life, music and the food that goes with it – NOLA 2012 April 2, 2012

“I’m not going to lay down in words the lure of this place. Every great writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short. It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of south Louisiana in words and to try is to roll down a road of clichés, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is. It is home.” –

Chris Rose from 1 Dead in Attic

My first – and only – visit to New Orleans was when I was 17 or 18 years old. Before I knew what I know now about food and food culture. Before I could drink or appreciate a great cocktail. Before Hurricane Katrina. We did the usual tourist stuff organized by the school – beignets at Cafe du Monde, jazz at Preservation Hall. The New Orleans institutions. For my return visit – 18 years later – I wanted to experience New Orleans as authentically as I could. No standing in line for powdered hunks of dough (don’t get me wrong – they’re delicious), no lines waiting for a muffaletta, no jazz club stereotypes. I wanted to see as much of the city as I could – walk everywhere and let the music (and smells) in the air guide us.

When I try to sort out where to begin, all of the details of the trip swirl into one sultry, vibrating experience. As soon as you hit the streets of New Orleans, you feel it – this palpable, magical, historic “it”. The city is alive all the time – it differs from hour to hour. In the daylight, it’s groundbreaking boutiques like Avery Fine Perfumes, who chose NOLA as the spot for their first permanent retail location. It’s also the throngs of people lined up for cocktails and charcuterie at spots like Cochon Butcher. It’s mid-afternoon beers and games of pool with regulars in bars like Mimi’s and Half Moon (if you stop by Half Moon, ask for Woody). It’s brunch, burgers and Brussels sprouts and Sylvain – one of my favorite discoveries of the trip.

As the sun starts to set and the day dims just a bit, it’s street musicians that rival anything I’ve ever heard. You’re standing on the corner with a plastic cup in hand – I had to ask 10 times before I believed I could walk around with a cocktail – listening to the wailing of the most brilliant brass instruments when you hear a similar tune and the stomping of feet coming around the bend. You look around and here comes a wedding parade – complete with second line – filled with the most jubilant, glowing wedding party and their band of characters. It all fits, somehow, and Mike and I both looked at each other and raised our glasses. The New Orleans I’d been hoping to see.

At night, New Orleans is tasting menus at Coquette – I had a crab salad with asparagus and mustard flowers that made me swoon. It’s gastronomic institutions like Delmonico or Dickie Brennan’s. It’s also competing for bar seats with vampires at places like Pravda and Bar Tonique. One evening while we were there, the power went out at Tonique and, while some folks paid their tabs and hightailed it, we sat there in the dark…finishing our drink while watching the bartender not miss a beat. That, too, was the NOLA I’d been hoping to see.

I’ve struggled with what to say about the remnants of Hurricane Katrina and the lasting effects it has had on the city of New Orleans – nothing I say here is any different or more powerful than all the words and photos we’ve seen. We spent a good amount of time visiting neighborhoods outside of the Quarter, where we were staying. My desire to see some of the remaining Banksys – the ones that haven’t been demolished or painted over – was tempered by my desire not to be a tourist in the lives of folks that still live in Tremé and the Lower Ninth Ward and other neighborhoods throughout the city. You won’t see any photos of tags spray painted on houses. Sofas sitting out in yards of abandoned houses nearly 6 years later. Collapsing roofs and front stoops. You know why? Because people still live there and sit on those stoops. Families sitting on steps in front of houses that seem barely held together. Water lines and mildew crawling up the sides. This isn’t a tourist spot – this is real life for many people who chose to stay after the storm.

Banksy went to New Orleans in 2008 – two years after Katrina – and left behind close to a dozen works that were a commentary on the state and speed of the clean-up, as well as a dig at the “Grey Ghost”, an un-named man who covers up graffiti and street art with the same ominous color of gray paint. His placement of these pieces – near St. Roch, tucked away in Tremé, and the most moving being in Lower Ninth Ward – was no accident: a way to draw attention to the slow pace of help and recovery in these neighborhoods…and if people like me wanted to see his work, we’d have to go see it for ourselves. We’d have to make ourselves uncomfortable. See something that isn’t perfectly pastel old world charm. The boy with the bugle – his horn facing what is now a shell of a house that’s deteriorated even further since the storm – pointing at blocks of neighborhoods that look like an atomic bomb went off. That look like people dropped what they were doing and simply evaporated. The thought of a tidal wave of water rushing through city blocks. It’s an image I’ll never forget – I can’t talk about it without choking back tears.

Despite it all, many people chose to stay. To come back to New Orleans and help rebuild. Note that I don’t say “help make it better”. In the eyes of many people that live every day in NOLA, there was nothing wrong with their city before the storm. This notion of martyrdom and sweeping in to “fix things” is, for all practical purposes, frowned upon. The people of New Orleans want their city to be back the way it was. We don’t need your help. We need you to come here and contribute. Build something of use and of beauty in this community. Live with us – don’t just think that by tearing something down and building it new that you’re making it all better. Live day to day here with us and be a part of us. People in NOLA still talk about Katrina but in a way that isn’t full of sadness. There’s a matter-of-factness with a tinge of pride thrown in. We lived that and we’re still here so have a drink, new friend. That’s the message I heard over and over again and, more important than any photo I took there, brought home with me. I’m counting the days until I can do it again.

So many folks have asked where we ate while in New Orleans that I thought I would include a list of stops we made on our trip – food or otherwise. These are the places shown in the photos or referenced in this post.  All the places listed are spots I’d visit again…and recommend to others. It is by no means an exhaustive list or a final itinerary – as Angie Mosier said to me, “eating and drinking New Orleans could be one’s life work”.

  • Avery Fine Perfumes – a tiny jewelry box of a shop near the Warehouse district. Treat yourself and stop in.
  • Perino’s Boiling Pot – this place is attached to a hotel and looks sort of like a truck stop…except they have amazing seafood & incredible crawfish boudin
  • St. Louis Cathedral – the oldest Catholic cathedral still in regular use in the US.
  • Sucré - Amazing chocolates, macarons, and gelato that are all as beautiful as they are tasty.
  • Half Moon – It’s a neighborhood spot with great bartenders, pool tables and dart boards.
  • Cochon Butcher – I don’t need to explain how hot Cochon Butcher is. Go there with a bit of time and some patience – it is well worth the wait.
  • Sylvain – Every single thing in this place is tasty and the cocktails are great. Amazing burger. They make their cola in house.
  • MRB – Get the blackened shrimp and crawfish queso. You’ll thank me.
  • Goorin Bros. Hat Shop – Having a hat in NOLA seems to be a requirement. This spot is an institution & has great styles at reasonable prices.
  • Molly’s At The Market – While the frozen Irish coffees are certainly a draw, this place feels like a neighborhood bar in any city. Don’t be surprised if there’s a cat sitting on the stool next to you. Great Bloody Marys, too.
  • Royal Blend Coffee and Tea – Tucked away off Royal, it’s a much needed morning sanctuary to grab a caffeine jolt & relax.
  • Mimi’s at the Marigny – They open early, have a banging tapas menu, great drinks and better people watching.
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe Church & The International Shrine of St. Jude – This church is likely off the radar of many visiting NOLA. It shouldn’t be. It’s breathtaking and worth a small detour.
  • Coquette – Do the tasting menu. Trust me.
  • Elizabeth’s – Praline bacon. That is all.
  • Bar Tonique – One of my favorite stops of the trip. Insane ambiance and cocktails.
  • The Shop – a brilliant art gallery in the Quarter.
  • Dickie Brennan’s – Creamed spinach, fantastic seafood and white linen treatment.
  • Pravda – Absinthe and vampires. Those things both live at Pravda.

Full disclosure: This ain’t no media trip or sponsored post.

Comments

Sarah Apr 3, 2012 05:04 pm

I love New Orleans. Its such a great city. I’ve been there twice for two short trips. Almost every day I think how I want to go back. Beautiful pictures!

Winnie Apr 3, 2012 06:04 pm

Amazing photos. I haven’t ever been…I desperately want to go now. Love the disclosure ;)

Tracy Apr 3, 2012 08:04 pm

Tami – Your photo’s are spectacular, and you have written so eloquently and honestly of New Orleans. I have spent a lot of time there and there is no other place on earth like it! I now can’t wait for my next trip!

Sarah (Thyme) Apr 3, 2012 09:04 pm

Beautiful words about New Orleans. Being a southern cajun but having moved away from the south for years and then returning to New Orleans last year, was shocking. I couldn’t help but blink back the tears when I saw what has become of the city. Thank you for bringing out the best of your visit and explaining life from the ‘locals’ point of view. It is one of the most different cities in the U.S., for sure.

Nicole Franzen Apr 3, 2012 10:04 pm

these are so pretty :) glad you had a much needed vaca and time away x

michael Apr 4, 2012 12:04 am

Worth the wait, kid.

Pierre Apr 4, 2012 02:04 pm

I’m here to tell you that your assessment of our desire for the “new” people coming to Nola is spot on. New Orleans is what she is because of all of the people that chose to come here and submit their cultural offerings to the stew pot. And the recent arrivals have the same opportunity. Add your ingredients and make the city that much tastier. Try to take something out, and see if you don’t get your hand slapped. We love you all, but please don’t expect the city to adapt to you. You must adapt to her.

Thanks for putting your words to paper. New Orleans needs everyone to know she’s still kickin’.

keiko Apr 5, 2012 11:04 am

What a beautiful post Tami – I’m so inspired, thank you (and you had me at the kitty pic!).

jimmy Apr 5, 2012 02:04 pm

Outstanding post Tami. I didn’t know about the Banksy stuff. Crazy.

marla Apr 5, 2012 05:04 pm

Excellent post on New Orleans Tami ~ the images you captured are AMAZING!!

Joy Apr 5, 2012 05:04 pm

Everything looks amazing! So much fun!

Jamie Apr 5, 2012 08:04 pm

I’ve never been to New Orleans, but reading this post makes me want to book a flight immediately!

Amanda@EasyPeasyOrganic Apr 6, 2012 01:04 am

AWE. SOME.
makes me want to hit the road right this minute. (and then I remember … I’m in Australia … so it might take me a wee while … ;) )

kale @ tastes good to me! Apr 6, 2012 01:04 pm

These pictures are gorgeous! Love all the street art.

Caroline Apr 9, 2012 04:04 pm

Absolutely love your blog! We represent Ingrid Hoffmann and her manager, Delia, told me about your site. Love your photos and can’t wait to read more. :) x

DessertForTwo Apr 9, 2012 08:04 pm

Ohh gosh, Tami. I ate this post up. I poured over the photos, the words, everything. Loved it! Thank you thank you thank you xo

Robin Rosenberg Apr 10, 2012 01:04 am

I’ve always wanted to go to New Orleans, and this post has rekindled my interest. Thanks so much for showing us the human side of the city.

Teem Apr 10, 2012 05:04 am

Even the people watching seems to have a very special twist to it. I would like to know the name of the bar in which the cat was sitting AND did you buy him a drink?
Thanks for caring enough and for being a very good writer, photographer, traveler, blogger and Mikes very special lady friend. I find all those qualities quite admirable.

Kiran @ KiranTarun.com Apr 11, 2012 10:04 pm

I’ve been dreaming of going to NOLA for a very long time now. What a fun and lively city :)

Sandie Ward THE FOOD STALKER May 10, 2012 12:05 pm

Hat’s off on a beautifully documented post. Images draw you in & written so eloquently. Wishing you continued inspiration. http://www.thefoodstalker.com “Where Food & Fashion Collide”.

greg May 25, 2012 10:05 am

Very nice snapshot of our city, thank you. BTW, the Grey Ghost is not anonymous by any means –his name is Fred Radtke, and he carries (or carried) a gun on his coverup missions, so if you see him, stay clear.

Jerry Berry Sep 9, 2012 03:09 pm

Tell me about the cat in the bar- Is this shot in your Flikr stream?

Jerry Berry Sep 9, 2012 03:09 pm

Sorry — His name is Mr. Wu and he’s a regular at Molly’s At The Market http://facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150763282140865.450142.110551985864 But still want to find this shot as its own post or tag (there’s only 2 pics tagged NOLA in your Flikr)