New Orleans! City of fantastic food and even better music. I couldn’t wait to spend a few days in this city. My last visit had been about 10 years ago, so I was eager to come back and enjoy the city again.
I made arrangements to stay at a little Bed & Breakfast that I’d stayed in the last time – Elysian Fields, located just east of the French Quarter on Elysian Fields avenue. I arrived in town on Sunday around 1pm, and pulled up right in front of the inn. It looked like it hadn’t changed a bit. However, the owners had changed since I was there before. A really nice middle aged couple, Jim and Leigh, were now running the place, along with their two dogs, Zeke and Louie. Jim greeted me and led me inside the beautiful inn and took care of paperwork. His wife Leigh told me about the great improvements in the area along Frenchmen Street, and then pointed me in the direction of Ruby Slipper, where I was eager to have brunch. I brought my belongings up to the room and then headed down the street just a few blocks til I saw the Jeff Stimac recommended brunch spot. I put my name in for a short wait and then headed straight to the bar and ordered a Bellini; a delightful concoction of peach juice/pulp and champagne. It was heavenly! For brunch I ordered Eggs Cochon, which consisted of a couple of rather large buttermilk biscuits, covered with pork debris (looked like pulled pork) and topped with two perfectly poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. It was heavenly and as hungry as I was I couldn’t finish it all!
Next I headed towards the French Quarter via Frenchmen Street. I was thrilled to see how many little bars and clubs lined the street, and could not wait to hear the live music later on in the evening. I hit the French Market and walked through all the stalls and browsed all the jewelry, masks, and other wares for sale. It was blazing hot and very crowded as I continued walking along the Quarter, stopping in the little voodoo and gift shops. I stopped in a cool little smoke shop and watched cigars being expertly and quickly rolled. I bought a couple of little sweets to have later in the evening. I strolled all the way down to St. Ann’s St until I finally ended at Cafe du Monde, which was packed with folks getting their beignet fix. Still full from brunch, I passed it up, choosing to return the next day when I had an appetite! I walked into the Square all the way to the back and had a chance to hear a guy playing a unique instrument called the Kora, a huge African bass harp.
The heat was pretty unbearable, even for me, and I was a bit sleepy, so I walked back to Elysian Fields and up to my room for a mid-day nap. When I rose, I headed back out and made the quick trek to The Praline Connection, a fantastic spot for soul food. I started with a cup of the crawfish etoufee, and found it to be just as good as it was 10 years ago. I was a bit disappointed that they had run out of the fried chicken, but I opted for meatloaf instead, with collard greens and limas. Out it came with a side of fantastically sweet cornbread. For dessert I ordered the bread pudding, and it was one of the best I’ve ever had, very heavy on the bourbon. A wonderful meal.
After that, I was ready to hear some music. I wandered down the street, music streaming out of all the little clubs, and heard some really great trumpet playing coming out of a little Japanese bar. I wandered in, and settled at the bar, listening to this tiny Japanese woman playing a pretty mean trumpet, along with a pianist, bass, and drums. Although she was very fine, as they continued to play, I was captivated by the pianist. I have NEVER in my life heard such unbelievable jazz piano playing. He was absolutely enthralling. Chart after chart, he jammed away, exhibiting unbelievable technique and the most amazing improvisation I’ve ever heard. I looked around and there were very few other people in the bar, and I kept thinking that the place should be packed!
The combo finished after about an hour, so I walked out and saw a crowd forming right across from Praline Connection. I walked over to see a group of about 10 boys, and yes, they were boys….teenagers mostly. THe group consisted of a couple of drums, a tuba, about three trombones and four trumpets. They started playing and it was phenomenal. Real New Orleans brass band stuff. They took turns playing solos and played on and on. Their chops were unreal. They appeared to have a woman watching over them…she was dancing and jamming among with a tambourine. At one of their breaks, she implored us to keep in mind that for every dollar bill thrown into their donation box, each boy got ten cents. It was a great treat to see them perform.
After that, I wandered over to a little artist colony along a little corridor, brightly lit with white christmas lights. There were stalls with unique beautiful jewelry, wooden goods, and other types of art. What a joy to see the talents of others and what they are sharing with the world. Just amazing.
I headed back to the inn and sat out on the open air front patio balcony and enjoyed one of my little hand wrapped sweet cigars, along with the balmy New Orleans breeze and the sounds of the late night: far off music, street noise, and the cicadas and other night creatures. Perfect end to the first day of NOLA.
Monday I woke and headed downstairs for coffee and a great breakfast of bacon and eggs, and got a kick out of several other guests rehashing their exploits from the previous night. I finished, walked out the door and headed for Bourbon Street. It was almost noon and shops just started opening up. Again I enjoyed the local art, little voodoo shops and saw some promising looking bars for later that afternoon. Once I hit St. Ann Street I headed south towards Cafe du Monde. Walking down Prisoners Alley I passed some amazing displays of art – paintings, charcoal drawings, prints, etchings, etc – created by local artists. I walked into Cafe du Monde and sat at a table. An old waitress came over and took my order: 3 beignets and a cup of cafe au lait. It arrived and it was heavenly. Covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar – oh my! I had no trouble disposing of them. A tradition that should never be passed up! And yes, I’m well aware that IT’S NOT PALEO!!
After that sugar bomb, I walked back up to Bourbon Street, which was a bit more lively by now. I found a friendly neighborhood bar playing some good dance music and settled in for an hour or so with a couple Abita Summer Wheats. I enjoyed the atmosphere and watched the folks at the bar and the people passing by on the sidewalk. I finished my last beer and bid the boys at the bar farewell, and headed towards Central Grocery, anticipating a NOLA favorite, a nice muffuletta sandwich. However, when I arrived there, I was horrified to see that they were closed on Mondays! AHHHH!!! I had my heart set on a muffuletta! Discouraged, I walked down the sidewalk and noticed another Italian spot hawking their own muffuletta. Well, I thought I’d just see for myself, so I went in and ordered one and was NOT disappointed. In fact, I believe this one to be even better than what I had years earlier from Central Grocery! Mission accomplished.
New Orleans goes into napmode at around 4pm, so I returned to the hotel for a late afternoon nap myself. Around 7 I got up and dressed to go out one more evening. I stopped for a bowl of gumbo at Snug Harbor. There was a great jazz band in the back, but the cover was a little pricy so instead I walked across the street to the Spotted Cat. A nice little combo was playing, but the Spotted Cat is quite small and standing room only. I got a bit claustrophobic so walked out and back to the little artist colony before heading to Cafe Negril, another brightly lit little club just a few doors down. The band playing consisted of drums, bass, electric guitar, keyboard, and a fantastic harmonica player. I was thoroughly enjoying them and was thrilled to see that anyone could sign up and play a set with the band. First up was a cajun singer, he was fabulous. Then a keyboardist took a turn, and as I was leaving, a young man took his spot on drums. I think I was there for about an hour and a half enjoying a multi talented group of local musicians.
I walked out and started heading back to the inn, but noticed that the same group of young kids were again in front of Praline Connection doing their thing. Again I stopped and enjoyed listening to some grown up music played by very young but talented kids. When I got back to the inn, I grabbed my last little sweet cigar, a bottle of chilled mango moscato, and went downstairs to the outdoor patio balcony and enjoyed my last perfect evening in NOLA.
The next morning I enjoyed my last breakfast of french toast and reluctantly and wistfully checked out. More adventures were ahead, but I could have stayed much longer, enjoying the food, sights, sounds, amazing music and wonderful scrabble games! Onward to Texas….see y’all soon!