In my last post, I outlined all the service we performed on the St. Mark’s youth trip to New Orleans. I would be remiss to not include anything about the food and culture that permeates the city–a city where many of its residents have lived their entire lives.
To get yourself in the New Orleans spirit, here’s our song from the trip to accompany this post. (Full disclosure, it will be stuck in your head for days.)
We were fortunate to have a good mix of tourism and service on our trip, letting the teens (and me!) see the city from all angles. We began the week at Pierre Maspero’s for dinner, seemingly the only restaurant in New Orleans to card when you order a drink (notable only because I inevitably left my license in my other purse, sigh). There, we had alligator (!) and I got shrimp and grits—I have made it a personal rule to only eat grits in the South because everywhere else it tastes like prison food. These did not disappoint—so cheesy and creamy and obviously 100 percent healthy…right? We finished off the night with some beignets and cafe au laits at Cafe du Monde, because really, where else would we go?
Our meals for the week were provided by St. Anna’s, where a lovely woman made us “New Orleans-style” food all week, from red beans and rice to étouffé to jambalaya. Wowee do they eat a lot of rice! It was so nice to eat authentically, instead of cooking grilled cheese for ourselves or going out to eat every night. I’m not sure our stomachs (at least not mine or Marcella’s) could’ve handled seven nights of po’boys.
On Tuesday, after volunteering at St. Anna’s camp, we went to go get gelato at The Creole Creamery—a must visit. I got A Clockwork Orange, which was dark chocolate with Cointreau and something else…delicious.
We had most of the day Wednesday to
lounge tour after working in the garden. We went down to the Presbytere, where there is a museum dedicated to Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans, with an upstairs all about Mardi Gras. A bit of a bizarre combo, but what else would you expect from such an exuberant city? It was amazing to watch all the news stories and survivor accounts of the storm, including an entire room filled with one man’s diary. The Mardi Gras section of the museum went through all of the (mostly French) origins of the holiday in NOLA, the traditions that are part of the celebration, and of course costumes. So. Many. Costumes.
But the best part of the museum, in my opinion, was the windows overlooking Jackson Square. A brass band had just set up and was gathering a crowd as we watched from above. Unfortunately, the rain came in before we could go down and dance with them.
Wednesday was also my night off, so after escaping the rain, Marcella drove me into the quarter. She dropped me off at Cane and Table, where I found my new favorite drink: the Watermelon Man. Don’t worry, I did ask the bartender how to make it and yes I will obviously post it once I make it. After two watermelon men, I walked down to my fancy feast at Cafe Amelie, chosen for its courtyard and picturesque setting. The clouds looked as though they were about to open again, so I opted for indoor seating, with a nice view of the courtyard from the windows. By this point, I already missed the kids and considered bringing back an appetizer for them, but instead nestled into the quiet with my blueberry daquiri, which was, “not like one of the ones on Bourbon Street,” according to my server, as it’s made from blueberry-infused rum.
It was pouring by the time I left Café Amelie. I had about seven blocks to go to get to my next stop, so I jumped in and out of tourist shops that were still open in the hopes of staying dry. I finally landed at my destination, French 75, ready for a cocktail.
Part of the Arnaud restaurant, French 75 is quiet and the perfect place to go alone. I made friends with the bartender, got a French 75 (duh) and asked to see the museum upstairs. The museum is dedicated to Arnaud’s daughter, with all of her Easter hats and Mardi Gras dresses. Kind of creepy; really cool. The bartender, Vince, also took the time to walk me through the history of all of the restaurants, which almost line an entire block! He asked what I had planned for the rest of the evening (nothing) and told me to check out a jazz show down the street at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse.
And here’s some Irvin for you (come on, I can’t not include music in a post about New Orleans!).
That night, Irvin himself was supposed to be there, but I guess the rain detered him (which meant it was a free show!). I sat at the bar of the Royal Sonesta Hotel and watched the band, listening for the frequent interjections of the audience. It was one of those moments when you think here I am, right now, and this is incredible.
After leaving Irvin’s band (and my friend Glenn at the bar) I headed out to find a taxi to take me back to the Treme. But before I left, the kids told me I needed to take a picture with a boy while I was out and show it to them when I got back. I ran across the street, grabbed the attention of the first guys I saw, took a selfie and hopped in a cab home. If you see anything matching this description on the NOLA missed connections, please let me know.
On Thursday, we had grand plans of taking the kids to Preservation Hall, but when we went to buy tickets they said they had sold out and the rest would be sold at the door. So we returned before the show that night, only to barely miss getting tickets for the 8 p.m. show. We could have stayed in line for the 9 p.m. show, but after waiting in line with all of them for half an hour I wasn’t sure we could do it for another hour. We conceded and went to Cafe du Monde instead. The kids didn’t seem too upset with our alternative.
Friday night, I took a group of the brave on a ghost tour through the French Quarter. Though it wasn’t as sc
ary as I was hoping, it was really interesting and it was great to learn about the history behind the culture of the quarter. Before anything started though, the tour was interrupted by a wedding parade going down Royal Street, complete with a full band and lots of costumes. Our tour had a bar stop at Lafitte’s, where I received many puzzled looks for ordering two waters, four virgin Hurricanes (aka juice), and one real Hurricane (mine). I had to pass all the drinks out one by one to the kids, who weren’t even allowed in the bar. I spent the next ten minutes worried someone would think I gave minors real Hurricanes, making sure to taste the top of mine (mistake) to make sure I had the right one. I did, and they got commemorative cups.
We met up with the rest of the gang at Cafe du Monde after the tour and ordered entirely too many beignets (if there is such a thing). Marcella and I had a mini photo shoot, and Alex, the other leader, saw one of his friends (this was not an uncommon occurrence throughout the trip), who just so happened to be the manager of Cafe du Monde, who the kids called “Joey” even though his name is Brandon.
Saturday was the first day of our trip that it didn’t rain; the perfect send off. And I finally got to break out my new camera! We started the day with Le Monde Creole tour of the French Quarter that went through courtyards of the quarter and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, where Marie Laveau is buried. The tour went through a lot of the stories we heard on the ghost tour in a more historical light and focused heavily on the race relations in New Orleans. After the tour, we went and had a picnic by the levee before heading into the French Market.
So I know that hearing “French Market” means I will be all over it, right? And I was. However, I am desperately trying to have less belongings, and if I see it I will buy. I was perfectly content sitting at a picnic table with Alex and Marcella, drinking the best pina colada I will probably ever have in my life from Organic Banana. Fresh pineapple, ice cream, dark rum, and coconut cream. Why does no one else make drinks like this?! I almost went back for another, but decided maybe for now I should stick with moderation.
Our last meal in NOLA was a po’boy and Abita (for adults only) picnic at City Park. It was beautiful–humid for sure, but better than rain. We stayed in the park until past sunset, letting the kids play and just being in New Orleans in that moment. Afterwards we went over to CityPutt next door, where we split into teams on the putt-putt course—a competitive group and a “fun” group. I was in the fun group, as it should be. We were doing the New Orleans side (the other side is the Louisiana), where each hole tells a story of a different street or neighborhood in New Orleans. It was perfect to go there at the end of the trip when we had already been to so many of the places, finishing next to a giant Louis Armstrong statue.
I am a firm believer that you have to go to a city twice to really fall in love. Understanding the people, the history, and the culture takes time, more time than was afforded to me in those seven days. But, with what I know now from the research we did before the trip and what I saw while we were there, I know it’ll only take one more visit for me to fall in love with New Orleans. If nothing else, I’ll just go back for the beignets. ♦