New Orleans and Cajun Country

NEW ORLEANS AND CAJUN COUNTRY

Day 1

Welcome to New Orleans! Nola, the Big Easy, Nawlins. You may be wondering how this is off the trails. There are two reasons. Since the catastrophic storms, many vacationers have forgotten about New Orleans, but it’s coming back strong. The second reason is that we’re not going to focus on the usual places. We are going off the trail to find some great restaurants and sights most people haven’t found yet. The hidden treasures! www.neworleansonline.com

We’re staying at Melrose Mansion, on the corner of Esplanade and Burgundy, just a few blocks from Bourbon St. and Canal St., but quiet and reserved. Our room is beautiful, very comfortable, and private. We stayed in the Master Suite, which included a Jacuzzi tub, separate shower, and a walk-in closet. There is a pool in the wall garden, and a light breakfast is served. Wi-Fi is advertised, but we had difficulty getting on line. We were told that something was interrupting the signal, and they did offer us the use of theirs for a short period. http://www.melrosemansion.com/ short walk takes us to the heart of New Orleans French Quarter, where we ate a late lunch at Johnny White’s. Balcony seating allowed us to people watch on Bourbon St. and enjoy the beautiful weather. Cajun food is a specialty. For $50, before tip, we had two specialty drinks, a Cajun sampler, and Crawfish Etouffe. http://johnnywhitesneverclosed.com/ Serendipitously, we found a Pirate Festival, the Road Food Festival, and a wedding parade to enjoy. A late supper was at the Grapevine, and it was also delicious. We ordered several appetizers instead of entrees. We recommend the calamari, gumbo, beef medallions in mushroom sauce, and the baked brie. The total, with a bottle of wine, was $105.25, before tip. It’s located on Orleans Ave. http://www.orleansgrapevine.com/ Afterwards we stopped at one of the many cocktails to go bars and wandered around sipping our drink. Most alcoholic drinks are between $6 and $9. The people watching is great, everybody is having fun! Admiring the grand old homes is also fun. As they say here, laissez roulez le bon temps!

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Day 2

After walking to Jackson Square, we were a little bit hungry, so we had delicious omelets at River’s Edge Cafe on Decatur St. MaryJo’s was a mixed seafood topped with Cajun sauce, and Greg had the crawfish. We had strong hot coffee and toast and potatoes came with the meal. Both were delectable! $32.82 was the tab before tip. A walk along River Walk, admiring the mighty Mississippi completed our morning. Lunchtime found us at Yo Mama, a wonderful little restaurant on St. Peter’s, where Greg devoured the bugs in a bucket. That’s the name for boiled crawfish! Corn and potatoes completed the lunch. I ordered the grilled chicken and guacamole sandwich, which was very good. We both relished our cold beer. $28.52 before tip was our total. www.yomamasbarandgrill.com We wanted to explore the area and see Armstrong Park. We chose to hike along Rampart, viewing the New Orleans architecture, until we came to the park named after jazz great Louis Armstrong. As you would surmise, the park is a tranquil and pretty spot in the city. We watched the ducks on the pond and looked at the spring flowers. We discussed how we would enjoy going to the Mahalia Jackson Performing Arts Center. www.mahaliajacksontheater.com Then we strolled over to Congo Circle. This is the place where in the 1800’s the blacks would gather on Sunday afternoons, to dance, play music, trade, and socialize. It’s part of New Orleans heritage. Marie Leveoux is reputed to have gone here. She is New Orleans voodoo queen, who had power over the politicians and wealthy. Wandering around enjoying the sights, sounds, and scents of the city is hard work, so we stopped at the Alpine Martini Bar on Chartres St. for some adult refreshment. Much later, after shopping the many fine stores and watching the artists and street entertainers, we dined on the balcony at The Cajun Cabin on Bourbon St. MaryJo’s dinner was crawfish pasta topped with soft shelled crab. Greg’s was a combination crawfish platter. We enjoyed both. Our total, along with a cocktail, was $54.77 before tip.

   New Orleans, Part 1

Day 3

This was a cold and blustery day! We went back on the trail to have breakfast of coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, for $8. We walked way down Canal St, and then caught the streetcar to the Aquarium. It’s closed on Mondays, as are the other two Audubon attractions, the zoo and Insectarium. Undaunted, we hiked over to Mardi Gras World, at the far end of the Convention Center. We don’t recommend walking unless you enjoy a hike. Driving would have saved us time and energy. It’s a definite “must see” during your stay. Mardi Gras World stores floats and props from the Mardi Gras and redesigns them year after year. There are so many beautiful, scary, and funny floats and props! Costumes are there for you to try on. Kids will love it! There is a guided tour, an educational video, and king cake and coffee at the end of the tour. Admission for two was $31. There is a gift shop, but there is no food or drink sold there, and no nearby places to eat. http://www.mardigrasworld.com/ Gordon Biersch on Canal St. was our lunch stop. It was like the other food we’ve eaten here delicious! Two orders of crab cake sandwiches with garlic fries and a beer sampler totaled $33.48 before tip. Our next visit was the D-Day Museum, dedicated to all our service people and the men and women who helped with the war effort. It was a sobering visit, and a reminder of the debt we owe so many. We’d recommend you visit. Admission is $14 each. www.ddaymuseum.org  After a rest, we stopped at the Port of Call, a very nice local bar on Esplanade, where the locals go to eat and drink. Two tasty Manhattans were a quite reasonable $8. Dinner at Pere Antoine’s on Royal St. was a spinach and artichoke appetizer, a Voodoo Brew ( a signature drink), a whole muffuletta, a seafood po boy, a nice bottle of wine, and a bread pudding big enough for two) totaled $85 before tip. Our waitress looked like Sarah Palin! On the way back to the Melrose, we had a nightcap at one of the legendary bars of New Orleans, filled with a diverse group. Lafitte's Blacksmith Bar on Bourbon St gave us two Gin Martinis for a reasonable $13.50 before tip.

New Orleans, Part 2 

Day 4

Surprise! Today we left Nawlins temporarily for the plantations and Cajun Country! We are going a bit more off the trail! Before we left, we tried breakfast at The Royal St. Deli. Greg had a cheese omelet po boy and MaryJo had a sausage and pepper omelet po boy. We’d never had breakfast po boys, so this was a first. We both had the Community Coffee found all over the city. Total before tip was a mere $16. We enjoyed an Irish Coffee at Buffa’s, one of the legendary bars of New Orleans, right across the street from the Melrose. $10 for both, and our bartender added the Bailey’s Irish Cream to make it especially delicious. http://www.buffaslounge.com/

About two hours northwest of New Orleans, we visited Port Hudson Historical Site, for only $2 per person. Port Hudson is a Civil War Battle Site, and was very interesting. Anyone who is a Civil War enthusiast would enjoy this site. www.crt.state.la.us/parks/ipthudson.aspxUsing our receipt, we also toured Oakley Plantation. It was a beautiful, although simple home. Oakley Plantation dates from 1806, and was originally part of Spanish Florida! John Audubon lived here in 1821, tutoring Eliza Pirrie, a daughter of the house. He painted 32 of his Birds in America during this time, as well as some portraits. A plus was that we were the only two people on the tour! Our guide was informative and friendly, so we enjoyed it very much. The gardens were in bloom, and captivating.  http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/louisiana/OKL.HTM

Oakley Plantation

From there we ventured to Bellue’s Fine Cajun, because we were hungry. It is on Hwy. 61 in Jackson, La. They have an extensive menu of Southern/Cajun food including turducken, crawfish etouffe, Gumbo, BBQ, Red Beans and Rice, with sides of green beans, macaroni and cheese, black eyed peas, and cornbread. MaryJo loved the turducken with sides of etouffe, green beans/ potatoes/ham, and macaroni and cheese. Greg loved his crawfish etouffe, with sides of baked beans and mac and cheese. We washed it all down with sweet tea. Our total was $23 before tip. Bellue’s is small, with about 8 tables on the veranda. Surprisingly, they do accept most major credit cards!

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Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville was our next stop. For $10 per person, we had a guided tour and were free to wander the grounds, which included garden and out buildings. It is antebellum luxury! The guide is very enthusiastic and seems to enjoy her job! The house is large and extravagantly appointed. It’s the most complete plantation in the area. The house dates from the 1830’s, and was passed down from mother to daughter. www.nps.gov/nr/travel/louisiana/ros.htm

  Rosedown Plantation

For our supper, we choose D’ John’s, on Hwy. 61 in St. Francisville. It is pure Southern food, so expect fried. Our tab was $47, for two gin and tonics, a deluxe seafood platter, and shrimp lover’s platter.

Our lodging tonight is the St. Francisville Inn, a bed and breakfast in a lovely Victorian Gothic home set back from the road, and adjacent to a quiet park. The gardens, pool, and Jacuzzi are all inviting. They also host a wine bar. Our room is very comfortable and attractive and includes a Jacuzzi tub. The room is furnished with antiques. $115 before tax was the cost of our room and breakfast. http://www.stfrancisvilleinn.com/

Day 5

After enjoying a hearty breakfast at the St. Francisville Inn, and I mean HEARTY andoulle, blintzes, quiche, pastries, fresh fruit, bacon, coffee, and juice. We drove to Lafayette. It’s the home of the Cajuns , the Ragin Cajuns, the University of Louisiana,, and many art galleries, museums, parks, restaurants, pubs, and so on.  www.lafayettetravel.com Our first adventure was taking the ferry over the Mississippi River! Then a leisurely drive through the countryside brought us to Lafayette, which was originally named Vermillion. This is the area that many of the French settlers from Acadia, aka, Nova Scotia fled to after the British forced them from their homes in the 1750’s, and imprisoned many. The story is tragic, and a visit to the Lafitte Cultural Center for Acadia is a must! Fortunately for us, they survived, and thrived, and have contributed much to our culture, including their food and music. Our visit to the Acadian Village gave us some information, and provided us with a recreated village of the early 1800’s. Homes, a church, a blacksmiths shop, doctor’s home and office, and out buildings gave us some insight in the Cajun culture. http://www.acadianvillage.org/Home.asp We were hungry, so asked the hostess where we could find good Cajun food. She sent us to Mulate’s in nearby Breaux Bridge, and it is a wonderful dining experience. Greg had the shrimp, crab, and oyster gumbo and a salad, while MaryJo choose the Zydeco Salad, which included duck, andouille, shrimp, eggs, and catfish. Both were filling and delicious. Our total, with a glass of wine each, was $30 before tip. The decor was very interesting and added to our fun. www.mulates.com/08_location.html 

From there we visited the Lafitte Cultural center, which offers an excellent movie exhibits! We found it both entertaining and informative. There is also a small gift shop with cookbooks, stories, colonial toys, and other souvenir items. Our dinner was at Prejean’s, off I-49 (Evangeline Blvd). We had quality entertainment, as a Cajun band played while we ate. MaryJo’s meal was Chicken Inez, a delectable concoction of blackened chicken, crawfish, and penne pasta in a rich and spicy Cajun sauce. Greg’s dinner of crawfish etouffe and crawfish pie with white rice, was also delicious. Both were enormous helpings and we had to take home another meal in each box. Both came with a small salad and fresh from the oven bread. The total for the food was $34. The bottle of Pinot Grigio we shared was $24. The inside of Prejeans is thoroughly Cajun, and adds to the atmosphere.

www.prejeans.com

Home tonight is the Baymont on SR 167, which offers continental breakfast, free WiFi, and a pool. It’s close to everything, and only costs $75 a night with tax. Our room is very comfortable.

Cajun Country Driving Tour

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After breakfast, a visit to Vermillionville was a must. The cost of this living history and folklife center is only $8 per person. Following our tour of Cajun history, we enjoyed repite at the village restaurant, Le Cuisine Mamam. What a value! MaryJo's plate lunch daily special was only $8.95. That bought a cup of sausage and chicken gumbo, Cajun sausage, eggplant, white beans, rice with sauce, iced tea, and bread pudding with rum sauce and coffee! Greg’s order of crawfish etouffe and fried crawfish, rice, and salad was $9.50. It was all delectable! www.vermilionville.org A long ride through the lower portion of Louisiana afforded us views of the country side, some small town, oil refineries, and bayous and swamps. Finally, we were back in New Orleans, and came to our home for two nights, the 1896 O’Malley house on Canal and Pierce. This bread and breakfast is fabulous. It's clean, comfortable, and beautifully decorated. The amenities include complimentary wine, beer, soft drinks, coffee, tea, and snacks, the use of a variety of glasses, refrigerator space for leftovers, ice machine and microwave. The cost of a night here is $145. It's a romantic way to spend some couple time.

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Acadian Village & Vermilionville

 

We asked our hostess, Bec, to recommend a place we could have some great Nawlins food. She directed us to Mandina’s, which was excellent! MaryJo chose Soft Shelled Crab Almandine and Turtle Soup au Sherry. Greg's choice was the Soft Shelled Crab Muniere and the Oyster Artichoke Soup. We recommend them to anyone looking for a treat for your palette. The tab came to $52.

Our evening entertainment was the Haunted History Vampire Tour. Our guide, Tony, was entertaining and very informative as he walked us around the French Quarter and told about real life and fictional vampires who lived there at one time. Ann Rice fans will love this tour!

Vampire Tour

 

Day 7

Our day began with a gourmet breakfast of fresh fruit with yogurt, coffee, juice, hot biscuits, cinnamon rolls, and quiche at the 1896 O’Malley House. We then drove to the Audubon Zoo, certainly one of the prettiest I have ever seen. There are many environments, including the Louisiana swamp, Jaguar jungle, Asian land, and a petting Zoo. A truly unique feature is the carousel featuring endangered species such as the panda, white alligator, and giraffe. The zoo incorporates history and folk culture into its design, so we found it highly informative. From there, we drove to the Audubon Aquarium, located at the foot of Canal St, there is a walk through tunnel where visitors are surrounded by marine fish, a two story aquarium with sharks, rays, and other fish, seahorses, jelly fish, penguins, and a tropical rainforest room featuring an anaconda, piranha, and birds. Since we knew we would also visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, we purchased the Two Experience Pass. A three and four Experience pass is available if you wish to visit the insectariums and/or the dinosaur exhibit. Our pass for the two sites was $27.50. $39.50 gets you all four.

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Audobon Zoo

Since on street parking is very difficult to find in NOLA, we used the public parking lot adjacent to the aquarium. For the 4 ½ hours we were there, it cost $14. In our opinion, money well spent, giving us more time to enjoy ourselves, and the security of knowing our car was in a relatively safe space.

While waiting for Greg do indulge his addiction to crawfish, aka crawdads, aka crayfish, aka mud bugs, we were curious about Absinthe. Several bars in New Orleans mentioned absinthe and in fact there is an absinthe museum. We decided to find out what the drink absinthe is all about. We were expecting a simple shot of a liqueur, but instead we were treated to a show. We like these kind of surprises. Absinthe is an anise flavored liqueur, bright yellow in color, with a high alcohol content. The bartender took a glass, placed a slotted spoon over the glass, placed a sugar cube on the spoon, and then poured the absinthe over the sugar cube. After that, she lit the sugar cube on fire, until all the alcohol was burned off the cube. She then drizzled water over the cube until it completely dissolved into the glass. The result was like no drink we ever had before. It was more of a desert than a before dinner cocktail. It was very sweet, rich and heady. The bartender told us it had been banned for many years and was re-released as recently as 2007.

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At that point, we were ready for a late lunch, so back to Yo Mama’s on St. Peter’s St. for a bucket of bugs for Greg and a grilled fillet of tuna salad for MaryJo. Both were excellent! $19.95 was our cost. Beer is $4.

Shopping time! We wandered down Decatur St, and through the French Market, finding many little reminders of our trip!

We treated ourselves to dinner at Arnaud’s on Bienville St. This is an excellent place to celebrate an occasion such as an anniversary, graduation, or engagement. The food is exquisite! The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and professional. The prices reflect that. Our dinner consisted of Shrimp Arnaud, Escargot, Souffle Potatoes, Sauted Mushroom Medley, Redfish Ponchatrain, Filet Mignon au Poivre, and Bananas Foster, a signature New Orleans desert. Our bill was $160.

 

Day 8

Another delicious breakfast cooked by Bec. She was gracious and helpful at all times during our stay. This morning the main course was Eggs Benedict with crab. Sides included fruit cup with yogurt, cinnamon buns, fresh from the oven biscuits, orange juice, and fresh brewed coffee. Since we hadn’t seen one of the famous cemeteries yet, we drove over to St. Louis Cemetery number 1. It was fascinating looking at all of the family plots and realizing that many people died during the same time frames. Our deduction is that those deaths occurred during the typhoid or yellow fever, or malaria epidemics. There is the possibility the fires that plagued New Orleans caused many deaths. It’s sad to see how many children and babies died as well. After that, we returned to the French Quarter and went to the Louisiana State Museum on Jackson Square. Part of it showed the history of Louisiana since before the European colonization through the reconstruction of the 1870’s. It showcased the contributions Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, Americans, and the Haitians who all helped create the culture of Louisiana today. The second step of the museum visit was in a building two doors down. Its exhibit celebrated the Mardi Gras, especially the Zulu krewe’s contribution. The costumes were breathtaking and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Be sure to check it out in our photo section. http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/ Then Greg gave into his cravings for crawfish, yet again, and we hurried along St. Peters Street to Yo Mama’s. Greg devoured his bucket of bugs and MaryJo found the Gumbo exceptional, in a city of exceptional food. A detour, to walk down some of the side streets off of Bourbon Street, reveals some very interesting places to eat and shop, and there may be no waiting at all. We hope you enjoyed the trip as much as we have, and that it will inspire you to find new sights, sounds, and flavors on your own.

 New Orleans, Part 4

New Orleans, Part 5

Au revoir, Nouvelle Orleans! (Till we meet again, New Orleans)

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