New Orleans is my adopted city. I was born and raised in St. Louis (another great city). I arrived in 1979, ready to experience everything it had to offer. As New Orleans does, it opened its heart to me. The people I met during my time there became lifelong friends. I fell in love my husband under the Spanish Moss draped Oak Trees along St. Charles Ave. We raised our children on boiled crawfish and trips to Audubon Zoo. We second lined through the French Quarter when our daughter got married in St Louis Cathedral. We celebrated when the Saints won their first Super Bowl and cried for days after Katrina ripped through our beloved city. New Orleans is a city rich with history, frivolity and culinary delights. Let these photographs inspire you to plan a trip to visit. www.neworleans.com
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by French Colonists. It was ruled briefly by the Spanish and was traded to the United States in the Louisiana Purchases. By 1840 it was the third most populous city in the United States and a major port. My favorite way to experience New Orleans' rich heritage is through its cuisine. The tastes and flavors of New Orleans reflect its French, Spanish, West African and Native American roots. Creole cooking relies heavy on the rich sauces, meats and more complex cooking techniques from its French and Spanish roots. Cajun cooking relies heavily on local ingredients and simpler cooking styles, reflecting more of the West African and Native American roots. My very most favorite dish in New Orleans is Chargrilled Oysters, pictured above. Chargrilled oysters are available at most seafood restaurants but the best (in my humble opinion) are served at Dragos Restaurant in Metairie, on N. Arnoult. It is worth the Uber ride from anywhere in the city to get them there. For more information on restaurants on New Orleans, check out my blog post The Best Restaurants in New Orleans, Where I Have Never Eaten
In the heart of the French Quarter, St Louis Cathedral built in 1720 originally overlooked the Mississippi River and what is now Jackson Square. The original structure was in a fire during the Spanish rule in 1788. Completed in 1850, today's structure incorporates the bell tower from the original 1720 Cathedral. Local artists show their work along exterior of the iron fencing of Jackson Square. My favorite time to visit this area is early in the morning . Grab a cup of Cafe au Lait and beignets from Cafe Du Monde or Cafe Beignet then wander around Jackson Square and Royal Street watching the French Quarter wake up.
New Orleans is surrounded by water on all sides the Mississippi River to the south, Lake Pontchartrain to the North, swamps and wetlands to the east and west. Today, according to a 2017 Tulane university study, about half of the city is below sea level. By 1885, the Army Corp of Engineering developed a "levees-only" policy along the Mississippi River. These levees kept the river from flooding the city but trapped the rainwater from the frequent tropical downpours in the city. In 1893, the city formed the Drainage Board to address these drainage problems. By 1926, the levees extended from Cairo IL to New Orleans and New Orleans had a pump network aid in drainage. In 1962 the Army Corp of Engineers started the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project, creating a ring of levees to protect the city from the water storm surges created. In 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, several of these levels failed as did large parts of the pumping system. Since then, the levee system has been expanded and fortified . These levees not only protect the city but are lovely parks and greenways.
The southwest corner of the French Quarter was known as Storyville. In the late 1890's this section of the city allowed prostitution, gambling, and had lax drinking laws. It was in this carefree environment of saloons and bordellos that Jazz was born and New Orleans' gained its reputation as a party place. Always know for their sweet and icy drinks sold along Bourbon Street, in recent years New Orleans has developed a serious cocktail scene and some amazing rooftop bars. Pictured above is the view from Hot Tin Roof Top Bar and one of their signature cocktails the Ruby Slipper. www.jackrose.com
Celebrations come naturally and flamboyantly in New Orleans. Christmas is an extravagant affair. City Park is festooned with thousands of lights from Thanksgiving to Twelfth Night when Mardi Gras celebrations begin. Restaurants throughout the city offer special "Revellion Menus," replicating the meals served after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in the 1800's. My favorite tradition is the lighting of the bonfires along the Mississippi River, so Papa Noel can find is way to the houses of good little boys and girls.
Audubon Park is an oasis in the bustling section of Uptown New Orleans. 200 year old oaks shade walking and biking trails, picnic areas, and playgrounds. Bordered by Loyola and Tulane Universities to the North and Audubon Zoo to the south, there is much to explore in this area. For an added New Orleans experience, enjoy an oyster po-boy from Domilise's Poboys on Annunciation Street, then do a few laps around Audubon park to work off those delicious calories.
New Orleans has a festival for everything, Creole Tomato Festival, Gumbo Festival, French Quarter Fest, Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. My favorite is the Jazz and Heritage Festival. It started in 1970 with performances in Congo Square in downtown New Orleans. over three days, with 350 attendees. In 1972, the festival moved to the infield of the Fair Grounds racetrack. It has grown to 8 days 14 stages and tents, spread throughout the Fair grounds infield and grandstands with over 300,000 attendees each year. Big name as well as local artists deliver some of their best performance in front of the enthusiastic groups. And the food .... it is a true taste of south Louisiana experience just grazing through the food booths. Some of my favorites are Crawfish Monica, Cochon de lait poboys, boiled crawfish, boudin balls, oysters on the half shell, jambalaya, meat pies, and catfish poboys. You can eat your fill, dance it off and go back for more. www.nojazzfest.com
In the New Orleans, the people are welcoming, friendly and loyal. They are loyal to their family and friends, their high school and their football team. Pregame concerts and tailgating, watch parties, post game celebrating is elevated to an art form in the food centric city. To watch the game in the Super Dome is a spectacle with extravagant half time shows, fans dressed in outrageous costumes, everyone wearing team colors and jerseys. And the noise....music, cheering, the volume is almost deafening. The picture above was taken in September of 2006. It was the Saints first home game in the Super Dome after Katrina. Between the city spirit, the pageantry and the press coverage, you would have thought is was a Super Bowl not a regular season game.
Blue hour photograph of the French Quarter on a foggy evening.
Food is revered in New Orleans. It is a constant topic of conversation. Ask about Jambalaya, you will find out how their Mama makes it and whether it has tomatoes in it or not. Red Beans and Rice is aways on the menu on Mondays and yes you do get the best flavor from sucking the crawfish’s head. Stuffed Mirlitons and Rice Dressing made with chicken livers are served at Thanksgiving, Gumbo at Christmas and Crawfish Boils on Good Friday. Do you add tomato paste to your barbecued shrimp and do you like your Fried Catfish regular or thin. Pictured above is one of my favorite cheat meals, Fried Shrimp and thin Fried Catfish. The culinary delights you indulge in reflect the diversity and depth of New Orlean's African, Native American, Spanish and French roots. The food is rich and vibrant, with a depth that leaves you wanting for more.
So often when people think of New Orleans, visions of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras come to mind. There is no doubt New Orleans is a fun place and the people who live there love a great party. However, that is only a teaspoon of the gumbo that is New Orleans. If you visit New Orleans and the only see the Mississippi River, you miss the magic that is the wetlands and swamps. These eco systems are the backbone of what secures and feeds the city. The roots of vegetation trap and secure the soil that the city sits on and it acts as a barrier to the delicate balance of fresh and salt water that allows the fish and crustaceans to thrive. They also provide a peaceful balance to the bustling city. Making time for a swamp tour or a visit to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is a great way to experience the yin to Bourbon Street's yang.
If Chargrilled oysters are my all time favorite dish, Commander's Palace is my all time favorite restaurant in the world. I first went there in 1979 when Paul Prudhomme was executive chef. We went for dinner before a dance when I was in college. While I do not remember the name of my date, I have never forgotten Commander’s Palace. Our family has celebrated graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and even a baby shower there. Mother’s Day Brunch at Commander's Palace has been our tradition since 1989, when our daughter was three and Emeril Lagasse was executive chef. We had over 20 Mother’s Days consecutively, until Katrina struck. After the storm, the restaurant came back stronger and more beautiful than ever. One of my best memories of Commander’s Palace is celebrating a job promotion at the Chef’s table, in the kitchen. This was when Jamie Shannon was executive chef. What fun it was to watch the action in the kitchen, while enjoying all that delicious food. I always recommend a splurge dinner that includes Turtle Soup and Bread Pudding Soufflé at Commander’s Palace to any visitor to New Orleans. https://www.commanderspalace.com/
The home of the Hurricane and the Rainbow (originally called a Pete's Special), Pat O'Brien's epitomizes French Quarter fun. Originally a prohibition-era speakeasy, Pat O'Briens officially opened on St. Peter Street, December 3,1933. In 1942 it moved to its 718 St. Peter address with not one but two baby grand piano's and the dueling piano bar was born. We have enjoyed many an evening singing along to the music, but the best memory was of my college roommate playing a song there one night. If your tastes run to a peaceful location to enjoy a cocktail, not to worry. The beautiful courtyard with a large flaming fountain make a delightful place to sip one of the signature drinks. www.patobriens.com
With levees surrounding the city and one of the first pump driven drainage systems in the world, no city understands the devastation of water better than New Orleans. It is so ingrained into the fabric of the city that we bury our dead above ground. Mark Twain called New Orleans Cemeteries "cities of the dead." Pictured above is Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden district.
Beignets are a treat for all ages!
My favorite quote about New Orleans is from Chris Rose, a long time newspaper reporter. In New Orleans, "we dance even if there's no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live to large and, frankly, we're suspicious of others who don't. The above picture was taken at Finn McCools at 8:30 on a Sunday morning. Tottenham was playing Arsenal and the tavern was packed with fans.
Rock n Bowl is a unique combination of bowling alley and dance hall. It is one of the best places in New Orleans to catch some Cajun dancing or bowl a few frames. They offer bites and libations. If you have worked up a real appetite, walk next door to Ye Ole College Inn for a full meal. www.rocknbowl.com
What is my favorite thing about New Orleans, the people. They are generous to family and friends, they love traditions and they include all generations in their parties and excursions. Pictured above is my first Friday in French Quarter, December lunch group at our second stop, Muriels on Jackson Square for Key Lime Martinis and Shrimp Crepes. We have been starting our holiday celebrations with this tradition for almost 20 years. My hope is that when you are next ready to travel, these photos will inspire you to visit New Orleans.