This past week, I got to spend a couple of days in the city of New Orleans for a teacher training I was conducting, which presented an opportunity to see some friends and enjoy this wonderful place.
I have been feeling guilty that I haven't been back to New Orleans since Katrina struck in 2005. In some ways, I feel like it is all of our patriotic duty to visit New Orleans and stimulate the economy with our tourism dollars. I finally got to do my little part by sampling the local cuisine, visiting some local bars, and enjoying some amazing music.
Dining in New Orleans is always a fun experience for me. I love the unique blend of Southern, French, Cajun and new American that you find everywhere in the city.
One of my first stops was the historic Morning Call Cafe in the neighborhood of Metairie, in the northern part of the city. Morning Call is a humble looking coffee shop in a strip mall. But since 1870 it has been serving what many locals consider the best beignets in town. If you've never encountered them, beignets are a kind of french donut that is dusted with powdered sugar.
I've had the beignets at Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter, where most tourists sample their first beignet. I thought the Cafe du Monde beignets were tasty but uninspiring. I found the ones at Morning Call to be denser and more flavorful, with a hint of sourdough to counterpoint the sweetness. The light and sweet coffee was the perfect pairing, although others might prefer their hot chocolate.
My next fantastic meal was at the Praline Connection in the French Quarter. I stumbled into the place to escape a torrential downpour that struck suddenly when I was walking around. It was a perfect place to escape to: an old world, formal but warm restaurant featuring most of the cuisine you expect to find.
I had their crawfish jambalaya and found it to be rich and generous with the fish. The cornbread was on the too sweet side for me, but a nice accompaniment to the saltiness of the sauce.
My last meal was at the fabulous and divey Coop's Place in the Quarter. I had their "taste" plate with a piece of cajun fried chicken, jambalaya, red beans and rice and a bowl of gumbo. Everything was quite good, but I kind of wish I just ordered the fried chicken, which was some of the best I've ever had.
Melissa, a local I was dining with, recommended that I visit Popeye's while I was there, which apparently is world's better than the franchise version of the fast food chain. Next time, next time.
My friends Eli and Dmitry kindly hosted me while I was in town, and took me to some of their favorite spots in the Quarter. I love that you can just walk around Frenchman street on a random night and encounter a dozen different live music gigs going on, in bars, restaurants, cafes and on the sidewalk. DJed music is rare in a town where everyone seems to be a musician of some sort.
We ended up at the Spotted Cat bar where local swing favorites the Cottonmouth Kings were playing at their regular Friday night gig. When we arrived it was crazy crowded in the tiny bar and the Kings were cookin'. I spotted Peter Loggins, who scored us a spot in front of the band.
Dancing was pretty much out of the question because of the crowd. But later the lindy hoppers carved out some space for a couple of couples to do some careful dancing, joined in my enthusiastic locals and tourists dancing with less care. I'm not a bal dancer, but I can see it's appeal in a venue like the Spotted Cat.
Later more dancers arrived, greeting the musicians and the bartenders by name. The scene is so small and friendly in New Orleans that you can meet most of the local dancers and swing musicians in a short period.
I got in some really fun dances and enjoyed just listening to the musicians jam. Other folks dropped in with their instruments and sat in for song, and then just got a drink and hung out with the rest of us. More dancers came and went.
And suddenly it was 2AM and the band was done for the night. I meandered through the streets of the French Quarter back to Eli and David's place, drunk on the music and unique conviviality that is New Orleans.