In New Orleans “speak” – the language often used by New Orleanians to give meaning and pronunciation to certain local words – the word lagniappe (pronounced “lan-yap”) means “a little something extra”, “something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure”. Mark Twain writes about the word in a chapter on New Orleans in Life on the Mississippi (1883). He called it “a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get.” So what is that little something extra that the Lady New Orleans has to offer? We have a 4-day weekend to discover.
First Night Welcomes
A little something extra is immediately evident with our early check-in and warm welcome at the beautiful Beaux-Arts International House Hotel. Ideally situated in the Central Business District, the dramatic lobby offers 23′ ceilings, ornate pilasters and intimate groupings of shabby-chic furniture hand crafted by local artisans. We settle into our comfy room, get our bearings and confirm some reservations for the next four days. A pre-dinner drink is in order and we plop ourselves in the Hotel’s plush, antiqued and mottled, velvety-red bar Loa. The talented mixologist Steve and the charming Allyson recommend a local Bourbon for John and shake a very cold, straight up martini for me. Dinner tonight is at Lüke, Chef John Besh’s homage to the grand Franco-German brasseries of old New Orleans and is an easy NOLA saunter around the corner from the hotel. We are greeted by a bustling bistro room and a welcoming oyster bar and are feted and feasted by Chef Matt Regan’s wonderful food. A truly lagniappe “first night welcome to New Orleans” feast. Wandering across the Canal Street, Perley Thomas Red Streetcar tracks, we dodge the rowdy revelers, bachelor-ette and frat-boy laden party buses and wander the tranquil, gas lit and quiet Chartres and Royal Streets of the French Quarter, easy ambling and window shopping until we stumble across the jazz-filled and cobbled Jackson Square, bathed in New Orleans lamp light.
“A Bit of Bourbon Weather”
We crave some typical brunch options as Friday morning breaks sunny but with some high level threatening rain-clouds looming on the Mississippi horizon.
“Looks like a bit of bourbon weather out there” the hotel doorman casually mentions. In other words, be prepared to jump in and out of some bourbon-serving bars for a languid 10 minute cocktail as the rain comes pelting down. We drop our name and join the outdoor line up at The Ruby Slipper, a popular and noisy breakfast joint known for their house specialties including BBQ Shrimp & Grits, Eggs Cochon and Migas. We are primed for our wander and jump on the Big Red Bus for a tour of the city. We hop on at RiverWalk, New Orleans’ newly opened boardwalk-walk on the Mississippi. Our tour taklinkes us through the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater, a picturesque residential neighborhood a mile or so downriver from the French Quarter, where we view typical New Orleans “shot-gun” architectural style houses. These uniquely Southern African and Haitian influenced houses are long and narrow, usually no more than 12 feet wide, with rooms arranged one behind the other and doors at each end of the house. Visitors to the Marigny neighbourhood spend whole weekends with the locals romping around Frenchmen Street, bar-hopping for live music or eating out along its increasingly diverse restaurant row. We hop off the bus at the corner of Hagan and Toulouse in Mid-City at Parkway Bakery and Tavern for “the best poor boy in town”, a neighborhood landmark since opening 1911. John opts for the Parkway Caprese and I munch on the Golden Fried Catfish, both “Dressed”. Yum. Double Yum.
Dinner tonight is at Cochon in the city’s up and coming Warehouse/Arts district. Umbrellas are up and down and we slip in the front door as the sun returns and dries the water-laden streets. The room is warm and bustling with warehouse-themed brick predominating the theme. We have an early reservation (did I mention how busy the New Orleans eating scene is?) and grab a pre-dinner Tin Roof Brewery “Perfect Tin” pint while we wait for our table. Once seated, we immediately acknowledge some more New Orleans lagniappe: as with dinner last evening at Lüke, we find ourselves engaged in animated and unreserved conversations with our fellow diners. This appears to be typical NOLA behaviour. Delicious starters of arugula & watermelon salad and a mushroom salad with beef jerky and lemon dressing are followed with oven-roasted red fish “Fisherman Style” with pickled fennel for me, and a delicious soft-shell crab for John. We wander back through the Central Business District and navigate a Friday night all the way to the end of Bourbon Street. Drinks and easy piano are all part of the laid back, candle lit atmosphere of Jean LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States. A New Orleans brick en poste building dating from 1722, the pub is one of the three oldest buildings in New Orleans and houses many types of lingering spirits both liquid and celestial. Always popular with both locals and tourists alike who want to escape brash Bourbon Street.
More Bourbon Weather
Saturday morning greets us with an 80% chance of rain ALL day and we decide to turn our original plans into a rain-stroll saunter to the Garden District via Magazine Street with an anticipated ending over Brunch at Atchafalaya. The “bourbon weather” rain seems to add to the wet mystery and romance of this dripping district where author Anne Rice lives and has set many of her novels. Quaint shopping and architectual gems along Magazine Street keep us pushing on towards brunch. A Jazzy-Honky-tonk trio welcomes our wet feet to Atchafalaya and after being seated, we indulge in their popular make it yourself Bloody Mary bar, featuring numerous types of home-pickled garnish options (including green beans, asparagus tips, peppers and cauliflower) to top off your choice of green tomato or traditional homemade tomato juices. John opts for the Oysters Rockefeller Eggs Benedict garnished with Apple Smoked Bacon and I nosh on The Boudreaux – sunny side eggs, alligator sausage, jalapeño corn bread, crystal potatoes and creole hollandaise – wonderful. The rain has stopped – at least for the moment – and we start our wet Garden District wander; squishing our way past cemeteries and original plantation homes and strolling into the city by the famous St Charles Avenue and the many grand homes and mansions that adorn “The Avenue”. The National World War II Museum is a consideration if the rain doesn’t stop, but it (mainly) does and we continue our walk. Despite the best intentions to wait until dinner for more food, we end up at the famous Central Grocery back in the French Quarter, and in the non-fancy ambience split a muffaletta, the famous Italian sandwich in the store that originated them: genoa salami, mortadella, ham, mozzarella, provolone layered on focaccia-type bread, the wonderful chunky olive salad spilling out and onto the counters and stools we share with locals and tourists alike. Central Grocery Tip: unless you are really hungry, you really only need to order a ‘half’ sandwich for the two of you. Trust me, you will have more than enough muffaletta memories to take home with you.
Final good-bye NOLA dinner is at the Hotel Modern and Tivoli and Lee, on Lee Circle. We discover that it is right on the St. Charles Streetcar, so walk from our hotel to The Avenue (1 block) and grab the streetcar. At the restaurant, we find that it is a bit of a quiet night, so we grab a luxurious booth with a great view of the circle and the streetcars going past, and start with one of their signature cocktails, a Modern Margarita (hibiscus-jalepeño infused tequila, Solerno, lime, Italian grapefruit soda). After a day of great eating, we chow down on some lovely green salads (to appease the guilt – a bit) and then both opt for delicious juicy beef ribs, which turn out to be yet another hit!
A Little Something Extra
New Orleans truly is a lady with lagniappe: As Twain said: “When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans — and you say ‘What, again? — no, I’ve had enough’ the other party says, ‘But just this one time more — this is for lagniappe.’ ” That little something extra was evident everywhere the Lady NOLA entertains. The people: warm, friendly, even the homeless say good day to you in a buoyant southern -hospitality kind of way. The bountiful blending of French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Native American, and African influences, as well as general Southern cuisine adds a whole lot of something extra to the incredible food choices in The Crescent City. The New Orleans boomtown of the last century—thrived and grew on waterborne commerce and the vibrant, new RiverWalk returns the mighty Mississippi to the edge of this historic shipping city and is vital connection between the American heartland and the rest of the world.
“Oh, that’s for lagniappe.”, Twain says. Indeed, “a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get”.
Our Visit and certain meals and accommodations featured in this weekend guide were sponsored by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. A special thanks to Christine for her co-ordination. Thanks as well to Amy at the International House Hotel and Jeff and staff at Lüke for their lagniappe.