The New Orleans Trip

Dear Internet,

As it turns out, my beloved and I, yr. obdt. svt., celebrated 25 years of wedded bliss this past May. We had decided to go on a sort-of-second honeymoon. Now, as most of the oldtimers here will recall, my beloved (Codename TFBIM, for the new kids) has fairly traditional thoughts on travel.

Go to the Top of the List places and do the Top of the List stuff. Me, eh...not so much.

I developed a simple philosophy: It's impossible to go to a major metropolitan area, stay at a 5-star hotel, and have a bad time. It doesn't matter if it's Sydney, St. Louis, San Francisco, or whatever.

After much effort I was able to put this theory into operation in the late autumn of 2016. We got a STEAL on three nights at a 5-star hotel in Philadelphia and equally cheap airfare and so we went, me curious to see if this would pan out as expected, and she with I'm-going-to-humor-him trepidation. In her mind, Philadelphia, as a vacation destination, wasn't, y'know, UP THERE.

But we went, had a grand time and she raved to all her friends about it, strategically omitting that her husband was not a complete lunatic. Anyway. 25th anniversary. So I started to plan for this trip.

As noted above, all I needed was a crazy-low rate at a 5-star hotel in a major metropolitan area and comparable airfare pricing, within a fairly broad travel window. It didn't have to be New Orleans. But as luck would have it, only New Orleans -- of all the places I had bookmarked on my browser -- had both the cheap* 5-star hotel and airfare. How cheap? Try $67/night at a for-real 5-star hotel close to everything we wanted to do, and $115/pp round trip from here to there.

The catch is that a) you have to scour ALL the travel websites** and b) once you spot such bargains, you must leap like a cheetah, or possibly a leopard, on a wildebeest with arthritis. As it usually is, you get these insane bargains (closer to $0 than the suggested retail price) either several months ahead, or the weekend before you go. For us it was the latter. So we had the anticipation and opportunity to research ahead of us.

Which was nice.

So I was able to pin things on my NOLA*** Google map, look for the best days/times to do the things I wanted to do, etc., and the best way to walk there. And, in this case, you really do want to walk everywhere. The food is SO good, that you will need to clock in 5-8 miles a day just to keep your clothes fitting.

To get in the right frame of mind, I practiced some gumbo, and some jambalaya, and for pyrotechnic effect, Bananas Foster.

To cut short this bit of a trailer, the food was not only great, it was great everywhere. EVERY. WHERE. We went to the National WWII Museum -- pretty sobering stuff, especially if you're the parents of boys -- and even the little touristy/casual place they have for visitors to eat (Confession: I was verrrrrrry wary of this, but my beloved was both famished and adamant.) had an insanely delicious shrimp etouffe, and an equally delicious butter praline ice cream a "single-scoop" serving of which was the size of a generous grapefruit.

Yes, you can go to one of those Grand Dame gentlemen-must-wear-jackets Haute Creole restaurants in the French Quarter, and we did**** but even the mom-and-pop places, or the dive-y places all had amazing, everything-made-in-house-from-scratch-using-terrific-local-ingredients. And everyone was super nice and helpful. I mean "above and beyond" helpful. A waiter at Restaurant _____ would sketch on the back of your napkin three other places to visit.

The other thing to note about New Orleans is that it's the melting pot-est city in the USA. Other places have clearly discernible elements that compose its overall look and feel, but New Orleans has a completely different homogeneity about it. It has an Old Dixie aspect, to be sure, but unlike the rest of the broader region it has a French underpinning, with elements from Spain, that gives it a whole different cast. Therefore, the food is unlike anything else you will find anywhere else in the USA, a glorious and self-realized amalgam of its influences that has produced an entirely new whole that stands on its own. If you go to most major cities in the Anglosphere, and ask to go to the "hottest restaurant" you will get similar-enough food. It can -- often is! -- spectacular, but in New Orleans it has a clear stamp of the place.

Oh, and the locals? They are all foodies. Foodies in a way you don't see outside of Mediterranean countries. Everyone grows stuff, catches stuff, hunts for stuff, and everyone is fanatical about the best way to prepare things. More than once we heard that the reasons all the restaurants there are so good is because all the home cooks are so good.

So why am I telling you all this?

Because when I have a great trip***** I come back eager to share the food of such places with our nearest and dearest. Unlike anywhere else in the USA, there is such an astonishing variety to share with everyone (that also means you, Internet) that I figured I may as well, bring you all that. Whereas in other cities/cases writing about their signature foodstuffs could be relatively brief, in this case there is a ton.

Just so you know, my beloved is already asking for a break from the foods of New Orleans, and practically wept with relief when I made simple steak and potatoes last night for dinner. So that you may have an idea of what's been going on, we're talking about muffaleta sandwiches, po' boy sandwiches, shrimp (or crawfish) etouffe, shrimp creole, NOLA style fried chicken, red beans and rice, three different kinds of gumbo, two different kinds of jambalaya, blackened catfish, grilled oysters, cochon au lait sandwich, french toast with bourbon pecan syrup, bananas foster over ice cream, bananas foster over waffles, corn maque choux, shrimp and grits, assorted bits of French-ancestry charcuterie and cheeses -- NOLA being one of the places where unpasteurized cheese is a thing -- and cocktails aplenty: Sazerac, French 75, Courtyard Special, Ramos Gin Fizz.

So you see, we may be here a while.

-J.

* By cheap, I don't mean "Oh, that's a really good price." I mean "WHAT? That can't be right. That's a typo."
** Universally acknowledged as the slowest, buggiest, most recalcitrant, least user-friendly, aggravating category of website. You could -- I did! -- burn several nights just trying to get an idea of what's available.
*** New Orleans, Louisiana
**** The correct move is doing this for lunch. Fewer crowds and the prices are better.
***** Like our annual jaunt down to Key West and points near.

Comments

Frogdancer said…
Sounds like a great trip! Mum and Dad went to New Orleans back in the 70's and they came back raving about it.

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