New Orleans – Day 2: Lafayette Cemetery No 1 + Pralines + Cafe Du Monde

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Our second full day in this town began with a tour of the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. It was late back at our Air BnB the night before, and we decided to go ahead and book our cemetery tour, because guides are now required thanks to excessive vandalism within the cemetery. We took an Uber from Lakeview to the cemetery and saw people wandering freely in and out of the cemetery gates. Since we were early, starving and un-caffeinated, we walked up a block to Magazine Street and found a Starbucks. Because you know, we like to visit the various Starbucks of the world. It wasn’t exciting but it was much needed breakfast sandwiches and coffee. We headed back to the cemetery gates and waited for our tour to assemble. The famous Commander’s Palace sat silently across the street, in the shade, the sidewalk in front was being hosed down. It looked even more like a scene from a movie with an empty wet sidewalk encasing it.  People still wandered in and out of the cemetery freely, unaccompanied. I began to wonder if we had been had. As I later realized, we had not been had, I was just so tired when I did the booking that I booked the wrong cemetery. We had planned to visit Lafayette No 1, but no guide was required. St Louis No 1 is the only cemetery which now requires a guide. Just a heads up for any of you planning a visit. But at least the money for our non-required tour is going towards the preservation of the cemetery. And we did learn some interesting things.

Our tour guide was a sweet little man, he made no qualms about the fact that there would be nothing “spooky” about this tour, just pure historical fact. He volunteers with Save Our Cemeteries and at the National WW II museum. He had a distinctly science teacher vibe – lanky, bespectacled, white New Balances, and a giant khaki safari style hat. He was retired from the medical field which I guess is kind of sort of still in the vein.

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The cemetery itself was gorgeous, although it’s hard to not impress us with tombs dating back to the 1800’s. The architecture and the care spent designing the tombs and the statues that accompany them has always been beautiful to me. It’s no Pere Lachaise, but it is absolutely worth a visit. Tons of things have been filmed here, including scenes from Interview with the Vampire. Apparently New Kids on the Block filmed their “Right Stuff” video in the cemetery, which our tour guide neglected to mention. Come on, sir. This is an important historical event! Maybe NKOTB fans were getting too crazy and they had to remove that tidbit from the tour. I’m sure we would have been escorted out after recreating the slow-mo cemetery chase and doing the sweet Right Stuff scissor kick slide dance. And as we were being dragged out, I would have yelled “worth itttt!”

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Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

 

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New Orleans Street Car

After the tour we wandered out to Magazine Street. It didn’t really seem like our scene, so we hopped a streetcar back to the French Quarter. As we wandered around the streets we came across Vacherie. American Horror Story fans may recognize the restaurant from season 3 during the Witches’ Walk. We recreated it as best we could, without Jessica Lange or a Coven. #Covenofone

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American Horror Story Coven Hack. Alternatively Titled: “Where My Witches At!?”

 

Now this is important. Commit this to memory. We inadvertently wandered into the New Orleans School of Cooking. Apparently pralines are the thing here. Apparently pralines are prevalent in New Orleans as a whole. Neither of us had ever had a praline. We snagged a couple as a snack and they were amaze-balls. Granted we had nothing to compare them to, but good is good. Throughout the rest of the trip we tried pralines from all over the city. NONE OF THEM COMPARED. Go. Try them all. Please write and tell me if you disagree or if maybe we managed to miss one. Judging from what we ate, I will say with confidence the New Orleans School of Cooking has the best dang pralines in New Orleans. Maybe in the world, I dunno. They make ’em fresh and bag ’em up just quick enough to keep up with the steady stream of orders. You’ll find this little gem tucked in among some shops next to Jackson Square. They’re sold pre-packaged throughout the city, but nothing beats the warm fresh ones.

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Fresh Praline from New Orleans School of Cooking

Pralines in hand, (and in mouth), we made our way to Cafe du Monde. The place was packed, but the wait was short and the patio was bustling. As we made our way to our table, I noticed the complete abandon with which everyone was enjoying their beignets. Adults and kids alike absolutely covered in what I would later find out, an inescapable dusting of powdered sugar. Their faces, their hands, their pants, their feet. The floor reminded me of one of those BBQ places that throws sawdust and peanut shells on the ground, except for this was all snowy white sugar. There are really only two things on the menu here – beignets and coffee. We ordered both, and a sax man on the street serenaded us as we snacked. As we dug into the beignets, I understood why everyone was covered in powdered sugar. Resistance was futile and getting doused was part of the fun. It was best to just surrender entirely to the pastry and dust off afterwards. A lesson I learned pretty quickly after attempting to wipe a mound of sugar off my lap with a damp napkin. Essentially I succeeded in making a sort of sugar/napkin paste and proudly donned that on my black pants for the rest of the day.

The sax man started up “When The Saints Go Marching In” and sitting in the middle of this beautiful historic city, trying new foods and living out a portion of my bucket list, I welled up with tears because I was reminded so intensely of my Grandmother and overwhelmed by the beauty, the strangeness and the temporary nature of life. Each and every moment is once in a lifetime. Even if I make my way back to this city, and visit this same cafe, it will not be the same moment as it was right then and there. It was a nice reminder to soak it all in and appreciated every single last bit. Thank you, Sax Man for unexpectedly bringing her back to me that afternoon.

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A sax man serenades patrons and passersby outside Cafe Du Monde
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Cafe Du Monde beignets piled high with powdered sugar + chicory coffee

New Orleans: Day 1 – Street Cars, First Taste of Bourbon Street, + the Music of the City

Day 1:

Our first full day in New Orleans started with a short walk to District Donuts. Sliders. Brew for some fuel (Read the full District review here). The Lakeview neighborhood we were staying in was lined with trees and beautiful old homes that towered over the streets. From District we took an Uber ride to City Park to catch a street car. Our Uber driver was everything last night’s was not. He drove a pickup truck (first Uber truck ride we’ve ever had), and basically embodied the term “jovial”. His laugh was deep, pointed and resonated. It filled the cab of the truck in an infectious sort of way. He laughed at our bad jokes like an old friend, he loved food and provided us with a list of places to visit.

Driving into City Park was like a dream. The trees dripped with Spanish moss, hanging from the branches like the leftover Mardi Gras beads that were strung along trees and light poles. A tiny body of water in the park was wildly exciting, it’s not a swamp but surrounded by the low hanging Spanish moss it was a beautiful little pseudo-swamp for a couple of tourists to take in. We didn’t spend much time here. Just enough to wander the crooked path and duck under a couple of tree branches. From here we crossed a tiny street to await the Streetcar. We waited with an older couple from the UK, and as the streetcar pulled up, it was like a scene right out of a romantic technicolor dream. Red and shiny, the driver was gruff and spoke only out of absolute necessity. The seats were wooden slatted and polished. The sun came in the windows, accentuating the richness of the interior. The car was relatively empty as we boarded, and we easily grabbed a seat near the front.

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The city whirred by as the car became more and more packed with each stop. Eventually we were sitting next to a man ranting about how much he hates Los Angeles (After asking us where we were from), how much he hates “Spanish people” and how he has never seen so many white people in New Orleans (taking over the city). A young man making his way to the back stopped to remind him, “People is people, man”.

We disembarked at Bourbon Street. Everything around us looked like we could be in almost any major city. Buildings loomed over us, but as we crossed the major street and made our way towards Bourbon we began to come into the city’s specific flavor. The buildings grew older, the street was narrow and eventually we were surrounded by bars and strip clubs housed in Spanish architecture. The beauty of these ancient buildings housing modern vices seemed strange at first until I realized modern vices and ancient vices aren’t so different. As far as vices go, only thing that’s changed much is the addition of electricity and neon signs advertising what lay inside.

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We wandered, we drank Hurricanes out of gigantic receptacles longer than our arms because that’s what you do, we wandered some more, we got hustled for $20 by a couple of shoe-shiners who engulfed us like a tornado, or rather I should say Jill felt compelled to gift the $20, but we got some beads out of it without having to show any body parts and our shoes did gleam a little brighter, and hopefully those shoe-shiners at least ate well that night. We ducked into tiny shops and stared up at the roofs cutting through the sky in various shapes, colors and sizes. We stared down at the street markers tiled on the corner of every street, and up at the black street signs sharing the same corners. High or low, you knew where you were. Although it didn’t mean much to us on our first day because we didn’t know where anything was in relation to anything else. Today, it was all Bourbon Street and the streets that led off of it to parallel streets.

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It was on this afternoon that we met Blind Boy. We were strolling leisurely down Bourbon Street, already well past the thick of it, sipping our drinks and admiring the architecture around us. Off in the distance we heard a voice so raw and so gritty, singing out to no one in particular, that we both stopped dead in our tracks. This was the kind of voice that demands you do nothing but stop and listen. We saw the owner of this commanding sound making his way towards us. A young man with a guitar slung on his back, black frame glasses and a Newsboy cap. As we gaped he walked past us and inquired about the Captain hat I was wearing. Then he asked if he could sing us a song. And right there on a nondescript stretch of Bourbon Street, the guitar was released from its case, a tiny sitting stool was unfolded and Blind Boy opened his mouth to grace us with his gritty God-given gift. Our private New Orleans concert was underway and we marveled at the show of it. It felt like meeting the soul of the city, and it all came rushing in to welcome us.

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Blind Boy of New Orleans, introducing us to the soul of the city

We wandered down Royal, and as the sun receded marveled at the gaslit lamps that illuminated the quarter. The flames danced, encased in iron and glass, and the sounds of hooves on the narrow roads as the many mule-drawn carriages made their way past us made it easy to imagine another time. We of course checked out Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. It’s not at all affiliated with the actual Marie Laveau, but it is still an interesting stop should you ever find yourself strolling along Bourbon Street. We bought some rings and presents to take home and continued to wander.

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Gaslit lamps of the French Quarter lighting the way for the night ahead

We wandered into what is probably our favorite bar of the trip, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Touted as the oldest building in the United States housing a bar, we sipped whiskey by candlelight, befriended a couple from Little Rock, and got some more recommendations from our very cool waitress.

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Drinking by candlelight at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

We ended up at Acme for dinner. From the outside it looked like a touristy place you’d find at Fisherman’s Wharf that I would typically avoid, but it had the seal of approval from our jovial Uber driver extraordinaire so we jumped in line. The wait wasn’t long since there were only two of us and we were fine with sitting at the bar. Pam, our server, greeted us and she was all kinds of wonderful. Sampler platter with jambalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo, sausage and we ordered the beef po’ boy for good measure. I’d never had jambalaya and I didn’t expect to like it much. This is the night I discovered my freakish obsession with jambalaya. The meal was so good my eyes literally rolled back in my head as I took my first bite of each wonderful dish. The po’ boy was flavorful and tender. The jambalaya is something I know I will lust after for the rest of my days.

We went to bed with incredible food in our bellies and the music of the city dancing its way into our souls.

New Orleans Night 1: The Arrival + Foraging For Food

New Orleans Night 1:

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Texas was twinkling in tones of white and yellow

We stepped into the night, into a sort of balminess I’ve never experienced. I’ve experienced hot, I’ve experienced humid. This was neither. This was balmy, which maybe I thought I had some sort of an idea of, but had I ever thought that in the past I would have been wrong. Because this was my first truly balmy night, my first encounter with Southern air. It was thick, but not in an unpleasant way. Thick in an oddly welcoming way, like the city was so welcoming that even the air wrapped itself round you in a welcoming embrace. It didn’t sit atop your skin with a stickiness, but you could feel it, and could not help but be aware of it. It simply made its presence known. This was the pleasantly balmy Spring evening I had always read about, and imagined in all the wrong ways.

Our first Uber driver was a non-native and non-talkative. When we asked if he had any recommendations as to where to go, what to see, what to eat, he paused for half a second, and then answered, “No.” One single word, and not a single recommendation for two weary travelers, first-time visitors. Picking up people from the airport, with no language barriers to speak of is literally the easiest conversation one could make, really. And recommendations in a big city for first time visitors is another easy task. Is your city so bad that you can’t think of a single enjoyable thing to do, see or eat!? For fuck’s sake, even something as common and obvious as “Bourbon Street” would have been better than a monosyllabic “No”.

As we exited the freeway and glided down surface streets towards our Lakeview AirBnB, we could see the lush green lining the streets even in the dark. A thirty-three dollar Uber ride landed us on a quiet street corner.  The place was was every bit as beautiful as the listing photos. A cosy yet spacious mid-century modern dream nestled in the midst of a gorgeous little neighborhood. We were starving of course, and everything was closed of course, unless we wanted a bar. So we did what any other red-blooded American would do. We called for pizza. I know… in a city steeped in rich history and culinary gifts our first meal was the common mundane pizza pie. And it wasn’t even a local must-try. It was a run of the mill chain, but desperate times call for desperate measures and it was delicious and it saved our lives and it was a wonderful pre-breakfast mini meal the following morning, and the girl who answered the phone said “ya’all” and it made me smile so there was something to be said for our seemingly lackluster first culinary experience for two newcomers to an historic city.

We feasted on pizza and reveled in the excitement of being in a new city, electrified by the anticipation of what tomorrow morning could bring. Properly fed and fueled, we explored our little domicile – our home for the next five nights.

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When your friends pack you epic snack packs and save your whole life

District Donuts. Sliders. Brew.

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District is the sort of coffee house I’ve always wanted to work in. Greeted by a “what’s up, ya’all!” The baristas are having fun, the music is upbeat (think Def Leppard and Bon Jovi), the decor is a cool rustic/industrial style and when a regular walks in the vibe is more like you’re hanging out at a friend’s place. But the friend is a wicked talented chef, an innovative baker, and brews really amazing coffee. Even if you’re not a regular, the District crew makes you feel warmly welcomed before stuffing you with warm gigantic donuts.

We visited this place twice. On our first visit it was the Croque Madame (which we properly butchered the pronunciation of) – thinly sliced smoked ham, havarti, dijon and bechamel with a District twist. All this goodness was sandwiched between a soft, warm donut and topped with the traditional sunny side-up egg. The donut was not overly sweet, which I was thankful for (I’d choose savory over sweet every time) which gave the sandwich a sense of donut texture without an overwhelming donut sweetness, allowing for a more savory flavor to come through. The egg wasn’t a hot mess level of runny, just runny enough to provide the satisfaction of carefully breaking the yolk to watch it run over.

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District’s Croque Madame and a Nitro Cold Brew

On our second visit, it happened to be April Fool’s Day, and District was offering up some special donut mashups in celebration. We opted for the Irish-Fetti. The Irish Coffee donut with a funfetti twist. Tastes like dunking funfetti cupcakes into an Irish coffee. In a word… amazeballs. Would have loved to try all the flavors, but these things are so giant, even the two of us could barely finish it. We also got to try out one of the famous sliders this time around. We went for the tofu slider- mushroom vermicelli tofu, mapo mushroom chutney, sichuan pickles and cilantro atop a soft Hawaiian roll. This bad boy is spicy and delicious. I’m a pretty big spice wuss, but it was so flavorful that I just dealt with it for a few bites and did my best to put out the fire with a raw green juice. Which totally balanced out the gigantic donut, I’m sure.

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District’s special April Fool’s Irishfetti donut. It’s a birthday party in your mouth.

We also tried their hot drip coffee, and nitro cold brew. Yasssssss! Really cannot say enough good stuff about this spot! Go, go, go! Original location is on Magazine Street, we only visited their newest Lakeview location on Harrison but I’m sure all four locations are equally epic.

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District hot drip coffee + Nitro cold brew