By Tim Johnson

The Big Easy. The Crescent City. N’awlins. No matter what you choose to call it (or how you decide to pronounce it), New Orleans is always a lot of fun. Laid low a few years back by Hurricane Katrina, the city has rebuilt and restored and created a place that’s again the best city in the world to laissez les bontemps rouler. Grab a beignet at the Café du Monde, stroll through Jackson Square and down Bourbon Street and soak up some local jazz while you enjoy the city where Cajun meets Creole and the only thing that’s better than the atmosphere is the food – and the shopping.

lg_fq_fest_04New Orleans CVB

Food

New Orleans is known for many things, but above all, it’s a foodie’s paradise. From street food to fine dining, this city serves up some of the most mouth-watering fare you’ll find anywhere. And while many different, delicious dishes are associated with New Orleans, perhaps the best way to start eating your way across town is with a po’boy from Mother’s. Although the origins of the name for this submarine-style sandwich are an item of dispute, the most common story has it that a former streetcar conductor served these baguettes for free to his erstwhile colleagues during a months-long strike in the late 1920s – calling the men, in a convivial way, “poor boys” or, in NOLA-speak, “po’boys.” No matter what the origins, these working-class sammies are still found all across the city, and some of the best are served up at Mother’s, a little hole in the wall that fills the sandwiches to overflowing. Order one with catfish or fried shrimp, add some potato salad or turnip greens on the side, and wait for them to bark your name when it’s ready.

lg_dsc_0209New Orleans CVB

But for those who like to get dressed up and go out for a fine meal, New Orlean’s certainly doesn’t disappoint. Galatoire’s, for example, has been a NOLA institution since 1905, a place that’s still run by the fourth-generation descendents of the French founder. Steeped in tradition, the restaurant, which features authentic Creole cuisine, broke with a long-standing tradition and now takes reservations for its second-floor tables, although the first floor is still seated on a first come, first served basis – the line snaking down Bourbon Street is a French Quarter fixture.
And for something resolutely modern, try August, where contemporary French cuisine is served up by New Orleans native John Besch, a James Beard Award-winning chef. Located in a 19th-century building in the heart of the Central Business District (or “CBD”), this hotspot fuses Besch’s European training onto his Southern roots. The menu changes seasonally, but if you find it on the menu, you’d be well-advised to try some crispy fried softshell crab almondine or their special sugar and spice duckling with McEwen’s stone-ground grits.  

Music

If food is this city’s number one passion, then music is a very close second – this town positively pulsates to a thousand different beats. And in New Orleans, jazz, blues and old school rock and roll provide a total sensory experience – walking around the French Quarter on a Friday night, the music spilling out from bars and clubs and dance halls flows into you like air into the lungs.
The most venerated of all NOLA’s musical establishments, a visit to Preservation Hall is an absolute must. Here, it really is all about the music – no food or drink are served. The hall, housed in a former residence built way back in 1750, packs them in every night of the week at 8 pm to hear New Orleans jazz. It comes with a very affordable price tag – just 12 dollars per ticket – and players include everyone from up-and-comers to wizened veterans and legends.
But if you’re looking to kick up your heels, Preservation Hall isn’t the right venue – dancing is not permitted there (again, it’s all about the music). Instead, head downriver from the French Quarter to Faubourg Marigny and Frenchmen Street. Home to a series of distinctive 18th- and 19th-century Creole Cottages and some of the city’s best music clubs, including Snug Harbor, The Maison and The Spotted Cat, this area is a little off the typical tourist’s radar and a small trip off the beaten track. At the Spotted Cat, for example, you’ll find three sets of jazz every night of the week, those wearing dancing shoes are welcomed and there’s no cover charge – a beautiful combination.

Shopping (and more)

While Bourbon Street is fine for tourist trinkets, you’ll need to venture a little further afield for any serious shopping needs. And the Garden District is a good place to start. A National Historic Landmark District, the area was originally home to large plantation homes, which gained Victorian neighbours in the 19th century as the city of New Orleans grew to envelope it and the quarter took on an increasingly (sub)urban feel. Now filled with lovely, gracious, Southern antebellum mansions and Italianate and Greek Revival homes, plus the famous St. Charles Street Streetcar and (as its name suggests) some very nice gardens, the district is also home to Magazine Street. A nine-kilomtre Bohemian stretch lined with a wide variety of shops, from art galleries to antique shops to jewelry stores and salons, Magazine Street is also, interestingly, the site of America’s official World War II Museum.
If you’re seeking a modern, air-conditioned shopping venue, Riverwalk Marketplace is a mall that stretches along the Mississippi and offers a bit of New Orleans flair (think Dixieland bands and Cajun chicken joints) alongside its 140 stores, which are built on the site of the 1984 World’s Fair. And from the modern to the historic – make sure to stop by the French Market, the oldest public market in the United States, which has operated on the same site since way back in 1791. Now a combination flea and farmers market, it’s open daily, and you can scoop up everything from fresh produce to Loretta’s famous pralines. And maybe a hand-painted street scene or trademark Fleur-de-Lys – the perfect memento of any visit to The Big Easy.
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