With friends …

There’s something good here . . .

Spent the last week of March in Louisiana. Drove to New Orleans Monday with road trip buddies Nancy Pool and Sarah Smith. These two ladies love all things NOLA, so traveling with them was a learning experience as well as an enjoyable trek through Cajun Country.

We left Winnsboro before dawn Monday morning and made our first stop at The French Market in Natchitoches to get some meat pies and try their boudain. Clean place with tasty food on the cheap.

We let the GPS get us to the Hotel St. Marie, a boutique inn on Toulouse Street in the French Quarter. It’s a quaint place, with a courtyard and a parking garage, well worth the extra $34 a night, because premium spots are as scarce as hen’s teeth in that part of town.

We ate at The Gumbo Shop Monday night. What a cool, laid back place. Lots of locals mixed in with us tourists. I had the best shrimp remoulade of my life. No kidding.

After dinner, we made our way to Jackson Square and did some people watching. While sitting on the bench,  we saw a dozen or more walking tours come through. If you just sit still long enough, the whole world will stroll by. I heard French, Spanish and what I think might have been Dutch during the evening.

Tuesday belonged to Commander’s Palace and the Garden District It was the first time for Nancy and Sarah to eat there, so we lingered over a long, scrumptious lunch. Much to her chagrin, we told the waiter Nancy was celebrating her birthday, so they put a candle in her bread pudding souffle and gave her the cutest chef’s hat to wear.

Nancy and Lally
Lally Brennan stopped by our table to wish Nancy a Happy Birthday.

Her face was all shades of red, too, when Lally Brennan herself  stopped at our table and autographed Nancy’s menu.

Everyone should experience Commander’s Palace once in their lifetime. Reservations are recommended.

We were personally greeted by every single one of the front-of-the-house staff.

The ratio of guest to server is probably the highest in the city. We never wanted for anything. They even changed my water glass after topping it off two times.

The restaurant has been a staple of New Orleans since 1880. It sits on Washington Avenue, right across the street from the cemetery in the lovely Garden District. It’s been run by the Brennan family since 1974, and let me tell you, these people know their hospitality.

It was a moment for the three of us, but especially for Nancy, a gourmet Cajun chef, who has been wanting to dine there for years.

It’s pricey, but reasonable considering the overall dining experience.

After our elegant meal, we drove around the Garden District. On every block, there was some sort of construction or renovation going on. We found author Ann Rice’s former residence, saw lots of people strolling around with maps and watched locals walking their dogs. It felt miles away from the hustle and bustle of the Quarter. We also drove around the beautiful campuses of Tulane and Loyola.

Leah Chase and Nancy
Leah Chase and Nancy

We took a cab to Dookey Chase’s for lunch on Wednesday and enjoyed the fried chicken. Leah Chase was there, chatting with everyone.

We tried to get into Acme Oyster bar for dinner, but the wait there – and at Felix’s – was over an hour, so we decided to go to Bourbon House, another Brennan-owned establishment. What a happy accident. Oysters were plump and juicy and the service was top notch.

Try the shrimp and the fries. Trust me on this one.

Plus, the space is elegant, spacious and very welcoming.

And, of course, we had to make a stop at Cafe du Monde. Chickory, fried dough and powered sugar. What an addicting combination!

Cafe du Monde
Of course, no trip to New Orleans is complete without a stop at Cafe du Monde.

From the crowds and the long lines, I’d say New Orleans has bounced back from Hurricane Katrina. We planned to ride the street car, but every time we saw one, people were jammed in like sardines. They were even standing on the steps with their backsides against the doors.

Thursday was spent going up the River Road towards Beaux Bridge. We made a brief stop at a little roadside cafe where the owner had just put out a bunch of fried fish and white beans with rice. Love it when you happen onto a place like that and the food is delicious.

We just made it to lunch at Houmas House. The buffet was very good, but the best thing about the stop was the iced tea. I’m not kidding. It was the best glass of tea I’ve had in ages. Our waitress said it was Community Brand.

The people of Louisiana are a hardy, happy breed. They’ve endured war, famine, storms and total destruction, but they’ve never lost their zest for life. It permeates everything they do, from their food to their music to their loud, genuine and infectious laughter.

I’ll be forever grateful to Nancy and Sarah for sharing their love of Louisiana with me. I learned a lot, laughed more than I thought possible and got to share some simply wonderful food with two of the best.

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

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