After our extensive travels to this vibrant and richly cultural area of the United States we decided to share the love by writing the below guide to New Orleans. Below you will find information on where to eat, what to visit and a history of the area and its culture.
Where to go – what to eat
The first thing you should do when you arrive in New Orleans is to leave the French quarter, especially Bourbon St, set your radio to 90.7WWOZ and pick up a copy of the Times Picayune and read anything from Judy Walker or Tom Fitzmorris. Emerse yourself in the food, music and culture of this amazing city and I promise you will not regret it.
The best of New Orleans website lists many great things to do. One of them must be a second line parade. You can view our Second Line parade from our annual Fat Tuesday event.
Domilises – my favourite of all
Parkway Bakery & tavern
Milk Bar, UPTOWN. Opened by a lany from Cooma, NSW. Milk Bar has built a reputation as one of the best lunch venues in NOLA. A big achievement given the local competition.
Hansens Snow-Blitz. While not a Po’ Boy shop, it is a must visit if you are near Domilises between Feb and October.
Jacques-Imo is a must visit. Now one of New Orleans’ most iconic restaurants, it serves up a brilliant twist on classic and modern inspired Cajun and creole dishes. The most recent night we were there, the bartender had decided to shout us rounds of tequila. Many times! This, and our great table on Oak Street, made the night a real event.
K Pauls Louisiana Kitchen
American Sector 75c sliders and cheap drinks. Forget about the fact that it’s a John Besh restaurant and the food is generally quite good. It’s a fun place to go for a bite.
Dante’s Kitchen. A great crawfish boil if you are there between Feb and May.
New Orleans has been a cocktail mecca since the 1800’s, when the cities strong connections with France ensured its access to fine sophisticated cognacs and wines. Its proximity to the Carribean saw fresh fruits and bitters arriving and whisky from Kentucky came down from Louisville. Add to this a penchant for mixing up diverse cultures (gumbo & jazz), and its no surprise many outstanding classic cocktails hail from NOLA.
The iconic 19th century cocktails (Sazerac, Ramos Gin Fizz, Brandy Crusta & Brandy Milk Punch) were never out of fashion. The morning cocktail has long been a matter of high art. Iconic bars in which to sip them have persisted against the odds.
Here are some things you don’t want to see when you order New Orleans’ official cocktail, the Sazerac:
Rocks in your glass. A fat wedge of lemon on your rim. A martini glass. A bitters label that doesn’t say ‘Peychauds’
Must visit bars include:
Arnauds French 75
Mimi’s in the Marigny
While New Orleans bars were originally called coffee houses in the early 19th century, Coffee in New Orleans has not been as discerning as some Australians may like. The introduction of chicory (due to coffee shortages) in the 20th century gave New Orleans a defined coffee palate, and despite the shortage passing, chicory is still used to maintain its distinct flavor profile. Recent coffee shops have lifted the old style of coffee available in the city, the following are an example of these.
Velvet Espresso Bar
Sacred Grinds Coffee House
We didn’t find a great coffee in the French Quarter, but If you have to get coffee while you are there. Café Envie is worth a visit.
In case you didn’t already know. Live music in New Orleans is an institution. And some of the live music venues, are beyond words.
Tuesday night at Dos Effes cigar bar with Tom Hook & Wednall Brunious, 2 great local musicians.
Wednesday nights, head to Candle Light Lounge in Treme.
Thursday nights, DBA’s on Frenchman St is the best place to see some of New Orleans best local musicians. With Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins and the Rebirth Brass Band regularly playing. An amazing beer selection helps make the night even more memorable.
The Spotted Cat
The Bayou’s around modern New Orleans have been inhabited by the local American Indians for thousands of years. In the 1690’s the French settled around Bayou St Jean, and a fort was establish there in 1701, close to the current home of one of New Orleans most famous Po’ Boy Taverns, Parkway Bakery.
New Orleans was officially founded in 1718 on the highest ground in the area. The French Quarter. The French believed that New Orlelans would remain an important colonial city
In 1763, the city was ceded to the Spanish. After a bloodless rebellion in 1768, the Spanish retook the city. Massive fires in 1788 burnt down most of the French Quarter, and the Spanish rebuilt most of the city in brick, replacing the original colonial simple wooden structures.
In 1800, Spain gave the city back to the French, who clearly had no intention of investing in the city, as it was sold to America as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Late in 1804, Haitian refugees flooded the city, adding a rich history of Creole heritage to an already abundant French and Spanish influenced city.
In 1835m the sazerac was born. Now the official cocktail of New Orleans.
By 1840, New Orleans was the fourth largest city in the USA. (compared to 51st in 2012)
Similarly to Paris during world war II, New Orleans was captured during the American Civil War without a single shot being fired. This spared the historical architecture the devastation of many other Southern Cities.
1872 saw Louisiana become the first state with a non-white governor.
By 1890, New Orleans had the most liberal racial views, resisting the states attempt to enforce racial segregation.
The Crescent city was named in the early 1900’s due to the crescent shape of the high ground along the banks of the Mississippi.
In the early 1920’s the cities first drainage plans were developed
In 1923, the Industrial canal was opened as a direct link between lake Ponchatrain and the Mississippi to improve transportations links around the area. Ironicaly, the industrial canal is what caused the most severe damage to New Orleans and specifically the lower ninth ward during both Huricane Betsy & Huricane Katrina)
In 1927 the great Mississippi flood almost topped the leve wals, and a modernisatino project commenced to protect the city from flooding along the banks of Lake Ponchatrain.
Huricane Katrina on August 29, 2005 led to the greatest civil engineering disaster in the history of the USA. As a result of this engineering disaster, New Orleans suffered one of the most catastrophic natural events in US history. The national response was slow at best, with the federal government not formally responding for almost 5 days. The National guard did not arrive for almost a week and FEMA responded with a disproportionate response. Schools from around America were sent to Louisiana to help out, only to be held up by FEMA and a lack of organization. Power was not restored to the city for over a month.
New Orleans is know for its strong association with Jazz. It is often regarded as the birth place of Jazz, but has become known for its infusion of Jazz with so many other music styles. Funk, Hip Hop, Rock and many more have fused with Jazz to produce a sound uniquely NOLA.
Artists such as Louis Armstrong, Professor Longhair, Dr John, Harry Conick Jr, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Rebirth Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins, John Boutte, The Hot 8 Brass Band & many many more have all played part in the evolution of New Orleans music.
Food is like a religion in New Orleans.
New Orleans is one of the friendliest places on earth. How many cities in the world do you have people come up and thank you for visiting their city? Im sure its not many.
What is authentic gumbo?
To most people, there is very little difference between Cajun and Creole food. They are both have similar flavours, use similar spices and hail from the same part of the world, but to a New Orleanian, they are worlds apart, because as Tom Fitzmorris writes about people from this part of the world in his book Hungry Town, “food is everything”.
A Creole gumbo generally uses tomato and file powder, while a Cajun gumbo generates its rich flavor from a dark roux.
Meaning, ‘okra’ in the local indian dialect, traditionally gumbo is anything served in a single large pot. There are 2 different styles of gumbo. A Creole Gumbo, and a Cajun Gumbo, like the one from Gumbo Kitchen. Creole food is a finer more sophisticated, subtle style of food with French and Spanish colonial influences tending toward fine dining. Cajun is often rough, robust, bursting with flavor who’s origins are linked directly to Acadian County near Lake Charles in South Western Louisiana.
The only thing that is required to make ‘authentic gumbo’ is the use of a holy trinity and one of 3 thickening agents. The holy trinity consists of chopped onion, celery and green capsicum. The 3 thickening agents can be one or all of, a dark roux, okra or gumbo file (a powder made from the ground up leaves of a sassafras tree). Gumbo does not need to contain all or two of these.
In New Orleans, Chefs are treated like celebrities. People grow up eating great food, sharing great food and sharing the amazing sense of community that food brings out. Where else in the world do they celebrate specific dishes every day of the week.. Monday is Red Beans & Rice night, Tuesday is Turkey Necks smothered in brown gravy with macaroni & cheese, Friday is Seafood Gumbo night. And yes, this are lines from a Kermitt Ruffins song, but this only proves its place in New Orleans pop culture.
Top chefs from around the world have come to realize the value and importance of southern Louisiana’s culinary heritage and the influence it has had around the world. Its no wonder so many New Orleans chefs are famous around the world. Take Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhommes, both apprentices of the famous Commanders Palace.
Louisiana is famous for its food, its music and its culture, but one dish in particular is responsible for bringing people together and helping create the great sense of community that exists along the gulf coast, Gumbo.
The key to experiencing the real New Orleans, particularly its food, is to leave the French Quarter and visit the suburbs.
The NOLA chef for whom I have the most respect runs a restaurant just off Tchoupitoulas St outside the French Quarter. (pronounced CHOP-I-TOOL-AS) . He grew up in Acadia Parish in the heart of Cajun country and has been influenced by his grandmothers cooking and childhood growing up in the heart of Cajun Country. The cochon chicken & Andouille sausage gumbo is a think broth with the perfect amount of chicken and sausage (about 100g of each) with no file powder.
Another famous New Orleans gumbo restaurant is Dooky Chase. Dooky Chase was the first formal African American restaurant in New Orleans, and quickly became one of the crescent cities most popular eateries. Leah Chase is renowned throught the USA as the queen of creole. The classic chicken and sausage gumbo at Dooky Chase does not contain okra, it does however
Gumbo at K Pauls on Chartres St in New Orleans is a classic rich thin broth style gumbo served with no okra and large boned chicken pieces. The gumbo at K Pauls is classicly Cajun, made with a dark roux. The dark roux is where most of the richness and flavor comes from, and this gumbo does not contain okra. Chef Paul Miller is the nephew of Paul Prudhomme, one of Americas most famous chefs and one of the famous Commanders Palace head chef list.
My favourite New Orleans restaurant is a fun community restaurant out past Audubon park, in an area not usually visited by tourists, but definitely worth the effort. Jacques-imos is the creation of Jack Leonardi, another world renowned New Orleans chef, who appeared on the ABC television program, the amazing food truck race. If your lucky enough to be seated on the back of the pick up parked out the front, expect a night of tequila, laughs and envious looks.
One of the worst places I ate gumbo in New Orleans was called the Gumbo Pot. I realized it was a tourist trap once I was seated. It was too thick and I could taste the flour in the roux, something a good gumbo should not show off. It was too expensive and far from what I had come to expect from NOLA.
Coups Place on Decatur St in the French Quarter served me an amazing Seafood Gumbo in 2009, where I enjoyed my first real New Orleans Sazerac, but when I returned in 2011, my Gumbo was disappointing.
Gumbo is to Louisiana, as Po Boys are to New Orleans. They are both an integral part of the culinary make-up of this state. The paramount ingredient to making authentic Po’ Boys is the bread.
Possibly as a result of the humidity, or the fact New Orleans is below sea level, but Leidenheimer bakery French bread is unique and not reproduced accurately anywhere in the world. Baking French loaves since 1896, Leidenheimer Bakery supply almost all Po’ Boy shops in New Orleans.