NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!
by Pamela Lanier
Capital of blues, Cajun cuisine and Mardi Gras. Sometimes it's hard to believe you're in the mainland U.S.A. at all. We started off with a great flight on United. Are their skies really friendlier?...We thought so. (Traveling with kids? Order their McDonald's Fun Meal in advance!) If you're planning some side trips, you should probably grab a rental car - otherwise, public transportation will be fine.
The central area is surprisingly compact and taxis are plentiful and reasonable, so tune in to WWOZ 90.7 FM and cruise on down the road to the sounds of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. Or, if R&B is your thing, try WYLD 98.5.
Where to stay? The French Quarter and surrounding districts like the Garden District and Marigny are packed with guest houses in every price category. All of them atmospheric. Definitely staying in a guest house is the way to go. Central New Orleans is one of the most walkable of American cities, very reminiscent of Europe.
Where to eat? Here is an inexhaustible subject. We'll start with the least expensive and work our way up (in price, that is). Some of the cheaper places just can't be beat.
DUNBAR'S, 4927 Freret Street (899-0734): A favorite Up-town, down-home spot of many New Orleans folks. You absolutely can't beat their red beans and rice with either fried chicken or sausage, and cornbread, too (see our recipe for Some of the Best Beans in New Orleans).
CAFE DU MONDE, 800 Decatur Street (525-4544), right on the corner facing Jackson Square. Open 24 hours. Little tables make you wonder if you're in Paris, but the very limited menu is strictly New Orleans. The specialty is beignets. What, you might say, are those? Light little pillows, to call them a "doughnut" is to demean them. Covered in a drift of powdered sugar, three on a plate for one dollar. The menu is rounded out by cafe au lait, also a dollar, hot chocolate, cold milk--that's it. Tout New Orleans finds their way here and people-watching and street scene unfolding in front could easily keep you eating those beignets all day.
ACME OYSTER HOUSE, 724 Iberville (522-5973), and
FELIX'S, 739 Iberville (522-4440): Serving a similar menu of straight-ahead N'Awlins favorites like platters of crawfish, oysters on the half shell, shrimp and oyster Po Boys, good brew, you get the idea. Felix's has a little bit wider menu for the non-seafood eater.
CENTRAL GROCERY, 923 Decatur (523-1620): Muffaletta sandwiches are a New Orleans tradition. Giant rounds of French bread stuffed with Italian deli meats and olive salad, $6.95 brings you a huge one, easily enough for two. Take it to nearby Jackson Square for an unbeatable picnic.
JOHNNY'S PO-BOYS, 511 St. Louis Street (442-0778): Another good bet for a quick lunch. These sandwiches are big!
NAPOLEON HOUSE, 500 Chartres (524-9752): Historic building, great muffalettas, jumpin' cocktail scene.
HOUSE OF BLUES, 225 Decatur (529-1421): Middle-of-the-road prices, top-of-the-line music and atmosphere. A musical collaboration of Dan Aykroyd and his Blues Brothers friends, this place really pulls it off. Food is good, try the French-fried okra and the catfish plate, bread pudding and best of all, the performance from the adjacent
HOUSE OF BLUES CLUB (separate admission) is broadcast live on monitors in the dining room, making this a great place for blues lovers and especially those with under-age people, who can enjoy the music, too. Same recommendation for Margaritaville, directly behind the French Market.
CRESCENT CITY BREWHOUSE, on Decatur, two blocks from Jackson Square: The place to be from 5-8pm, when some of the best bluesmen entertain at happy hour. Great house-made brew and upbeat atmosphere. Food is on the light side. This is another greatplace for young people.
TOP OF THE LINE
ANTOINE'S, 713 St. Louis Street (581-4822): is a New Orleans institution and hang-out of the rich and famous. And unlike nearby Galatoire's, will take reservations, coat and tie. Back room is the best. Be sure to try the Pommes de Terre Soufflees, the Pompano en Papillotte, Oysters Rockefeller, and finish it off with a Creme Caramel.
On a slightly more casual note, COMMANDER'S PALACE, 1403 Washington Avenue, in the Garden District (899-8221): serves food just slightly less formal at prices quite a bit cheaper. Their weekend jazz brunch can't be beat. Three courses for $20 to $27. You'll think you've died and gone to heaven.
Just walking around the French Quarter is sure to be a treat. But if you want to check out the other places, here's our recommendations:
HOUSE OF BLUES, 225 Decatur Street, 529-2624 - great artists, excellent atmosphere, music piped live to screens in the adjoining restaurant for the under-21 crowd.
TIPITINA'S, 501 Napoleon Avenue, 897-3943 - over 21. Headliners all the way! Standing-room only environment, and there could be some beer on the floor.
SNUG HARBOR, 626 Frenchman Street, 949-0696. The place for hard-core jazz fanatics. Great acoustics, wonderful musicians, and OK food at the adjoining restaurant.
PRESERVATION HALL, 727 St. Peter Street, 522-2841. From the admission price ($3) onward, this is a can't-miss spot. Continuous sets from 8:30pm on. This is THE showcase for straight-on, old-time jazz and blues. All ages.
MAPLE LEAF BAR, 8316 Oak Street, 866-9359. Over 21. Lots of good acts in an informal, danceable environment. Low cover charge.
MARGARITAVILLE CAFE, 1104 Decatur, 592-2565. A stage above the restaurant. Good food. No age limit.
MID-CITY LANES ROCK-N-BOWL, 4133 South Carrollton Avenue, 582-3133. Fun atmosphere. All ages.
And some live sounds. And a whole lot more places. Check the Friday 'Lagniappe' of the "Times Picayune."
OVERNIGHT - Travel back in time via Route 18, which picks up just outside the city, on the River Road following the levee of the Mississippi River, a 2-hour leisurely drive will bring you to NOTTOWAY PLANTATION, the largest plantation home in the South. Tour the property or, better yet, spend the night in the master suite and imagine yourself in ante bellum days. For dinner, wander over to LA FITTE'S LANDING RESTAURANT at the foot of the Sunshine Ridge just outside the nearby town of Donaldsonville. This restaurant serves up world class Cajun cuisine and is dressy.
DAY TRIPS - Explore the Bayou in JEAN LAFITTE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK along the Bereteria Trails. Take 90 West to Bereteria Boulevard exit, go left and follow the road straight into the Park.
We especially liked Coquille Trail, which is at the second lot on your right after entering the Park. You walk along raised platform paths for a spectacular overview of the Bayou and cypress swamp to a final arched bridge, from which we saw alligator, water moccasin, and many beautiful birds. It's hard to believe you're only 45 minutes from the French Quarter. Highly recommended!
MARDI GRAS (FAT TUESDAY)
Mardi Gras begins in New Orleans on January 6, and this is the beginning of the season of balls and parades, which continues on until Mardi Gras, which always happens 41 days prior to Easter Sunday. 1996 it will be February 20. 1997 it will be February 11. 1998 it will be February 24. And in 1999, February 16. In the year 2000, March 7.
You'll notice many homes and just about every commercial establishment decorated in the Mardi Gras colors of gold (power), green (faith) and purple (justice). These colors are the Romanoff household colors, which were adopted by the Krewe of Rex in 1872 to honor the visiting Russian grand duke. Sixty carnival parades are scheduled between January 6 and Fat Tuesday, with a definite increase during the last two weeks. Which, by the way, are an ideal time to visit New Orleans, as the whole city is in Mardi Gras high spirits.
Some of the Krewes balls are available to purchase tickets. Be sure to check Lagniappe, the Entertainment Guide from the Times Picayune newspaper for details. Anybody can visit a parade and catch the "throws" - beads, doubloons, plastic cups and more, which are tossed off the tractor-towed floats by masked riders. Everybody gets into the act to see who can catch the most "stuff."
Happy Mardi Gras.
Fresh from Mardi Gras. Everybody's favorite Mardi Gras treat, this light Danish-type coffee cake is good for breakfast, snacks, or after the ball.
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shortening
Cream well. Add 2 eggs and cream some more.
Dissolve one package dry yeast in one cup luke warm milk. Add one teaspoon vanilla and add to the sugar mixture.
Add 4 cups flour and mix until smooth and pliable.
Let rest 1-1/2 hours in warm place. Roll out into an oblong and paint with oil. Sprinkle heavily with cinnamon and sugar, and fold in half inward.
Cut into three strips. Braid the strips, then let it rest one hour. Stretch into a circle and seal ends together. Let rise again. Put colored sugar on and bake at 370 F. approximately 20 minutes.
The traditional colors for the sugar are purple, gold and green, which can be achieved by mixing drops of food color with extra-fine sugar.
Optional: You may cut and fill the baked cake with a filling such as apple, cherry, etc. Pre-made pie fillings work fine.
1-1/2 cups finely chopped onions
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1 close garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tblsp. tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 cups fish stock or water
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
3 tblsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 lb. medium fresh shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1-1/2 cups hot cooked rice
Spray the inside of a heavy saucepan with non-stick, vegetable
cooking spray and place over high heat. Add the onions, celery,
bell pepper, garlic and white, red and black peppers, and saute
until the vegetables are tender and start to brown, about 10
minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Dissolve the tomato
paste in the water or stock; add to the saucepan with the stock and
bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered,
for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the green onions,
parsley and shrimp; cook for 5 minutes longer, or until the shrimp
turn pink. Serve over hot rice.
BLACKENED CHICKEN BREAST (multiply this recipe by the number of
people being served)
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground thyme
1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1 boneless chicken breast half, skinned.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a medium cast-iron skillet on high until very hot. In a small bowl, combine seasonings, mix well and set aside. Spray one side of the chicken with non-stick vegetable cooking spray and sprinkle with half the seasoning; reserve the remaining seasoning. Place in very hot skillet, seasoned side down. Repeat procedure with top side of the chicken; cook for one minute on each side.
Remove from skillet and place on small baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick vegetable cooking spray. Bake for 5 minutes.
CAJUN-STYLE OVEN-FRIED CHICKEN
One 2-1/2 to 3 pound chicken
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
1/4 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground oregano
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tblsp. low-sodium Worcestershire sauce
1 tblsp. prepared mustard
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove skin and fat from chicken and discard. Cut chicken into serving-size pieces, then de-bone the breast. (Reserve wings, back and bones from the breast to use for stock.) In a small bowl, combine the next eight ingredients. Mix well and reserve 1/2 teaspoon of seasoning mix; sprinkle remaining seasoning over the chicken and set aside. In a shallow baking dish, combine flour, cornmeal and reserved seasoning; mix well and set aside. In a medium bowl, beat together milk, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Add chicken and coat well, then dredge in flour mixture. Arrange chicken pieces on a large baking sheet that has been sprayed with butter-flavored non-stick vegetable cooking spray. Spray each piece of chicken with the cooking spray; this keeps moisture in. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp and tender.
1/2 cube of butter
1/2 bottle Louisiana hot sauce
One package bulk chicken wings
Garlic powder (optional)
Cut wings into pieces and discard tips. Put chicken pieces in a shallow pan and cook on 375 for approximately one hour, or until crisp. Heat butter, Louisiana hot sauce and garlic powder until butter is completely melted. When the wings are cooked, put them in a large bowl and add sauce. Toss to coat.
MUFFALETTA FROM NEW ORLEANS
3 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup chopped pimento-stuffed green olives
1 cup pitted and chopped "black-ripe" olives or Calamatas
1/2 cup roasted sweet red peppers cut into chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tblsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 tblsp. white wine vinegar
Mix all of the above and let stand overnight. Refrigerate thereafter.
1 large, round, freshly baked Italian loaf
1/3 lb. salami, sliced thin (Genoa or Italian wine-cured)
1/2 lb. provolone, sliced thin
1/2 lb. mild cheese (such as Havarti), sliced
1/3 lb. mortadella or prosciuto or coppa or ham, sliced
Make the salad the day before. Cut the bread in half horizontally, as you would for a sandwich. Scoop out some of the center of the loaf and drizzle olive oil from the salad on both halves of the bread. On the bottom half, place the salami, olive salad, provolone, mild cheese, and mortadella. Top with the other half of the loaf. Slice into wedges.
That's it! New Orleans is a wonderful spot to visit, and a great group of cultures to invoke in the kitchen. Enjoy.
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