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New Orleans: A 4-Day Weekend

12 Aug

We took a 4-day tour around the Crescent City with the family. Although we had been there many times before, there were still things we haven’t seen … so many great places we haven’t dined.

DAY ONE:

Our first stop was Magazine Street, a shopping district to the south of the French Quarter from Canal Street to the Zoo/Audubon Park. It’s accessible by street car with a short stroll from most any stop. The local transit bus runs along Magazine Street for easier access. We chose to drive and park since some of the street car line was under repair and the weather was threatening.  Parking was not a problem.

One of the many art pieces along the Magazine St Shopping District

One of the many art pieces along the Magazine St Shopping District

Roughly 6 miles long, this shopping experience includes thrift shops, furniture, jewelry, art galleries and shops of all kinds, restaurants/bars and clothing stores.  The variety of items available is a bit overwhelming, but there’s plenty fun to view or pick through. It takes a whole day to explore from end to end, but we broke it up and spent a little time there one day, and finished up the next.

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Inside Jim Russell’s record shop. What an amazing collection!

Because we are big music fans, one important stop was the Jim Russell’s Record Store located at 1837 Magazine Street.  The selection of LPs was impressive. They had just suffered damage from a roof collapsing from a rain storm earlier in the month, so many of these would eventually be replaced by what they kept in storage.  Clean up is underway but it was a blast to sift through what they had on hand. We even found some rare New Orleans 45s from artists like Johnny Adams and Robert Parker.  Jim’s daughter-in-law, Denise, was working the day we visited and we had a lot of fun talking with her. She told us some family stories and gave us a tour of the shop. We found out that she is an avid video game player.  As of our visit in June 2014, Denise ranks #15 in the world in the game Gears of War.  Her daughter ranks even higher.  Our time here was pretty enjoyable and we recommend music buffs stop here on your next NOLA visit.

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Induction certificate to the Louisiana Hall of Fame

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Travis and Gary with Jim Russell’s daughter-in-law, Denise aka “Neecy”

Keeping the music theme for our trip, we later shopped the Louisiana Music Factory and visited the former location of the  J&M Recording studios.  Artists like Little Richard, Fats Domino and Lloyd Price made this place famous. It’s now a laundry facility but the historical marker along with the memories is there.

Lunch was served at Joey K’s further down Magazine Street.  We dined on PoBoys and Gumbo.  It is recommended.

After our shopping spree, we stopped at District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew at 2209 Magazine Street.  Their famous sliders looked great but we stuck to the delicious donuts, sharing a couple of flavors for a light afternoon snack (pictured is their Pineapple Upside Down Cake donut).  We’ll have to return for a full lunch.008

Before dinner, we went to a music event at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, right around the corner from our hotel, The Modern. Part of the “Ogden After Hours” program,  Alvin Youngblood Hart was the entertainment and food & drink were available. We viewed the art exhibits and listened to a entertaining blues concert.  My favorite art exhibit was on the main floor and consisted of mini puzzle pieces by artist Juan Logan.  We enjoyed a lot of art this weekend and the Ogden was a great place to start this adventure.

 

The Modern is a nice boutique hotel, clean, classy and affordable.  It is within walking distance of both the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, The WWII Museum, Louisiana’s Civil War Museum and many fine restaurants, including Cochon and Cochon Butcher, which we did visit on this trip and a previous one. Located on Lee Circle in the Central Business District near the Wearhouse District of New Orleans, The Modern is also convenient to the streetcar line.  Since the streetcar line was being repaired in sections around town, we ended up driving to most of what we wanted to do, but the direct line to the French Quarter was all clear.

For dinner, we enjoyed some old school Italian fare at Vincent’s Italian at 7839 St Charles Street.  We ordered the Lasagna and the Italian Sausage with Angel hair pasta.  The boys each dined on Calamari and loved it. The whole meal was delicious. Vincent’s has been voted Best Italian in many local polls and reviews including New Orleans Magazine and Zagat Survey. We think it’s pretty sweet too.

DAY TWO:

Our second day in the Big Easy started at The Old Coffee Pot Restaurant, located at 714 St Peter Street in the French Quarter. We had some chicory laced coffee, the Soulfood Omlet, Eggs and Grits, and traditional calas. A cala is basically a rice beignet; kind of like a fried rice fritter.  There is a long history in New Orleans of the cala.  It was almost extinct because of food rationing during WWII but is finding a resurgence in the city. Click here for more information; here for a recipe.

Following breakfast, we took off for Mardi Gras World located at 1380 Port of New Orleans Place.  Tickets are reasonably priced at $19.95 per person. We got the student rate for our boys, just $15.95.  The tour starts out with a viewing of several costumes worn in previous parades, followed by a brief movie, and a guided tour of the workshop area.  A huge warehouse facility includes artist space for designing, sculpting, and painting the massive float artwork. There is also a large area of previously used art sculptures and, in the back of the warehouse, there are actual floats from this past season being dismantled or reworked. After the guided tour, we were left to look around and could stay until closing if we wanted to.  Artists were available for questions.  On the way out, we passed through the gift shop filled with clothes, cups & mugs, posters, and other knick-knacks.  One thing I found lacking was a selection of floaty pens.  We have a collection and thought, of all places, we could find some here. Maybe next time.

 

After Mardi Gras World, we stayed in the neighborhood and had lunch at Domilese’s. More PoBoy’s for our diet this weekend.  The oysters were fresh & awesome (best we’ve had in New Orleans to date). Located nearby,  Hansen’s Sno Bliz on Tchoupitoulas Street was our dessert stop. There’s always a line; the Sno Balls are always refreshing. We’ve been here before and looked forward to another visit.  Never disappointed, we always recommend Hansen’s.

Our next adventure took us to Mid-City Lanes/Rock n Bowl.  Bowling is one of our favorite family activities so we weren’t going to miss this place.  The bowling alley houses a bar, restaurant, and concert stage.  Music in New Orleans is played everywhere so it makes sense to have live music entertain bowlers every night.  This tradition started with Zydeco night and morphed into a regular event. It was too early for dinner and a concert so we hung out and bowled a couple games.

 

 

The lanes are modern, but there was, on display, an old-school bowling ball return hood and rack. Bubble gum-pink with chrome, it brought back memories of the lanes I used to bowl as a kid. The boys enjoyed it.  Rock n Bowl has quite an interesting history both pre- and post-Katrina.  It’s worth reading about and there is a “History” tab on their website. Enjoy reading, then make plans to visit.  We have heard the Po Boys are wonderful.

Dinner was served at Pascal’s Manale, who is famous for their “Original” Barbecue Shrimp. We couldn’t wait to try it.  The waitress came to us with bibs before serving us dinner.  Hmmm. How messy could barbecue shrimp be?  Well, they were not only messy but incredibly delectable, swimming in a buttery, peppery sauce. The dish came with plenty of Leidenheimer bread to soak up that wonderful sauce; it shouldn’t be wasted. The two of us split a plate which was a great decision since there was so much to eat.  The boys ate a plate each of Calamari and proclaimed that it tasted fantastic. Pascal’s Manale is located 1838 Napoleon Ave.  The street car line is under reconstruction in this neighborhood at the time of this writing (Summer 2014), so plan to drive.  We had no trouble finding parking.  Reservations are suggested.

DAY THREE:

Day Three started at an old favorite — the Camellia Grill on St Charles Street.  Coffee, OJ, waffles, hashbrowns, bacon, and eggs. The workers are a show in themselves — friendly and funny.

We often spend our Saturday mornings at the local farm market, so we found the Crescent City Farmer’s Market Saturday Market in the Warehouse District.  It was worth a stop. Located at Magazine and Girod Streets this market runs year-round from 8am to noon. The place was stocked with local, farm fresh foods, canned items made from some of the same farmer’s produce, and Gulf seafood.  And where there is a gathering of people in New Orleans, there is always music.  Having lived on the Gulf Coast in  previous years, we are really missing our local seafood and, had we had a way to keep some of this fresh until we got home the next day, we would have bought some.  The prices, closer to the coast, are a lot lower than even just a few hours north.  Passing on the seafood, we did purchase some peppers, homemade Blackberry Sage Syrup, and some Back Yard Creole Tomato Pepper Jelly.  It’s easier to travel with canned items than with fresh.  We recommend adding this Farmer’s Market to your next NOLA to-do list.

Lunchtime found us back on Magazine Street for a meal at Dat Dog.  A fun little place for a variety of sausage sandwiches, it offers large patio dining area and an indoor section for dining and drinking.  We caught the FIFA World Cup Soccer game on one of their many televisions while we waited for our order.  The menu is awesome: a selection of traditional German sausages, Vegan selections, a fish dog, Crawfish, Italian and Duck, to name a few.  Sticking with a Louisiana theme, we dined on the Hot Sausage and Gator Dog. Dat Dog has three locations: we chose 3336 Magazine Street but you can also find them at 5030 Rue Freret Street and 601 Frenchmen Street.

There are many walking tours available in New Orleans and there are plenty of brochures with maps in them, so you can take a self-guided walking tour.  We returned to the French Quarter, gathered up these maps and looked around.  Our stops included Jackson Square, the Voodoo Museum, a few shops and art galleries.  We enjoyed The Art of Dr. Seuss, the outdoor sculpture art of famous New Orleans Jazz musicians across from Cafe Beignet, a street corner band concert in front of Rouses Market (Royal and St Peter Streets), and other street performers (the metallic painted people who stand still as statues).

 

We thoroughly enjoyed the guy in full stride walking a stuffed animal.  He stood still as people walked up to him and posed for photos.  Other galleries we visited included Rodrigue Studio and Caliche & Pao.

The Pepper Palace on Decatur Street is a good tourist spot.  We are always up for trying new canned delecacies from BBQ to pepper sauces, jellies and jams. We have a lot of opportunity to try new sauces and welcome companies to send us a sampling in the mail.  We have many reviews of sauces on our blog and website.  There were some good ones in the Pepper Palace and some that were definite novelties.  One that struck our interest was the crawfish jelly. It was chunky and sweet.

We had been planning on an early dinner then standing in line for the early show at the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s theatre.  Instead, it rained and we decided standing in line was not a good option.  So we headed over to one of our Dixiedining all-time favorites: Cochon Butcher. Since our visit the previous year, the restaurant has expanded its indoor dining space and added a full service bar.  We ordered some of our favorites and tried some new menu items too. These included some muffalettas, the bbq sandwich, mac n cheese and gumbo.

DAY FOUR:

Our last day started in the French Quarter at Cafe Beignet on Royal Street.  We split a plate of the wonderful fried New Orleans delicacy, accompanied by some strong coffee.  A street performer entertained all of the outside diners, including us, with some Spirituals sung acapella. We walked around afterward … taking in some more morning sites in the French Quarter including the Monteleone Hotel in hopes of seeing the inside of the Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge. It was closed but we could still see the famous bar through the door.  A beautiful place, we’ll have to put this on our list of “later-in-the-day-things-to-do”.   We heard that Louis Prima’s daughter sings there in the evenings.  It’s also said that the hotel is haunted and a paranormal investigation confirmed this. We didn’t find anything unusual but we were only there for 10 minutes.

Before heading back to the hotel by streetcar, we spotted the “Birthplace of Dixie.”  Currently the location of a national drug store chain.CAM01414

New Orleans is filled with cemeteries that give tours.  The uniqueness of New Orleans is that since it is a city below sea level, it is impossible to bury the dead underground.  So, above ground memorials are everywhere.  Lafayette Cemetery is the one we chose to visit.  A tour was in progress but we decided to just look around.  We do want to caution not to venture into many of the cemeteries alone, meaning “without a crowd present”.  The mosoleums tend to make a great place for people to hide, sadly making cemeteries a high crime area.

Our last dining spot was Elizabeth’s for Sunday brunch. There was a short wait which gave us a chance to go upstairs and look around.  We ended up, eating downstairs. You could tell it was a neighborhood place where people know each other.  The service was quick and pleasant. We missed the praline bacon, but did try the Sweet Potato and Duck Hash with Red Pepper Jelly.  It was served over a savory cornmeal waffle. Elizabeth’s is located at 601 Gallier Street in the Bywater Neighborhood.

You can do a lot on a 4-day weekend in New Orleans and still leave plenty to do on your return trip.

Things To Do:

  • Magazine Street
  • Jim Russell’s Record Store
  • Louisiana Music Factory
  • J&M Records Historical Building
  • Ogden Museum of Southern Art
  • Streetcar
  • Mardi Gras World
  • Mid-City Lanes/Rock-n-Bowl
  • Crescent City Farm Market
  • French Quarter
  • Monteleon Hotel
  • Lafayette Cemetery

Places To Eat:

  • Joey K’s
  • District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew
  • Vincent’s Italian
  • Old Coffee Pot Restaurant
  • Domilese’s
  • Hansen’s Sno Bliz
  • Pascal’s Manale
  • Camellia Grill
  • Cochon Butcher
  • Cafe Beignet
  • Elizabeth’s

Already we are planning our next trip back to the Big Easy, but there is so much to eat and so much to do around our current home state, Mississippi, that we’ll be focusing our next stories there.

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Two New Southern Books Worthy of Your Attention This Holiday Season

18 Dec

THE STORY OF THE NU WAY

by Ed Grisamore (Mercer University Press)

We dined at the Nu-Way a few years back. This is truly one of the South’s most iconic eateries. I have always loved the look of their historic neon sign, yet I knew very little about this hot dog stand’s history. Pick up a copy of this new book and expand your knowledge — we think you’ll dig their dog. They may have spelling issues, but they have the whole hot dog thing down to a science.

For almost seventy-five years, one of Macon’s most famous eating establishments, Nu-Way, has intentionally misspelled the word W-E-I-N-E-R on its marquee. Thanks to a sign-maker misplacing those vowels in 1937, the restaurant has had a conversation piece on the plate along with its legendary hot dogs. James Mallis immigrated to Macon from Greece and opened the city’s first fast-food restaurant on historic Cotton Avenue in 1916. Nu-Way is now the second-oldest hot dog stand in America, just a month shy of Nathan’s on Coney Island in New York.

In his eighth book, There Is More than One Way to Spell Wiener, Macon newspaper columnist Ed Grisamore tells the amazing story of how Nu-Way has become a cultural and culinary icon. Nu-Way is part of the fabric of Macon, Georgia. Nearly everyone in town has a Nu-Way story. When people move away, Nu-Way is one of the first places they visit when they come back home. One woman drove almost 500 miles and ordered 150 to go. But it’s not just about the food. It’s nostalgic. It’s a melting pot of Macon. To go downtown for a hot dog at noon is to see the common denominator of businessmen in three-piece suits sharing the same lunch counter with blue-collar workers and street people.

The book covers the generations of Macon families that have worked at Nu-Way, captures the passion of its loyal customers and tells the story of how the Norman Rockwell-like logo was painted by a former Macon fire chief. Even Oprah Winfrey dropped by for a chili dog and a Diet Coke on a visit to Macon in 2007 . Grisamore has been known to satisfy his cravings for slaw dogs (voted No. 1 in the nation by The New York Times) several times each week.

www.mupress.org

THE GORILLA MAN & THE EMPRESS OF STEAK

by Randy Fertel (University Press of Mississippi) 

The name Ruth’s Chris Steak House was always something of an oddity to me. Who was this Ruth? Who was Chris? Exactly how did this unusual name come about? Sure, their steaks were really good. And yes, the brand is well known throughout the world. But who knew there was such an interesting and colorful back story? Their saga is fascinating and provides a rare glimpse into the culture and restaurant industry of old New Orleans. You’re familiar with their steaks, so now take some time and learn more about the characters who created the sizzle.  

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is the story of two larger-than-life characters and the son whom their lives helped to shape. Ruth Fertel was a petite, smart, tough-as-nails blonde with a weakness for rogues, who founded the Ruth’s Chris Steak House empire almost by accident. Rodney Fertel was a gold-plated, one-of-a-kind personality, a railbird-heir to wealth from a pawnshop of dubious repute just around the corner from where the teenage Louis Armstrong and his trumpet were discovered. When Fertel ran for mayor of New Orleans on a single campaign promise–buying a pair of gorillas for the zoo– he garnered a paltry 308 votes. Then he purchased the gorillas anyway!

These colorful figures yoked together two worlds not often connected–lazy rice farms in the bayous and swinging urban streets where ethnicities jazzily collided. A trip downriver to the hamlet of Happy Jack focuses on its French-Alsatian roots, bountiful tables, and self-reliant lifestyle that inspired a restaurant legend. The story also offers a close-up of life in the Old Jewish Quarter on Rampart Street–and how it intersected with the denizens of “Back a’ Town,” just a few blocks away, who brought jazz from New Orleans to the world.

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is a New Orleans story, featuring the distinctive characters, color, food, and history of that city–before Hurricane Katrina and after. But it also is the universal story of family and the full magnitude of outsize follies leavened with equal measures of humor, rage, and rue.

Randy Fertel, New Orleans, Louisiana, and New York, New York, is a writer and president of both the Fertel Foundation and the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation. He has taught English at Harvard, Tulane, LeMoyne College, the University of New Orleans, and the New School for Social Research.

www.upress.state.ms.us 

Make The Old 27 Grill Your New Friend in Fairhope

1 Oct

The Old 27 Grill can be found on Alabama State Route 181 (once known as County Road 27) just south of Wal-Mart. It’s somewhat off the beaten path, although this part of Baldwin County is growing more bustling by the day. The local residents are a mix of farmers (cotton, corn, pecans, etc.) and Mobile-based professionals seeking a little more elbow room & greenery.  

The front facade of the restaurant looks relatively new, but the overall vibe is retro general store. As a matter of fact, the word GROCERY actually appears on the sign which tops the eatery’s entry. I was in the vicinity one weekday (late morning) and decided to drop in for an early lunch. Cool looking little joint, I thought. And the reports I had been receiving about the food quality were pretty encouraging. Spotting motorcycles parked out front is another positive indicator. I must add that the American flag flying to the right of the main doorway is a nice touch too.

The patio courtyard at the Old 27 is inviting, for sure. But it was a steamy day in late September and most diners had opted for indoor seating. I joined them inside. The surroundings were clean and appropriately appointed. My glass-topped table had a decidedly Ducks Unlimited theme. Picking up the menu, I was immediately impressed with the variety of choices for such a tiny kitchen.

Hot Dogs & Sausage Dogs are principal players at The Old 27 Grill. The dogs are all beef and offered in your choice of 7″ or 10″. Beyond that, the possibilities are pretty endless. 27 toppings, yes 27, in all. Figures, right? All the basics are here, along with more quirky condiments such as “Comeback” sauce, Green Chili sauce, and that omnipresent Sriracha red chili sauce. The first dozen topping options are free. Others require an additional modest financial commitment.  I also couldn’t help noticing the ambitious list of beverage options. Abita Root Beer, Vernor’s Ginger Ale, Stewart’s Cream Soda, Yuengling, Lazy Magnolia & Abita Beers, and a better than average wine list (bottle prices range from $12-$16). The Old 27 also sells local honey and a variety of their bottled sauces. I guess that is where the GROCERY comes in, huh? 

Beyond weenies, there are several appealing sandwich choices at lunchtime. The burgers are popular, yet I decided to go with Comeback Chicken Sandwich. Marinated chicken breast, bacon, Swiss cheese, crisp lettuce, thinly sliced red onion, and a heaping dollop of Old 27’s signature Comeback sauce. Comeback sauce is a prevalent condiment in the Mississippi Delta. You might say it’s the Magnolia State’s answer to Louisiana’s remoulade. Take some mayo, add some red chili sauce, mix well. That will give you the general idea. Each sauce is slightly different to the next — everyone introducing their own spin or secret ingredient to the party.   

This Comeback Chicken Sandwich (seen below) is elevated by a fresh brioche-style bun at Old 27 Grill. The sandwich was tasty (how could it not be?). My lunch basket was rounded out with a generous helping of Old 27’s housemade potato chips. You can upgrade to fries or onion rings for a slight upcharge, but sticking with the standard option was not a misstep. The chips were great and I was soon a member of the clean plate (or should I say basket?) club.

A closer look at the Comeback Chicken Sandwich at Old 27 Grill

The housemade chips at Old 27 were large, crunchy & delicious

I must say I was tempted by the dessert menu at Old 27. Not that I was still hungry. The sandwich and chips, along with a tall glass of iced tea, had made for a quite satisfying mid-day meal. Brownies, crepes, and soft serve ice cream all make for excellent post-entree selections. I was drawn to the Strawberry Crepe, but that will have to wait for another visit. This first trip to the Old 27 Grill was, in my mind, a success. Sure, my tea was a little weak for my taste. But if that is your biggest gripe, then you are likely doing pretty darn well. The service, I should add, was friendly & swift. The atmosphere homey & welcoming. The overall attention to detail impressive. Looks like I have found a new dining partner in the Old 27 Grill.  

OLD 27 GROCERY & GRILL – 19992 Highway 181, Fairhope, AL

(251) 281-2663; www.old27grill.com

Open Tuesday-Saturday 9 am – 9:30 pm; Sundays 11 am – 8 pm

Al’s is the Remedy for your Occasional Hot Dog Fix

21 Mar

Al’s A-Frame (above) along Airport Blvd. in West Mobile.

Hot dogs (for me, at least) are only an occasional craving. I worked in professional baseball for several years and surely ingested a lifetime’s worth of dogs. When the craving does call from deep within, waiting is not an option. So in some towns you are out of luck unless you make your own or happen to stumble across a live sporting event. We are fortunate to have a joint like Al’s here in Mobile. And this is no fly by night venture either. They have been a fixture right here for more than … wait for it … 25 years!

Al’s is found in a rather plain looking strip mall setting. “Don’t judge a book …”

Al’s menu board – more than just hot dogs here, that’s for sure!

Chicago-style with tomatoes & celery salt (no poppy seed bun???)

Not the best I’ve ever devoured, not the wurst (get it?) either.

A hot dog, for the most part, is a hot dog. Am I right or am I right?

Al’s Jumbo Dog  definitely gets the job done — and that’s all I ever ask for.

Trying the “Other Fine Foods” will have to wait for another day.

Al’s Hot Dogs & Other Fine Foods

4701 Airport Blvd # 210
Mobile, AL 36608-3188
(251) 342-3243

Open Monday – Saturday from 10:30 am until 6 pm