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Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Review of New Orleans

This is what New Orleans was like back in August, 2002, before Katrina. A review we published in August 22nd, 2002 issue of The Paper: issue:

New Orleans! Year Round
Party Time!

by lyle e davis

This is some town. New Orleans . . . famous for narrow streets,
second-story balconies with shuttered windows, lacy wrought iron fences, shady courtyards, jazz music on almost every street corner, and plenty of Creole and Cajun cuisine. It is said that no American city has been shaped by more cultures than New Orleans . . . and it is readily apparent that this is true. Throughout the French Quarter you will see tiles on buildings
reminding you that during the Spanish ownership of New Orleans, this street was known by one name, in Spanish - today that same street has a French name "The Big Easy" is a 'gumbo' of Native American, Spanish, French, German, African, Irish and Anglo influences.

There is so much to do in and around New Orleans that the greatest difficulty lies in which choice to make. There are beautiful antebellum homes, historic landmarks, first-class museums, four-star restaurants and legendary night clubs and cafes, all awaiting you. You can take an old time streetcar down St. Charles Avenue, or, along the Riverfront, enjoy a mule-drawn carriage ride through the French Quarter, take a riverboat cruise for an hour, a day, several days, several weeks . . . or, forever. Or perhaps you'd prefer to take a tour of Cajun Country, zip through a bayou
and see alligators, egrets, deer, or perhaps you just want to casually stroll through the streets of the French Quarter . . bargain with the merchants in the Flea Market . . .shop in the many kiosks that make up the Riverwalk . . . it's all there, in New Orleans.

It would be impossible to cover everything there is to do in New Orleans, but we'll cover a few of the places we visited and hope you capture the feeling, the atmosphere, the enjoyment we felt in visiting them.

We have a bit of a surprise for you. Our favorite restaurants are not the ones you normally read about. We scouted around and found a wide variety of restaurants, in every price range. We also inquired of the locals as to where the best places to dine were.

Topping our list? The Ugly Dog Saloon BBQ.

I know, I know. It’s not on the top 10 list of restaurants of any
restaurant guide you’ve read. Well, it should be.

We walked into The Ugly Dog Saloon and BBQ . . . and immediately smelled the delicious aroma of smoked meat (they have their barbecue smoker inside the restaurant). We ordered their pulled pork sandwich, 1/2 lb. of pork on a
sesame seed bun with Sassy Jones Original BBQ Sauce. And we spent a whole $5.00! As important as the HUGE serving of food at a very reasonable price was the service.

Linda, our waitress, is the sister of one of the owners, Stephen Rouquette (who is a partner with Joe Schackleton). Linda made us feel like we were cousins who had just arrived in town. She could not have been friendlier, the food couldn’t have tasted any better, and the price couldn’t have been more reasonable. Elegant it ain’t. But it’s a homey atmosphere and a fun place to go. They’re at 402 Andrew Higgins Boulevard (formerly Howard Avenue), just a holler away from the D-Day Museum. Indeed, it was one of
the docents from the D-Day Museum who recommended The Ugly Dog Saloon . . . for which we will always be grateful. In addition to the Pulled Pork Sandwich we had, they offer Beef Brisket Dinners at $5.75, Pork Spare Ribs at $6.75 and Chicken at $5.75. Betcha ya can’t finish your meal! The plate is loaded with food!

Another outstanding restaurant that we absolutely loved was also not an elegant place, but has built its reputation on providing great food, lots of it, at a reasonable price. The reputation is so well earned and so widely known that it’s an almost guarantee you’ll have to wait in line to get in for breakfast, lunch or dinner at . . . Mother’s.

Mother’s is located at 401 Poydras Street at the intersection of
Tchoupitoulas (pronounced Chapitoulas). Sidebar Story: The “T” in Tchoupitoulas doesn’t belong there. It’s an Indian name and in the early years, when the French populated Louisiana, the soldiers would go around to the various Indian settlements and locations and if they had been converted to Catholicism, the soldiers would write down a cross (in the form of a T) in front of the name. Thus, the Indian name of Choupitoulas, became Tchopitoulas. Good small talk conversation for your next cocktail party).

Just to give you an idea of how good Mother’s is . . . in any given year the restaurant will cook more than 100,000 lbs of ham, 40,000 lbs. of turkey, 90,000 lbs. of jambalaya, 30,000 lbs. of homemade sausage, and more than 275,000 eggs.

Mother’s serves cafeteria style. The secret to their success is that they serve great food at reasonable prices, in large portions. Folks on a budget eat here, folks used to high end dining eat here. Their early bird special offers scrambled eggs, smoked sausage, grits, biscuit, coffee or orange juice . . . $4.25. Their regular breakfast, all day, 2 eggs any style, grits, biscuits or toast, choice of meat or sausage, with coffee, $7.50.

Mother’s is also the home of the Po’ Boy sandwich, said to be the best in the Crescent City (yet another name for New Orleans). The name comes from the time when there was a railroad strike and Mother’s would prepare sandwiches made of French bread and would have roast beef and hot gravy ladled on, generously. Today, there is the original Po’ Boy, and variants, such as the Ferdi Special . . a Po’ Boy with a combination of baked ham,
roast beef, debris, and gravy (debris (day-bree) is the roast beef which falls into the gravy while baking in the oven).

Mother’s is a 'must do' on your restaurant tour de force.

A lot of the other restaurants we enjoyed . . . but we also found some of them overrated, and, not incidentally, overpriced.

Bozo’s: Our first exposure to New Orleans style restaurants was a mixed one. We went to Bozo's, 3117 21st St, Metairie (near the airport; they also have a location in the French Quarter). The food was absolutely outstanding. We had our first New Orleans style meal. We had chicken and andoille gumbo (andoille [pronounced an-do-we] is a spicy sausage) - a combination of chicken, sausage, rice and spices. We also had catfish, very tasty. We experimented with Rex Louisiana Hot Sauce. We liked it so much we looked
all over New Orleans to find it and buy several bottles to bring home. But the biggest, and most pleasant surprise, was the hot roll of French bread given to us. Crunchy crust, light as air inside, and slathering on butter just makes it almost a meal in itself. The mixed reaction we had, and what we could not understand at the time (but now do) was the rather somber atmosphere. We didn't see much in the way of smiles . . . not the joie de vivre we've come to expect. We now know why. It turns out that Mary Ann
Vodanovich, the sister of Chris "Bozo" Vodanovich, the owner of Bozo's, had died several days earlier. She was recognized as one of the city's finest restaurateurs and her sudden, unexpected death had shocked her family and staff. We'll definitely go back to Bozo's.

Andrew Jaeger's - two locations, one in Metaire, the other at 622 Conti St., in the French Quarter. Primarily a seafood house, food is adequately gourmet, atmosphere comfortable. We had a super waitress who checked on us frequently, to make sure we were happy campers.

Mr. B's Bistro, 201 Royal Street, French Quarter - thus far, my favorite of the upscale restaurants we visited. Plush, club style décor. Old world opulence and modern day service by well trained wait staff, always ready with a big smile. Ask for Ceasar Morton . . a handsome devil with a winning smile and a great personality (see a smiling Ceasar above) I had an absolutely delicious grilled chicken breast salad with an award winning red currant vinegarette salad dressing.

K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, the restaurant owned by Paul Prudhomme and his late wife, Kay. Located at 416 Chartres St., French Quarter, we found the food to be adequate gourmet but probably a bit overrated and quite pricy. Prudhomme is seldom there, now that he has his tv shows, his books, etc.
Once in a while, it is said he drops in, puts on a quick cooking show and then leaves. Long lines in the evening attest to it's popularity. We got in easily because we went early, arriving at about 5:30pm. While the food was good, I probably would not return. Too pricey for what you get. The one thing I did like about K-Pauls . . . they don't allow smoking. Hooray! (Most restaurants in New Orleans DO allow smoking. Boo!)

Café du Monde (Café of the World) - 800 Decatur St., a New Orleans tradition that we'll pass. We tried the beignets (pronounced ben-yays) which are, essentially, donuts, dusted with lots of powdered sugar. They tasted like, well, powdered sugar donuts. They are three for a $1.50. You're supposed to drink café au lait . . . but, not being coffee drinkers, we passed on that. Worth a try, just so you can say . . . "oh, yes, I had
beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde . . . in N'Awlins." (Besides, it's kind of fun to say . . . 'beignets').

The Alpine, 620 Chartres, French Quarter . . . Cajun/ Creole cuisine.
Quite reasonable in their prices. I had the barbecue shrimp for only $16 . . a glass of Sauvignon Blanc at $6. Service was fairly good, good menu, pleasant corner location. They do have a non-smoking section. The only complaint I have about them is we had eight persons, four couples. I asked for separate checks and the waiter claimed his computer system couldn't handle that. These folks are in the restaurant business, dealing with tourists and business people. They need to accommodate requests to settle
the bill quickly and easily and if they need to spend a couple dollars to upgrade their computer billing system, then they need to do it. I also don't like a waiter telling me how to settle the bill (just take the total and divide it by each of the four couples. That never works. Someone always gets shortchanged. . . and it's not the restaurant.)

Marriott Hotel - Café du Marche', on the ground floor. Horrendous prices. $10.95 for an omelet for breakfast! $8.95 for a simple hamburger. We ate there. Once. I will not go back.

Central Grocery Co., 923 Decatur St. Talk about tradition! From the moment you step foot into the Central Grocery Company you feel as though you've stepped back in time. Yellowed ceilings and walls, probably the original paint from early 1700's, 1800's; loads of supplies of all types . . but the lines that form here are for the world famous Muffuletta. This is the ONLY place to get a Muffuletta. All others are mere imitations. Folks have been
coming her for 25-30 years, just for the Muffulettas. It's a large roll, sliced in half, then loaded with salami, mortadella cheese, all types of delicious salad makings, olives, drizzled with rich extra virgin olive oil, wrapped for travel or eating, whichever you prefer. A half Muffuletta is a lunch for one. We bought one and a half Muffulettas. Two of us ate the half-Muffuletta, saving the whole one for later, possibly for breakfast the next morning. They are huge! And only $8.95 for a full Muffuletta, $4.95 for a half-size.

Expect long lines, but the wait is worth it!

When planning a trip to New Orleans, (and we can’t urge you strongly enough to go! New Orleans is a whole different way of life) remember, it’s not just the food . . . it’s an ambience that causes one to pause and analyze which form of amusement one wishes to pursue tonight. There’s night life here - even during the day.

You’ve heard of Bourbon Street? Wow!

You absolutely, positively, must travel up and down Bourbon Street at least once in your life.

It’s colorful (oh, is it colorful!), it’s gaudy, it’s loud, it’s bright,
it’s . . . it’s fun! There are countless restaurants here on Bourbon Street of course, but there are night clubs, there are curio shops, there are the horse drawn carriages, there are the balconies . . . there are . . . what? You never heard about the balconies? Lemme let you in on a little secret. Come nightime in New Orleans, on Bourbon Street, there is a phenomenon that kicks in. College girls, housewives, even grandma’s seek to collect as many
beaded necklaces as possible. It all started as part of the Mardi Gras celebration. Celebrants on the sideline would throw beads, pretty colored glass bead necklaces, to women who would . . . well, show their, you know, upper torsos. It got to be a tradition . . . and you’d be surprised at how popular a tradition it is! Lots of ladies who would otherwise be prim, proper and prudish, find that when they’re on Bourbon Street, they get caught up in the enthusiasm (and the eager appreciation shown by the male
celebrants in the area) . . . and begin collecting beaded necklaces. And the strange thing is . . . it doesn’t come off as gross behavior. It’s just a bunch of people having a lot of fun. You really have to be there to get the full effect and understand the phenomenon. Sitting at home in your easy chair won’t quite generate the atmosphere necessary to understand or enjoy New Orleans.

New Orleans - The Big Easy - The Crescent City - call it what you will. It is the city to go to when you want to have fun, and lots of it!

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