Emily in New Orleans

Jackson Square
I realized recently that my travel itch began to turn into more of an ache. My friends who traveled over the summer told me stories of their recent experiences, and I was really feeling the need for a trip away. I started seeing what kind of flights were available for a quick weekend trip, looking at places like Nassau and Charlotte. But what really caught my eye was New Orleans, a place I had never been but had heard so much about. Jazz, Cajun food, and stories of voodoo were all terms I had heard when people talked about it. Well, and Bourbon Street, of course. It was decided -- I booked my flight and planned on wandering around to explore the city.

I read a lot about the area and talked with some friends who had visited before heading out. People in various forums discussed safety concerns in the city, but I knew I would be fine. Anyone traveling alone can utilize common sense. Don't wander down a dark alley by yourself (I wouldn't do that in the city I have lived in for 15 years). Exercise caution in everything you do in an unfamiliar place--burying your head in your cell phone while walking at night probably isn't a great idea. I picked streets that were fairly busy to walk down instead of going down roads that had no one. This is a big city and there are always many people. Missing out on learning and new experiences because of stereotypes is no fun!

Now, let's get to the important stuff. The food! Let me tell you, I have never tried much creole/Cajun food. I wrote a little about this in my Gumbo post. So coming straight to the sources was a surefire way to get a crash course in the cooking style. My first day, I wandered down Bourbon Street and headed over to Jackson Square. This is a really awesome place - there was a group of jazz musicians playing a tune, vendors selling all kinds of items, and right in the center, a nice, peaceful place to sit down and take a breather. The area around it is filled with old buildings that have shops and restaurants of all sorts. One really cool place I went into was a cooking school, where you could take lessons on how to make different meals and also pick up cooking supplies. I totally regret not buying something I saw there as I have not spotted it anywhere else--a Holy Trinity substitute in a jar. It reminded me of a dried vegetable soup base I have seen called mirepoix, with this one consisting of dehydrated onions, peppers, and celery that make up the basis for many creole style meals. That would be great to have on hand! I had barely begun my walk that day and didn't want to carry it at the time, but that would have been a great item to take back to my kitchen. Next time.

As I was texting a friend that goes to New Orleans fairly frequently and suggested the Cafe Du Monde for beignets, I happened to walk right up to it.

Cafe Du Monde

This is a busy little place! There are tons of small tables in an outdoor patio, as well as some inside. I chose to sit in a nice shaded spot and was quickly served by a waitress, who immediately got my order over as well. I could tell they are busy all the time by how quickly they got me my order. But there it was, 3 beignets and an ice cafe au lait.

The Cafe Du Monde has been in the same location since 1862, according to their own description. There are more details available around the web, of course, and I was just delighted to dine at a place that so many before me have enjoyed. When you have the opportunity to stand in a spot that others did 150 years ago, that is pretty mind blowing.

The beignets were as fantastic as I had heard - they were hot and fresh when they came out, and the dough was airy on the inside. This was denser than your standard doughnut, though cake doughnuts are comparable in texture. The powdered sugar topping was a messy delight, and I was confident enough in the fact I would be walking a few miles each day to eat all 3. The coffee was tasty as well, and satisfied my constant urge for caffeine just right.

I was so satisfied that I ended up leaving with a little coffee mug to keep up the spirit when I got back home. It was awesome to enjoy a French Quarter staple, and afterward I kept on walking, checking out several shops along the way. It was then that I discovered pralines, which are caramelized pecans that tasted slightly maple-like in flavor. There were several varieties of these as well, ranging from tabasco sauce to chocolate. I took a couple back home, because I don't recall seeing them in Florida before.

Redfish Grill

After wandering the city all day, I went out for dinner. Since it was my first evening in the city, I went to a nearby restaurant called the Red Fish Grill. Their menu was quite fancy, with items ranging from Red Snapper to an Alligator Sausage and Seafood Gumbo. I ordered the Creole Jambalaya Risotto, which came with Andouille sausage, chicken, and shrimp. I've noted before that pork is not a meat I often partake in, so I ordered it with only chicken and shrimp. The waiter was kind enough to have the shrimp heads removed for me. I sound like a city girl, I realize, but quite frankly, I don't want eyes peeking at me in any dish.

The dish came out quickly, and looked delightful (forgive the lighting, I was working on my cell phone). But the flavor was even better, with a delicious and slightly spicy seasoning, I couldn't help but rushing home to make my own version. It was quite different in taste than the gumbo I had made, and I really loved the overall texture of the dish. Rather than being a stew as I had imagined, it was a simple, flavorful dish. I couldn't eat the whole thing, but fortunately my hotel room had a refrigerator so I could save these goodies for later.

Though I was quite full after dinner, I couldn't help but treat myself to a something super special and snagged a slice of Bourbon Pecan Pie with Jack Daniels Ice Cream. This is something you don't see every day! Now believe me when I say that there were many great options on the menu, but the Jack Daniels ice cream was a big time selling point for me. And it was great! The waiter said the ice cream is made by a local cook, and this guy needs to get in touch with the whiskey-maker ASAP to make this happen in grocery stores nationwide. Ben & Jerry, are you listening? WHISKEY. ICE CREAM.

Of course the pie was a smash hit, too, as pecan pie on it's own is a piece of sugar heaven, but add some bourbon and the flavor complexity is a home run. Bourbon has this flavor, one that I would describe as heavy, and it caramelizes with sugar quite well, obviously. Most of the pie came back with me in a box as well. And just like that, I took care of 2 meals in one night.

My next day was one for more wandering, where I decided to hop on the super budget friendly trolley and travel several miles through the Garden District to the Audubon Zoo. My choice that day was between that and museum exploration, and I went with the recommendation of the polite woman working the front desk at my hotel and wound up at the zoo. It was, after all, a gorgeous September day. Why not enjoy it outside?

The zoo was a stunning one. I grew up frequenting zoos with my family; I was taught an appreciation of zoos and museums in several cities. Some people aren't fans of zoos, but if they are in a town I visit I like the opportunity to learn and see different species I don't come close to most of the time. It was a beautiful, peaceful walk around a park-like area of the zoo with lovely structures like the one below.

 They had several animal exhibits as well, including the gorgeous white tiger below, who was passed out and dreaming while swaying his paws around in the air. Reminded me of one of my cats! This zoo had something I hadn't seen in one before, this neat dinosaur exhibit with mechanical dinosaurs. Kids must love that place.

I spent a while walking around Audubon zoo, as well as some parts of the massive park behind it. The Garden District area is a stunning upscale one; there are 2 college campuses and many classic homes around it. I took several photos on the trolley ride back because I was quite impressed with the beauty. Because I had been outside for a while, I decided to head back to my hotel and change before seeing more. I had planned on seeing more in the Garden District, as I had heard they had a nice amount of shops. On the trolley ride back, there was a car accident on the tracks, which caused us to stop and me to walk some ways back to the area I was staying. It was a minor inconvenience on a lovely day, however due to the slow downs, when I went later to catch the trolley back over there, everything was so backed up that after waiting 20 minutes for the trolley, I decided to spend some more time in the French Quarter instead.

It was on that walk back to the hotel that I came upon Serio's and decided it was time for a Po-Boy.

Serio's Po-Boys and Deli

While I have seen that different varieties of Po-Boys exist, I have always known shrimp to be the classic. So I ordered the standard, along with a nice cold bottle of local beer. The french bread used was ideal for this sub, as it held together well. My only complaint about most fried shrimp is that I am an adamant fan of deveining shrimp. For a couple years after I was told what exactly that meant (while eating popcorn shrimp), I wouldn't eat shrimp. I could see that these were not, so I did so with many of them myself. Every time I make shrimp, I thoroughly check them (or buy them after this has already been done). Yes, I am picky on some things.

The sandwich as a whole was a delicious one. Tomatoes, lettuce, and bread are great with shrimp; I had never tried making a shrimp sandwich before and definitely like the idea now. The breading on the shrimp was thick and crispy, so it made for the perfect portable sandwich. 

In addition to all the fantastic food at local eateries, I have to say that the breakfast at my hotel was a pretty amazing one that helped save me loads of food money. Never before have I seen a buffet spread with just about every morning edible I could thing of, from omelets to sausage to waffles to grits to cereal...the Hampton Inn was a good choice (and a fair price!).

Of course, I can't talk about New Orleans without talking about my experience on Bourbon Street. This is a neat place, lined with bars, souvenir shops, and strip clubs. I can see the appeal to visit the French Quarter for big celebrations--this place is circled around partying. I couldn't help but partake in a couple of beers while I wandered around. I was heading home on Saturday, so I spent a few hours Friday night checking out some local bars. One in particular, Beerfest, was my favorite. They had so many of my favorite beers as well as local picks that I knew this would be my kind of place.

That same night, I walked along the riverwalk, enjoying the view of steamboats on the Mississippi. Being that I am originally from Memphis, I can appreciate some time by the river. It was a gorgeous evening, and I was happy to be out exploring this fascinating city.

I had an early afternoon flight, so on my last day I got up early and spent Saturday morning back over by Jackson Square. Some city employees were hosing down the streets, removing the evidence of Friday night's festivities. The old buildings were gorgeous in the peace of the morning, and I took some time to go into the St. Louis Cathedral. This is one of the most gorgeous churches I have had the pleasure to see, with the original structure dated back to 1794. It was restored in 1850 to it's current state - and it is truly a sight to be seen. The level of detail was astonishing, and just knowing that others have come here to worship for over 200 years is amazing. I had to sit down for a few minutes and just take it all in.

On my way back I stopped in at Harrah's to toss a few bucks into some machines. I haven't been quite brave enough to gamble at one of the table games like poker or blackjack, largely because I can't bear to spend much on one game. I will hop in on the occasional quarter slot machine, which I can enjoy long enough to keep my money and play some games. I bounced around at a few machines, losing around $5. The evening before I had stopped in the same casino and spent under $10 again, so my revisit this morning was partially an attempt to come out ahead. I spent the last of my single dollar bills but had a $20 remaining. I took a chance and slid it into the cash slot. My goal was to stop at $10, which seemed easy enough. Down the balance went as I played more than one line on the machine, until I was at right around $13. I hit the play button one last time and the balance started piling up - I watched in awe as it climbed past $30, $50, $70....all the way up to $110. I cashed out, walked out of the casino, and went on back to the hotel to grab my luggage and take a cab to the airport. Coming out ahead feels good.

My last food stop on the trip was not traditional creole or cajun style in the least. I grabbed a chicken taco with some fresh cilantro from a small place next to my hotel, since I only had a couple minutes before needing to leave. I felt great about all I had seen on my first trip to New Orleans, though a few more days would have been welcome. New Orleans is not the dangerous city some imagine it is. I went as a woman traveling alone, and through practicing general city safety navigated just fine. Though I may have missed out on the late night partying by heading back to my hotel at a reasonable time both nights, I also kept myself from ever feeling unsafe. Next time I have to find time for more quality Garden District visiting and a stop at a jazz club. This post certainly wandered from my original concept of sharing the food I enjoyed while visiting, but that's because New Orleans has much more to offer than good eats. I didn't do any formal tours, so the few expenses I had (other than the flight and hotel) were food, souvenirs, and my trip to the zoo--traveling on a budget is easy. And since the city is so rich in history and has so much to offer, a few days is just enough time to skim the surface.

Until next time, NOLA.

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