the wonderful world of veena.

01 June 2014

21 of 52: new orleans.

New Orleans has long been a favourite travel destination for my family. My brother and I used to tag along with my parents for their meetings in the city, my mother and I made a long weekend out of my brother's visit to Tulane University, and my father and I used to make a trip whenever New Orleans hosted the SEC basketball tournaments. In short, we love New Orleans.

I'm not really sure how, but I have not made it back to New Orleans since I think 1996. I somehow missed making a trip down while I was in college - that's what happens when you're a joiner and have something happening on campus nearly every weekend - and other than a brief 3-hour visit in 2008 from Baton Rouge, I kept missing New Orleans.

I have been saying for a few months that I would love to make a trip and revisit some of our old staples, so when my father mentioned taking a family road trip down for Memorial Day weekend, my mother and I jumped at the chance. I solicited suggestions for restaurants and things to do, my father booked the hotel, and off we went.

We were in town from Friday night to Monday morning, so we really only had two full days to partake, but I think we did well with the time we had allotted. I definitely ate way more than I should have, but that's really what holidays are for, aren't they?

And now, on to our recap...

[scenes from a trolley ride to the french quarter]
where we ate...

On Saturday, we headed to Court of Two Sisters on Royal Street for their Jazz Brunch buffet. Named after the two sisters who used to operate a notions shop from the property, Two Sisters is now one of the most popular restaurants in the French Quarter. On the weekends they have a famous Jazz Brunch buffet: for $25 you have access to a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet - including a pancake, omelette, and Eggs Benedict station - that comes equipped with a live jazz trio. There is both an expansive dining room as well as a gorgeous outdoor courtyard, both of which offer easy access to the food. I tried: Eggs Benedict, roast beef, garlic potatoes, shrimp étouffée, something with crawfish, jambalaya, pecan pie with ice cream, king cake, and a Bloody Mary. And it was all excellent. Oh, and although they initially told us our wait would be 45 minutes, we actually got seated almost immediately. Awesome.

[yummy goodness]
[our jazz trio]
[exterior of the restaurant]
[my cute parents]
[sign outside the entrance]
Our dinner stop for Saturday night was the famous Cafe du Monde. This historic stop on Decatur Street overlooking Jackson Square gets more business than I can even fathom, and every time I'm there, I swear it gets better and better. The only food available is their world-renowned beignets, steaming fried dough covered in powdered sugar that take my breath away each time I bite into one. With the open seating, it can be a battle to snag a table before others also waiting, but I don't think I've ever had to wait longer than 20 or 30 minutes. And the prices! We ordered 3 beignet plates and a cafe au lait for my mother, and our bill was only $10. You can't beat that.

[my mouth waters just looking at this picture. oh, beignetsssss]
Based on more recommendations from friends, we hit up The Gumbo Shop on St Peters Street for lunch on Sunday. The restaurant is in a building that dates back to 1795, and it has both an adorable dining room and a cute little courtyard. It's not as large as Two Sisters, but it's definitely cozy, and since we went pretty early on Sunday, there was no wait. I ordered the Creole Combination Platter which consisted of small-ish portions of Shrimp Creole, Jambalaya, and either Red Beans and Rice or Crawfish étouffée [I opted for the latter]. All were great, as was the Seafood Okra Gumbo that my father and I each had as a starter. Oh, and that BBQ shrimp! We ordered it as a starter, and it was delicious. My father had the blackened catfish as his entree, and it must have been great, because he finished it off in about 5 minutes flat. I wouldn't have been surprised if he had licked his plate. My mother - still being on a soft-food diet from her wisdom teeth extraction the previous week - went with the Vegetarian dish of the day, which was black beans and rice with corn salsa and something else that I can't remember. I had a taste of hers, and it was really good, but the portion size was huge. And of course she and I split a pecan pie with ice cream for dessert, while my father went with his favourite bread pudding. Overall, an awesome lunch.

[my creole combination platter]
[my father's blackened catfish]
[the mother's vegetarian dish of the day]
[yummy gumbo shop]
[they really like posing under signs]
[i wanted in on the "posing under a sign" game, too]
And for our final meal in town, we headed to the world-famous Mother's for dinner. I had gotten a few recommendations for it, and it was walking distance to our hotel, so it was kind of a no-brainer. It's a cafeteria-style set-up, where you stand in line and order at the counter and then find yourself a table. After perusing the menu for a while, I chose the Famous Ferdi Special Po' Boy that comes with Mother's Best Baked Ham, roast beef, debris, and gravy. If you're unfamiliar with "debris", it is the bits of roast beef that fall off into the gravy while it's cooking, and it has long been my favourite part of roast beef, so I was sold. And it was fantastic. The bread was a bit heavy, so I ended up just eating the meat at the end and forgoing the bread, but I highly recommend it. My father's eyes lit up when he saw that they serve breakfast all day and chose the 2-eggs, any style, with toast. And some ham. And some smoked sausages. AND a homemade buttermilk biscuit. It all looked good, but it was definitely too much food for him. My mother, being slightly more cautious, went with an omelette [which automatically comes with grits] and finished the whole thing, so that is praise for it right there. Definitely check it out if you get the chance. It's on the corner of Poydras and Tchoupitoulas [hands down my favourite street name, by the way] and generally has lines out the door at both lunch and dinner, so be prepared to wait for a bit.

[a famous ferdi special. order it]
[go here. you won't regret it]
what we did...

Admittedly, we mostly just wandered around Jackson Square, chatting with the local artists and admiring their work. You can spend hours just strolling, which is pretty much what we did. We also spent some time just chilling on the river for a while on Saturday evening, enjoying the weather and watching the ships sail by.

[sunset over jackson square]
[great speech by moon landriel, for whom moon landing is named] 
[panorama of the river]
I had some time on Sunday afternoon, so I decided to check out the National WW2 Museum. Located at the corner of Magazine and Andrew Higgins Streets, the Museum was walking distance to our hotel, so my mother and I stopped by while my father went to the casino. For a history nerd such as myself, it was quite an interesting visit. The exhibit focused on the military strategy that both sides employed during the course of the war and had a lot of the weapons and uniforms on display.

[display of what the d-day landing at normandy looked like. really appealed to me for some reason]
It was a pretty interesting visit, and I learned some interesting new facts. For example, Andrew Higgins was a guy from New Orleans who designed the landing boats that were used in D-Day. And also that I would have been disqualified from serving in the Army because of my flat feet. Luckily I still have more than half of my original teeth, but I fear many NHL players would not have made the cut.

[exterior of the museum]
Overall I really liked the museum, but it was super crowded, and I tend to get overly frustrated when people keep stopping and taking pictures of every little thing when they're in a museum. With it being the Sunday before Memorial Day, it was particularly crowded, and with people continually stopping, it really messed up the crowd flow through the exhibit. Otherwise, though, I found the museum to be very interesting, and I'm glad we decided to go.

There is currently some construction underway across the street in a new building that will eventually house even more exhibits on the War. Two big ones in particular are opening this year, so if you were to visit in the fall, you would get an even better experience.

where we stayed...

We set up stakes at the Hyatt Place on Convention Center Drive. It's about a 15ish minute walk / 7ish minute trolley ride from the French Quarter, which is great because it's convenient without being right in the middle of the noise and the crowd.

The room itself was really nice and comfortable, the wifi was both free and fast, and although I did not partake in the complimentary breakfast, my father said it was good.

Our only complaint from the weekend would have to be the teenagers who were also staying on our floor who were making a ruckus on Sunday night. At one point I stepped out to tell them to be quiet, and then I called the front desk to complain. I must not have been the first one, because the lady knew exactly who I was talking about and immediately came upstairs and sent them back to their room. The staff were all great about dealing with them, and when we checked out on Monday morning, they didn't charge us for the previous night's stay. So although it was inconvenient for a little while, the staff handled it all quickly and courteously. It's definitely a hotel we would stay at again on a future visit to the city.

other highlights included: a return to Tuesday Night Ladies' Night; finally got to check out Cafe Keough downtown; JB Bernstein - the real one - retweeted one of my tweets [it was a big deal for me]; back onto the running train; Grizzlies Open House on Saturday - got to sit in the expensive seats and take a tour of the locker room; lunch at Rum Boogie Cafe.

[taking a tour of the grizz locker room]
[and the training room]
[this is what your view would be if you forked over nearly 7 grand a year]
[and this could be your view for the low low price of $15k per season. no biggie]
[tiptoeing onto the court before being told we technically weren't supposed to be down there...]
[the view from the club boxes. those were pretty legit]
[the memphis platter at rum boogie cafe. yum]
I have to say, those trips to Nashville, Little Rock, and New Orleans were great, but it was nice to be home for a week.

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