New Orleans is a beautiful city but a haunting feel lingers all around. Homes left boarded up and empty to fight the elements are a sad sight but this incredible community of people has so much to offer.
The streets actually remind me of an English town, were it not for the captivating trees that line the roads in the garden district. These trees are giants with spiralling branches reaching far across the lanes of traffic, desperately trying to grasp each other, they are covered in a thick coat of aptly named resurrection fern, making us feel like we are walking around in a scene from jumanji. Their shallow roots have played havoc with the pavements, creating concrete mountains, giving quite a workout but allowing little or no access for anyone wheelchair bound.
We have arrived way too early to check in at our hotel but the lady who cooks the breakfasts will not stand for us being left outside, calling us her 'baby's', she hauls us in and tries to force feed us coffee and eggs. This woman recounts her own horrific story of hurricane katrina. Having been trapped in her own house for 3 days with 28 feet of water, she is a survivor and takes nothing for granted anymore.
After spending our first day riding round on the oldest street cars In the world on Charles St, we head for a restaurant named 'Boucherie'.
With a fine dining look these guys have come a long way since they started out as a food truck. All the meats they serve here are smoked on site and the staff are very knowledgable about every aspect of the menu.
We want to try all the dishes that are authentic to New Orleans and Louisiana and luckily, this place has styled itself on serving southern cuisine with a modern twist.
Boudin balls remind me of a Dutch favourite 'bitterballen'. A house made pork sausage called boundin is coated in an egg, flour dip then crumbed and deep fried, these golden balls ( sorry) were ever so moreish and finished with a paprika/ Cajun spice.
The succulent blackened shrimp were served up traditional style, alongside some cheddar cheese grits. Polenta like in texture the grits were coated in finely cut sautéed onion and a salty bacon vinegarette.
We finally get to try a southern Louisiana gumbo and it doesn't disappoint. Although this place has its own take on the dish, preferring a broth like soup rather than a thick roux base, it is delicious. A thinly shredded crab cake covers the traditional fish aspect and a warming heat lingers after every mouthful.
Dessert offers a novelty krispy kreme doughnut pudding with rum syrup. It is soaked In sugary goodness but with the quality of the food this restaurant is producing, they could easily just make their own brioche based bread and butter pudding and skip all the rubbish that goes into those doughnuts.
Our other pud is a dome of dense chocolate ganache and brick of stacked and glazed, black and white sesame seeds. A bit too thick to bite comfortably but packed with nutty flavour.
The next morning, we set off on the coffee run and find what looks like a shipping container but is actually home to 'French truck coffee'. These guys have their own roasting factory going on behind the counter and supply to around 50 cafe/restaurants in the area. They originally set up shop after trying some beans that had been roasted only 2 days beforehand and decided this was the only way to drink coffee, damn straight.
Strolling around the French quarter, everyone has heard the name 'cafe du monde' and just to satisfy our curiosity, we go ahead and grab some of their famous beignets. Zilch customer service, and a bag of icing sugar later, we're happy we tried them but we wouldn't come again. There must be other people making a beignet with more passion round here but we didn't have a chance to find them, sad times.
We head out of the centre for dinner and find a family owned restaurant called 'Toup's Meatery'. Now I'm not going to ramble on about all the dishes we had here because the star of the show was their house smoked, house cured Meatery board. Full to the brim with boudin balls, pork belly chunks reduced in red wine to resemble and taste like meat sweeties. Confit lambs heart (my first and last), spicy rum glazed winter sausage, sticky caramelised dates wrapped in bacon, hog's head cheese which is a course pate of pork that has been shredded and set with reduced stock. A light and creamy chicken liver mousse with added sherry for a little sweetness and my personal favourite the crackling. Each individual nugget had a whole bite of meat left on it so along with the satisfying crack, you get a burst of juices from the tender pork.
The staff were So lovely and really wanted to know our honest feelings about each aspect of the meal. We even had kisses blown at us through the window as we left, service standards are high.
When I heard the name 'Willa Jean Bakery', I had pictured a small, simply decorated cafe with a happily plump lady, baking away for a loyal following of regulars. In fact, it is the complete opposite, except of course for the swarms of returning customers. High ceilings and innovative design of the wide open space in this cafe, capture our attention. A long counter displaying all the house baked pastries and breads, smell so tempting as we step through the door and a group of attentive smiley staff are waiting, ready to escort us to a fancy table with fabric napkins..ooooh.
They have a menu for every meal of the day and we had an awesome lunch but dessert was tricky. Naturally I wanted one of everything but the cookies looked particularly special. They were so good that I finished and then had to ask for another one which was a little embarrassing but I felt no judgment, (must happen all the time). Another thing I thought would interest people is the fact that the taps in the toilets were solar powered, motion sensored and just had me enthralled to the point of making 3 bathroom trips.
Picking up our bus tickets for our next trip, I would like to remind people that some parts of New Orleans are a little shady and generally unsafe. For example the greyhound bus station, the least savoury destination in any city but this one in particular had Georgia running across the car park, chased by a bedraggled looking man who's eyes were pointing in dramatically different directions.
After our meat feast last night, we fancied something lighter and it just so happened that 'seed' was right across the road from our hotel. 'Garden based and NOLA taste' is their motto, serving an all vegan menu with New Orleans flavours.
Whether you are vegan, veggie or neither, this restaurant is a must.
Their blue corn tortillas were enough to get us hooked. Fresh pops of blanched tomatoes and sweet corn with black beans, coriander and a dairy free queso. Sometimes it feels like vegan places are trying too hard to find meat alternatives and not being creative enough just using the glorious array of vegetables that are abundant, but these guys have it spot on. New Orleans is also known for a sandwich called a po' boy. Everywhere does them differently but 'seeds' fried aubergine version was memorable. Soft French baguette, filled with thinly sliced breadcrumbed then fried aubergine, topped with a soft red pepper and onion garnish and crisp lettuce.
When someone one laughs at you as you're buying cake, you tend to feel a little put off. Turns out, it was because the cake I was buying at 'Manhatten Jacks', is served by the slice and 1 slice is a 6th of the entire cake. Plus I was buying a pecan caramel tart. The woman behind me in the queue even bet me $10 that I wasn't going to finish it! Who makes a bet involving cake and a clearly, very hungry person? Ok so we didn't actually manage to finish it until our second helpings that evening but the point is that it did get finished. And that it was the most decadent and moist, chocolatey heaven of a cake.
You know when you get to a place where the food looks so good, that even if you're full to the brim, you still have to get something because you don't want to miss out? Well that happened when we got to 'District Donuts Sliders Brew'.
Having already eaten the worlds biggest slice of cake, I'm glad I made room for what is possibly the greatest cinnamon bun ever made. Like most, it was a sweet dough rolled in cinnamon and butter but it's stand out point was the creme Brûlée crown! They actually blow torch the icing on top to make a magical gooey, crunchy ecstasy. The fun doesn't stop there, alongside these kings of the cinnamon bun world, they serve doughnuts galore, excellent coffee and a menu of scratch made sliders. Some of which use a use a doughnut instead of a bread bun.
It has rained for 3 whole days whilst we have been in New Orleans and it has been such a relief from the heat. We appreciated every second of it, even though it was still on the hot and sticky side. I vow never again to use the rain as an excuse, for not getting outside and carrying on like it was a sunshiny day.
Next up Nashville.
G & S xxx