Back in April 2016 I launched the New Orleans chapter of Six Degrees Society. While in NOLA I was struck by the European influence that was seen throughout the city, the incredibly delicious seafood selection and the kindness of the natives. I enlisted the help of one of my favorite NOLA foodie natives to write her guide to New Orleans. Enjoy reading about NOLA through the eyes of Sarena Teng, a pediatric anesthesiologist food lover and native.
A Local’s Guide to Eat-Stay-Play in the Big Easy…
Sarena N. Teng, M.D.
“Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” –Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. This simple quote sums up New Orleans so eloquently. It’s a city of tradition and one of circumstance.
My family moved from New Orleans, pre-Katrina, to a small town in northern Alabama when I was in that awkward-middle-of-high-school stage and unfortunately, it was everything Judy Blume described in all of her teen angst novels. Two decades later, I found myself returning on a whim, subconsciously succumbing to that inevitable siren song luring me home. Being a native gave me a certain amount of street cred as I rediscovered the city I left behind so many years ago. I instinctively replied to the vetting question all the locals ask (“Where’d you go to school?”) with the appropriate response: my high school (Ben Franklin). It’s a question that often confuses visitors or transplants who often reply with the name of their college (because that makes sense). It takes some getting used to, deciphering the quirky nature of what it means to be a New Orleanian, but the thing you’ll notice first and foremost is how sincerely friendly everyone here is. There is a general interest in humanity here. You can go anywhere at anytime and strike a conversation with a complete stranger, and by conversation, I mean a real, make-you-late-for-your-meeting/appointment/other obligation conversation. People here have layers to them, not unlike an onion, and if you take the time to show a little bit of interest, you’ll learn all about their mamma an dem. It’s one of my favorite things about living here again.
“We dance even if there's no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much & laugh too loud & live too large, and, frankly, we're suspicious of others who don't.” –Chris Rose
The New Orleans I knew growing up here as a kid is not the same, of course, as the New Orleans one discovers as an adult. Though things seem different to me now, I am finally appreciating what it means to have the culture of this city coursing through your veins. I am hoping to convince you, gentle reader and impassioned tourist to our amazing, yet admittedly imperfect city, to get out and explore other parts of the city after you spend a day or two in the French Quarter. It amazes me that people come to visit New Orleans and miss the fantastic neighborhoods that lie outside of the main drag. Go to Bourbon Street just to say you did it. ONCE. It’s just as you would expect. Then go explore other parts of the city! Here are some recommendations from a local:
This section required me to do some research and reconnaissance since I rarely need a hotel here. So I grabbed a few unsuspecting friends and dragged them around town to check out some of our local offerings. The dichotomy noted here is the trend toward hip new spaces juxtaposed with the restoration of the old grand dames.
Stay at the Catahoula Hotel, a 35-room boutique hotel with exposed brick hallways and a small, but happening rooftop bar all contained in a former Creole townhouse in the CBD (Central Business District). The hotel says hipster, but the lobby bar is known for its Peruvian flair in drinks and food. A quick jaunt to the rooftop bar and we were rewarded with a beautiful summer night; the moon was shining brightly through the lattice of the pergola and young 20-30 somethings were eating and imbibing as their laughter and conversation wafted below into the open-air courtyard. It’s still new and was not too crowded for a Saturday night, so go check it out! The Catahoula Hotel is offering 30% off room rates with their “Dog Days of Summer” promotion through September using the code SUMMER.
The Ace Hotel, though a chain hotel, is based out of my old stomping grounds in Portland, Oregon so that automatically makes it hip! It is definitely one of the hot spots in town right now. It’s a 234-bed hotel in the CBD, which houses Stumptown Coffee (a lovely specialty brew also out of Portland, Oregon); the Three Keys Lounge which has live music events almost every night; the Josephine Estelle restaurant; a lobby bar and Alto, their rooftop garden/bar/pool for those sweltering summer afternoons. Rooms start at very reasonable $180/night for a weekend stay for all the amenities the Ace has to offer.
On the grand dame front, the newly restored Pontchartrain Hotel just reopened to much fanfare and is located on the streetcar line on St. Charles Avenue in the lush, beautiful Garden District. In its heyday the Pontchartrain hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra, The Doors, Rita Hayworth, Tennessee Williams, and Presidents Ford and Bush. It houses the famous palm-inspired Caribbean Room restaurant with its traditional local fare and signature dessert, the Mile-High Pie (there is also a portrait of Lil’ Wayne and his sparkly grill enjoying a Mile High Pie adorning the gallery wall). Hot Tin, the rooftop bar, boasts panoramic views of downtown and the Mississippi river. It is best to go on a weeknight when it’s not too crowded. The dining options are led by James Beard Award-winning chef and New Orleans restaurateur, John Besh. Rooms run the gamut of standard to luxurious, but with their grand re-opening special of 20% off their best rates right now, standard rooms start at $135/night!
Last, but not least, is the stately Columns Hotel also in the Upper Garden District on St. Charles Avenue. The 20-room hotel is in a grand Italian mansion built in 1883 and is on the National Register of Historic places. It is decorated with period furnishings such as clawfoot tubs, fireplaces and armoires and that theme persists throughout the hotel. There is a daily happy hour at the Victorian Lounge inside, or try Sunday Jazz Brunch if you can snag a coveted spot on their massive front porch between the columns, enjoying the streetcars rumble as they roll by… Standard rooms start at $185/night.
There is almost always a festival celebrating something in this city. With its abundant food and wildlife, its multidimensional culture and varied history, there is never a lack of things to do. When I first moved back, I tried to do it all, but quickly realized in doing so, I would soon become dangerously obese, broke and an alcoholic!
It’s summer now, but we don’t let the heat and humidity get us down. We just had the San Fermin in Nueva Orleans, a charity event hosted by the NOLA Bulls, where the Roller Derby ladies dress up as bulls and skate through town, chasing everyone dressed in the typical all-white outfit with red accents of the correro (runner). This event occasionally coincides with the local Bastille Day Fete, which is a nice little intermingling of the French and Spanish influences in the city, in case you’re wondering why there are Spanish correros hanging out at the French independence day festival.
Right now, Tales of the Cocktail is happening. It’s a festival/celebration of all things alcohol in the city where some people claim the cocktail originated. Coming up in the next couple of weeks is White Linen Night, usually held the first weekend of August. It is a progressive drinking party through the streets and art galleries in the Warehouse district where everyone dresses all in white. Dirty Linen Night is the tongue-in-cheek version the following weekend in the French Quarter where you’d wear the same white linen outfit you wore the previous weekend, hence, Dirty Linen. Also on the second weekend in August is the Red Dress Run. It’s the annual charity fundraiser where NOLA is awash in a sea of red dresses, men and women alike, as they run/walk/stumble through the streets with tasty beverages in hand. The Convention and Visitor’s Bureau lists events throughout the year: http://www.neworleanscvb.com/calendar-events/
For those with an eye for something with more enduring for an any-time-of-year visit, there are several other options to explore here including the acclaimed World War II Museum, which houses the highly-rated American Sector restaurant, and the sprawling City Park, with its boat houses, beautiful landscapes, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the beloved Morning Call café where you can get your beignet and café au lait fix 24 hours a day while enjoying the view of majestic oak trees draped in Spanish Moss.
Top on my list for that creepy, crawly but-I-can’t-look-away fixis the Audubon Insectarium. It’s one of my favorite places for its unique offering of an incredible look into the secret life of bugs (and since we’re talking food here, the adventurous eaters among you can also sample edible insects…).
The Frenchmen Street Art Market is always worth a look-see as you listen to jazz wafting into the street from nearby Blue Nile, d.b.a, The Spotted Cat Music Club and The Maison. This outdoor air market happens nightly in an old parking lot illuminated by string lights as arts folk hawk their locally made crafts.
There are many guides written about the quirky personalities about other New Orleans neighborhoods, so to avoid inciting a riot from my likely inaccurate descriptions, I send you to the NOLA Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s website for more thorough explanations.
I will however list a few of my favorite dishes in different parts of town that’ll have you eating like a local. Check ‘em off as you eat your way through the city!
A few of my favorite things in NOLA and a visual guide to eating around town…
o The 7 course tasting menu and the art-covered walls at Upperline Restaurant
o Garlic knots at Pizza Domenica
o The back patio at St. Joe’s Bar
o Gougeres (little cheese puffs) and gouda beignets at Bouligny Tavern
o Grilled gruyere with caramelized onion and the balsamic-bathed burrata at St. James Cheese Company (Uptown and Warehouse District)
o Build your own Bloody Mary bar at Atchafalaya
o Coconut cream and vanilla bean snowball (my favorite!) at Hansen’s Snobliz
o Big Fisherman Seafood for fresh, hot, spicy boiled crawfish in season
o Dat Dog’s WTF loaded fries, amazing gourmet hotdogs and awesome outdoor patio (Magazine, Freret and Frenchman Streets)
o The New Orleans’ classic BBQ shrimp at Pascal Manale’s or Superior Seafood
o The outdoor courtyard with live music every night at Bachanaal Wine Bar
o The Franklin for its drinks, cozy atmosphere & grilled baby octopus and Hamachi crudo
o The commanding river view at Crescent City Park and colorful artwork nearby
o St. Roch’s Market hosts several different mini kitchens, fresh produce, a bar and other delights when everyone in your party wants something different.
o Strawberry cheesecake gelato at Angelo Brocato’s Gelato & Italian Bakery
o Any ramen bowl at kin (Gert Town)
o The Floating Island dessert at Café Degas- fluffy meringue floating on crème anglaise and drizzled with caramel
o Toups Meatery Try their charcuterie plate and bone marrow with fois gras and chicken hearts for you meat lovers and adventurous eaters!
o Smoked Oysters and sassy shuckers at the Curious Oyster Co. in Dryades Public Market (Say hello to Mr. Jupiter!)
o Eclectic décor, a wall of smoky tequila offerings at the bar and live music at Casa Borrega
o Chargrilled Oysters at Drago’s
o Lebanese tea (with rosewater and pine nuts) at Babylon Café
o Oysters Goodenough at Carrollton Market
o Call ahead to request the strawberries and champagne Sabayon (and anything else on the menu!) at Brigsten’s.Garden District
o Creative, inventive flavors of donuts at District Donuts, Sliders, Brew
o Moules et Frites at the Delachaise
o The beer selection at Aline Street Beer Garden
Warehouse District/Central Business District:
o Mississippi-style BBQ Pork Belly and the Filet Mignon Tartare and Carpaccio at Restaurant Rebirth
o Crispy pig ears at Compère Lapin
o Sac-a-Lait Pig’s Tail Sugo and the Poisson Fume
o Any burger & tots at the Company Burger (Freret Street and Warehouse District)
o Salmon clay pot and filet mignon udon noodle pho at Magasin Vietnamese restaurant
o I chose Pêche for my birthday dinner if that says anything about the caliber of the restaurant. I had the Catch of the Day - a grilled tuna collar with pesto. It was very popular that night and I luckily snagged their very final offering. Apparently they had saved the biggest and best for last!
o Carousel bar at the Hotel Monteleone- it rotates while you’re sitting there!