Thursday, January 10, 2019

A weekend in New Orleans

Beignets, booze & all that hoodoo 

New Orleans had been at the top of my U.S. bucket list for years. I recently knocked it from my list of daydreams to my pile of been-theres. How did it go? I'll break it down so it's easy to digest.

Things to eat 
On the afternoon I flew into town, we made our way to Central Grocery on Decatur Street, a spot famous for its muffuletta sandwich. Shocking though it may be, I'd never had one before and was all about trying the famous stack of marinated olive salad, layers of mortadella, salami, Swiss cheese, ham, and provolone.

Because open containers are allowed in NOLA, we popped open a bottle of rosé and kicked back in Jackson Square, muffuletta in tow. Note: A half-sandwich is enough to feed two people. Oh, and if you see Voodoo chips, you're gonna want those. Such a tasty little picnic!

On Day Two, we indulged in an insanely scrumptious brunch at Willa Jean, a bustling restaurant and bakery with that oft-sought-after fresh, Instagram-worthy vibe. The food is as delicious as its interior is warm and inviting. Whatever you do, for the love of all that's holy, start with the monkey bread. These pillows of caramelized goodness are melt-in-your-mouth divine. For my main, I went for a sausage, egg & pimento cheese biscuit — a choice I'd eagerly repeat.

Of course we saved room for the famous Café du Monde — in the rain, no less. Some hot tips for any NOLA newbies: The line looks long, but moves quickly. Yes it's worth standing in the rain for. The café only serves coffee and beignets, and a café au lait is the signature sipper. One order of beignets gives you three hefty morsels, which is sufficient for two people in search of a snack. The experience overall is loud and crowded, but s oworth it. Plus, they're open 24/7!

Not pictured is my trip to District Donuts, Sliders & Brew on Magazine Street. Once again I found myself in need of a snack, so I ordered a chicken slider and a donut, just to see how the sweets stacked up to other pastries. The donut wasn't, I thought, particularly special. The chicken slider, however, made me wish I'd ordered a full sandwich. Would go back, would order a full lunch. 

Places to drink
Thirsty? We didn't do too much bopping around from bar to bar during our stint in New Orleans. Rather, we found a couple spots that really worked for us and went multiple times! The first was Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar & Lounge — an actual carousel with painted chairs instead of painted animals, slowly rotating around a circular bar. Fun fact: To get in and out of the bar, the barkeeps have to hop over! Here's where I found my new favorite drink, a Pimm's Cup. 

The other bar we frequented was 21st Amendment. It's a cozy joint with yummy cocktails and live music nightly. I'd advise scoping out the music calendar on their website before you go. We came in at the tail end of a couple bands whose style was more up our alley; next time I'd make sure to plan our timing accordingly. Also a note for next time: Make it to Bacchanal, an outdoor wine bar. 

Stuff to do
A lot of New Orleans can just be walking around, sitting with a drink in a sunshine, bumping into a NOLA wedding parade, admiring the scenery and architecture, and people watching.

But if it's raining cats and dogs, you could check out the Voodoo Museum. It won't take you very long, and it will feel more like a couple small rooms and a hallway jam-packed full of the bizarre — but that's what's fun about it. There's no better place than NOLA to learn the difference between Voodoo and Hoodoo, not to mention send up a secret prayer to Marie Laveau. 

However, if I'm ever in New Orleans on another rainy day, I wouldn't rush back to the Voodoo Museum; I'd rather see what's cookin' at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Also worth your time: A ride on the St. Charles Streetcar! Even if you miss your stop and end up riding to the end of the line (wonder who could have done that?), you'll pass sprawling boulevards lined with southern-style mansions galore. The St. Charles is basically an architectural tour.

When you're ready to hop off the streetcar, it's just a few short blocks to Magazine Street. This is a good spot for boutiques, vintage clothing shops, and eateries. The street is long, and apparently split in half by a residential stretch. I stayed on the more vintage-heavy end, starting at Century Girl Vintage then working my way toward District Donuts and beyond. Those inclined to browsing could easily spend a day strolling Magazine Street.

We stayed in the Warehouse District, which had a good selection of places to eat and drink without the sloppy insanity of the French Quarter. The good news is that the French Quarter is still within walking distance, so you get the best of both worlds. 

I will say that I was warned by multiple people, from good friends to my Uber driver, to be careful where I ventured out alone. The French Quarter is more gritty and sketchy than I anticipated. Be aware of people trying to scam you out of money by offering you shots, putting parrots on your head, or asking you where you got your shoes. Choosing Magazine Street as a solo outing was absolutely the right way to go. 

One last note on streetcars: We found their times to be a bit sporadic. This could be due to user error and confusion, our soggy weather, or both, but just something to be aware of. Though charming, I wouldn't count on the streetcar if you're on a time crunch. 

Do you have favorite spots to check in New Orleans? The more tips, the merrier! You never know when The Big Easy will call us back.

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