It never takes much of a reason to get me to New Orleans, but when my sister graduated law school we knew Nola was the place to go to celebrate. Early September, five women all met up at the Hilton Riverside for a long weekend of fun and celebration. My wife, sister, and I got in on Thursday morning, knowing we wanted to do a gator tour before the others arrived, two of our other sisters arrived later that night (read 11 pm), with the future lawyer arriving on Friday morning.
The three of us took an early flight on Southwest that got us to MSY before 9 am. Our alligator tour was set to pick us up around 10 am, so we had just enough time to check in to our rooms and change before they arrived. I'm going to be honest with you, alligators are not my favorite, and I know Louisiana has it's share of snakes (and water dwelling ones tend to be PARTICULARLY deadly), so I wasn't as thrilled to go on the tour. It's crazy what you do for the ones you love...
To be honest with you, although I was checking for snakes every few seconds, the tour was pretty cool. We got to see gators, raccoons, more gators, and even a little baby gator. Plus, the tour guide, a Cajun man who had been born in Cajun country Louisiana and had a pretty large gator he called his daughter who lived with him, told me that it was too hot for water dwelling snakes that time of year. Although I figured he knew what he was talking about, I still never let my guard down.
After we were dropped back at the hotel by the tour company we knew we wanted to nap before our dinner later that night. We also knew that none of us had eaten since 6 am and once we got to our rooms there was no way we were leaving again, so we walked down the street to Mother's for lunch. Mother's is a sit down/take out restaurant that I have heard about since my first trip to New Orleans in 2014 but had never gotten to try. I had been craving a classic New Orleans staple, a po' boy, since I started planning the trip, so thought I'd kill two birds with one stone. What a mistake. That was the driest and most tasteless sandwich I have ever had, and my sister, who also got a po' boy, said hers was also dry. I will admit the bread was good, but also pretty dry. I usually go to Guy's Po' Boys, but didn't feel like going down to Magazine Street. I should have made the trip.
We got our lunch to go and headed back to our room at the Hilton Riverside. The room was on a high floor and overlooked the river, I even saw a cruise ship sail by at one point. A pretty standard hotel room, the hotel also offered a great restaurant, Drago's, two pools, and a few bars. I don't care for seafood, so I didn't try Drago's, but I was told their charbroiled oysters are really good.
After a quick nap we got ready to head out to dinner for the night. The first time I was in New Orleans I stumbled upon Adolfo's by accident while looking for a place to eat on Frenchman Street. It is a small, cash-only, Italian restaurant on top of a small bar; and to be honest with you, I was scared to go back to it since my first experience. The food was so good, and the price and portions were just right, I thought nothing would top my first visit. But since I wanted to show my sister this great restaurant I took a chance, and I'm so glad I did. The food was excellent, and although we did have to wait about 40 minutes for a table, we were able to pass the time exploring Frenchman Street and at the bar downstairs. If you find yourself hungry on Frenchman, make sure you eat at Aldolfo's, and if you don't have cash they have an ATM for you.
I came to New Orleans knowing that I wanted to see live music, a second line, and eat a po' boy and pralines. Well, I had my dry ass po' boy, but you can imagine how excited I was when we saw a group of musicians outside Adolfo's while we waited. My first trip to Nola I was told by a local that everyone plays an instrument, and from the sounds of the city you can tell it's true. I have a short clip to share with you, but just know I was so excited.
After leaving dinner, stuffed, we decided to walk to Canal Street to meet our sisters. It's a long walk, especially after all that food. They had grand plans of going out that night, but we all just ended up going back to the hotel for some much needed sleep after walking down Bourbon Street to get hand grenades from Tropical Isle.
The next morning the real festivities began. We had put together an itinerary of food and experiences and started our morning at Ruby Slipper Cafe on Canal Street. I added our name to the online waitlist, but we still had a 15 minute wait once we arrived. Our service was good, food came out quickly, and the food was really good.
After brunch we headed down to the French Market by trolley. The trolley is a really cheap and dependable ride. Let me warn you now, it can get hot since there is no air conditioning on them, but the experience is great. If you don't know where you need to get off, or transfer, ask the conductor, they will help you. In this case we took the Canal street trolley all the way down to the French Market. The market is a collection of vendors, both goods and food, and has a lot of authentically New Orleans cuisine. We walked through the vendors and got some snacks to tide us over until dinner (yes, we had recently eaten, but in New Orleans you never want to let a chance to eat good food pass you by). We started by getting smoothies at Organic Banana -- again, it was hot. I got a frozen strawberry lemonade that didn't really have much flavor, but the others really enjoyed their drinks.
Then I stumbled upon one of my new New Orleans staples, praline beignets! Loretta's New Orleans Authentic Pralines fries three praline stuffed beignets to order at their French market shop. It took about 7 minutes for them to come out, but they were worth every second. It took everything in me to share them, but I knew I didn't need all that sugar before heading to our fancy dinner. While I enjoyed my fresh fried goodness, the rest of the ladies, who all have a bit more adventurous of a palette, tried the alligator sausage at a shop not far from Loretta's. They said it was ok, but nothing they'd necessarily get again. At this point I was ready for my heat exhaustion nap (I know, I'm getting old....or maybe I was just taking advantage of being able to sleep since I was away from my two kids), and my wife and I headed to Southern Candymakers to buy pralines to take home before heading back to the room for some rest.
That night we celebrated by heading to Restaurant R'evolution at the Royal Sonesta in the French Quarter. When I made the reservation I told them we were celebrating and they made sure we had a wonderful experience. To be honest, everyone in the restaurant seemed to be enjoying themselves, and by the end of the night I could see why. I ordered the short rib and cajun cream cheese mashed potatoes. Both were excellent! Everyone enjoyed their food, and we really liked the desert sample box they brought out at the end. It had small pralines, macarons, cakes, chocolates, and more.
I forgot to tell you we caught a Lyft from the hotel to
the restaurant. Our Lyft driver was great, he gave us his phone number and told us to call him when we were ready to leave dinner so he could show us around the city and get us some daiquiris at the local shops. When we finished dinner we walked over to the Hotel Monteleone, home of the famous Carousel Bar. The bar was packed, so we didn't stay long, but we called our driver and asked him to meet us on Canal street. As we walked out of the hotel I saw the last thing on my list of must do/sees in New Orleans. A second line. While it wasn't an authentic second line, it still had the music and feel of a small second line. It turns out someone had created the experience for their friend's bachelorette party, but it was still a nice surprise to walk out to.
As we got into our Lyft to head into the part of the city you don't see often, our driver gave us a tour of where he grew up as well as different part of the city. When we got to the daiquiri shop (a small shop that sells frozen daiquiris like Wet Willies, but much cheaper) we all picked out a drink for the night. I got a margarita with an extra shot of tequila. To be honest, it was a nice cool drink for a hot night, but it wasn't nearly as strong as I thought it would be. We then headed to Frenchman Street to relax before heading home. I wish we had more time to discover Frenchman, but the daiquiris got to some of us, so we grabbed some chicken and fries to share at Willie's Chicken Shack and went home about 45 minutes later.
The next morning we had a fun day planned that started with brunch and ended with way too much alcohol! We had brunch reservations at Broussard's in the French Quarter. I want to tell you I loved it, but it was just ok. I did appreciate the table side bananas foster for desert, though. I don't want to focus too much on brunch because the highlight of the day was out mixology course at Drink Lab Nola.
We walked from brunch to the other side of Canal Street to the class. When we arrived we were greeted by individual bartending stations, and a light lunch. While they usually do a heavier meal, like gumbo or jambalaya, due to allergies and vegetarians in the group they decided on a lighter salad and fruit snack. Once we had all gotten some food, and the full class arrived, we were asked to stand behind one of the stations. We were presented with the rules, many of which I don't remember, but the biggest one was no judgement of other people. If you passed judgement you would have to take a shot of tequila -- something I wasn't opposed to. We went through the class, part history lesson and part hands on instructions, and made three classic New Orleans drinks; a Sazerac, a Ramos Gin Fizz, and a Hurricane. I won't give away too much, and ruin the class, but we had a great time and would recommend Nola Drink Lab to anyone going to New Orleans. I will be back for sure, and I realized I didn't hate rum as much as I thought I did.
Needless to say, with all the drinks and judgement we were all pretty drunk by the end of the class. The instructor, Daniel, and his wife own the bar below the class and invited us all to have a welcome drink down there. Of course, all of us from the class agreed and headed downstairs for a drink. That one drink turned into more, and we started ordering food. The drinks were all really good, and so was the company, but I don't really remember the food. Again, if you find yourself in Nola with an afternoon free head to Drink Lab Nola, you will not regret it!
After another midday/evening nap a few of us headed out for our last dinner together in the city. They wanted a seafood boil so we found The Original French Market Restaurant on Decatur Street. The food was actually pretty good, but if you have asthma make sure to skip this restaurant. The cajun seasoning was so thick in the air all of us choked at least once while there. We spent that last night sharing stories and eating before heading to Cafe du Monde for beignets on our way home. I wish I could tell you they were what I remembered them to be, but they were very lack luster and not as good as the praline beignets I had the day before.
All in all New Orleans didn't disappoint. She is like an old friend, she shares memories, great food, and it always hurts a little when you leave her; but you know when you come back it's like no time has passed. I look forward to my next trip to New Orleans, and know that I will be going to Adolfo's, and making my way to Guy's Po' Boys even if I don't want to head down Magazine street. I also look forward to hearing about your favorite Nola spots for me to try next time; or better yet, you should join me!