four days of beignets and our #nolaversary

Our #nolaversary was some sort of magic.

Food, music, family, dancing, and more food… we are still giddy from the experience after returning back home just last night. We’re about to get perhaps a little too long-winded on you, but there really is no detail too small in New Orleans. As we mentioned in our previous post, it is one of those cities that rarely disappoints: foodies will find their flavors, music enthusiasts will find their jam, and partiers will undoubtedly find their party. There’s something for everyone here, so allow us to reveal our version of New Orleans and divulge the deets on our #nolaversary.

SATURDAY

Our first day in New Orleans was devoted to our tried-and-true favorites, and subsequently, the places with the longest lines. Seeing as we started on a Saturday with the popular spots, our wait time drastically reduced as the days went by. The beauty of long weekend travel!

As soon as we landed, we went straight to Central Grocery, home of New Orleans’ original muffaletta. They serve them up cold here, but you can find them served warm around the city. Our muffaletta was even better than we remembered from our original encounter with them five years ago [as were the Zapp’s crawtator chips], and while the flavors were perfect, we are pretty sure they’ve skimped on their meat allotment since our last visit. No biggie, though. We were happy campers.

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It just so happens that Café du Monde was on the way back to the hotel, so half an hour later, we were sitting on a bench by the water with our beignets and café au lait in hand, simply loving life.

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After a much-deserved afternoon siesta, it was time to embark on our pilgrimage to mecca, also known as Acme Oyster House, where the chargrilled oysters are legendary and some of our favorite memories were had five years ago:

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The line may have been 30-minutes long [we arrived early enough that it wasn’t the usual two-hour-plus wait], but as soon as we stepped inside we looked at each other with the biggest grins of joy on our faces. “I’M SO HAPPY!” we continued to exclaim to one another. And as soon as the chargrilled oysters came out, we were transported to a place of pure bliss—of course, it’s hard to compete with mounds of garlic, parmesan, and butter. The hush puppies here are also at the top of their game, as are the raw oysters [if those are your thing]. We were disheartened that the Acme virgins next to us only ordered the fried platters. We assumed they didn’t like oysters, but you know what?! I don’t like oysters! I just love them here.

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There was no post-dinner Bourbon Street action for us, seeing as Saturday night on Bourbon Street is the opposite of our idea of a good time. One bottle of wine and one viewing of Ever After on TV equaled enough quiet perfection for us. That’s not a one-sided comment by the way… Jason will watch anything with kings and castles in it.

SUNDAY

Our second day in New Orleans was all about trying out the competition and feeling the comforts of home in a foreign place.

We slept in for the first time in forever yet still managed to wake up before most of the partiers. We therefore bee-lined straight to Café Beignet, perhaps Café du Monde’s most notable beignet competition. Quaint and oh-so-French, the ambiance is lovely [albeit cramped], and the café au lait is by far superior. The beignets come down to taste though. We find these massive things more akin to funnel cakes in their flavor: really thick and beyond indulgent.

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We then decided to stick to our Sunday routine and attend a Mass service. It just so happened that the best-timed Mass was at the city’s main cathedral, the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France, overlooking Jackson Square. This stunning three-steepled structure is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the country, and its beauty is more than just skin deep. The message was one of hope in the midst of tragedy, and the music was of the highest fanfare. It’s worth attending for the organ alone, but the choir and the timpani sure didn’t hurt.

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The afternoon was spent wandering. We meandered through the stalls of the French Market’s Flea Market, pondered purchasing a painting of vegetables cut in half, and eventually scoped out our Frenchmen Street targets for the next evening. We finally put our feet up at American Sports Saloon to imbibe a couple of Bloody Mary’s and watch the Cowboys game. [It’s officially embarrassing, guys.] The views, televisions, and signs [see below] were the obvious perks of this two-storied hot spot.

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#truth

Feeling defeated by the appalling Cowboys record, we opted for a pick-me-up in the form of more muffaletta, this time from Napolean House. This spot was a recommendation from our friends Lauren and Jeff, and it didn’t disappoint. As promised, the muffalettas were HUGE and beyond tasty. Served warm, these sandwiches inched out Central Grocery’s in their bread sweetness and lack of wait time. And whereas Central Grocery’s are cool and refreshing, Napolean House’s are warm and satisfying. Once again, it’s a taste preference thing.

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Totally forgot to take a picture before I started eating… #sorrynotsorry

By the time we were done with our late lunch, the art vendors of Jackson Square were beginning to pack up, so we tried to catch as many of their creations as possible. A particularly rambunctious ad hoc band had formed on the street—a delightful soundtrack as we found ourselves draw to images of peace, portraits, and musicians. As we made our way back to the hotel to meet up with Jason’s mom and her husband Bo, we stumbled upon a Nola wedding procession. We couldn’t help but grin as the bride and groom, dancing with their umbrellas, were led by the brass band down Royal Street as a parade of well-wishers followed them with their white handkerchiefs. Now that’s how you celebrate a wedding!

Rebecca and Bo had officially arrived and were anxious to get out and walk around, so we let her show us around and take us to some of her favorite shops. She grew up in New Orleans and returns multiple times a year, so we consider her a bit of an expert. We sampled as many pralines as we could find, dabbled in a few hot sauces, ducked into chandelier shops, enjoyed a curbside jazz band performance, and laughed at a bunch of silly yet oh-so-true décor:

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That evening, Rebecca and Bo wanted to treat us to a taste of traditional New Orleans at Galatoire’s, a century-old institution in the French Quarter where men rock jackets, women don power suits, and business deals get made over French-Creole cuisine. This was fancy stuff, guys. And the white tux service and eclectic menu didn’t disappoint as we celebrated not only our anniversary, but their recent wedding as well. My Bordeaux wine selection sent me on an unexpectedly rich journey, beginning with Nola’s quintessential Turtle Soup [my first] and continuing with a divine duck crêpe stuffed with Boursin and topped with dried cranberries and pistachios.

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Jason, on the other hand, kicked off his meal with a Bourgogne Blanc—a lovely complement to our shared seafood appetizer [a trio of Crabmeat Yvonne, shrimp remoulade, and bacon-wrapped fried oysters] and his bouillabaisse entrée. Capped off with black-bottomed pecan pie for Bo, bread pudding for Rebecca, and chocolate crème brûlée for us, we were sufficiently stuffed and sensationally pleased. There are numerous classic French-influenced establishments like this in New Orleans, most of which are associated with the Brennan family, and while they are all as decadent as their price tag, they are certainly worth indulging in just once for the all-encompassing Nola “bucket list” experience.

Departing stuffed and lightheaded from dessert, we found ourselves among the very sparse Sunday evening Bourbon Street crowd and decided to enjoy it in its rare state. Rebecca took us straight to Music Legends Park, where statues of music legends freckle the courtyard and sounds from the bayou sing into the air.

MONDAY

Monday was officially anniversary day! You’d think we would be tired of eating by this point, but we were just getting started.

Continuing our “four days of beignets” theme, we went further afield into the Garden District for the offerings of New Orleans Coffee and Beignets. We ordered way too many, because these guys like to serve theirs up mini size in addition to regular size. They also offer chocolate minis! We all concurred that the regular size beignets were nice and cake-y, but the chocolate minis stole the show just for their originality. Once again, the café au lait was beyond superior to Café du Monde’s.

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Our morning was spent exploring the Uptown neighborhood in which Rebecca grew up and strolling down Magazine Street, a lesser known gem with some solid shops, bars, restaurants, and boutiques.

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Our favorite was obviously Sucré, a self-proclaimed “dessert restaurant” where the macarons are the epitome of perfection. [Thanks for the rec, Lauren!] We sampled a couple—don’t leave without trying a signature salted caramel—and purchased several for our friends who were watching our dear Watson pup.

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Tons of antique shopping later, it was somehow “time” for lunch. It’s pretty impossible to come to New Orleans and not have a Po-boy, so Bo led us straight to Mahoney’s Po-Boys within walking distance of our Magazine address. Featured on Diner’s, Drive-Ins, and Dives, their Peacemaker Po-boy is something of legend, so we obviously had to get it. This sucker may not look pretty, but it’s loaded with fried oysters, bacon, and cheddar, so it makes up for its bland exterior in deliciousness.

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Thank goodness we opted to split one, because just a few hours later, we were beginning our official anniversary date night. Our goal: try as many of our friends’ recommendations as possible and find all the best jazz on Frenchmen Street. We began first with happy hour at Cane & Table, a spot with an Old Havana vibe and cane rum drink specials. We adored this place, mostly because the drinks were hand-crafted and the bartenders were social.

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Pictured: Perfect Bamboo and American Flyer. Not Pictured: TI Punch [WHOA!] and El Presidente

We almost lost track of time we were having so much fun, but as soon as 5:00 rolled around, it was time to go listen to the first music sets on Frenchmen Street. Frenchmen, in the Marigny just east of the Quarter, is THE place for music. We had such great memories from our forays there during our last visit, so we wanted to get in as much as possible. These clubs usually have covers on Saturday nights, but we were spared the expense given our Monday night non-crowded venture.

Our first stop on Frenchmen was 3 Muses, an intimate tapas-style establishment offering jazz piano tunes at the time. We were hoping their deviled duck eggs would still be on the menu, but alas, we had to resign instead to their fish tacos, olives, and falafel-encrusted fresh mozzarella, the obvious show-stopper.

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Next, we were tempted by the riotous brass-band crowd gathering at Bamboulas but were swayed in the end by the sounds coming out of 30° x 90°, a sleek spot for oysters [totally not as good as Acme’s] and some of our favorite music of the night. The Perdido Jazz Band—named after the street Louis Armstrong grew up on—was absolutely killing it with their non-traditional brass approaches to the standards. We felt like we had been transported directly into the 20’s and were especially impressed with the wailings of their trumpet, trombone, tuba, and clarinet players. Next, we popped into The Spotted Cat for some Abita Ambers and bop-style swinging jazz.

We saved our absolute favorite Frenchmen Street destination for last: d.b.a. This is a massive bar right across the street from the adorable Frenchmen Art Market, and it stands out not only for its exceptional music, but also for its extensive beer menu. The last time we were here, we enjoyed a Belgian Kwak served in a true Kwak glass—a rarity.

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Unfortunately, they have since done away with the traditional glasses because people kept breaking them. Not to worry though, we still ordered one in honor of our last visit, as well as a Not Your Father’s Root Beer served on tap. [Another rare first.] Drinks in hand, we were pleasantly surprised by the sight of a bluegrass band playing on stage. A guitar, banjo, bass, and plenty of audience interaction made for quite the setting. We couldn’t help but dance as these guys showed off their solid talent.

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It was then 8:00pm—time to head to dinner. [I know…it’s getting out of hand.] But Rebecca and Bo had quite the surprise up their sleeves for our anniversary meal. Instead of taking the St. Charles street car as we have in the past, they drove us back out to the Uptown neighborhood like VIPs to a local institution few tourists ever go: Clancy’s. Their clientele is about 85-percent local, and their food was some of the most memorable of the trip. Rebecca’s picks of a foie gras topped scallops appetizer and smoked duck entrée certainly stole the show [they were beyond heavenly] but Jason’s soft shelled crab won in presentation and flavor profile while Bo’s grilled lamb chops were intricately cooked to perfection.

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My lobster and mushroom risotto was probably the least impressive of the bunch, even though it was one of the richest and most well-rounded things I have ever eaten. Hopefully that gives you a sense of the standard here.

But none of it compared to the finale that was dessert. We were a little skeptical of the white chocolate and strawberry bread pudding offering, but given that it was served with a Bourbon caramel sauce and their French bread was the ideal bread pudding consistency, we decided to give it a shot. It is now my life’s goal to figure out how to recreate that piece of joy-in-a-bite, and it served as the most perfect punctuation to our celebratory day.

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TUESDAY

And then it was Tuesday—the day reserved for those final last tastes. I had to put in a full day at work, so Jason was kind enough to bring back a blind, side-by-side taste test of two different beignet options: Café du Monde and New Orleans Famous Beignets & Coffee. Café du Monde won by a landslide.

The whole gang spent the morning window shopping down Canal Street and gathering all of the souvenirs for friends and family back home. Jason purchased a hilarious assortment of hot sauces for our spice-loving friends and stopped by Central Grocery for his sister’s promised muffaletta.

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Our “last supper” was, of course, spent back at Acme, when the line was nonexistent and the oysters were just as good. We also packed our own muffaletta for the evening plane ride home, just because.

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Now that we are back home and back in the routine, we have come to the consensus, yet again, that New Orleans is the home of fulfilled expectations. Every bite, every note, and every moment was like a well-tuned instrument, playing its singular yet universal song. Yet unlike many food or music destinations elsewhere, New Orleans doesn’t have to try. It’s flavor and culture is imbedded in its charm and immediately available to anyone willing to take hold and appreciate it.

We’re not sure when we’ll be able to go back, but our #nolaversary could not have been more special if we tried, and that was all thanks to our setting.

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