This time of year, conversations at Chow Bella staff meetings tend to turn to who's eaten what -- where. With the summer travel season still in full swing, we bring you Food Tours, our writers' suggestions of what to eat and drink out of town.
New Orleans, in many ways is the end of the road. That destination that seems far away and when you get there, it's worth it. Always a center of destruction and renewal, the city is maverick, inefficient and classic. If Savannah and Las Vegas had a baby together, it would be New Orleans. Everyone on the northernmost island in the Caribbean is casual, friendly, with more than a hint of southern charm and unpretentious elegance. It could be a destination due to the open drinking, music, people watching or the slower pace, but our bet is on the food. Keep the party going with a full stomach of some of the most revered food in America.
Bourbon Street and French Quarter If you've never been to New Orleans and you're wanting to "do" Bourbon Street in one night, here are three stops to make. Wear closed-toe shoes, and hang on tight. Housed in a three story 1796 carriage house, Sylvain's is a great stop for atmosphere to set the true New Orleans mood. Grab dinner at the bar, and start with a fabulous cocktail served by an attentive bar staff. The world's most expensive fried chicken sandwich, Chick-Syl-vain, doesn't quite live up to it's golden reputation, but it is delicious and a perfect start to an evening in the south.
From there head to the patio or dueling piano bar inside Pat O'Brien's. "Pat O's" might be the only place on Bourbon street that true New Orleans lovers go to more than once. "Go big or go home," so it's best to order their signature drink, the hurricane. If you can't finish it, don't worry they'll give you a traveller or "go cup" to take with you. The dueling piano bar room is lots of fun, especially with a group. Wind down just a bit at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar. Built before 1772, it's supposedly the oldest continually occupied bar in the United States and is home to an eclectic group of patrons and possibly a vampire or two. Try the voodoo purple daiquiri here. If slush drinks aren't your deal, head to the classy Carousel bar at Hotel Monteleone, it's home to the slowly spinning bar that is often busy.
Finer Things Just steps from Bourbon Street you'll find Arnaud's. Dining here is a trip back in time, the restaurant opened in 1918 and it still has that turn of the century charm, remaining true to "traditions and courtesies." It's the combination of iconic dishes, cocktails and waiters in tuxes that makes this place a classic. The Sunday Jazz brunch with a French 75 is a perfect way to cap off a weekend in the big easy. It's offers a four course menu, that when paired with a cocktail comes in at about $50 per person. Alligator sausage, fancy egg dishes, shrimp and banana's foster. What more could you ask for? The band moves around the main dining room playing to a gentile crowd who can still request their favorite tunes. A close second on the brunch front is Lüke's brasserie. There we found contentment with the fried chicken with mayhaw syrup on a biscuit sandwich, eggs in a jar, and pain perdu.
If a fancy brunch isn't your thing, try The Palace Cafe, a grand cafe located in the Werlein's music building might just be the perfect place for dinner. Tourists and locals seem to love it and of course, the three part harmonies from the roaming jazz group didn't hurt either. Menu standouts were fried oyster "loaf," turtle soup, roast duck, and andouille crusted fish.
The Casual Standout There's a destination in the lower 9th ward, in the Bywater neighborhood called Bacchanal Wine. Just ask Virgil, the doorman "slash" host. We spoke briefly and his thoughts broke down to this sentiment. "Other places you're a tourist, here you're just from out of town." Opened before any type of gentrification was happening, the place oozes authenticity. Like everything else in NOLA, the building is old, but not dusty. Bacchanal is a two story jazz tree house and if you don't linger and feel like you're in a movie here, you're crazy. Old world wine shop in the front, it also sells the most giant cheese trays you can take out back. The second story is a bar and air conditioned parlor and the back of the property is a big back yard party, complete with an array of mismatch of furniture and live jazz seven nights a week. We saw everything: a couple making out, a girl sleeping off her afternoon buzz and a middle aged local taking the stage to sing with the band.
You order your food at a little window out back and they find you to deliver when it's ready. We enjoyed the bacon wrapped dates, the hummus and the pasta. All of the wines are great, but the standout cocktail was the "Bleeding Heart," a mix of housemade strawberry liqueur, ginger, basil and Hellfire Shrub. The Bywater is quickly becoming a hot spot, so go before it's the new Brooklyn. It's also home to great places to eat like Booty's and The Joint.
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The Garden District and Frenchmen Street Want to see a Southern Living Magazine spread come to life? Head to the Garden District via trolley. Romantic places, old cemeteries and magnolia trees welcome you to the mansion row part of town. During the week enjoy 25 cent martinis at the James Beard winning Commander's Palace. Linger over a long lunch there or enjoy a refreshing Pimm's Cup in the garden. Another romantic hot spot is Emeril's Delmonico. Complete with downstairs bar and a white table cloth dining room, Delmonico's Creole-steakhouse menu is one of the more sophisticated places in town. Before lunch or dinner, shop on Magazine Street or just walk off your meal before heading to Frenchmen Street for some live music at d.b.a. or The Spotted Cat.
Late Night Classics Finally, no trip is complete without a trip to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. It's open 24 hours a day and is frequently crowded. They offer boxes to go, but if you can't make it there, Cafe Beignet also as the classic dish.
Plan time to just wander, you'll be amazed at what you'll see and who you'll meet. For example, on the way back to our hotel one evening, we were lucky to see a wedding parade compete with band and parasols. Take your time in New Orleans, but if there's a restaurant you'd like to eat at, call ahead for reservations.