18 April 2008

19Apr- 10 tips for a trip to New Orleans.
Leigh and I spent a fantastic week in New Orleans. In order to spare everyone a lengthy treatise on how wonderful the town is I'll just boil it down to a few tips for visiting the French Quarter (and a little beyond.)

1. Have lots of cash. Seems counter-intuitive for a town known for its crime but there are so many places that don't take credit cards and, unless you're with Chase Bank, it can be up to a $3 ATM fee. We liked buying a water at Walgreens and getting their maximum of $40 back. Plus it's good to have some cash to tip street bands. (the corner of Royal and St. Ann seemed to be a good place for music in the early afternoon.)
2. Parking lots on Decatur between Bienville and Toulouse. If you have a car and plan on exploring the French Quarter, I say just park there. At the end of the day $12 to $16 isn't that much. And it'll save you the hassle of trying to find parking on those packed, one-way streets.
3. Many retail places don't open until 11 or 12 and several are closed on Wednesdays, for some reason. Coffee joints are great places to spend some time, as are parks or
4. Checkpoint Charlie's. On the corner of Decatur and Esplanade. For those of you who know me, this may seem incredibly unlikely. For those of you who know me quite well, it kind of makes sense in a strange way. No bones about it, the place is a dive. A wonderful dive. It's open 24 hours, got pool tables, a great jukebox and a laundromat. As I was extraordinarily poor I could only afford cheap beer but I looked at that in a "when in Rome" kind of way. There's food I didn't try and live music at night but, as I spent most of my time there between 10.30am and 1 while I waited for things to open up, I mostly enjoyed the lack of tourists, the good chit-chat with the staff and the generally warm and friendly feel I got. Plus I got to watch a crazy criminals show one day and most of "The Cell" on another.
playing pool at Checkpoint Charlie's

5.Verti Marte. Small and easy to miss. On the corner of Gov Nichols and Royal. We only went there once as we only found out about it on our last night in town from the owner of a cool bookstore on Decatur. We got the shrimp scampi, which they scooped out of a catering pan and microwaved for us. Best shrimp scampi we've ever had. And they deliver.
6. Jacques-Imo's Cafe. This is out of the French Quarter, though. It's uptown. Truly amazing corn bread. Great crawfish etoufee. And if you happen to go to the bathroom in the kitchen, look behind the mirror.
7. Mat and Naddie's. Also uptown. Great wine list. We went for lunch buffet. Great greens soup, sliced meats (with a variety of mustards!) and a deliciously interesting portobello cheescake.
8. Martin Wine Cellar in Metairie. We got to meet and lunch with Cedric Martin, the owner. We were impressed with the broad selection, the fantastic food (beautiful french fries, great catfish po'boy and Leigh's first soft-shell crab that seemed to change her life it was so good.) and, most of all, the genuine kindness and generosity of Cedric himself.
9. Mother's Restaurant. In the Central Business district on the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Poydras. Baked spaghetti pie! Little bit of Tobasco on top. Jesus, I want some right now. I saw a long line begin to form around 11 in the morning, so timing is important.
10. If at all possible, have an amazing friend who lives there, was born there and loves his city with an infectious enthusiasm. We happen to have one in Tim and he truly made our visit unbelievably wonderful. It was through him that we enjoyed numbers 6 and 7. And Sid and Meg, regulars at the restaurant, had met Cedric at #8 before and recommended we talk to him. So thanks to them. And Sid of Sid and Angie told me about Mother's. (seriously, I'd do terrible things to get some of that baked spaghetti pie right now.)

And, of course, there were plenty of other wonderful places we visited and in which we dined that were great but they're all already noteworthy places that any list would feature prominently. I wanted to mention some little places that might fly under the general radar.

well-worn keys on a piano at Pat O'Brien's

at one of New Orlean's many cemeteries

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