Eat, Shop, Meander — NOLA
Last time I visited The Birthplace of Jazz, I was with a group of girls celebrating my college bestie’s bachelorette party. The weekend consisted of copious amounts of wine, endless evenings of music, and no shortage of laughs. This visit called for bonding time with Mom and a whole lotta oysters.
I have to say that May is the best time to visit NOLA. It’s just on the brink of the hot season, but not unbearable. If you have three days and comfy walking shoes, you can see most of The Big Easy.
Enjoy breakfast at Coterie Restaurant & Oyster Bar and start your morning off with just the right amount of sugar and protein. Although I do love beignets in bed, (restaurant name) makes tasty little fried pillows that are worth getting out of bed for. Try the crab cakes with fried green tomatoes. They’re quintessentially southern and will round your meal out with just the right amount of food to fuel a day of exploring.
Hop the trolly on Canal street and ride to City Park. Make your way to the singing tree and take a minute to soak in the sounds from the giant windchimes. Beat the heat and rent a paddle boat to cruise around the big lake. There are botanical gardens and an art museum. I opted to instead walk around the stream that runs through the park and admire all the beautiful swampy trees. I half expected an alligator to pop out of the water!
Take a Lyft to St Roch market and dine at your choice of anything from a kale quinoa salad at The Daily Beet to anything but basic rotisserie chicken at Good Bird or even smoked brisket tacos at La Mezcla. The stylish food hall echoes with laughter and is a great place to post up if you are hit by a classic NOLA rainstorm. I rounded out my visit drooling over flourless chocolate cake and beautiful cupcakes at Bittersweet Confections.
Take a well-deserved nap at your hotel and prepare for a night out on the town. Last visit, I went to Bacchanal Wine and loved the charcuterie board options, the extensive wine list and, of course, the music. The string lights and outdoor seating makes it feel like a private show in a friend’s backyard. That is if your friends are talented jazz musicians!
I highly recommend breakfast at Two Chicks. They offer pressed juice that brought me back to life, and a number of creative menu options. Croissant egg really yummy tomatoes. From there you can head down to Magazine Street for a stroll. Magazine Street is known for its photo ops and shops. There are boutique stores that have anything from basically free sandals (mine were $18…I didn’t ask how they were made, please forgive me.) to dresses, jewelry and even funny cards made in NOLA.
Take your time and work up an appetite. Saucy’s BBQ is a great way to satisfy lunch cravings. The beef ribs were covered in some kind of spicy love rub and the hot sauces ranged from sweet to “fantasy”. Fantasy had the right amount of kick to make me say, “wowzers!” It didn’t stop me from pouring on a little to elevate every bite. The Saucy’s server recommended the goat cheese Mac and I am so glad she did. I typically avoid Mac because of the level of creamy ingredients. This goat cheese left me and my tummy feeling completely satisfied. The team at Saucy’s is so friendly, I wished I had an extra meal or more room so I could try their alligator sandwich too!
Tonight is Frenchman & Decatur Street night. Coops place has a true southern feel and flavor. Mom almost ordered a salad until the waiter said, “you can have a salad at home, have the gumbo.” She laughed and took his recommendation. I almost ordered a glass of wine until he confirmed that I was from California. He said, “yeah you’re not going to like any of the wine here. What about beer?” I said I’d take an IPA and it went perfectly with my meal. He was right, I was disappointed with the majority of wine in NOLA, but guess what? The South is not known for wine and that is just fine with me. Just like my mom can have salad at home, I can have wine there too.
We cruised over to Vaso and my favorite, The Spotted Cat. There is a huge artisan market outside of each jazz club. If I could have walked out with my fingers covered in rings I would have, but I held back. Art ranged from photography to retro prints to voodoo paintings. I don’t think I’m the only one that walks down the streets and takes photos of every colored house or tries to capture a snapshot the beads hanging on the power lines.
I recommend getting to The Spotted Cat before 11 or else it’s insanely crowded. There is a one drink minimum and y’all know that holding a drink when smashed up against a stranger is never fun.
Sleep in after a late night out and have an early lunch at Killer Po Boys. I researched almost every PoBoy spot in NOLA and the reason I chose this one is because of the unique flavor combinations. The think outside of the basic box and offer Ham & Pimento Cheese, BBQ Chicken Confit and even Smoked Salmon PoBoys. The day I went in, they had a Greek-inspired lamb PoBoy, and the filling flavors led me to take a nap on the post-lunch trolly ride.
Burn off a percentage of your lunch on a bike ride around NOLA with Free-Wheelin’ Bike Tours. The seasoned guide Teddy is a 5th generation NOLA resident and it was clear based on his knowledge of everything from the history of pirates in the city, to stories of families buried in St. Roch, the oldest Catholic cemetery in the U.S.
Wanna feel like you’re eating in a modern/seaside version of a Cheers bar? After one evening, everyone will know your name at Grand Isle. They make a point to get to know their customers, and won’t hold back their recommendations when one starts eating oysters like a tourist. I learned a few things about oysters in NOLA:
#1 – Oysters come in all textures/sizes, and the ones in The Big Easy are freaking huge
#2 – Don’t eat your oysters out of the shell, unless you’d like to be embarrassed
This is how to eat Oysters in the South
- Squeeze a lemon over your oysters in the shell.
- Get out a saltine cracker and put some horseradish on it
- Put some cocktail sauce on next
- Place the oyster on top
- Pour hot sauce over the oyster
- Put it in your mouth!
#3 – Horseradish is very strong. Use sparingly.
#4 Grand Isle has an unbeatable happy hour with .75 oysters and 1/2 price drinks every night from 4-6.
A memorable way to wrap up your NOLA trip is to take the river cruise on the Creole Queen from 7-9. The leisurely tour cruises down the Mississippi River at sunset skimming past old buildings, farms, and docks. The live band starts up about halfway through the ride, and mellow easy sweet songs of the South roll through the boat. Mom and I couldn’t help but dance the early evening away until we docked.
Skip dinner on the boat and instead make a 9:30 pm reservation at Cochon. Becuase it’s stationed in an old warehouse, the place has a rustic industrial feel. However, the staff couldn’t be friendlier and completely unpretentious. They have a Cochon butcher next door also selling homemade pickled everything and all sorts of casual dining favorites. The guys told me that summer is sweaty and the city slows down, so they spend a lot of the hot days and evenings putting together all the homemade pickled products up in their private dining venue on the second floor. Maybe it was the ambiance, or the people, or just the curious menu (which included alligator!), but I felt at home.
Thank you NOLA, for the glorious, music-filled and always sweaty memories. I can’t wait to meet visit you again.
Where to Stay
What to Pack
Happy Travels Friends!