NEW ORLEANS • PLANTATION COUNTRY
CAJUN COUNTRY • NORTHWEST
• NEW ORLEANS
WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT
— Praline Cream Soda and Noble Cane Cola — If we had enough money and were gamblers at heart, we’d invest in Swamp Pop, a company that produces a non-alcoholic drink with a Louisiana twist. Check out their website. Their story is as good as their drink. www.drinkswamppop.com
— Po’ boys — Don’t be put off by the long line waiting to get into Mother’s, a restaurant in the Central Business District that’s known for ham stuffed po’ boys. The managers only let in a few people at a time, perhaps to prevent overcrowding or perhaps to create the illusion of being super busy. Either way, the line moves fast and the food is worth the short wait. www.mothersrestaurant.net
— Antoine’s Deal — Ordering an appetizer of Antoine’s famed Oysters Rockefeller will ordinarily set you back $15. Opt instead for the lunch special, which will give you the legendary oysters along with a meat or fish entrée and dessert for only an additional $5.15. (The Chocolate Mousse is delicious but we vote for the Pecan Bread Pudding.) www.antoines.com
— Carville’s Choice — Political commentator James Carville is often called the Ragin’ Cajun, “Ragin’” because of his temperament when he was advisor to Bill Clinton and “Cajun” because of his Louisiana roots. He now lives in New Orleans and enjoys the following restaurants: Mosca’s in Avondale; Eleven 79 in the Lower Garden District and, on Sunday evenings, Vincent’s in Uptown New Orleans
— Summer Snowballs — According to Elizabeth Williams, director of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, slurping a snowball is a quintessential New Orleans experience. Made from shaved — not crushed — ice and doused with special homemade syrups, these slushy treats are available everywhere during the summer.
— Alberto’s Cheese and Wine Bistro — Muffuletta sandwiches — a mix of olive salad, meat and cheese — are a traditional New Orleans favorite, and the traditional place to buy them is at Central Grocery, a small deli in the French Quarter. Central’s sandwiches are good, but on a tip from a local, we also tried one at Alberto’s, which is across the street right inside the French Market. As our tipster told us, we found the one at Alberto’s to be fresher as well as less expensive.
— Cafe du Monde — Café DuMonde, right outside the French Market, is known for beignets, coffee and long lines. Plan to people watch, photograph street artists and horse-and-buggy carriages and, if you’re lucky, listen to jazz, all while waiting for a sugar-sprinkled square of fried dough. It’s worth the wait, even if it’s just to say you’ve been there. www.cafedumonde.com/
WHERE TO STAY
— Central Business District — For reasonably-priced, conveniently-located accommodations, check out the Central Business District (CBD), where hotels are generally 20 to 30 percent less expensive than comparable ones in the French Quarter. The Whitney, for example, which is a lovely hotel, is only eight blocks from the French Quarter Visitor Center. Those are eight expensive blocks! www.whitneyhotel.com/
What’s more, the CBD is the home of four major museums (World War II, Southern Art, Contemporary Art, Civil War) and just a short bus ride from the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and the New Orleans Jazz Market.
WHAT TO DO
— Choosing the right tour — It’s wise to spy on other tours before choosing one for yourself. For example, it’s a good sign if the attendees are listening carefully; not so good if they’re checking their smartphones. Thus, when we saw Gwen Redus talking to a group of attentive tourists, we called Historic Tours and asked when she would be giving a similar tour. It was a smart move. Gwen’s tours are witty as well as informative. www.TourNewOrleans.com
— A New Venue for Music — If you’re a jazz aficionado, check out the New Orleans Jazz Market, which opened in March 2015. It’s a performance venue as well as a community center, a place where folks can learn about jazz through various educational programs and enjoy shows by renowned musicians. www.thenojo.com/
— Cruising the Mississippi — Dining and listening to jazz aboard a genuine paddleboat while cruising the Mississippi River sounds like a grand idea; it isn’t. The meal was blah, the narration bland, and it was hard to grasp the significance of the river when all we could see was lights. Fortunately, on the advice of a fellow traveler, we took the same cruise the next afternoon. This time we had lovely views of the French Quarter and could see the riverside activity. The daytime cruise (sans lunch) was significantly less expensive and infinitely better. www.steamboatnatchez.com/
VISITING FILM SITES
— A Three-fer for Fun, Film and History — Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar is a famed New Orleans hot spot, the oldest bar in the United States, and one of the sites used in Crazy in Alabama, starring Melanie Griffith. www.lafittesblacksmithshop.com/
— The Warehouse District — A New Orleans neighborhood that is exactly what its name implies, this area is often used as a site for scenes that can’t be filmed in more upscale, congested areas. Parts of Pelican Brief, for example, were filmed at Antoine’s but the violent scenes that supposedly took place outside the famed restaurant were actually shot several miles away in the Warehouse District.
— Easy Sightseeing — We always enjoy the ease and flexibility of hop-on-hop-off bus tours and make it a practice to indulge in one the first time we’re in an unfamiliar big city. City Sightseeing operates easy-to-spot red double decker buses that, in addition to regular stops throughout New Orleans offer those who buy a three-day pass free walking tours of an above ground cemetery, the French Quarter and the Garden District. www.citysightseeingneworleans.com/
— The Garden District — Easy to reach by regular bus or by City Sightseeing’s tour bus, the Garden District is architecturally diverse and uniformly delightful. Filled with antebellum homes and lovely gardens, it was used as a film site in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and is, or has been, home to stars such as Sandra Bullock, John Goodman and Nicholas Cage as well as author Anne Rice.
• PLANTATION COUNTRY
WHERE TO EAT
— Wherever you can — If you’re taking a multi-day road trip along the River Road, you’ll find that restaurants are few and far between, Yes, there are plenty at the beginning, near New Orleans, and plenty at the end, near Baton Rouge, but if you’re in between, think twice bout passing up a fast food place. A Subway sandwich or salad may be as good as it gets for ten or fifteen miles.
— Latil’s Landing Restaurant — If you’re going to eat like a sugar baron, you may as well do it at a home once owned by a sugar baron. Latil’s Landing, one of several restaurants at Houmas House plantation, once the largest producing sugar plantation in the country, offers an extensive (and expensive) dining experience. Closed Monday and Tuesday. www.houmashouse.com/
— Fine Food, Friendly Locals — B&C Seafood is a few blocks south of Laura’s Plantation at 2155 Hwy 18 in Vacherie. It’s a plastic tablecloth and paper towel napkin kind of place where you can get a cup of gumbo for $5.95 or a gator burger with fries for $8.99.
WHERE TO STAY
— On a plantation — There’s nothing like wandering the grounds of a grand plantation after the other guests have gone home and all is serene, to transport one back to the antebellum South. Oak Alley and Houmas House both offer overnight lodging on the plantation grounds. www.oakalleyplantation.com/ www.houmashouse.com
• CAJUN COUNTRY
— Spice up your life — Avery Island, about 45 minutes south of Lafayette, is a wonderland filled with azaleas, camellias, wildlife and, during their seasonal migrations, snowy white egrets. It’s also the home of the family responsible for giving us the world famous Tabasco sauce. Folks can see pepper seedlings, pepper plants, pepper mash and pepper mash turned into different flavors of Tabasco, each of which is available for sampling (and, of course, purchase)! www.tabasco.com
— Laissez les bon temps rouler — The reason you want to go to Randols is because, well, everyone does, whether they’re a local or a visitor. It’s been a Lafayette staple for more than 35 years, and it’s a place for good food, good music and good times. www.randols.com
— Immerse yourself in Cajun culture — The Acadian Museum in Erath, Louisiana is dedicated to preserving and honoring the area’s Acadian heritage. Of special interest is a large photo of Walter Perrin, the litigator who waged a royal battle against the Queen of England. In the photo he’s holding Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Proclamation, which for the first time acknowledged the historical wrongs done to the Acadians by the Crown. (See “From Swamps to Crawfish” in the FEATURED SPECIALS section of this website.) www.acadianmuseum.com
— Meet the Acadians — Every other Saturday afternoon, Le Cafe du Musee, located next door to the Acadian Museum, holds jam sessions, and every Monday night it hosts Cajun suppers, which are donated by someone in the community. Folks gather to relax with their neighbors and catch up on the news. Outsiders are welcome, but they’d better parle francais. You can’t get much more local than this! www.acadianmuseum.com
— From Cracklins’ to Crawfish — A bit of history, a bit of culture and a lot of food combine to make the Cajun Food Tours a fun-filled, fact-filled and stomach-filling way to sample Louisiana’s unique foods. In a bus ride that takes about three hours, folks taste bits of everything from boudin and cracklins’ to gumbo and etouffee. They even learn the proper way to eat crawfish, which is quite an accomplishment! www.cajunfoodtours.com
— Dine with Bach — Even if you have to rearrange your schedule, be at the Parc Sans Souci open-air venue at noon on Friday during the spring and fall. It’s positively wonderful to listen to a free concert as you munch on sandwiches from home or buy a meal from a nearby restaurant. www.lafayettesciencemuseum.org
— Explore the earth — The Lafayette Science Museum, which sponsors the Bach Lunches, is a good place to visit once your ears are filled with music and your stomach is satisfied with food. There you can use a robotic arm, chat with fish through a virtual aquarium, and touch minerals from around the world. www.lafayettesciencemuseum.org
— Shreveport Municipal Auditorium — A greatly under-publicized attraction, the Shreveport Auditorium is fascinating both historically and artistically. Historically, it’s the first place where Elvis performed professionally. Artistically, it’s been called the finest example of Art Deco architecture in Louisiana. In short, it’s an absolutely charming, not-to-be missed place. Tours are by appointment; contact two weeks in advance by calling (318) 518-5027. www.shreveportmunicipalauditorium.com
— Eat where the Magnolias stars ate — When mega-stars Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine and Sam Shepard were in Natchitoches filming Steel Magnolias, they favored Mariner’s, a family owned restaurant that overlooks Sibley Lake. www.marinersrestaurant.com
— Visit the Clementine Hunter Exhibit — Clementine Hunter (mid 1880s–1988) was an American original, an African-American woman who spoke through paint to tell the story of rural Louisiana. Her works range from small paintings to huge murals, many of which are currently on display at the Northwest Louisiana History Museum in Natchitoches. The exhibit runs through early April 2016, at which time they’ll be returned to the African House on the nearby Melrose Plantation. www.louisianastatemuseum.org