by Shannon Connell
New Orleans is a place where African American and European lineage and traditions collide to create a culture completely unique to the city; there’s really nowhere else like it in the world. In New Orleans you can sense a kind of energy that permeates the atmosphere, likely instilled by the passion and pride by the people who live there. They seem to carry it with them everywhere they go. You can see it in their step and hear it in their voice when they talk about the place they love so much. They are a community that has endured much and yet they still laugh and love in a city that always finds reason to celebrate.
The cuisine is eclectic. Don’t be surprised to discover dishes with alligator and crawfish on the menu among other quintessential Cajun favorites. You’ll hear music and merriment in the streets until all hours of the evening, particularly on Bourbon Street and other popular areas in the French Quarter.
Take a stroll around the cobblestone streets of the historic district to experience “The Big Easy” for yourself. Snap shots in front of the picturesque Disney-like steeples of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square and then steep yourself in superstition at Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo Shop. Whatever you do while you are in New Orleans, if you’re looking for adventure and a sampling of the city’s cuisine, try one or all of the items on my NOLA bucket list!
Savor a Sassy Sandwich at Napolean House
History seems to seep through the walls of this rustic 200-year-old residence-turned-restaurant. The original owner who was mayor of New Orleans planned to house fallen French patriarch Napolean during his exile, but that purpose of the hideaway home was rendered unnecessary when news of Napolean’s death reached the Americas.
Today the legendary Napolean House boasts some of the best cuisine in New Orleans, doing justice to local favorites like jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish etouffe and my personal favorite — the muffuletta. Characterized by a unique mix of ingredients and it’s unusually large silhouette, the muffuletta (typically pronounced muff-uh-LOT-uh) is an epic sandwich with countless toppings including ham, salami, pastrami, swiss cheese, provolone cheese and the secret ingredient — a homemade Italian olive salad that’s a blend of olives, celery, cauliflower, carrot, capers, roasted red peppers, capers, olive oil and spices — atop a crusty Focaccia-like loaf.
If you order a full sandwich, be warned that it’s very large, so you may want to consider splitting with a friend or opting for half or even a quarter order. If it’s not too hot outside, grab a seat in the shady courtyard or in the cool dimly lit interior adorned with decorations that honor the former French crown himself.
Address: 500 Chatres St., New Orleans, La. 70130
Go for a Ride around the Carousel Bar & Lounge at Hotel Monteleone
You may find this colorful stop, once frequented by Ernest Hemmingway, brings out your child within. Hop on a seat around the larger-than-life rotating carousel and enjoy a drink while you get to see the room from all views. The friendly, well-dressed bartenders and tastefully mixed drinks make the atmosphere seem all the more whimsical, but beware their drinks are a bit pricey, so don’t stay on this ride too long if you don’t want to break your bank.
Address: 214 Royal St., New Orleans, La. 70130
Snack on a Sugar-Covered Beignet
Despite the universal appeal and convenient Jackson Square location of Café du Monde, a 24-hour establishment where a swat team of paper-hatted teens serve up fresh-from-the-oven beignets – deep-fried French donuts topped with a dusting of powdered sugar — along with hot and cold coffee beverages. Try the frozen Café au Lait for a sweet treat that will cool you down or the less-ubiquitous Café Beignet is a refreshing alternative. You’ll find this quieter haven has more menu options, a cooler, cleaner interior and equally if not more tasty beignets.
Café du Monde
Address: 800 Decatur St. and One Poydras, Suite 27, New Orleans, La. 70116
Address: 311 Bourbon St. and 334-B Royal St., New Orleans, La. 70130
Sit and Dream by the Mississippi
Just across the train tracks from Jackson Square are a set of wooden steps that disappear right into the swirling muddy waters of the Mississippi. If you’re lucky, you may find a lone saxophonist playing jazz or the blues by this quintessential New Orleans scene while ferry boats and barges float by. If you close your eyes and let yourself dream a little, you may find you briefly have been taken back to another time – a time when Mark Twain dreamed of Huckleberry Finn or a day when voodoo and superstition reigned in this proud city where cultures collide into a single melting pot that hails African American, French, Spanish and Creole heritages.
Location: cross the train tracks just past the French Quarter Visitor Center located at 916 North Peters St., New Orleans, La. 70116
Grab a Drink at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
Admittedly tourist, Lafitte’s is a popular Bourbon Street hangout that many claim to be the oldest bar in America. Despite whatever mixed misnomers you may hear about Lafitte’s, the atmosphere is worth the eight to 10 dollars you can plan to shell out per drink. Favorites include the Hurricane, which is considered by some to be the best in New Orleans, and the purple-tinged Voodoo Daquiri, which has a slushy consistency and grape flavor that masks a secretly potent recipe that you likely won’t be able to get out of the bartenders.
Address: 941 Bourbon St., New Orleans, La. 70116
Stop and Smoke a Cigar at Cigar Factory New Orleans
If you are a fan of cigars, then this is a must-see stop for you. Watch while cigar factory workers hand-roll aged tobacco before stepping into the humidor for a sensory overload. If you like bold flavors go with the Numero Dos. For something milder, choose a cigar from their Plantation Reserve collection. Other perks? You can grab a seat and smoke a cigar with friends while playing a round of dominoes, or check out the cigar museum at the back of the shop and dozens of framed photos of celebrity visits that adorn the walls.
Address: 415 Decatur St. and 206 Bourbon St., New Orleans, La. 70130
Shannon Connell lives in Charlotte, NC and is a recent college graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, making her a diehard UNC basketball fan by default. By day, she works as a public relations and marketing specialist at Presbyterian Hospital. At night she loves to cook, blog, work towards her dreams of writing a novel and dabble in wedding planning (still a couple years away).