"I called New Orleans 'a small model of all the best of America' because I have found here a vivid expression of my conception of what the United States can be at its best -- a truly multicultural place, in which all social, ethnic, and economic elements of the society have somehow managed to fashion a distinct and vibrant culture out of the tensions among their differences. This embrace of diversity is a beautiful thing, when you can find it."
-- Tom Piazza, Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America
Amen, Tom Piazza. We found it, we drank it in, gobbled it up, and embraced it. Then we came home and wondered why it took us so long to get there.
Our New Orleans trip over the New Years holiday wouldn't have happened if our Nashville friends hadn't initiated the visit. Thanks friends, for the introduction. And hello to our Asheville pals who met us down there -- ain't it too bad we didn't have more days to visit??
As my good pal KG read in the exhibits at the Preservation Resource Center on Tchoupitoulas Street (say that three times fast!), "Anything worth doing in New Orleans is worth overdoing." And we did it, though as Scott would point out, we only saw about 20 percent of the city, staying mainly in the French Quarter, the Marigny, Warehouse District and the Garden District.
So what did we eat? Here's a hint.
Shortly after dropping our bags off at our rental condo, we promptly consumed an order of oysters on the half shell at Felix's (across the street from the much-lauded Acme's Oyster House, whose line was tres long). First drink was an Abita Amber.
Best oysters during our visit? Casamento's in Uptown, where we and our friends started with a dozen on the half shell, followed by a half-dozen chargrilled with Parmesan and generous amounts of butter. Their cup of seafood gumbo (below) was AMAZING. Thee shuckers stationed at the front counter were friendly, and you have to pass through the kitchen in the back to get to the bathrooms. I made sure to give the kitchen staff my gratitude on my pass through -- this was my favorite spot, by far!
It's worth noting that New Orleans is the kind of town meant for split meals, meaning you eat half of your lunch at Casamento's, and then you lumber your way down the street to Guy's. Thanks to J.D. for the tip on that -- the shrimp po boy, fully dressed, couldn't have been better. It tasted great sitting outside on a bench, with a rum and coke in a "to go cup" from a bar three blocks down. You can see the shrimp spilling out below, and note Scott's trying not to get too giddy about it.
Best upscale meal out? I loved Cochon. From the starters of boudin, fried gator and the eggplant and shrimp dressing, to an entree of Louisiana cochon (don't remember the sides, just the tender pig!), and the nice cocktail menu (try the Swinekiller - Hendricks Gin, Fee Brothers rhubarb bitters, limeade), the whole experience was fantastic.
Of course we hit up Cafe du Monde at 1 in the morning after a fine time at d.b.a. to check out the Treme Brass Band, and of course we ate the beignets. I wasn't quite prepared for the amount of powdered sugar coated on the dough, but hell, "when in Rome..."
Our last meal? A quick trip down Decatur Street to Central Grocery, where we picked up a Muffaletta, scarfed down at the airport while we waited for our flight home. They have them pre-made and wrapped up behind the counter so you can "grab and go." The bread...tasty. The meats...great. The olive salad... succulent. It's a sandwich I'll remember for the rest of my life. FOR. REAL.
A few notes: Many restaurants are cash only, so prepare and hit up the ATM before you dine out. Be patient and pleasant with service workers -- this is a city hammered by tourists year-round, from the holidays to Carnival season, Super Bowl, Jazz Fest, and beyond. Ride the street cars and take a Garden District Tour. Eat the crawfish etouffee at Mother's. Don't even bother with Pat O'Briens. Go ahead and do Bourbon Street, with its bawdy bars and raucous revelers, but then move on. Be sure to visit a cemetery, like the above-ground tombs at Lafayette Cemetery #1 (below).
As Piazza writes. "The side of New Orleans seen by the casual tourist during a weekend spent on Bourbon Street is not New Orleans, though it is a face of New Orleans. New Orleans is deep, and it must live, or something truly irreplaceable will be lost forever."
Go on down there if you haven't visited yet. We're already planning our return.