10 Things You Must Do When Visiting New Orleans – Part 1
I have been asked many times for suggestions of what to do when visiting New Orleans. There are so many things to do in this romantic, haunted, musical, literate city, of course, that’ so different from any other American city, and where tourism is the number one industry. I’m sure everyone who’s spent any time here would have their own list of favorites – and mine may change from time to time, as well. But as of this and my next entry here, this is the list I submit to you – with not a single over the top, overly-sweet Bourbon Street cocktail on it.
1. Weekend Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace
This is generally, the one thing I tell all visitors they must do when coming here. Commander’s Palace is Ms. Ella Brennan’s (matriarch of the famed Brennan family, and often referred to as the Queen of New Orleans Cuisine) great big jewel of a restaurant in the heart of New Orleans’ Garden District. She launched the careers of both Paul Prudhomme and Emeril LaGasse when she hired them as chefs at Commander’s, and Ruth Reichl, Gourmet Magazine’s last editor-in-chief stated that “Ella Brennan helped define a new kind of American restaurant.” It’s now operated by her daughter Ti Adelaide Martin and her niece, Lally Brennan. I always says the Brennan’s understand something about hospitality that I wish every restauranteur in this country did. It’s a tough reservation. Call early.
2. Friday Lunch at August
The $20.15 pre-fix lunch at Restaurant August, one of the city’s two or three top restaurants and the flagship of the John Besh Restaurant Group, is hands-down, the best deal in town. Besh describes the food as his Frenchified version of Louisiana cuisine. Kind of modest on his part. They don’t advertise the lunch special (understandably), but they’ve been doing it since opening the place. If you can’t get a lunch reservation, you can usually show up early, and sit at a table in the bar area. Oh, btw – next year, the price will go up to $20.16.
3. Beignets and Cafe au Lait at Morning Call in City Park
Sampling beignets and café au lait is something every tourist who comes to New Orleans expects – and is expected – to do. But rather than waiting in the long line at Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter, and perhaps getting brusque service from the staff there, I highly recommend going for your beignets at Morning Call, situated in the lovely City Park. At 1,300 acres, City Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country, and boasts the world’s largest stand of live oak trees. and Morning Call sits right in one of those beautiful oak groves.
4. The Besthoff Sculpture Garden at City Park
And while you’re in the park, you must stop in at the outdoor sculpture garden, just a short stroll away from The Morning Call where you find wonderful pieces of modern sculpture tucked in between the ancient moss-draped oak trees and the bayous. There are pathways and benches that allow visitors to view the pieces from different vantage points. You might even consider spending a whole afternoon in the park, adding the Botanical Gardens and the New Orleans Museum of Art (both very close by) to your tour. If you have children there’s a wonderful playground, an amusement park and a “Storyland”. If you happen to visit in December, there’s also the spectacular “Celebration in the Oaks” display of lights.
5. A Stroll through Armstrong Park
Armstrong Park, named after New Orleans’ most famous son, is on the edge of Tremé, just across from the upper edge of the French Quarter. It’s worth visiting just for its beauty, as it’s graced with fountains, gracious old oaks and statuary. It’s home to the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium, the Mahalia Jackson Center for the Perfoming Arts and part of the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park, but most importantly to my mind, it encompasses Congo Square – the place where enslaved peoples in New Orleans, who had Sundays off, thanks to the slightly more liberal policies of the Latin based culture’s Code Noir installed in New Orleans. On Sundays, they would gather to sell goods, and to dance to the percussive beats of the drum circles formed there, which not only allowed them to preserve a bit of their African roots, but also helped to give birth to New Orleans’ unique music. Walking through the park, a sensitive listener might still hear echoes of those drum circles emanating from the haunted trees. Occasional drum circles are still held on Sunday afternoons, for those who are not quite as sensitive listeners. And in this period where there is so much discussion about the abundance of Confederate symbols across Southern cities, it’s one of only two places I know of in New Orleans where there are monuments to the African descended people who built the unique culture of this city. A bonus – if you’re visiting in the spring or the fall, there are free concerts held in the park on Thursday evenings.
Please come back next time for the second half of my list.