When you think of New Orleans, unique and delicious food is one of the first things that comes to mind. Certainly, NOLA is considered one of the great dining cities in America. You know when you visit the Crescent City, you’ll find fresh oysters, gulf shrimp and the best cajun cuisine in the country. Its not hard to find, its all around you, just keep your senses aware to the sights and smells as you’re wandering around the city. On a recent trip to the French Quarter with friends, we visited the famous haunts and made some new discoveries.
As we prepared for our trip to The Big Easy, I started doing research. On previous visits, I’d had the pleasure of dining in some of the best places in the city, such as Brennan’s and Galatoire. But I’d also had an outstanding dinner at a place called Couchon that specializes in cajun style pork and locally sourced ingredients. Some of the other folks in our group had also spent quite a bit of time in New Orleans and had wonderful suggestions. We settled on a place called Irene’s Cuisine for dinner on our first night. Irene’s menu leans toward Italian cuisine, but heavily influenced by the local culture.
The evening started with coctails at the Napoleon House just off Jackson Square. After much consumption at the bar, we meandered our way to Irene’s. As we approached the restaurant, the tantalizing smell of garlic filled the air and our salivary glands began to work overtime. Irene’s is not a huge place, but the decor is charming and the service is of the highest caliber. We started with a sampling of appetizers including amazing meatballs in house made marinara, crabmeat in a spicy and creamy sauce and fresh tomato bruscetta. For my main course, I had a soft shelled crab served on a bed of pappardelle with a lucious sauce that was absolutely bursting with garlic. My fellow diners enjoyed dishes such as cioppino with fresh local seafood, a wonderful fish filet topped with crawfish tails and a beef dish topped with a mountain of fresh crabmeat. We saved room for dessert and we were not disappointed. We shared a bread pudding, a chocolate cake and a slice of decadent cheesecake. The bread pudding was dotted with pecans, resting in a small pool of bourbon sauce and served with vanilla ice cream and bananas on the side. The chocolate cake was rich, dark and mysterious and the silky cheesecake melted in our mouths. We stumbled out of Irene’s rubbing our bellies and reeking of garlic.
The following morning, we made a beeline for Cafe Du Monde, one of the most historic and recognizable establishments in New Orleans, serving beignets and bitter chicory coffee since 1862. In fact, beignets are the only food item on the menu at Cafe Du Monde. This is a must-stop place when you’re in New Orleans, any time of the day or night. But be careful when you lift that first beignet to your mouth not to inhale the copious amount of powdered sugar on top. The high octane coffee and sugary beignets will get your pulse racing for the day and send you flying on adventures in the French Quarter. We wandered and snacked for the rest of the day and I made sure to pick up a box of Aunt Sally’s creamy pralines, a delectable New Orleans sweet treat. They have several different flavors of praline, but my favorite is the cafe au lait.
Dinner that night was at Acme Oyster House, one of the most famous New Orleans eateries, in continuous operation since 1910 and in its current location in the French Quarter since 1924. We waited almost an hour to get a table and the line never seemed to shrink as new diners queued up throughout the night. Dining at Acme is like stepping back in time to enjoy the quintessential New Orleans dining experience. The wooden oyster bar at the front of the restaurant looks exactly the same as it did over 80 years ago. And if you sit at the oyster bar, the shuckers will slip you extra oysters as they open them. The raw oysters are fresh and cold and they have char grilled oysters as well, lightly cooked just until they open. Classic dishes such as gumbo, etouffee and jambalaya will not disappoint. I started with a dozen raw and had fried shrimp and oysters for my entree. When we waddled out of the restaurant, the line of people waiting to get in was just as long as it was when we’d arrived several hours earlier. We spent the rest of the night consuming many adult beverages while shuffling down Bourbon Street until we finally settled in the courtyard of the Copper Monkey bar, where we consumed many more adult beverages.
The following morning, those of us not too hung over to move pondered our choices for breakfast. The day before while wandering through the French Quarter, I’d spotted a little place called The Old Coffee Pot that had a cozy courtyard and an interesting looking menu. A small group of the early risers made our way to this little spot and were delighted and surprised by the experience. The place has been open since 1894 and serves interesting local favorites. Their menu includes something called callas cakes, a recipe from the 1800′s that is basically sweetened rice balls deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar, and lost bread, which is French toast made from po boy bread. The coffee was fresh and tasty, but not too bitter.The menu was eclectic with many unique poached egg dishes. I ordered poached eggs sitting on a bed of creamed spinach nestled in an artichoke bottom resting on top of an English muffin and lightly anointed with spicy hollandaise sauce. Jenny had a similar dish with the eggs served over slices of roasted tomato and ham. Jason had his poached eggs topped with chicken livers and brown gravy served on a fresh biscuit. The eggs were perfectly poached and we were all extremely satisfied with our choices. Our lovely waitress called us “sweetheart” and “baby” and when she found out it was Jenny’s birthday, she gave Jenny a big kiss on the cheek. We left The Old Coffee Pot feeling as if New Orleans had just given us a warm and sincere hug.
On the flight home, I munched on Aunt Sally’s pralines, relived the amazing meals we’d had on our trip and dreamed of our next journey to New Orleans when we’d go back to some of the places we’d just discovered and uncover some new hidden treasures.