Tastes of New Orleans
If you have ever heard of New Orleans, chances are the reputation of revelry and hazy memories from Bourbon Street have been the highlight of most recollections. As fun as a night out with cheap drinks and wild loss of inhibition can be, I will try to portray a side of New Orleans that will give you a lasting yearning to make that journey over Lake Pontchartrain. Instead of a one night stand with Bourbon Street, complete with a “What was I thinking” walk of shame the next morning, I want you to find a lifelong romance with a street car named desire. Here are 10 tastes of New Orleans outside of Bourbon Street that will keep you craving more of the enchanting Big Easy.
1. Willie Mae’s Scotch House - A Taste for Soulful Comfort Food
A trip to Willie Mae’s alone is worth the journey to New Orleans. This family owned spot off St Ann Street has been producing notoriously mouth watering fried chicken since 1957. One taste of their fried deliciousness, and you will compare all other fried chicken you taste in your lifetime to that experience. So far, I haven’t tasted better, in case you were wondering. Throw in the mix some fresh made corn bread, and perfectly partnered sides, and you’ll see why folks line up at this Mecca of Comfort Food no matter how many times the line wraps around the building. Insider tip: get there right after they open the doors at 10am for an early lunch, and you’ll walk right in with no wait, minimizing the time it takes for you to have your taste buds rejoicing in soulful harmony. As you walk out, you can slyly smile at the folks that didn’t read this tip and are still outside waiting in line.
2. Jacques Imo’s – A Taste of Cajun/Creole As You've Always Envisioned It
This is another Foodie destination where you will be fighting a line filled with just as many locals as there are well informed travelers. They are serving up some of the best all around Cajun/Creole food you can find in New Orleans. With their quirky décor and lively atmosphere, you can get the all in one Cajun experience you had hoped to find. With menu items like Alligator Shrimp Cheesecake and Godzilla (Fried Soft Shell Crab), you can be adventurous and still not go wrong with anything you pick. Let’s just put it this way, their sign clearly says “Warm Beer, Lousy Food, and Poor Service”, yet there is a reason why folks can’t get enough of this place, and are willing to wait a few hours to get a table. Insider Tip: You can either get there a little before they open at 5pm to walk right in, or expect to wait. Although if you anticipate the wait, the Brightside is that you can give your information to the host, and have them text you when your table is ready, which gives you the freedom to check out the eclectic local shops nearby. I found the perfect vintage typewriter, and my wife fell in love with a bookstore just a block away.
3. Cochon Butcher – An Insider’s Taste of Quality
Cochon Butcher is the sister shop of the highly reviewed Cochon Restaurant. From most accounts it almost seems impossible to get into the Cochon Restaurant without booking well in advance. However for the well researched traveler you can still experience this foodie heaven at your own pace and well within any price range by going around the corner, down what appears to be an alley/street to Cochon Butcher. This trendy bar/butcher shop is serving up fresh sandwiches and cold brews. This makes for the perfect combination to awaken the palate. Instead of grabbing a mediocre muffuletta elsewhere, taste how amazing it can be when served warm at the Cochon Butcher. It takes this New Orleans original to another level. In most cases you can grab a quick meal here, and if there is a line they tend to move fast, so grab a beer to ease any wait time you might have, and be ready for a taste adventure.
4. Mother’s Restaurant – A Taste of Tradition
If you simply must eat somewhere in New Orleans out of the sake of tradition alone, then you must go to Mother’s. They have been serving Po Boys and traditional southern fare to the masses since 1938. Their claim to fame is the World’s Best Baked Ham, so make sure to taste some. My recommended method is the Ferdi Special which combines ham and roast beef into a messy yet delightful Po Boy overflowing with goodness. There is normally a long line at Mother’s, but this gives you time to study the menu and make sure you have what you are going to order at this cafeteria style counter. They have developed a factory line system that is more efficient than anything I’ve ever seen at a restaurant, so you better be prepared when you get up to the counter to order, otherwise you’ll slow down progress. Fortunately, they have a surprising amount of seating inside, and if you are lucky you can see some celebrities enjoying their Po Boys while waiting in line. We happened to see Actor/Comedian David Cross, which made the experience that much more unique. Something to note is that they have a no tipping policy for their wait staff.
5. Café Du Monde – A Perfect Taste of Treats
Speaking of Tradition, it has become my personal tradition to always make a stop at Café Du Monde anytime I am in New Orleans. There is just something about the magical blend of frozen coffee with fresh warm beignets, that it is the perfect treat any time of day. This is probably why Café Du Monde is open 24 hours. Once you have bitten into the beignets it can take you on an otherworldly experience. That helps to distract you from the fact that you now have powdered sugar everywhere. If you can grab a seat during the slower hours, this corner spot in the French Quarter makes for unrivaled people watching. However, the word has been out about this place for a while, so normally you can expect to see crowds waiting for a table. If this is the case, my insider tip is to come prepared with cash in hand (since it is a cash only establishment), and grab some frozen coffees and beignets to go like a pro. That way you can avoid the chaos of trying to get a table, and get to enjoy this deliciousness while wandering the French quarter’s picturesque streets.
6. Davenport Lounge – A Taste of Class
Now we have reached the portion of this journey to where we include the other senses. This in particular relates to the sense of sound. If you have an appreciation for classic crooner ballads, then Davenport Lounge is the place for you. I am a huge fan of the Rat Pack and their jazzy ballads, so anytime I have an opportunity to experience that type of music live, I jump at the chance. No need to step into a time machine here folks, just step into the elevator of the Ritz Carrolton on Canal St. and let it lift you up to the Davenport Lounge on the 3rd Floor. Grab a table on any Wednesday or Thursday from 5:30 until 9:30pm or Fridays from 9:00pm until 1:00am to see Jeremy Davenport and his band revive traditional jazz standards. With the exquisite glitz and glamour of a Ritz Lounge smoothed out by the allure of Jeremy Davenports’ sound. It brings classy cool to a whole new level. Surprisingly there is not a cover charge to get into this lounge and listen to the live band, but don’t feel obligated to pay for overpriced food. You can take the budget friendly way out by instead ordering a dessert to go with your tasty Bourbon that beckons to be slowly sipped. Don’t be surprised to see locals all dressed up for a night out on the town, because this place exudes unpretentious elegance that is rare for the flip flop and cargo shorts clad counterpart of Bourbon Street that is just a couple blocks away.
7. Frenchmen Street - A Taste for Great Music
Still craving more music, not to worry Frenchmen has you covered. Some of the most incredible live music can be experienced here on Frenchmen. With spots like the Spotted Cat, and Three Muses you cannot go wrong with the live music being offered on any given night. Don’t make the same mistake we did, if you plan on eating at Three Muses while listening to the band, get reservations well in advance. We walked up to a standing room only option that made us drool with envy from the outside windows for not being better prepared. Still though all was not lost, we found great live sounds at Café Negril, and The Spotted Cat, with music being so charismatically performed it made it impossible to leave. The rooms became electric, as the band fed off the energy of the crowd, and gave once in a lifetime performances that could only be felt in that moment. Each place filled to the brim with folks being charmed by the pied pipers playing authentic New Orleans sounds, and quickly dispersing to find the next hot band when the current band’s set was over. Luckily, if you are not fortunate enough to grab a spot at any one of these musical sanctuaries, you can wander through the charming street fair market set up with local artists displaying their latest imaginative expressions. Either way, you will leave Frenchmen Street better versed in authentic New Orleans’ Culture.
8. Magazine Street – A Taste for Boutique Shopping
Shopping can be an experience all to itself. If you want to avoid the generic souvenirs that are mostly made in China, then make your way over to Magazine Street. Most of the shops along this 5 mile stretch through some of the more scenic districts like the Garden District are locally owned and operated. They offer a vast array of boutique shops to explore. We came across all sorts of wonderful gems, which made us wish we had allotted at least a Full Day to venture along this street. Most of the shops will come in clusters sprinkled along this street from neighborhood to neighborhood. They also have restaurants and bars, so you will be nourished and fueled for shopping. From handcrafted furniture to local art to antique shops to a fashionable Hat Store to specialized men’s and women’s clothing, and every knick knack in between.
9. Swamp/Plantation Tour – A Taste for Southern History and Adventure
If you want to see the sights outside of downtown and the French Quarter, there are some fascinating tours just a short drive away. One of our favorite experiences was the Swamp Tour. We got to see the true side of the swamps, and not the made for television stereotype we had anticipated. Held all sorts of wild life up close, including a baby alligator, and saw its much larger relatives lounging on shore. We went in with expectations of seeing perhaps an alligator or two, but ended up filling up our memory cards with several alligators at every turn, and even better breath taking swamp landscapes. The tour operator was extremely informative, and equally entertaining. The plantation tour offered a glimpse into New Orleans’ history. We found a discount for buy one get one free admission into a lesser known plantation, so it offered great value and when we arrived we had the entire place to ourselves. The tour guide walked us all over the plantation at our own pace, and answered any questions we had.
10. Old New Orleans Rum Distillery – A Taste To Lift Spirits
If after all I’ve mentioned, you still insist on doing the Bourbon Street experience instead, then let me at least point you in the direction to get things started off right. For $12 including shuttle to and from French Quarter, you can spend a couple of hours during the early afternoon learning about the rum you will more than likely be consuming in bulk later on. The building for this distillery alone has enough character to feel the historical charm, but add into the mix the owner James Michalopoulos is an amazing artist, and has several of his paintings adorning the tasting room, and you get a real New Orleans vibe. I was ready to buy some of these masterpieces, and that was before the rum started flowing. They take you on a very in-depth tour of the small facilities and fill you with as much distilling knowledge and history of the area as possible, before filling your tasting cups with a variety of their rums. You can purchase bottles to take with you, or just revel in the experience before heading back. Granted many factors play into the type of experience you may have, tour guide’s passion for rum, crowd size, and drunkenness of that crowd even though it’s only noon prior to the tour starting. My insider tip is to keep an open mind, and a positive vibe, which holds true for New Orleans as a whole. If you go in looking for a good time, then it will be much easier for you to find it.