleans Matters” by Tom Piazza. I finished it on the way home and wished I had read it on the way there instead. One thing I didn’t regret was the last minute fried green tomato and shrimp remoulade po-boy I grabbed at Ye Olde College Inn at the airport right before boarding the plane. Don’t forget to bring some beads home too. Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!!
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