Tourist In My Birth City

Our voyage to my birth city began with a food truck, and the best part of the trip ended up being at a restaurant that started… with a food truck, of course.

Back in June, I went to see the movie “Chef” with my parents. We enjoyed the movie because of the witty banter, the marketing angle, the father-son relationship, and of course, the food.

The film happened to make a pit stop in New Orleans, where I was born on May 8, 1978, and my father had lived since 1976, and my mother, since 1977. Though we left in 1983, we returned to the area often to visit friends and family, but we rarely ventured to the French Quarter and other tourist attractions. We ate Indian food at our families’ homes, which I love, but how could we visit the Crescent City so often and never eat at the restaurants New Orleans is famous for?

The art and history buff that I am, how could I deny a trip to the city that is the birthplace of jazz, and home to such beautiful architecture, history, and folklore?

I am a proud member of the Who Dat nation!

Day 1 – November 27, 2014

The first day was Thanksgiving, and my one hesitation about traveling during Thanksgiving is finding restaurants that are open. Thankfully, Cafe Du Monde is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. New Orleans is the perfect city to visit on holidays like Thanksgiving.

Breakfast of Champions - Beignets at Cafe Du Monde
Breakfast of Champions at Cafe Du Monde

It was a beautiful day, so we explored Jackson Square and Saint Louis Cathedral, and took in the architecture of Canal Street and the French Quarter. We saw buildings which once housed Maison Blanche, Gotcheaux, and D. H. Holmes, where Dad said he got his first winter coat. The department stores started disappearing from downtown in the 1980’s when the big box mall anchors gained popularity over locally-owned department stores. I remember Maison Blanche stores in the suburban malls like Esplanade and Clearview in the early 1980’s around the time we moved away from New Orleans.

Thanksgiving Dinner was at the Marriott 5 Fifty 5; 555 Canal St was the hotel’s address. Unfortunately none of us liked mimosas, or we could have left after Thanksgiving dinner still drunk! The buffet was one of the best Thanksgiving meals I’ve had, and gave us the energy we needed to walk around the city more.

Richard Fiske – disaster. I made a reservation using Open Table earlier that week, and they didn’t have it. I was really looking forward to it, too! Next time, I hope.

Bourbon House – Wonderful dinner, and a really nice staff. We met Corey and Curtis-Michel.

Creme Brulee at Bourbon House, Thanksgiving Night 2014
Creme Brulee at Bourbon House, Thanksgiving Night 2014

Curtis-Michel has been working at Bourbon House for 3 months, lived in Atlanta for 8 months and didn’t feel the love, so he moved back “home”. Home is actually Lafayette, Louisiana, but the French Quarter is home now. He served us our wine and dessert. I told him we met him by accident since our intended dinner spot was a disaster.

Corey also served our table, and his story was even more interesting. He is the oldest of the children in his family (5 sisters and a brother). Their mother passed away earlier this year, and he is now working to help take care of them all. His father was in the military, but they don’t know where he is now. He wants to be a botanist, and is studying hydroponics, and said that the legalization of marijuana in states helped to make the decision that it would be a good career choice.

Day 2 – November 28, 2014

Today is Black Friday for so many, so we made it our own Black Friday and visited some of the famous cemeteries of New Orleans. We started just northwest of the French Quarter with St. Louis Cemetery #1 where Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is interred. Her grave is famously marked with marks of vandalism, and was even painted pink recently. The cemetery will soon be open only to tours because of such vandalism. Other residents include Nicolas Cage (well, the future tomb for him) and Homer Plessy, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, Plessy vs. Ferguson, which challenged streetcar segregation and set the “separate but equal” designation.

We also visited Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District, which has many German families enshrined here. It opened in 1833, white it only takes up 1 square block, it houses 1100 tombs and over 7,000 residents. Its most notable residents are Harry Hays, who led the Louisiana Tigers as part of the Confederate Army, and John Ferguson, the defendant in the Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court case. As with most everything else in New Orleans, these cemeteries have been the settings for many movies, including Interview with a Vampire and Double Jeopardy.

We had lunch in the courtyard of a bar with po-boys and some delicious french fries. I never thought I’d be able to take my parents to a bar for a meal, but there we were! Po-boys (fried shrimp, specifically, and fully dressed) are one of my favorite meals to enjoy when we visit Louisiana, and we get them for takeout in Slidell where my uncle and grandmother live. Mom has decided she is going to sample fries all over the city and become the French Fry Connesieur.

I also love that po-boys are a food that has history. Legend has it that “Po-boys” are the shortened form of “Poor Boys” in honor of the striking workers who ate the first ones in 1929 during a streetcar strike. They were originally filled with roast beef and gravy. “Fully dressed” means that the sandwich includes lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise; hot sauce is optional. The unwritten rule is that the french bread loaves must be baked fresh daily. No matter the meat filling or dressing style, po-boys are one of those meals I enjoy on every trip to Louisiana.

Day 3 – November 29, 2014

Most Saturdays in the fall, I would be tailgating or getting ready to watch a game with friends. Today, we watched the Georgia-Georgia Tech game at Manning’s, a sports bar homage to Archie’s career at Ole Miss and with Saints, Peyton’s career at Tennessee and with Indy and Denver, and Eli’s career at Ole Miss and with Giants. The outdoor area is aptly named “The Grove”. The restaurant and setting itself were great. The game, not so much. Georgia lost to Georgia Tech in overtime, the first loss since 2008.

After the game (and my mourning a loss), we visited the World War II Museum, Lee Circle and Lafayette Square. The World War II Museum is a must for any visitor to the area. The connection between New Orleans and Louisiana and the war effort is strong. The Higgins boats manufactured in New Orleans were vital to the success of the Allied troops on both the Pacific and European fronts.

Flag used in the Normandy invasion at the WW II Museum
Flag used in the Normandy invasion at the WW II Museum
Display of the Normandy invasion at the WW II Museum
Display of the Normandy invasion at the WW II Museum

Since the inspiration for this trip was a movie about food trucks, it is fitting that our last dinner was at a restaurant that started as The Purple Truck, Boucherie. My cousin, Maanasa, who lives in New Orleans, joined us for dinner. Their Krispy Kreme bread pudding… words can’t describe. I’ll let Saveur tell you about it. It was so good, I didn’t even stop to get a picture of it. I did get the Rex Float, a root beer float made with a Gulf Coast delicacy, Barq’s Root Beer.

Rex Float - Barqs Root Beer Float at Boucherie
Rex Float – Barqs Root Beer Float at Boucherie

Day 4 – November 30, 2014

Our last day in New Orleans started with brunch at The Court of Two Sisters. It was impossible to get a seat in the courtyard with the jazz band, but we were lucky to get a table right inside the doors with a view of the band. The omelet station was worth the wait!

We stopped by Aunt Sally’s to watch pralines being made, and visited the French Market to pick up some souvenirs and gifts for friends. Mom being the antique hound that she is, we had to visit M.S. Rau’s, where she got her foyer chandelier from.

No trip to Louisiana would be complete without visiting my grandmother who lives in Slidell with my uncle (her youngest son). We didn’t tell anyone in the family other than the one cousin we were coming, but we had to see her. She was a bit confused why we came all that way and didn’t see her until the last day, and then she wanted to know why she wasn’t invited!

The front yard of my uncle's house in Slidell
The front yard of my uncle’s house in Slidell

To tell you the truth, it was hard to pick “one best part” of this trip. All of the sights, food, drink were wonderful, and I think the truly BEST part was that I was able to spend it with my family.

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