fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

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My First Visit to New Orleans (Pre-Katrina)

When I shifted to a new position at work, it was decided that I might get a quick education by attended on of our conferences, so it was off to New Orleans. (The fact that it was in New Orleans and that I had never been there convinced me that it might be a good thing.) I was put up at the Alexa Hotel, which has (had?) and entrance on Bourbon Street.  At this end, it sure did not seem like much, but that may have been because my visit was in the early afernoon, apparently before many folks had awakened.

Further down Bourbon, things got a bit more lively. At a bare minimum, every block inlcudes some kind of bar, restaurant, t-shirt shop, smoke/cigar shop, gift shop and strip club. Even if there is just a hole in the wall just big enough for a cooler, someome will be selling beer or cocktails out of it. And every bar has cocktails to go!

I had decided that during my first evening in New Orleans that I would chase down a highly recommended restaurant for some old-school New Orleans food. On the way there, I passed the St. Louis Cathedral, as I left Bourbon Street and headed towards the Mississippi River. During his second visit to the United States, Pope John Paul II celebrated there.  The St. Louis Cathedral, completed in 1794 and the oldest church in New Orleans, can be seen from Jackson Square, which has always been an open area in the heart of the French Quarter. Originally known as the Plaza d’Armas, this common area was used at times as military parade grounds, and later as a market place for fish, fowl, and produce. It faces the Mississippi River and contains a statue of its namesake, Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. In the square is a memorial to the Louisiana Battalion Washington Artillery, which has fought in every major war since the Civil War. 

St. Louis Cathedral also can be seen from the banks of the Mississippi River. Crossing through Jackson Sqaure puts one on Decatur Street, which I found more to my liking than Bourbon Street. Decatur Street is where one can find Sbisa’s Café, Central Grocery Co. and the Café du Monde (of beignet fame). I had my first New Orleans meal at Sbisa’s and highly recommend it for its great seafood. I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner, which started with Bayou Crab Cakes with spring onion salad and a mustard-based Creole sauce, and Seafood Gumbo, followed by an entrée of Blackened Redfish topped with fried, jumbo Gulf shrimp and Creole sauce. (The view over Decatur is nice and the staff was great.) It was nice for me – though not so nice for the restaurant – that all was eerily quiet when I made it Sbisa’s Café. As I mentioned, the cafe offers a nice view from the balcony, with music from a jazz piano floating up from the ground floor. Dinner was followed by a serving of beignet, after which I rolled back to my hotel.

Along Decatur Street, just in front of Jackson Square, is where the various tour carriages line up. Though people hold the reins, it was funny to watch the mules automatically organize themselves as they lined up behind each others’ carriages. So habitual is this behavior, one attendant, who was not paying attention, had to run after his carriage.

I passed by the statue of Andrew Jackson again Thursday night…but not because I had meant to. I was in search of The Praline Connection, a down-home-style restaurant recommended by my sister and her husband, but was misdirected and ended up walking through the Warehouse District before I found that The Praline Connection I was sent to was the second Praline Connection, leaving me to walk back across the Warehouse District and all the way across the French Quarter. I was just about to give up when I turned a corner and there it was. I do not know if it was my hunger, but the food was good (alligator sausage followed by fried chicken with cornbread, red beans and rice, and potato salad). Dessert was a praline to go. Based on mapping my route on the computer, I walked about six miles in search of this dinner!

Look at the album and you’ll see some of the amazing vegetation in this city, ranging from an unknown purple plant to the ferns and other plants in alleyways that seem to pop up from cracks in the pavement and building’s brick exteriors.  And while the architecture of the buildings in the French Quarter is fascinating in itself, the pride and care that some folks and business put into their balconies added another dimension to what would otherwise be just another narrow street…  Most amazing was the sight of the large cargo ships I am accustomed to seeing on the San Francisco Bay chugging up a freshwater river.

On my last day, with three hours to kill before the airport shuttle would wisk me away, I again walked the Quarter in search of a muffuletta – a sandwich made with a round loaf of Italian bread, split and filled with layers of sliced Provolone cheese, Genoa salami and Cappicola ham, and topped with an olive salad. It is good. Very good and very big. So big, in fact, that I bought only a half a sandwich, ate half of that for lunch and the rest for dinner on my return flight. It was a fun visit and only in New Orleans can one be picked up in an airport shuttle piloted by a Jewish Puerto Rican named Kaleb!