New Orleans

Looking down Canal Street

I just got back from a short vacation to New Orleans with my daughters. What a beautiful city. We weren’t there really long enough to experience everything but it whet our appetites enough that we’ll for sure plan another trip.

We found the most economical way to see the city and the sights is to buy a city pass of some sort. There are several to be found but we bought this New Orleans Pass for $150 or so which included tours and entrance to several attractions. Well worth it even if you only visit three or four of the places offered. A good way to get around is to get tickets for the Hop-On Hop-Off tour bus. We ended up not doing that but it takes you around the city and you can reach most of the attractions on the city pass from the bus. Something to check out at least. You can buy the passes for one day or three.

We were fortunate enough to stay right on Canal Street which meant short walks to any destination in the French Quarter. Oh my god the food was fabulous! I don’t think we had a bad meal the entire time we were there. We ate dinner at NOLA, one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants, for my daughter’s birthday. I had the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with a caulifower “maque choux” and grapefruit preserve. It was fabulous! The crab cake was moist but that cauliflower maque choux was indescribable. If you think you hate cauliflower this will turn you into a believer.

Everything we tried was fabulous. I totally am an advocate of smaller servings. This meant we could eat an appetizer, entree and dessert without feeling too horribly stuffed. Why do we have to supersize every meal?

Trying to decide which restaurant to eat at during the visit was a major challenge. There are those famous ones that every guide book recommends but it means standing in line forever. There were plenty of other restaurants around town that served fantastic food without the long waits. The busy times in the evening usually start around 7:00 pm so if you want to avoid the wait plan to eat early. We did pretty good going around 5:30 or so. But if you want the experience of Brennan’s or The Commander’s Palace then go for it. You can always go into the bar and get a drink to-go and stand in line while enjoying your favorite adult beverage. Yes, you can drink alcohol in an open plastic cup while wandering the streets of the French Quarter.

Anyway, a few other places of note were The Creole House Restaurant and Oyster Bar right on Canal Street and right across from our hotel. We actually ate there a couple of times for lunch and dinner due to the location and some of our time restrictions. We of course had to sample a New Orleans Po-Boy. It’s basically a hoagie sandwich but the French bread is what totally makes the sandwich. Nice crispy texture outside and soft chewy center. If you are going to eat a po-boy you need to eat it dressed which is simply tomatoes, lettuce and mayonnaise. The mayonnaise isn’t just plain Jane Hellman’s either, it’s usually mixed with a few other spices and flavors depending on the restaurant. A word to the wise, if you want to eat anything else that day – share with a friend. Trust me, it’s way too much for one person if you want to be able to walk around town later!

For dinner one night I tried their Blackened Shrimp Jambalaya. Now the northerner in me expected more of a tomato based stew but this one wasn’t. It wasn’t soupy at all, nor did it have tomatoes. The rice was almost like dirty rice but instead of sausage you had blackened shrimp and it wasn’t nearly as spicy as I was expecting either. We’ll definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting New Orleans.

Mother’s Restaurant is pretty much an institution and has been around since 1938. Our Uber driver recommended them as did a few other people who’ve been to New Orleans. They only have a breakfast and lunch menu with breakfast being served all day and they are open until 10 pm. They have an extensive menu and are known for their po-boys. Everything is made from scratch and the turkey, ham and roast beef are roasted and carved right there. I’m going to admit that I wasn’t terribly fond of my po-boy. It was very wet because of the debris and I really dislike wet bread. Debris is those bits and pieces of meat that fall into the bottom of the roasting pan. The flavor of the meat was wonderful it was the soggy bread that got to me. I also had a side of red beans and rice and they were so good! I could have had a big bowl of those alone and been a happy camper. The one thing that was the best I’ve ever had is their biscuits. My daughter ordered breakfast and it came with this huge fluffy biscuit. I’ve never had one that was so moist and fluffy. I need to learn how they make their biscuits.

For dinner we went to The Royal House Oyster Bar on, you got it, Royal Street. I didn’t order any oysters but my daughter had an excellent Oyster Pasta in a scampi sauce with mushrooms and topped with fried oysters. I tried the fried oysters, first time for oysters by the way, and if I didn’t know it was an oyster I wouldn’t have known.

I had the Shrimp Creole and was not disappointed. The shrimp were cooked to perfection and the Creole sauce was rich and full of flavor without being too spicy. My daughters both raved over their own meals. This was another restaurant that we will recommend to our friends and family who might visit New Orleans.

Our last meal before heading out of town was at Toula’s Creole Kitchen. The only reason we chose it because it was close to the hotel. It’s located on the corner of Canal and Tchoupitoulas and is pretty unimpressive on the outside. But we were so glad we stumbled upon it and were kind of disappointed we hadn’t discovered it sooner. We hit it at a great time, only two other tables were occupied so we got right in and were taken care of immediately. We shared an appetizer of Crawfish Bread and the first thing we said was if the entrees are as good as this we won’t be disappointed. We weren’t. I had their Gulf Fish Tacos, three fish tacos, topped with house-made coleslaw & guacamolito and served with Black Bean Salad. The fish weren’t battered and fried but grilled fresh and were so much better than fried versions of fish tacos. The slaw had just the right touch of sweet and sour without overwhelming the flavor of the fish and the guacamolito was a mild verde type sauce that was the perfect foil for the slaw. The black bean salad was fresh and light. It was the perfect meal to eat before traveling because it wasn’t too heavy and rich. My daughters weren’t disappointed in their choices either. But beware, their blue cheese dressing has a kick. We shared cups of their Duck & Andouille Gumbo as well as their Crawfish Bisque. If they shipped we’d be ordering from them all the time it was that good. Run, don’t walk, to Toula’s the next time you’re in New Orleans.

The one thing I pretty much ordered in all of the restaurants was Bread Pudding for dessert. My family hates it so I never make it and I wanted to make sure I got my fill. I think I might have them converted now, at least one of the girls. We weren’t served one bad bread pudding. Each were different but so good. The peach and raisin one at The Royal House Oyster Bar was a pleasant surprise. The peaches were chopped small enough and not too many of them to give a good flavor without overwhelming the rest of the dessert. The sauce was amazing.

We also did the obligatory beignets at Cafe du Monde. One local told us that she prefers the beignets at Cafe Beignet, not as many tourists lining up there. We wanted to try and do a taste test but ran out of time. Guess we’ll have to save that for our next trip.

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

The beignets were everything we expected. Fried dough with powdered sugar. But it’s the flavor of the dough itself that makes if a little bit special. We really lucked out and didn’t have to stand in a long line, we walked in, some people left and we had a table right at the edge so we could people watch. The beignets were bigger than I expected, nice and warm with tons of powdered sugar dumped, yes dumped, on top of them. There was no light sprinkling of powdered sugar, they didn’t hold back when they put on the sugar that’s for sure.

I did buy a box of their beignet mix so I can attempt to make them at home. If you don’t feel like standing in line at the original Cafe du Monde, they do have seven other locations throughout the city.

Well that’s it for the food. I feel like I gained 20 pounds while I was there just from the food. Good thing we also did a fair bit of walking.

We did the obligatory stroll down Bourbon Street in the evening. Guess I was so engrossed in people watching that I forgot to take pictures. It was a party all the way down the street. Street entertainers trying to make a living next to very young men beating on 5 gallon plastic buckets making some incredible music. You would not believe the sounds they could get out of a couple of drum sticks and 5 gallon pails. It was definitely a very happy place but just a stroll down the street was all I needed. If you like hopping from one bar to the next or popping in and grabbing your drink in a “to go” cup this was the place to be.

One of the attractions on the pass was the National WWII Museum. If you like history they have a great collection. I’m not much of a history buff but it was very interesting to go around and hear about the war.

After that we strolled over to Jackson Square and checked out the St. Louis Cathedral. There were several artists and palm readers set up but not quite as many as I expected. I’m sure the more we get into summer the more people who’ll have set up shop. Once again, I was too busy people watching to take pictures. I didn’t want to haul my big camera around and kept forgetting to pull out my phone. We couldn’t leave Jackson Square without stopping at Cafe Du Monde for beignets. I mean isn’t that a prerequisite? While there I did manage a picture of Jackson Square…in the rain. While munching on, and totally enjoying our fried dough, it started storming. The rain was coming down so hard and the wind was blowing it sideways that the servers had to put down the sides of the cafe. Even then it was blowing rain inside. I have to admit that it was fun. I live in the NW, we don’t get storms like that, I miss them.

Rain coming down on Jackson Square

We were hoping it would let up so we could continue our walk but alas it just got worse. Some of the streets were flooding so bad cars were getting stuck. We ended up having to call an Uber because we were not prepared for that kind of downfall.

Alligator – truly looks prehistoric doesn’t he

Of course you can’t go to New Orleans and not visit the bayou and see some alligators. I highly recommend a swamp tour if you visit. We booked one with Ultimate Swamp Adventures and had so much fun. It was another one of those attractions on the city pass. With the city pass you could only take the boat. But there is a fan boat option available if you are willing to pay a bit more for it and like the feel of the wind in your hair. But make sure you call ahead and make reservations and you know what you are booking. A couple of guests were dismayed when they found out they booked the boat and not the fan boat.

Our guide was a hoot. He was knowledgeable about the area and knew exactly where to find the gators. Of course he did admit that they tend to feed some of them to keep them hanging around the area. I mean could you expect less? We tourists want to see gators and would be disappointed if we didn’t so they need to make sure they can guarantee we’ll see some. Did you know gators like to eat marshmallows? Me either. But that’s the way the guides lure the gators closer to the boats so you can see them up front and personal. Way up front and personal. He also had a baby gator that we were able to hold. Now I’m not one for reptiles but this little guy was so soft and he was pretty chill too. Not wiggling and struggling to get away which made it much more pleasant to hold.

After the swamp tour it was another tour on the water, this time the great Mississippi on a paddlewheeler, which was also on the city pass.

Our ride – The Creole Queen

It was a nice leisurely ride down the river on the Creole Queen with a tour guide narrating New Orleans history and development. If you’re a history buff you’ll find it very interesting and learn things about the city you probably never knew. You can sit out on the deck, where it is extremely hot in the sun, or if you’re melting they do have an air conditioned lounge. We stopped off for a brief tour of the Chalmette Battlefield and then headed back up river.

Of course no visit to New Orleans is complete without a visit to the Garden District or one of their cemeteries.  I love the Spanish style buildings of the French quarter with their iron work balconies and then the plantation style homes in the Garden District. I apologize that I didn’t get any good pictures of either. Too busy gawking and thinking I’ll get one later. Oops, later came and went and I didn’t get my pictures. Some tourist I make huh? We jumped on one of the streetcars which ended up being crammed in like sardines. I don’t think it’s always like that, we just happened to head out to the same places and at the same time as the rest of the tourists.

One of many streetcars running around town. $1.25 one way or $3 for an all day pass.

We walked through Lafayette Cemetery No 1 which sits right in the middle of the Garden District and is one of the oldest. It is a sad in some places where you can see there are no family left to care for the tombs but happy in others because you can see that people still pay their respects to their family and take care of their tombs.

I wish some people would show more respect to those buried there. There were some young women who were tapping on the front of one of the tombs and pulling at it. Not sure what they were hoping to find but I found it rather disrespectful. Guess I may be a bit old-fashioned.

A walk along Magazine Street strained our budget a bit. There are so many cute little shops and boutiques along there. Too bad it was Sunday so not all of them were open, but then again maybe that was a good thing.

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

We still had some time to kill before heading to the airport so decided to visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas where it was air conditioned. Once again this was one of the attractions on the city pass. They have the usual suspects of course and it’s not a huge aquarium but I enjoyed it. They did have a white alligator which was pretty cool looking.

White alligator at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

Hope y’all enjoyed my little excursion to New Orleans and hope you found some of the recommendations useful. I didn’t do nearly enough research and wasn’t quite prepared enough to know what to visit and make a plan so we could get even more out of the visit. I suppose that just means we’ll definitely have to go back so we can spend more time and get to those things we missed, like the haunted night tour and maybe even one of the plantations. You really need a car for that though because they are further out of the city.

I can’t wait to go back! Just not during Mardi Gras even though that would be an experience and a half.