Since we’ve started visiting more places, New Orleans has become a second home of sorts. Unlike most who visit N’awlins, we make most of our trips into family jaunts. We have been once as a couple, but honestly that was when we first started visiting so we stuck with the common areas (French Quarter basically). As we’ve extended our visits we have had the chance to take in the beautiful City Park Sculpture Garden, World War Museum, we’ve taken tours to both the Laura Plantation, and Oak Alley Plantation (Why would Black folks want to go to plantations…Kanye shoulder shrug…I can’t answer, but the tours were hauntingly beautiful, informative and insightful.) Oh, we’ve also toured the Garden District to look at the architecture. Looking at the style of the homes and buildings in New Orleans is one of the primary reasons I think visiting the city is important. Oddly enough, because we’ve primarily stuck to the French Quarter and St. Charles on our visits that fantastic New Orleans cuisine that is always raved about we haven’t really had the chance to experience a standout meal that makes you want to yell “oooweeeee who dat!” (That was corny), but my point is we’ve either stuck with traditional suggestions on our visits and this has not led to the amazing food experiences. We enjoyed Copeland’s on St. Charles, but Mother’s on Poydress is overrated. Actually a lot of the small restaurants on Bourbon and in the Quarter are overrated. If you go, do what we finally did and that’s to eat on the outskirts of the Quarter, or use your phone to search for the locally sourced restaurants.
Man, reading the above section is kind of depressing. I didn’t mean for this, but I’m honest. We did find a really good place on Day 2, and it’s not what you would call traditional NOLA, but it was definitely a hometown favorite. We also discovered a worthy spot on Royal where we did get an “oooweeeeee,” on Day 3 of our recent trip. I’ll get to that though. Let’s get back on the right track. We really like New Orleans and after actually going off the beaten path on this last trip, we realize that there is a lot more to the city than the French Quarter (which we knew, but I’m just making sure you know).
Day 1: We left Memphis with drizzling rain, and entered New Orleans 5.5 hours later in cold rain (really unseasonable weather for NOLA). Not a good start to the weekend, but our resort had underground parking (actually valet, nothing in NOLA is underground. It floods too fast) so this wasn’t an issue. We got our bags into the room and started out taking the suggestions of our concierge. Bad decision. We ended up going to Oceana Grill on Conti. Now the reason you aren’t seeing any links here is because with the amount of restaurants in the city, you can definitely find a better spot.
I have pictures of the food, my alligator Po Boy was actually decent, but the restaurant is overpriced. For 5 people (3 adults. 2 kids) the tab came up to 130.00 for one appetizer and 4 adult entrees. (We’ve obviously visited more expensive restaurants, but I like to budget the trips and kicking off with a 130 dollar meal, that only two of us really enjoyed is the reason for my skipping of Oceana.) Because of the popularity the place was packed and I saw why. Their fried seafood plate is enough to actually feed three adults, which kind of justifies the price. Going in I didn’t know anything about the fried seafood platters (I saw a few being delivered to other tables) and I also didn’t really want to order any fried food. Fried seafood is pretty much the same everywhere so what’s the point of going to New Orleans to have fried seafood? Now I will add this, if you visit and it’s just you and your spouse/friend, Oceana isn’t that bad. LV actually enjoyed the “Taste of New Orleans” and I definitely liked my “Alligator Po Boy”. Anyway, I think our moods were dampened by the rain. We walked from Magazine to Conti in the Quarter and the rain didn’t help. Let’s forget about Day 1. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what we expected.
Day 2: The rain finally stopped! It was still cold though, but without the rain, I think the whole crew was in much better spirits. We visited the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
On a previous trip we visited the Insectarium on Canal and had an amazing time there, so we expected the same thing and weren’t disappointed at all. Aquariums are always a great spot when the kids are in tow and with the Amazon Rainforest and the Parakeet Point exhibits the aquarium provided some real fun.
Upon entering we were able to watch a couple of guys clean the inside of the entrance tunnel where sharks and stingrays swam all around you. While the tunnel wasn’t as long as some aquariums we’ve visited, it was definitely a nice feature when entering the building.
Right after walking through the tunnel you can choose a couple of directions to walk. We walked the stairs up to the Rainforest. With the weather outside clear but cold, entering the rainforest we had to remove our coats. The kids climbed a set of steps that simulated treehouses, but I stayed downstairs to watch the piranha. (Note to self: Piranha really don’t swim. They just float in one place.They were either floating or thinking about eating one of their own… which doesn’t really happen. Just like they don’t really attack people, unless they are caught in a tide-pools and haven’t fed.)
Parakeet Point is similar to an exhibit we have at the Memphis Zoo. Parakeets fly around and as you walk through they can land and be fed. There was one stark difference here though; the parakeets in New Orleans actually land on you and hang out. The kids loved this.
When we finished walking through the aquarium we walked down the Riverfront (for couples the view here at night is beautiful, with the kids…it’s hurry up and stop climbing the stairs and running across the streetcar tracks) towards the French Quarter. We were about to hit Cafe Du Monde and grab some beignets, but the line was at least 30 people deep. instead of stopping here we walked back to Jackson Square where we were able to check out one of the dopest street shows we’ve seen.
In Memphis we have the Beale Street Flippers. In New Orleans we had the pleasure of watching the Calypso Brothers. Our Beale Street Flippers could learn a thing about showmanship from these guys. A crew of about 8 guys, the emcee is as entertaining as they come. His ability to keep the audience engaged, although the temperature hovered around 45-50 degrees and everyone wanted to keep moving, showed how well conceived their show is.
They utilize the audience and engage the kids with dancing and call and response. At the same time various performers are moving through the crowd performing different stunts. With the backing of a radio playing songs, the Calypso Brothers entertained and thoroughly captured the hearts, and the dollars of the crowd. What they did that should be considered one of the best tools a business can do is to give back. In the picture notice the kids holding 20.00 dollar bills. After they had the kids perform with the group, they gave each of them a dub. Giving leads to more support (life lesson – insert bell sound). The show runs about 25 minutes, but it’s definitely worth stopping just based on the scenery of the majestic Jackson Square.
Are you starting to get the feeling Day 2 was really long? Well stay with me, it gets better. Like I said we passed up Cafe Du Monde and decided to walk down Conti to visit a place that was isolated and almost looked deserted. The strange thing was that it’s located just about half a mile down from Bourbon Street.
Musee Conti – Historical Wax Museum of New Orleans (Facebook) is a landmark in New Orleans which means that it can’t be changed or updated. It looks exactly the way it did 40 years ago. This creates the perception in some ways that it is not open. It is also being used primarily as a rental hall due to the large space upstairs, so the focus is primarily on what is more than likely it’s money maker. However, if you’ve ever wanted to know how New Orleans was founded, this is one of the best historical representations you can find anywhere in the city. If the Musee Conti wanted to capitalize on these exhibits, they would take a little time to upgrade the lighting and add some sounds and special effects to the place. Wax Museums are already creepy, but there are several exhibits, we went once before, that used to breathe and had sound effects, but they now sit motionless. This is very unfortunate. I personally think this place, with just a little interior TLC, could be one of the jewels of the city. Hands down the most haunting section of the Musee Conti is Madame Lalaurie… actually it’s the dungeon of horror featuring monsters from literature and film, but again with just a touch of TLC this small section of the Musee could be killer! The Musee is also one of the most cost effective history lessons of New Orleans you can find.
Our day didn’t stop there. This is about mile 4 or 5 of walking around NOLA and we added more miles walking from Conti towards the Treme, but instead we made a left and headed to the streetcar but I’ve started to really dig museums. We paid for an all day pass, which is the best way to go when visiting New Orleans. We hopped on and took off towards City Park away from the Quarter and into areas that allowed us to see the city. The temperature had started to drop again, so we bundled up when we hit the end of the line and walked the quarter mile up to the NOMA.
Memphis has the Dixon and the Brooks Museums which are fine institutions that feature great collections. However, each of those museums have security people who make you uncomfortable in your own skin. I have to think that people who attend museums have an understanding that they shouldn’t touch the art. I do realize that you have to post bills and keep security abreast of any potential issues, but you don’t have to follow people back and forth. What made the NOMA such an outstanding visit was that we were able to get as close as we wanted to the exhibits without anyone saying anything and without any beeping. It was refreshing. Especially since the featured collection this time was a photorealism exhibit. As I walked around the museum I was able to check out classical art on the first floor. As we walked to the second floor we were able to see a Picasso and even a James Van Der Zee photograph which really made my day, but when we walked into the Photorealism exhibit, something that I really haven’t been introduced to, the whole crew just kind of stood amazed. Oh, unlike our galleries, the NOMA actually allowed a lot of photography. There were sections where no photography was allowed, but overall there was a very relaxed atmosphere. Before I go any further I want you to look at these three works of art.
Question: Are these photographs? Answer: No The artists of the varied works are Robert Bechtle, Davis Cone, and Randy Dudley… I really apologize become we didn’t get close ups of the name plates for you, but that isn’t the point. The point is these works are primarily oils on acrylic or canvas!!! These are paintings! I know I may be overreacting a bit, but I don’t think so, the long walk in the cold was worth it just to have experienced this. The closer you get to the picture, which is why I’m so happy that no alarms went off and people weren’t hounding us about backing up, the more you could actually see the cracks in the painting. Incredible work, incredible. We completed our tour by visiting the fourth floor which featured African, Native American and tribal art. Now I’ve taken several courses on African Art and quite frankly I have yet to see work of Nommo or Dogon origin outside of fertility dolls, cowrie shell based items or head dress art. I’d love to see some of the masterful benches/stools or more refined and modern African Art by artists like Bruce Onobrakpeya. I’d love to see indigo cloths or various cloths. You get the point. Overall, the NOMA was everything I hoped. By the time we left, the sun was setting and we hadn’t eaten all day. Instead of trying to head back towards the quarter I looked up locally sourced restaurants near the NOMA. Several listings came up, but I decided on non-traditional New Orleans and went with a neighborhood pizza joint. We were all glad that we did.
Theo’s Neighborhood Pizza is like The Pharmacy in Nashville… a place deserving of its own review. Unfortunately this blog is long and I can only write a short one.
Did I say that this was my sister in laws birthday weekend? She has to eat gluten free foods so it was important that every place we visited had something on the menu. Typically I avoid GF breads/cookies… since they usually taste like butt. Yep, butt, but as she was finishing her pizza she offered us a taste and what we encountered was something similar to the flavor of a shortbread with a crunchier texture. In other words, her pizza was not bad at all, more important the cost of this meal made me say “oooweeee.” We are huge fans of pizza. Memphis has some fantastic pizza spots, but Theo’s had a couple of pies that were flavorful and those crusts were just perfect. The atmosphere was great and we felt welcomed. What more can you ask for from a neighborhood place? I guess you don’t care about that though… you want pics. Here you go:
We had an appetizer of Stuffed breadsticks: with pepper-jack cheese, jalapeños & garlic. A very basic appetizer, that was light and spicy. The pizza are baked in a stone oven and according to their menu it takes 30 minutes. Out ticket time was probably 15 minutes at the most. Outstanding! For our pizza we had
- The Expert ~ olive oil, minced garlic, spinach, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, purple onion & crumbled bacon. Three words: We. Killed. It
My sister in law used the create your own pizza and had an olive oil base with sundried tomatoes, artichoke and chicken with Feta cheese.
As we finished our meals, my daughter went into snack mode. After 6 miles of walking, I was okay with it as well. I’ve had dessert at every restaurant we’ve eaten. Up until today Copeland’s cheesecake was the best dessert we’ve eaten in New Orleans. The guys at Theo’s recommended we go to Angelo Brocato’s.
Talk about ending the day.
There aren’t any pictures because 1. The line was outside the door was long and since I was paying, I was last in line in our crew. 2. We all got different flavored Gelato and I added a brownie to mine, and while everyone in the line was being served the crew was already sitting down and eating, I actually ate my cup while I was in line waiting on this to go: 2 Baba Rum Cakes, 1 Cannoncini, 1 Spumoni Cheesecake, and 1 Egg Nog Cheesecake. That’s what was inside of the box. 3. When we arrived back at the resort, and although we had already eaten the gelato everyone started on the next round of snacks. Angelo Brocato’s effectively wiped out 6 miles of walking on Day 2 and we loved every minute of it.
Day 3: I bet you thought we’d never get here. Our final full day in NOLA was one for reflection. We discovered that there was a secondary Cafe Du Monde (Facebook) inside of the Riverwalk Outlet Malls. We could finally introduce my sister-in-law to beignets. The line inside of the mall was about 15 deep, but that’s not nearly as long as in the Quarter. It didn’t take long before we got our beignets, chose a window looking out over the river, and had powdered sugar all over the place. After finishing at Du Monde, we started our walk towards the Quarter and walked Conti all the way to the Treme (which isn’t as long as I make it out to be. It’s about 2-3 miles). We initially wanted to visit the grave of Marie Laveau at St. Louis Cemetery, but the cemetery had already closed for the day. The Treme is the oldest Black Neighborhood in the country and the birthplace of Jazz; all born in Congo Square. Congo Square was originally home to the Houmas Indians before the French arrived. It eventually became a meeting place for slaves. The dances and music played there became the roots of Mardi Gras Indian culture, second line and jazz.
Standing in Congo Square generates a feeling that has weight. The energy of the ancestors so completely permeates the land that you can’t ignore the aura. Congo Square is a part of the Louis Armstrong Park. The entrance is an archway with lights around the name. Inside are a number of sculptures that celebrate the rich history of culture and music from New Orleans: Sidney Bechet, Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong and other sculptures represent the musical heritage and standing near the sculpture of Allison “Big Chief Tootie” Montana is powerful. There are a number of walking bridges that lead to the Mahalia Jackson Theater for Performing Arts and the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park. We also walked a couple of blocks down to visit the African-American museum in Treme, but it was closed. Overall the walk through Congo Square was worth everything and the most telling sign that we had made the right decision in visiting this area is that we were pretty much the only people there. I tend to think people avoid locations that have gravity and depth, but it is those “tourist” locations that offer the real history of a place. I’m only posting a few pics here. I want you to take the time to visit and take in the history.
Our trip was coming to a close, but we wouldn’t be the crew if we didn’t take the time to visit at least one more restaurant. We finally got our “ooowweeeee who dat!” moment. (Note to self: avoid the Quarter when the Atlanta Falcons play the New Orleans Saints, madhouse; I had no idea that there was such an intense rivalry between the two NFL teams.) After leaving Treme we walked down Royal to look at the multitude of art galleries. If your goal is to pick up art from New Orleans then Royal is the street for you. Our goal, however, was to replenish ourselves from another 5+ miles of walking.
We decided on Royal House.
Royal House would be a place that when the kids are all grown up(or somewhere else, lol) and we go back to NOLA by ourselves, LV and I would definitely visit Royal House. Like most New Orleans restaurants, there are multiple floors. The balcony areas are perfect for dating couples and the servers are courteous and although it’s not black ties, the overall feeling is (even with the Saints jerseys on).
My sister in law had a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad: Fresh romaine lettuce tossed with a creamy Caesar dressing, Parmesan cheese and a grilled chicken breast. No pic of this one, but I have a pic of my plate:Shrimp n Grits: A local favorite! Creamy, Southern-style grits seasoned with onions, bell peppers, and Gouda cheese in our own special Creole sauce and topped with jumbo shrimp My thoughts: a perfect blend of spice and seasoned shrimp, with the crunch of fresh green onions was excellent. LV shared with our daughter Blackened Shrimp & Jambalaya: A classic New Orleans rice dish. Chicken and andouille sausage sautéed with peppers and onions, then topped with blackened shrimp. Our son had Crab Claws: Fresh crab claws sautéed in a lemon, garlic butter sauce with toasted French bread for dipping.
The serving sizes were just right and the presentation was precise. Our ticket clocked in at right around 90.00 dollars for an amazing meal and great service.
As we exited Royal House and began heading back to the resort everyone felt like our time was well spent in the Crescent City. We capped off our visit to Fulton Street to check out the Christmas tree and lights. It was a great way to start the holidays. I was hoping to get this post finished prior to New Year’s Eve, but posting it on the first day of the New Year is an excellent way to kick things off. I’m raising a glass to you and hoping that you visit somewhere that is rich with history, filled with entertainment, and serving great food.