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The A-B-C’s of New Orleans – Part 1

April 21, 2014

Mardi Gras has come and gone, yet the charm of New Orleans extends beyond just being home to one of the biggest and wildest festivals in the country. We visited New Orleans two weeks before Fat Tuesday and got a taste of its justly famous parades and krewes. Most people plan on visiting the city mainly during Mardi Gras, but the best thing about New Orleans is that there’s so much else to see and do anytime you visit!

Describing a city like NOLA with just a few words is no easy task. Where should I begin? Do I first talk about the legendary Cafe du Monde where beignets and cafe au lait appear magically at your table around the clock? Or should I describe the joyous feeling of listening to exquisite live jazz on Frenchmen Street in the French Quarter? Or perhaps I should just start with the world-famous Mardi Gras festival and talk about Bourbon Street and the krewes and parades first?

Instead of racking my brains on how to start, I’ve put together an alphabetized list of all the amazing things that you can do only in … New Orleans! That’s right, everything from A to Z. But 26 letters all in one post will be a very long post indeed! So lets start with Part 1 covering A-H.

DSC_0044Artists near Jackson Square – an open air museum where you can buy wonderful art

A – Artists, Absinthe, Alligator
New Orleans is well known as the “Big Easy” and one of the reasons behind this name is because it is easy to make a life in New Orleans if you’re an artist. It doesn’t matter what kind of artist, whether you like to paint, perform or play a musical instrument, there isn’t another city as open and welcoming to artists as New Orleans. Jackson Square is a great place to admire artists at work, from painters to musicians, caricaturists and even palm readers. Speaking of artists, New Orleans is also famous for absinthe – the dark green liqueur known for its potent and hallucinogenic effect. Absinthe has played a major role in several of Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh’s works. Alligators don’t really fit in with absinthe and artists unless you’re an artist trying to catch an alligator after having gulped down some absinthe. In any case, you will not escape alligators in New Orleans. Don’t be surprised to see grilled alligator meat on restaurant menus. If that’s too close for comfort, you can always go see alligators alive and well in their natural habitat on one of the open air boat rides offered in New Orleans’ marshy bayou.

DSC_0028Chicory coffee and freshly fried beignets generously sprinkled with powdered sugar at Cafe Du Monde

B – Beignet
Even before we started planning our trip to New Orleans, everybody we spoke to had one top recommendation. To eat beignets and drink cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. Standing in line for 45 mins to enter the cafe did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm. The beignets were outstanding and it was love at first bite. The chicory coffee was an excellent accompaniment to the sugar-sprinkled fried beignets. Without a doubt, Cafe du Monde is a highlight of any New Orleans visit and a must-do for all visitors, first-time or otherwise. Cafe du Monde is open 24 hours a day, so you can go morning, evening or midnight – whenever you get the craving for dark strong coffee and a heady sugar rush.

DSC_0513The famous Commander’s Palace Restaurant

C – Cajun, Cemetery, Commander’s Palace
New Orleans offers many great contenders for “C”. When I think of Cajun, I invariably think of spicy. Not just the heat, but full of rich tongue-tickling flavors. Cajun culture was introduced to New Orleans by the Acadians who settled in Louisiana. Now Cajun is as much a part of New Orleans as Creole. Both cuisines use similar ingredients and methods of preparation, yet remain distinct from each other. Commander’s Palace is one of New Orleans most famous restaurants and rightly so. Located in the Garden District and famous for having had Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse as previous chefs, Commanders Palace is a must visit when you’re in New Orleans. With it’s superb service, artists playing live music at your table and food beyond compare, a visit to Commander’s Palace is a memorable experience that is bound to get even the most hardcore foodie excited. One of New Orleans most beautiful cemeteries, Lafayette Cemetery is just a few blocks from Commander’s Palace and is a popular stop on the Garden District walking tour. Several of the picturesque above-ground cemeteries have been featured in movies and are a photographers delight.

DSC_0038A dozen oysters on the half-shell

D – Dozen oysters
If only I had a penny for the number of people I saw ordering a dozen oysters on the half-shell, followed by a repeat of another dozen, then I would have several dollars worth of pennies by now. Oysters are THE thing to have in New Orleans, whether you choose to eat them raw, char-grilled, fried or baked. Their rich exquisite taste is a reminder that New Orleans takes its food very seriously. Acme Oyster House in the French Quarter is top rated and a highly recommended place to get your oyster fix. You can try, but you won’t be able to stop just with the first dozen!

photo (18)A hearty serving of Shrimp Etouffee, best eaten with rice

E – Emeril’s, Etouffée
Emeril Lagasse might be familiar to many as a famous American celebrity chef and television personality. He has a number of restaurants all over New Orleans, Emeril’s being the first. New Orleans is home to many restaurants owned and operated by world-famous chefs, so this is just one of the many reasons foodies make a pilgrimage to New Orleans. Etouffée is a delicious savory dish that can be prepared in both Cajun and Creole styles. It often contains crawfish, crab or shrimp and is served over rice. The gravy is a thick roux prepared either Cajun or Creole style, with various ingredients often including the trinityonions, celery and bell-peppers.You can have the best of both worlds by ordering etouffée at Emeril’s!

DSC_0684View of the grand Mississippi river and New Orleans skyline from the ferry

F – French Quarter, Fried chicken, Ferry
Exploring the French Quarter is a quintessential experience in New Orleans and most people (including me!) could spend all our time in this delightful district. There are several popular districts in the French Quarter and you’ll have to budget more time than you think you’ll need. Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny is popular for an endless line of spectacular live jazz clubs and cozy gastropubs. One can spend night after night on Frenchmen street, hopping from one live jazz club to the other, stopping at delightful cafes and restaurants for a drink and bite. There’s no doubt you will be spending most of your time in the French Quarter, especially if you’re a first time visitor! And you will have fried chicken at least once (likely more) during your stay. If you were to have fried chicken just the one time, make sure to try it at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen (Paul Prudhomme’s restaurant). I thought I’d died and gone to heaven after eating the first bite of my breaded, fried chicken which came with fried green tomatoes and shrimp remoulade. Easily one of the best dinners we’ve had to date. After all that eating, you’ll want to stretch your legs and work out to get your appetite back for the next meal. Why? Because skipping a meal in New Orleans is akin to sacrilege! So, hop onto the ferry to Algiers and go for the ride even if you don’t want to get off anywhere. On the ferry, you will get to see New Orleans from a new perspective across the grand Mississippi river. With the twinkling city skyline in the distance and huge carrier ships making their way underneath the bridges that span the Mississippi, a ferry ride is a great way to explore the river that brought trade and travel to New Orleans.

DSC_0014This plate has everything that makes New Orleans famous – including Gumbo!

G – Gumbo
You must try gumbo at least once when in New Orleans. Even better, get the best of New Orleans all on one plate at Acme Oyster House. This medley comes with jambalaya, red beans and rice, grilled chicken sausage and a cup of gumbo. It makes for a hearty and comforting meal! Depending on how the gumbo is prepared, you might find okra and the trinity of bell-peppers, onions and celery, all mixed in and simmered with the dark-brown base roux (sauce).

DSC_0053Visit a Hot Sauce Bar and sample some tongue-tickling sauces, only in New Orleans!

H – Hot sauce
I hadn’t been to a hot sauce “bar” until I visited New Orleans. Now I’m bummed I have to wait until my next visit to Nola to try out more hot sauces. “Sugar and Spice” on Decatur street offers much more than just hot sauces though. Taste samples of their fresh-baked pralines before you invariably decide you need to take home at least two dozen. Sample hundreds of their hot sauces, all free for a taste. A word of caution: I saw at least one hot sauce which required you sign a waiver first. I also tried a hot sauce made with ghost peppers (world’s hottest peppers) and had to deal with an intense bout of hiccups and watery eyes that lasted a while. But that didn’t stop me from trying out more. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Watch out for Part 2 (I-P) and Part 3 (Q-Z) – Coming soon!

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