A New Orleans Love Affair: The Food

I’ve written extensively about my love for New Orleans (stemming from my original hatred of it), and last week Randi and I headed down with our significant others for an actual vacation (my first non-work trip to the big easy!). There’s lots to tell, but let’s start with the main focus of the trip: the food.

We arrived on Thursday, and the first thing we did was walk over to Cochon, conveniently a few blocks from The Westin. If you like pork, bacon, and/or flavorful, delicious food, this place is for you. If you’re a vegetarian, maybe not so much. But this may have been the best meal we had during the four-day trip. We had to resist the temptation to come back over the next few days. Matt went crazy over the Louisiana Cochon, which they describe as a pork hockey puck. I had the oyster and bacon sandwich and almost died of happiness. Also, we sat directly next to Gina Gershon, and she looked gorgeous. We may have eavesdropped on her conversation. Note: this was not the most exciting celebrity we encountered in New Orleans. On Saturday, Matt SPOKE to Sylvester Stallone. And by spoke, I mean Stallone told him to move and Matt laughed in his face. But a story for another time. Here’s my inconspicuous, paparazzi shot of Gershon:

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The next day, after a breakfast of coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, we had lunch at Johnny’s Po’ Boys. I loved it here because it’s just a no frills, original Po’ Boy shop that’s been around for 60 years. Plus I did a campaign with them for work about a million years ago so I feel a connection to this sweet little hidden shop in the French Quarter.

Dinner Friday night was at August, John Besh’s upscale restaurant. John Besh is a famous New Orleans chef, so I felt like I should experience one of his meals. The food was good, but the atmosphere was way too stuffy for this fun loving, anything-goes kind of city. We all agreed that we preferred the down and dirty, good food without the song and dance restaurants New Orleans is so famous for. Also, they lost our reservation and weren’t very kind about it, so that was annoying. This would be our only slightly disappointing food experience of the entire trip.

Saturday – obviously back to Cafe Du Monde for coffee and beignets. They are SO incredibly delicious every single time.The line is always going to be crazy, but I can’t stress enough how worth it the wait is. Just trust me. Or look:

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We also had a lovely walk from our hotel along the Mississippi River to the cafe each morning. A snapshot from our room with a view:

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Lunch that day was at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a cab ride away or a long walk from the French Quarter, but again well worth it. You wait outside to go into this plain looking dining room with it’s own historical memorabilia on the walls, and proceed to eat the best fried chicken you’ve ever had in your entire life, no matter where you’re from.

Saturday night was the Krewe du Vieux parade, the official start to Mardi Gras (that story in an upcoming post), but after the parade died down and we’d had enough of the French Quarter we took a cab to the Bywater to check out Matt’s friend’s restaurant, Pizza Delicious. And people, it lives up to it’s name. What started as a telephone-order-only restaurant that had just a takeout window and ran out of pizza every night has expanded to a modern full service pizzeria where you can watch everything that happens in the kitchen as you order your food. The pizzas are amazing, as are the salads, garlic knots and likely everything else on the menu. Locals will tell you it’s the only NY style pizza in Louisiana. If you find yourself at Pizza Delicious, say hi to one of the owners, Greg, and tell him Amy and Matt sent you.

Sunday, our last full day in New Orleans and our last breakfast at Cafe Du Monde, we ate lunch at Parkway because everyone told us they had the best Po’ Boys in New Orleans. When you go, eat the roast beef and/or the shrimp. Randi and I split both, and even though we both liked the shrimp better, it’s worth it to try the roast beef po’ boy that made them famous.

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Our last meal in New Orleans was at Sylvain. It’s hard to eat in this city on a Sunday because so many restaurants are closed, but luckily we were able to get a table at Sylvain around 9:30. It was lovely eating in their beautiful outdoor area (especially since it was January,) but we were so full from that afternoon’s po’ boy excursion that Randi and I couldn’t even eat our entrees – the slow cooked pork sandwiches that looked oh so delicious. We did eat plenty of appetizers that we loved, mostly the beef belly and the brussels sprouts. The service here was excellent and we drank some fantastic wine. I’d like to go back here when I have more of an appetite.

There were so many other restaurants we wanted to try, but four days in New Orleans just isn’t enough. And even more days if you include my previous trips to the city. Guess we’ll just have to go back!

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New Orleans and Me – A Love Story

Thank you.  Thank you place of employment, for giving me work on an account that allows us to do good things and sponsor cool events.  Thank you for putting me in charge of said events.  Thank you Laura Mayes for creating the Mom 2.0 summit and thank you Megan Jordan for not allowing horrible things to ruin your spirit, and for being the storyteller you are, on paper (shit…we need a new expression for this…on the interwebs?) and in person.  Thank you both for coming together to make the stories of hope event at the Eiffel Society in New Orleans a true success, on a professional and very personal level.

Thank you Heather Armstrong, queen of the mommy bloggers, for not running away when I approached you to tell you my old friend and former roommate was your biggest fan.  Thank you for remembering that she waited for three hours outside your book signing in Brooklyn so she could meet you face to face.  Thank you for remembering that her mom emailed you after she passed away last year to tell you what an inspiration you were to her, as an aspiring write herself.  Thank you for talking to me at length about her, and for being truly interested in the story of her life.  And thank you for what you did Saturday night, after being reminded of Robin’s story, in front of hundreds of people (and thousands of online followers) dedicating your story of hope to her.

Thank you universe for allowing me to play some role in having Robin’s idol honor her on a stage in a public setting, in front of so many other talented writers.  Thank you for allowing her memory to live on 15 months after her passing.  She must be going ballistic up in heaven knowing that the one and only Dooce so publicly acknowledged her.

What a vast difference this weekend was compared to that first trip to New Orleans.  From hating the cheesiness and spring break-like atmosphere to finally understanding it after interacting with those who were affected by the hurricane, to actually having a deeply profound evening that overwhelmed me with emotion.  New Orleans, we have quite the relationship.  If visit number one was an awkward first date, I think we just consummated our relationship, and I’m even inclined to say I may have just fallen in love with you.

Saturday evening, we (we being Tide Loads of Hope) threw an event at the Eiffel Society, a beautiful structure that used to sit atop the Eiffel Tower.  The event, called “Stories of Hope,” featured 10 incredibly prolific writers who rose to fame because of their written musings on what we’re currently calling “mom blogs.”  This was the concluding event for the Mom 2.0 Summit, a “mom blogging” conference held this year in New Orleans.  We decided months ago that since New Orleans was the birthplace of the Tide Loads of Hope program and, let’s face it, Tide loves moms, we would absolutely have to be a part of this event.  We had each reader dedicate their story of hope to someone they knew who was affected by disaster.

Which is why I was so touched that, in addition to dedicating her story to someone she knew in Japan, Heather, queen of the moms, chose my old friend Robin, aspiring writer/designer/friend/fiancee, to honor.

Like I said, this trip to New Orleans was quite different.

All along, I thought traveling to different places was the most inspiring thing I could do.  Seeing beautiful places, going on new adventures.  Why did I fall in love with Morocco?  Was it the scenic coast of Essouira, or the overwhelming aromas of the souk? Did I love Guatemala because of the beautiful volcanoes I saw across Lake Atilan? Undoubtedly those scenes were breathtaking, but when I think back to some of the best trips I’ve taken, I think of the people.  I think of Hayat, and Tim and Brian, and the Moroccan families, and the Guatemalan children, and even the people with whom I traveled to these places.  Sure, I hated the cheesiness of Bourbon Street when I first stumbled upon it last summer.  When I saw Frenchman Street, the disappointment turned to appreciation and admiration.  But this time, this was a whole new level of amazement.  Could the Mom 2.0 summit have happened in any other city? Sure.  But if it had, would we have heard Megan’s story about losing her house in Hurricane Katrina, a story that went beyond anything she’s publicly written?  Did hearing her tale in person, in the very place where it happened give us all a stronger connection to the Gulf Coast? Absolutely.  Was I embarrassed to cry at a work function? No, I was proud.  Because it turns out, I’m not as inspired by the beauty of the places I go as I am by the people I meet while in said places.

At the end of the night, Laura and the Mom 2.0 gang made a donation to the Red Cross with the money from Tide’s sponsorship.  It’s hard not to walk away completely inspired when you’ve spent an entire weekend soaking up the awesomeness of creative women who are probably some of the best writers and storytellers in the country.   I went in as a PR chick only there to represent her brand and throw an event that people would enjoy.  I walked away feeling like part of a community.

And for that, women of Mom 2.0, writers, storytellers, families abroad, creators, designers – I thank all of you.


Ok, New Orleans, I finally get it.

My summer of 12 hour workdays came to an end when my team and I traveled to New Orleans to put on a concert commemorating the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I’ll spare you the details, since I don’t want to make this a work related blog, but we basically paid a high level spokesperson (Faith Hill) to perform a concert in New Orleans to honor those who have stayed in the area in the five years since Katrina hit. I wrote about this in communication materials, spoke about it to media and spent months preparing for it, but I don’t think I actually GOT it until the evening of the actual concert. See, we made sure the theater was filled with local residents as well as people who worked at relief organizations in the area. About an hour before the concert, we realized a mistake had been made, and we had about 50 extra tickets right in the front orchestra section.

After I got over my panic attack and readjusted some of the seating, I took a handful of tickets, and right before the concert started, I made my way up to the upper balcony section. I went up to a couple and asked if they were with a relief organization. They actually said, “No, we’re with the fire department.” I looked at them quizzically and said, “Well, that’s certainly a relief organization,” and handed them two orchestra section tickets. They were amazed, and thanked me before going downstairs to take their upgraded seats. After handing out a few more tickets, word must’ve spread throughout the upper balcony to what I was doing. One elderly man came over to me and tapped me on the shoulder as I was giving out some more tickets to some folks from Homeland Security. He said to me, “I hate to ask, but is there any way you can upgrade me and my wife? We’re sitting all the way up there…and I know you’re giving these to relief organizations. I’m from St. Bernard’s Project, and I helped save thousands of lives when the hurricane hit.” I smiled, and handed him the two tickets I had that were closest to the front. He thanked me, and I said, “no…thank you!” I was thrilled to be the person to give something to this man who had clearly given so much to his community.

Later that evening, as the lights went down and Faith Hill took the stage, I was amazed that my team and I had just put on a large scale concert. But as amazing as that feeling of accomplishment was, the part of the evening that stood out most was being able to give something to that man I met in the upper balcony. In all communication leading up to the concert, we kept saying how this concert was about the people of New Orleans. And as great as it was to have coordinated such a high profile event, what we had been saying all along really held true, the evening wasn’t about the theater we had decorated, the production we had coordinated, or the celebrity we had signed on – it was wholeheartedly about the people of the area.

After the concert, my boss took us out to show us the “real New Orleans,” on Frenchmen Street. Again, I finally understood what people love about this town. We entered a small, dark bar, where there was a five piece brass band playing and four or five couples dancing in a way I had only seen in old movies. The quickness of their feet, the energy they exerted into the room, you couldn’t help but stop and stare…and wish you could dance like that. I felt like I had been transported to the 1940’s. And I loved it. After finishing an Abita beer, we headed to the next bar, where there was another brass band playing, and a female singer who had the most amazing voice, again feeling like we had been transported to the 1940’s. There was even a piano in the ladies room of this bar. It was hilarious, and incredible – like nothing I had ever seen before.

I finally understand why everyone falls in love with this town. Once I veered away from the chaos of Bourbon Street, met a few locals, and entered a few dark jazz clubs, it all began to make sense. And I won’t even get into the part of the evening when we followed the “bicycle balladerist” out of what our cab driver dubbed “the safe zone” and got some po’boys in the ghetto of New Orleans. Another experience I won’t soon forget. Our night ended with the Westin room service guy delivering complimentary ice cream to my room at 4 a.m., while I was devouring po’boys and other New Orleans delicacies on my bed with my bosses. Now, where else can you have an experience like that?

From Cheesy to Cheesier

Although I can’t stand Atlantic City, for some reason I was excited to go New Orleans for the first time on a business trip this week. I was kind of disappointed to find that it was just one big cheesy spring break spot. I’m sure there’s local culture somewhere, but I definitely didn’t see it. Maybe it was because I stayed right in the French Quarter and didn’t know where to go to find the good jazz clubs and the famous New Orleans cuisine – although I did enjoy a delicious breakfast of chicory coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde. I also don’t recommend going in July, the humidity was like nothing I had ever experienced. I broke into a sweat upon exiting my hotel room, and walking around was brutal. I took three showers in one morning so I wouldn’t be a complete disaster when arriving at the venue I was checking out for our upcoming work event. I did stumble upon one really beautiful art gallery that featured local artists, mostly focused on jazz paintings and colorful fish murals. They were displayed in an outdoor garden which was really lovely to browse in.

Through the disappointing experience of seeing this new place I had always been curious about, I wondered if living in New York just made me completely immune to being surprised and impressed by anything anymore. Even the beautiful cathedral in Jackson Square, slightly removed from the cheesiness of Bourbon Street, was only okay to me – it looked like a less impressive version of the national cathedral in D.C. I didn’t even see the damn oil spill. At least that would’ve made me feel relevant and connected to something that’s going on in the world right now. Hopefully when I return next month for the actual work event, I get to explore more of this city and find out what the big deal is…