New Orleans (and Jazz Fest)

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The one and only Café du Monde. All photos: © tablehopper.com.

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Fried bread with sea salt at Pêche.

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What a dish: beef tartare and fried oysters at Coquette.

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Shrimp and grits at La Petite Grocery.

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The muffuletta of my dreams at Cochon Butcher.

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The jaunty exterior of Commander’s Palace.

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Grasshoppers at Tujague’s.

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Our daily breakfast: crawfish bread!

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Too cute: red beans and rice (partying together, of course).

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Galactic at the storied Tipitina’s.

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Liuzza’s by the Track (otherwise known as Bloody Mary HQ).

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Just after the rain.

Ahhh, Jazz Fest. It was something that was on my sister’s bucket list for a while, and since my sister and I are cut from the same cloth, it was on my list for too long as well. She has a posse of friends who like to go to the fest, so it was a blast to have quality peeps to do it up with. Fortunately they were all experienced Burners as well, because Jazz Fest is not for the faint of heart. Well, at least how we did it. Only the strong survive.

I’ll share some Jazz Fest newbie tips we learned (some the hard way), but first, here are a few places where we had some memorable meals in between all the shows (I really needed to update my last New Orleans jetsetter, which dates back to 2008).

Pêche: before my sister’s late-night flight came in, I enjoyed a solo meal at the counter of Donald Link’s latest place in the Warehouse District—it was just 10 days old when I ate there. It’s dedicated to seafood, and if you speak French, you’ll already know this from the name (no, it’s not peche, like a peach). Sitting at a bar in New Orleans, well, you are never lonely. I had some excellent dining and drinking companions, including an inspiring older gentleman, Charlie from New York, who has been coming to Jazz Fest for 40 years, much respect.

Loved the long list of appetizers and bar snacks: I had some oysters, and the fried bread with sea salt. Oh, and the shrimp toast! It was so good that Charlie next to me ordered a second round, smart man. Some unique dishes were the canapé-like disks of golden beets topped with a tartare of gray tilefish with curry vinaigrette and Vietnamese shiso, and catfish with pickled greens and chile broth (so good). Next time I’ll go back with friends so we could order the whole fish coming out of the custom grill. Really appealing menu here.

Coquette: what a charmer in the Garden District, such a beautiful freestanding building, full of rich New Orleans atmosphere, with brick walls, old wood plank floors, and chandeliers. We sat upstairs at a round table, enjoying a shared feast of shaved foie gras and root vegetables, beef tartare and fried gulf oysters, chicken-fried sweetbreads, and soft-shell crab (a main dish, $28). Loved all the seasonal and local vegetables in the innovative dishes, and I’d love to come back to try chef Michael Stoltzfus’s tasting menu.

A highlight was their menu of after-dinner drinks, four in all, which were built for a night of after-partying, like The Best Part of Waking Up, made with cold-brew coffee, reposado tequila, walnut liqueur, and vanilla syrup. Wish more places made after-dinner drinks like this. Desserts also rocked—their version of milk chocolate mousse with peanut butter sorbet and salted caramel, oh yeah. Some quality cocktails and wines too.

La Pétite Grocery: we got rained out of the festival one day (it was pouring, just buckets) and opted to have lunch at this historic space, which dates back to the 1800s (it was converted into a restaurant in 2004). Chef Justin Devillier is known for his Gulf shrimp and grits with smoked bacon, and there’s no way you can pass up the blue crab beignets. Sis loved their Reuben special that day, with Two Run Farm pastrami, quality. Classic bistro atmosphere, with bent cane chairs, white tablecloths, and banquettes the color of deep cherry.

Cochon Butcher: this was the move for this muffuletta-loving girl. About 45 minutes before I needed to grab a cab to the airport, I called ahead and order a muffuletta to go—had my cab wait outside while I ran in to pick it up and pay for it, and then enjoyed one of the best muffulettas of my life on the plane at some point close to Texas. House-cured meats, killer olive salad, this sandwich is such a star (although I did have a local muffuletta connoisseur tell me their favorite is from FredRick’s in the CBD, noted!).

Commander’s Palace: so, we finally did the weekend jazz brunch here. And while the entire experience is pretty marvelous from an atmospheric standpoint, with the dining rooms full of happy guests enjoying their turtle soup and a jazz trio moving table to table, the meal itself knocked us out for the rest of the day. (My friend also knew someone in the kitchen, so they lovingly killed us with dessert.) You get three hefty courses for about $40 that mean buttery business, so don’t plan to move a lot afterward. But a grateful shout-out to the bourbon milk punch for getting me back into the game that morning.

When it’s late, and you need some quality tequila and a burger (isn’t that all the time?), Yo Mama’s in the Quarter will take care of you. They’re known for their peanut butter burger (weird, but it works, especially with bacon), late kitchen hours, and bonus points for the extremely saucy bathroom art, and yo mama jokes on your receipt.

If you want to do a fun little tablehop in the afternoon (what else where we gonna do on a rainy day), we started with Pimm’s Cups at Napoleon House (of course), walked over to Tujague’s (say “Two Jacks”) for grasshoppers (yes, where they were reportedly invented), and then we had to tuck into some beignets and chicory coffee at Café du Monde (note: the original French Market location is open 24 hours a day, mmmhmmm).

Bellocq: I ended up meandering over here for a drink (cobblers galore) after dinner at Pêche (it’s in the Hotel Modern). Damn nice bar staff; from the folks behind The Cure (the bar, not the band). Over-the-top swank décor, dense wall o’ quality spirits, and you gotta love that off-sale action (was able to bring home a bottle of bubbles for our hotel room).

Arnaud’s French 75 Bar: when it’s time for a civilized cocktail and not a lot of French Quarter ruckus, this is where you can sit back, enjoy a quality cocktail, admire the old-world atmosphere and antiques, and catch your breath. Ahhhh.

Bar Tonique: we had a good nightcap here—they serve straightforward craft cocktails minus a big show and mustaches. The scene was a bit rowdy and mixed and fun, although truth be told, I also felt a wee bit too old for the crowd.

Molly’s: frozen Irish coffees, what? This will sound good to you at some point, trust.

For the extra late-night (or wait, is that early morning?) dranks, we hit Chuck’s and Igor’s (which came with their own sideshow).

I always leave New Orleans with a list of places I failed to make it to, I guess it’s one of its many charms. Here are five spots that are (still) at the top of my current to-do list:

Char-grilled oysters at Drago’s.
The legendary fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House.
Étouffée at Annunciation.
Lunch at the Bon Ton Café.
Cocktails by the fabulous Abigail Gullo at SoBou.

Notes on Jazz Fest:
We managed to have some rainy weather the year we went, and let me tell you, you can’t go out to the Fairgrounds without some mud boots. We got lucky and found a shop that was selling boots (we literally got the last two pairs in our size), but now we know: don’t fly to Jazz Fest without mud boots. It was like Glastonbury, with mud almost to our knees in some spots. Actually the entire week we were there got kind of chilly. So much for sultry NOLA nights!

Crawfish bread is the best breakfast in the world. Well, it was more like brunch since it was what we’d eat immediately upon arrival at the Fairgrounds, which was usually around 11:30pm or noon. Quickly followed by Crawfish Monica, boudin balls in rémoulade, jambalaya, cochon de lait po’boys, and about 100 other things to make you love New Orleans, hard.

After a day of shows, before you head back to your hotel you have to saunter over to Liuzza’s by the Track for their Bloody Marys and a fun crowd hanging out in the streets, with impromptu music performances everywhere, yay. You could also start your day here too, because as we discovered this trip, more is more.

We took cabs to the Fairgrounds (they operate at a super-cheap flat rate) and took a public bus back to the Quarter and just walked to our hotel in the Warehouse District (buses are definitely the fastest way back—cabs were in short supply).

A lot of restaurants close earlier than you’d expect. We learned the pro move was to grab a bite at the end of the day after the Fairgrounds, and then plunk down for a disco nap before heading back out to midnight shows at Tipitina’s, The Blue Nile, Republic, and every other joint we hit up.

Thanks for the epic long week, New Orleans—you always send me home tired, hungover, and with a head (and heart) full of indelible impressions. No one has a community like yours—the city overflows with characters and hospitality and style. I sometimes can’t believe you’re part of America, with your refreshingly lawless ways and deeply soulful resonance. Keep up the good work. See you soon.

For more pictures, be sure to click here for my Flickr album.