Being a food lover, eater and writer, it was quite embarrassing to admit that I had never been to New Orleans any time it would come up in conversation. It had been on my to-do list for years. I had always yearned to check out the local food scene, the raucous energy of Bourbon Street and the awesome sounds of Jazz Fest. While talking to other food and travel writers, everyone had experienced it at least once. Yet here I was, a total NOLA virgin.
When my friend Chrissy decided she wanted to go down South for her bachelorette party, I was overjoyed. She was contemplating visiting Nashville and New Orleans and I knew either one would be an interesting choice for me. What solidified her decision to experience was “the Big Easy” was simple: there was a food and wine festival coupled with a street fair coming to town the weekend of her bachelorette. Perfect timing.
Being the designated “foodie” (I know, I know, it’s a dirty word), I was asked to come up with a dining itinerary. I didn’t want to let my fellow bachelorettes down by explaining I hadn’t been to NOLA before. Instead, I did the next best thing. I reached out to my culinary network. I have many friends in the food and beverage industry who were much more knowledgeable than I when it came to dining in this fair city and I had one local friend, born and raised, whose parents still live in town.
Within a few weeks, I had more than enough suggestions. It was then up to me to pick the best spots for four ladies looking to celebrate my friend’s last freedom filled vacation. I chose a few swanky spots, a few local spots and some inventive cocktail bars to fill our itinerary.
We kicked off our first lunch, fresh off the plane, at Chef John Besh’s restaurant Borgne. While we were looking to indulge in local Louisiana comfort food, we did still have to fit into small dresses for the wedding, after all. Borgne had a great menu with gluten-free options for me and fresh seafood options that would be pleasing to everyone’s waistline. I thoroughly enjoyed the duck jalapeno poppers with bacon, the broiled Louisiana oysters in garlic sauce and the salt and pepper calamari dressed with squid ink aioli.
Our next stop was at cocktail bar, King Fish. I was told by a local to go for the cocktails, but to stay for the food. We did as we were told. The mixologist holding down the fort was nothing short of spectacular. I was partial to the French 75 with gin, lemon, sugar and champagne but the bartender also out did himself with their version of the Pimm’s Cup.
As for the food, we decided to go family-style as the menu had several gluten-free options to cater to my food allergy. We sampled the char grilled rabbit, the steak frites and the “junky chick” rotisserie. The rabbit was out of this world and paired with braised spinach in a rich Merlot reduction accompanied with bleu cheese shoestring potatoes. The savory cheese grits and the collard greens side dishes were just icing on the cake.
While still full from the prior night’s dining experience, we put on our walking shoes to head to the New Orleans Food Fest in the French Market. We strolled past the many food stations set up in the area during the street festival. I finally settled on a big bowl of crawfish and nachos with oysters and bacon. When I was filled to the brim and leaving the market, I stumbled upon a grilled cheese truck that offered a gluten-free grilled cheese. Naturally, I had to try it. It was worth the overwhelmingly full feeling that subsequently followed.
One of our final culinary adventures took us to Commander’s Palace. While it’s arguably a tourist trap, this brunch that includes 25 cent martinis is not to be missed. Firstly, the location is outside the quarter surrounded by beautiful homes, shops and boutiques. Secondly, the service just screams “southern hospitality” which up until which point, I hadn’t experienced it.
The service was top notch and my shrimp and grits were surprisingly tasty. The bride-to-be especially enjoyed her pralines ice cream dessert that I’m sure was bigger than her. The martini special put us over the edge, as we were able to order three martinis for that 25 cent bargain basement price. After we discovered our liquid courage, we made our way over to the wig shop, Fifi Mahoney’s. We had a blast trying on different wigs and acting out a scene reminiscent of any romantic comedy montage.
We purchased our wigs and bravely put them on to head on our heads to wear to our final meal in NOLA at Café BonTon. This New Orleans institution has been open since the early 1900s and when we met and spoke with the owners, it was evident that they have been keeping the tradition alive through their cuisine. Dishes included traditional fried seafood, the oysters Alvin, and grilled rib eye steaks.
After a weekend of pure indulgence, we headed back home to New York City. While I had a full (no pun intended) few days in New Orleans, I’m very much looking forward to my eventual return.