Though I now reside in the great city of Austin, Texas, there is one town in my home state that will always hold a piece of my heart: New Orleans. Home to many festivals, including French Quarter Fest and my beloved New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest), New Orleans is also the home of Voodoo Fest.
The 2011 Voodoo Experience lineup boasts many great acts, including Snoop Dogg,The Raconteurs, Soundgarden, TV on the Radio, Girl Talk, Band of Horses, and Fitz and the Tantrums. I’d also urge you to check out some of the New Orleans based bands, such as long-time greats Dr. John, Dumpstaphunk, Soul Rebels Brass Band, and The Meters, as well as the up-and-coming Revivalists and Givers. New Orleans is, after all, a city known for its music, and some truly legendary music had its start there.
But, truth be told, the main thing I’m here to tell you about is one of my favorite aspects of the city: the FOOD. I prefer to take in a new city by eating my way through it, and the Crescent City is, hands down, one of the best cities in which to do this.
From Emeril Lagasse, to John Besh, to Paul Prudhomme, the city is chock full of celebrity chef goodness. In addition to these well-known eateries, there is an abundance of local, smaller scale restaurants that are just as good, if not better.
Below is a list of my favorites to serve as a starting place for your culinary exploration of the big easy. Feel free to comment to add to the list!
No trip to New Orleans is complete without beignets from Cafe du Monde. While lines can take 30-45 minutes during the prime breakfast time, this classic is open 24 hours a day, and beignets taste fantastic any ol’ time of the day. Make sure you order a cafe au lait, which is steamed milk and chicory coffee, as well as a plate of hot and delicious beignets.
Just as a side note, the recognizable hats that the servers wear make great souveneirs for kiddos (or the young-at-heart) and are free upon request.
In a town full of seafood, this is often a point of contention. Every local has their own favorite for one reason or another. I, personally, LOVE Acme Oyster House. Start your meal off with a
dozen raw oysters, then move onto the main course: Poboys. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but I have two favorites at Acme. I typically try to convince someone else at the table to order one, and we each trade for a half.
If you can work it out, try both the 10 Napkin Roast Beef and the Peacemaker. The 10 Napkin Roast Beef is not just a cute name. It really does take a large tree’s worth of of napkins to get through this delicious poboy that is dripping with gravy and mayonnaise (did I mention that a weekend in New Orleans is not the ideal time to count calories?).
The Peacemaker is, as Acme describes it, “golden fried oysters and shrimp, seasoned to perfection, with Tabasco infused mayo”. It is, in addition to the quickest route to a heart attack, fried seafood at its best. Be sure to order it “dressed,” which is how we say we want lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise- the standard for most New Orleans sandwiches.
Coquette is located in charming uptown New Orleans. This small, intimate bistro offers a handsome 14-chair made of old wood full of character, two small-ish floors of indoor dining, and outdoor dining at one of six linen-draped sidewalk tables that are ideal for people watching. Service is excellent, but not quick, so leave time to enjoy Coquette at a leisurely pace, perhaps beginning the experience with a handcrafted cocktail.
Coquette’s inventive menu is perfect for sharing with a small group, offering each person a taste of such creative dishes as pork belly rillette, boudin stuffed squash blossoms, and collard green ravioli. Don’t forget to save room for dessert. The menu changes frequently, but the dessert, in my experience, has always been worth the extra calories.
If there is one thing that can beat the music and the food in New Orleans, its the drinks. New Orleans has long been known for its classic cocktails, and my all-time favorite place to enjoy one is at The Columns Hotel in the Garden District. This amazing hotel was built in 1883 and features a beautiful porch with giant- you guessed it- columns.
The New York Times called it “the South’s most inviting porch,” and its true. Located on beautiful and historic St. Charles Avenue, time spent at The Columns quickly passes. Of course, the perfect cocktail prepared by one of several mixoligists doesn’t hurt either. You can’t go wrong with the Sazerac or the Pimm’s Cup, both true New Orleans Classics.
If you’re staying at a hotel in the French Quarter, The Columns Hotel is just a cheap, easy streetcar ride up tree-lined Saint Charles Avenue. And, since this is New Orleans after all, don’t forget that you can ask to take the alcoholic beverage of your choice to-go, and sip it as you cruise on the street car.
While Voodoo Fest is sure to be a weekend full of killer music and an amazing experience all on its own, don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore the rest of the Big Easy. We can help you get tickets to the fest, and hopefully this short list of recommendations helps get you started on the rest.