10 Things You Must Do When Visiting New Orleans – Part 2
Comments I received after posting the first part of this list makes me realize even more so, how difficult it is to pick just ten must-do’s about New Orleans. In fact, I struggled with my number 10 spot – it was almost a tie (and as it is I’m giving you many options within one), and there are so many also-rans. So, like I said before, this is my list for today, and it’s just a snap shot in time – although there are at least one or two of these things that I suspect would be on my list at any moment in time. I guess that means I’ll have to come back with another list sometime in the future. Sigh…
The bottom line – New Orleans is a great place to visit, and we hope to see you soon. And don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this list before you make your plans.
6. Have a Sandwich at Cochon Butcher
I had been stopping in to have sandwiches at James Beard Award winning chef’ Donald Link’s charcuterie and sandwich shop for years before I moved here. I would sometimes even pick up a sandwich to take on the plane with me on my way out of town. By the time I moved here, the little sandwich shop had quadrupled in size and put in a full bar. During those the first few weeks after I moved into my house, when I was still unpacking and getting settled, I was eating at the Butcher a couple of days a week – hmmm, maybe more. I can still be found lunching there a few times a month on average. The place has really great sandwiches, and good (if short) wine and cocktail lists, and it’s hopping all the time. Although Donald Link is one of New Orleans top chefs, with a few other fancier restaurants under his belt, he claims this one is his cash cow. Caveat- if you don’t eat meat, there won’t be much on the menu here for you.
7. Take a Street Car Ride
The Canal/Cemeteries line runs on Canal Street, the wide boulevard that divides uptown and downtown New Orleans. At one end, its terminus was once the northern boundary of the city and is now the site of several of the above ground cemeteries for which New Orleans is known, and at the other end, Convention Center Boulevard and the main shopping/hotel/business district of New Orleans. It bounders the French Quarter on its downtown side. Riding this line will take you through most neighborhoods in the city. There’s also a Canal/City Park line which will take you right to the entrance of City Park where you can walk to the Sculpture Garden and New Orleans Museum of Art. The St.Charles line begins near the river at its furthermost uptown point and runs on the main street of uptown New Orleans (the sector developed post-American takeover) into the Central Business District, again, at Canal Street. Along this route you’ll view gorgeous mansions framed by stately oak trees.
8. Stroll the Music Clubs on Frenchmen Street
Spend an evening strolling Frenchmen Street where there are multiple music clubs (probably any you’ve heard of are here). You might start out at Snug Harbor where almost every Friday night you can find Ellis Marsalis (father of Wynton and Branford, and mentor/teacher to many others, including Harry Connick, Jr.) doing two piano sets. He’s usually brought along some young musicians he’s nurturing to play for you, too. Advance reservations are recommended. From there you can just stroll up and down the street where you’ll find other clubs like d.b.a., The Blue Nile, Cafe Negril, The Spotted Cat or maybe just a great band playing out on the street.
9. Eat at a Vietnamese Restaurant
At the recent Southern Foodways Symposium (SFA) held here in New Orleans, John T. Edge, director of the SFA made this statement. “Vietnamese food is not ethnic food in New Orleans. Vietnamese food is New Orleans food.” The Vietnamese began arriving in the city very shortly after the fall of Saigon, in 1975, and have established themselves very well in New Orleans. It’s no wonder – the Vietnamese people shared common colonial ancestors in the French, and because of that, to a large extent, a common religion, Roman Catholicism. And because the topography of coastal Louisiana is so similar to Vietnam, many of them are shrimpers and fishermen by trade, and we also share a rice based cuisine.
There are several Vietnamese restaurants in and around New Orleans. There are the Mom and Pop establishments in Gretna, just across the river from downtown New Orleans, and in New Orleans East (where there’s also a very active, but quite early morning Vietnamese farmers’ market every Saturday) – restaurants opened by the first wave of immigrants who arrived. It’s a trek out to the East, but I go every once in a while to get the amazingly delicious and extremely reasonably priced Bahn Mi’s from Dong Phong, a bakery with restaurant attached. Subsequent generations of Vietnamese Americans have begun opening a new wave of eateries, often with lots of fusion elements. You can do an online search for Vietnamese restaurants in New Orleans for a list, or you can just check out my new favorite – Mint Modern on the newly revived Freret Street dining corridor in Uptown New Orleans.
10. Visit a Museum
I know that museums aren’t the first thing you think of when you think of New Orleans, but the city is chock full of them. I guess it’s not that surprising, as the city is a gift for history lovers. There’s a Civil War Museum, the Historic New Orleans Collection (with a couple of facilities in the French Quarter, the Old U.S. Mint and The Cabildo to name a few. The city’s number one tourist attraction is the World War II Museum (I know- I was surprised to learn that, too). And it’s not just history – there’s the New Orleans Museum of Art (mentioned above) , the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum among others. One of the quirkiest is the tiny Backstreet Cultural Museum in the heart of the Tremé. If you’ve ever heard of the mysterious Mardi Gras Indians, this is the place to get a close up look at one of their intricately glorious costumes. The founder of the Museum, Sylvester Francis, is on hand to give you a guided tour. You’ll also get a glimpse at some Mardi Gras Baby Doll costumes, and a bit of the Second Line culture. While you’re there, I recommend walking across the street to visit historic St. Augustine’s Church, built in 1842, and which became at the time, the most integrated church in America, as free people of color and whites were both allowed to purchase pews. Homer Plessy of the historic Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court case was a congregant of St. Augustine’s. You can also see a pew dedicated to Marie Laveau, and a monument called the Tomb of the Unknown Slave in the church’s yard. The church is still an active place of worship.