Recently I went to New Orleans for a wedding. In the short time I was there I got to see what the “Big Easy” is all about. Let me start by saying, New Orleans is probably one of the most hyped up cities I have ever visited. That’s not a knock on the city itself, but literally any person who I have mentioned New Orleans to has always said, “OMG it is the best city ever!”
I can’t say that I agree with them, BUT that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good time. I think part of the deep seeded love affair with New Orleans that most folks have is the fact that if you like to drink and party this is the place for you. Literally every corner of the French Quarter at night is a raucous party where the drinks are free-flowing and the music is blasting. As someone who doesn’t drink and prefers a more subdued vibe there are certain aspects of New Orleans that can be tedious. The never ending stream of drunken idiots making a fool out of themselves can get on your nerves after a while. But as someone who LOVES to eat, New Orleans does provide a unique opportunity to find some of the tastiest food in the Country in different nooks and crannies of the city, if you’re willing to go out of your comfort zone.
Before we begin, let’s go over some New Orleans FACTS:
– The name comes from the Duke of Orleans in France.
– The top employer is the local hospital system.
– St. Louis Cathedral (located next to Jackson Square) is the oldest cathedral in the country!
– Tourism accounts for 40% of the tax revenue and typically generates around $5.5 Billion Dollars each year!
– The economic impact of Hurricane Katrina was unreal, there was an estimated $4 Billion Dollars in lost tourism revenue.
If you don’t care about the food but you want some general tips here you go:
- Beware of the hucksters and scam artists that roam around Jackson square, they’ll try and hustle you for your cash.
- Be mindful of your surroundings.
- Don’t rent a car, easier to just use Lyft or Uber.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes.
- Avoid the summer heat if you can, it gets REALLY hot and humid
- Seek out fun music spots and good places to eat, the best places are off the beaten path.
- There is great live music going on at every corner it seems like at night.
- Jackson Square and the Church Associated with it are beautiful (but beware of the hustlers that roam around there)
- Bourbon Street is a acquired taste and definitely not for everyone
Now that you have some random facts/tips about New Orleans in your back pocket, you’re ready for me to take you through my eating adventure.
Stepping foot in New Orleans I instantly thought of one thing. THE HEAT! My god, if you’re visiting in the summertime, basically prepare to step into the seventh circle of hell when it comes to the humidity. The weather is HOT and Humid. I mean REALLY HUMID. Like it kicks the ass of Maryland humidity.
Once you’ve accepted the fact that you’re going to sweat through all of your clothing at some point during your trip you can now begin your journey.
My first stop during my food adventure was to the world famous and the super hyped Cafe du Monde for the quintessential New Orleans dessert, the Beignet (Ben-Yay). Beignets are fried choux pastry dough that are then doused in powdered sugar. Fried dough is not something that’s unique to New Orleans, it’s about as old as time going as far back as the Romans. But there’s something about the Beignets down here that are different. The cafe is an open air cafe that can get very crowded in the mornings and around lunch time. Luckily for me I visited in the late afternoon and my wait was minimal.
Once you sit down, your options are very simple, either you want Beignets or not. There’s no other food on the menu. You get 3 Beignets in an order and that’s plenty if there’s two of you, unless you really have a strong sweet tooth. The dessert itself is perfection in its simplicity, it’s literally just fried dough with sugar. The Beignets come covered in powdered sugar. The dough is very warm and gooey, it’s really a heavenly dessert. Once you’ve bitten into the dough, you’ll look like you partied with Pablo Escobar in the 1980’s with all the white powder that gets on your mouth and face. Have a napkin handy.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the cafe au lait that’s served with the Beignets. You can get the hot, cold, or iced and when it’s damn near 90% humidity you can be damn sure that I wasn’t going to have a hot cafe au lait. If it’s hot out I highly recommend the iced cafe au lait. It has a great rich flavor without tasting too sweet or too chemically. It’s the perfect compliment to the fried dough platter that you’ve just eaten.
Make sure you bring cash, because it’s cash only here.
On your way to or from Cafe du Monde you’re guaranteed to come across Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. Jackson Square is a national historical landmark and is named after Andrew Jackson for his heroics during the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. Jackson Square is really beautiful, it has a simple elegant design that makes you think you’re somewhere in France instead of in the Deep South. I definitely recommend coming here to snap a few photos, but be very careful. Jackson Square is filled with people trying to hustle you. Tarot card readers line the sides of the square trying to read your fortune. Meanwhile, there’s a chance you’ll be accosted by someone trying to tell you where your shoes are from. None of it is overtly dangerous but I could see how something could quickly escalate or how you could stop paying attention as apart of a larger hustle to steal something from you.
Right near Jackson Square is a really awesome restaurant called Sylvain. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this place because it was way too dark to take a picture of anything. You’ll just have to trust me on this one. Sylvain offers up amazing menu options at really affordable and reasonable prices. The cuisine is somewhere between classic New Orleans and new American.
I recommend reserving a table ahead of time or trying to get a seat at the bar where it’s really fun and energetic. Here’s what I recommend getting:
– Beef Cheek: braised beef cheek cooked to perfection served over mashed potatoes and braised greens. Easily the best thing on the menu in my opinion.
– Chicken Livers: served on warm crostini’s this a must get if you love pate or any sort of liverspread. It’s smooth, rich, and flavorful.
– Fried Chicken Sandwich: this is like the Chick-fil-a sandwich on steroids.
– Pot du Creme: if chocolate is your thing, this is a must have. It’s super rich but it’s chocolate heaven in each and every bite.
If after dinner you want a fun yet classy night cap, I recommend the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. Why is it called the Carousel Bar? Because the bar sits on a literal carousel that rotates as you sit on it. I’m not sure if that’s really a good thing, but it’s a fun novelty. The bar is decorated with a classy sophisticated carousel motif and it has live music at night, I recommend coming here even if drinking isn’t your thing just to people watch and have some bar food.
So morning has now come and you’re probably going to be hungry, which sounds hard to believe considering how much food you’ll consume just on the first day. If you want an easy breakfast that’s affordable and really good, look no further than the Cafe Fleur De Lis. Get here early, it fills up, this place is a straightforward breakfast place that serves up great food. I highly recommend getting the baked breakfast sandwich which has Mornay cheese melted on top of it. The Creole Country Breakfast is another solid option, with biscuits, smoked boudin, and grits its a great breakfast (albeit very heavy). Everything here is really solid and this is a great place for a cheap breakfast.
So once your lower intestine has recovered from all the food you’ve already shoveled into it, you know what you have to do right? MORE FOOD!! UH DUH!
When you live in the North, all you hear is about how good southern BBQ is. “Oh it’s sooo good” “This doesn’t even compare!”
And I’m usually very dismissive of such blanket statements, I mean it’s just BBQ for god sakes. Well folks, I’m here to admit, I was dead wrong. New Orleans BBQ is far superior to anything I’ve ever had in Maryland. I’m bending the knee, like our boy Jon Snow. BEND THE KNEE CHEF! BEND THE KNEE TO THE KING!
Southern BBQ is on the Iron Throne and that’s all you need to know. But seriously it’s amazing and the best place to get some quintessential amazing southern BBQ is at The Joint over near the Lower Ninth Ward. Yes the Ninth Ward that was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago.
I was turned onto this place by a friend who used to work there and he said I had to try it, his recommendations are usually rock solid so I knew I was in for a delight. When you pull up to The Joint you quickly realize that this place is a little rough around the edges, the area is a little rough, but persevere and go inside. When you step inside, you’re surrounded by wood paneling and some kitschy decor, but who really cares? I just want food. Also I recommend you get here early, there was a line before the place opened.
The menu has all your BBQ staples, ribs, pork, brisket, chicken, and sausage. You basically can’t make a wrong decision when it comes to the meats, everything is amazing. I recommend going with the combo platter that gives you a variety of meats and sides, it’s the best way to eat their if you get FOMO food anxiety like me. I went with the pulled pork, ribs, and brisket with sides of mac & cheese and baked beans. The meat was incredible. Literally each meat was the best version of that dish I’ve ever eaten.
The pulled pork was flavorful and tender, while the ribs were smoked but perfectly tender, so much so that it just falls off the bone. The true star for me was the brisket, it was the best brisket I’ve ever had. It’s buttery, perfectly smoked, and you can just pull it apart with ease. I wish I could’ve said the same thing for the mac & cheese which was a slight disappointment (I’d say go with the slaw instead), the mac and cheese lacked flavor it would’ve been better served with a better cheese sauce, but oh well. The baked beans were great though and I do recommend getting them.
We also ordered the chicken and that was equally magical, perfectly smoked chicken without any BS.
You’d think that with all that food I’d have no room for dessert, but you’d be wrong! We ordered the peanut butter pie and the pecan pie. I can say unequivocally that the pecan pie is by far the best pecan pie I’ve ever had. It was pornographically good. The peanut butter pie was great too, but nothing even sniffs that pecan pie.
When I walked out of The Joint I thought there was no possible way I could ever eat again. Then the next day came and my tum tum was like, ” bro where we going to next?!” He’s a rambunctious little scamp that tum tum of mine.
So I reminded myself that one of the other things that the South does incredibly well is fried chicken. And what better place to have said fried chicken than in New Orleans? So I did some quick research and found that up past the Treme area is a great fried chicken joint that makes apparently the country’s best fried chicken. It’s called Willie Mae’s Scotch House.
Willie Mae’s has been hyped to have the best chicken in the country and judging by the line that was already out the door when we got there, I thought to myself that the hype must be true. When you pull up to Willie Mae’s it’s in another area that might not give you the best vibes when you pull up, but have no fear, the food is amazing. You can’t make a reservation, but the line moves relatively quickly, so once you’ve been seated I advise you don’t F around. Order the fried chicken and get the F out the damn way!
You can order fried chicken, chicken tenders, baked chicken, or even a salad if you’re feeling especially sadistic. But for god sake your diet paleo nonsense can wait one day. Eat the fried chicken in all of it’s glory. Now if you don’t want dark meat, you can request specific parts you just might have to pay more, in my opinion that’s foolish the dark meat is where it’s at. Especially a good wing. They have a variety of sides that come with your meal also, we went with the mac and cheese (again) and the corn bread. The mac and cheese was a dud, which was disappointing but the corn bread more than made up for it. The corn bread is sexual in all of its deliciousness. It’s sweet, moist, and basically the perfect partner for the fried chicken. Your meal comes with a side, I would advise you to get the corn bread, the fresh rolls, or the red beans & rice.
But enough chit chat, how was the fried chicken? Two words. Spicy & AMAZING! So it looks like they work hot sauce into the batter and the marinade of the chicken, so it’s got a real subtle heat that makes you sweat. It doesn’t really burn your mouth, but it’s popping with great spicy flavor. The chicken itself is delectable, it’s served piping hot so you’ve been warned. The fried chicken is incredibly juicy, meanwhile the crust is not of this planet. The skin is crunchy but still flaky I’ve never had anything like this chicken before, all I want to do is eat it again.
So now when I’ve left Willie Mae’s I’m sure that I could ever want to eat again, because we ate a lot. But funny thing happened. I went to bed and I woke up and poof! Hungo again!
This last place is a great iconic spot in the French Quarter that doesn’t necessarily deliver the best anything, but it does give you a great chance to try as many New Orleans goodies as possible in one spot. The Court of Two Sisters has been a New Orleans fixture for quite some time and it’s steeped in history. Per their website:
“The two sisters, born in 1858 and 1860 respectively, belonged to a proud and aristocratic Creole family. It was for these sisters that “The Court” was named. Their shop outfitted many of the city’s finest women with Mardi Gras costumes, formal gowns of the “Gay Nineties”, lace and perfumes imported from Paris. It’s said that occasionally the sisters would serve tea and cakes to their favorite customers in the large courtyard beginning the tradition continued today. In 1904, after Bertha’s husband died the property was passed on to his sister’s children. Shortly, after this Emma and Bertha found it necessary to close their shop, unable to sustain their business at a time when the French Quarter was rapidly losing its Creole population in the wake of a flood of Italian immigration. However, marriage, reversals of fortune, widowhood – nothing could separate the sisters. Indeed, as the Picayune was to report, the sisters died within two months of each other in the winter of 1944. United in death as in life, the sisters lie side by side at St. Louis Cemetery #3 on Esplanade Avenue.”
The Court of Two Sisters is a beautiful restaurant and the jazz brunch is a site to see just to take in a great relaxing environment. The restaurant was a huge buffet style setup with every Creole/New Orleans style dish you could think of. I enjoyed it because I got to at least try some things that were on my food list. The main dishes here are alright, the red beans & rice are fine as is the jambalaya but the real star for me was their dessert.
Specifically the King Cake. What’s King Cake? It’s a delicious circular brioche style cake that’s filled with streaks of cinnamon/sugar and covered with colorful icing. Tradition has chefs put a tiny plastic baby in the cake and whoever finds said plastic baby gets good luck for the year. That sounds somewhat terrifying to me on various levels, and a liability nightmare for restaurants. Consequently, some restaurants have stopped placing choking hazards within their cakes and just put them in the middle.
All you really need to know is that this King Cake is damn delicious and that you need to try it at some point when your down here.
So there you have it, my trip to New Orleans. If you didn’t catch where I recommend you should go/eat here you go again (everything’s great! now that’s what I call lazy writing =):
Great Fun Bar: Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone
Great Beignets: Cafe du Monde
Great Breakfast: Cafe Fleur De Lis
Great BBQ: The Joint
Great Fried Chicken: Willie Mae’s Scotch House
Great Fun Brunch: Court of Two Sisters