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Trip Report Eating my way across the French Quarter!

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When American Airlines sent me a notice of one way fares of $58 each way from Ft. Myers to New Orleans, I decided to go. And finding a mid week rate at the Prince Conti Hotel (Conti Street between Dauphine and Bourbon) for $84 a night helped as well. So off I went from Monday, April 27 to Thursday, April 30.

Early morning (7:40) flight from Ft. Myers to Miami on the puddle jumping Eagle, an hour in Miami, then off to New Orleans arriving about 15 minutes early at 11:10 AM. Taxi to the French Quarter. Proudly this is the first time I've flown without checked luggage and what a great difference that makes on arrival. I was checked into my hotel -- a very nice place with a lovely newly traditional decorated king bed room with a large bath with walk-in glassed doored shower by noon. So off I went to Acme Oyster Bar. Yes at noon there was already a line on the sidewalk but being a single I only waited a few minutes for a spot at the bar. I ordered a bowl of gumbo (oops, they brought me a cup instead and said they thought that's what I ordered) and I ordered a half dozen chargrilled oysters -- drizzeled with a highly seasoned garlic butter. Delicious. But watching them opening all those beautiful, plump oysters won me over. I ordered a dozen on the half shell -- still the BEST way to eat oysters. Then off I went for a very long walk, up and down streets of the French Quarter. I hadn't been there in something like 15 years, and it seemed nothing had changed.

At about 4 I was practically falling asleep on my feet. That 5 AM alarm clock this morning was translating to 4 AM New Orleans time. I headed back to the room and did something I never do -- I took a nap, but was unable to sleep much, trying for a couple hours. Then showered, dressed, and off to my reservation for the Chef's table (counter?) at Nola. But first I stopped at Pierre Maspere's for my standard Dewar's Dry Robroy. Ooops, they didn't have Dewars. In fact the only Scotch they had was my hated J&B, so I told him I'd just have a Jameson's instead. A little confused he made is as he would have made my dry robroy -- rinsing the glass with some dry vermouth, tossing it out, shaking the Irish over ice and then straining it into the martini glass with a lemon twist. Delicious -- we dubbed it an Irish Martini. Nola was so impressive. The host clearly passed my name on to the waiter and I was addressed as "Mr. A___" for the whole evening as he explained every dish and chatted with me about what was going on behind the counter. The girl working the wood burning oven in front of us chatted as well. Gee, solo dining didn't seem so lonely after all. I ate crispy duck livers with collard greens, carmelized onions, and creole mustard. Spectacular. Then their "signature dish" garlic and shallot crusted redfish from woodburning oven with Brabant potatoes, mushrooms, green beans, and bacon, all drizzled with a sauce beurre rouge. I began my vow of no desserts (frankly the easiest thing for me to give up -- and I'm diabetic anyway, so it seems a good thing to do). I waddled out stuffed. Wonderful food and such a social evening. I chatted with people on both sides of me -- including a young couple who are both chefs at high end restaurants in Chicago (don't know which ones).

It was now about 10:30 and I wondered back through the quarter. I really didn't want any more to drink, but stood outside a couple places listening to a bit of jazz and blues. But bed was calling and I turned in early.

Tuesday morning I had planned to take the ferry across the river to do a self-guided walking tour of Algiers. So first I headed across the street to Jager House and sat at the counter for breakfast of ham and eggs with peppers, cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, and whole grain toast, and a great Americano. The girl at the counter asked why I was going to Algiers. She said it's great when tourists get out of the FQ, but why there as it is so nothing. I told her because it was one place I'd never been. So after breakfast walked to the foot of Canal Street for the ferry and saw one taking off just as I got there. I went up to wait for the next one (the website says every 25 minutes) but the guys mopping the floors told me that it is "all f----d up today" and they are doing maintenance on the ferry and there won't be another one for an hour or more. I looked out at the car entrance and yes, they were putting up a sign to that effect. Poor people who use it to commute by car! Meanwhile it started drizzling rain. OK -- that's three -- waitress telling me not to go, the ferry being canceled and now the rain. Clearly Algiers was not meant to be, so off I went to Cafe du Monde to stuff myself with beignets and a giant cafe au Lait. Delicious -- and suprising how cheap they still are. My coffee came in a giant styrofoam cup to keep it hot, while I could pour it into a regular cup -- more than three full cups for about $3. With the plate of beignets -- only $5.50 total. Oh, and the little bit of drizzle had stopped the moment I left the ferry landing.

I walked past the French Quarter through part of Matigny(?) the residential area and Frenchman's Reef, a street of jazz bars which my bartender last night told me to explore -- much nicer than Bourbon Street, etc. But somehow I never made it back there at night to do so. I walked all the way back to my hotel for a few minutes, and decided it was time for lunch. So I headed all the way back to near the French Market for lunch at Coop's Place -- a hole in the wall which is often noted for having the best jumbalaya in New Orleans. I sat at the counter and ordered a tasting plate for $12.95. Seafood gumbo, shrimp creole, cajun fried chicken, red beans and rice, and the best part - a giant glob of their famous rabbit and sausage gumbo. I drank Abita Amber beer with it. This is real New Orleans eating. Delicious (except for the really overcooked fried chicken). Most of the kitchen is in a sort of courtyard outside in the open -- smokers and a pit cooker. The smell out there is amazing.

From there I spent the bulk of the afternoon walking Royal Street, doing a dozen galleries and half a dozen antique shops. Just ambling along. But by the time I was headed back to my hotel, my old broken ankle was about the size of a grapefruit. I stopped at Walgreen's to buy an ACE ankle bandage/support. I'm guessing at that point I had walked between 15 and 20 miles so far today. Rested until dinner time -- 8 PM reservation at K-Paul. They were unable to confirm a place at their Chef's Table -- only 4 places, and sure enough no room, but had a nice table and a very friendly, chatty server. After pouring over the menu, I finally decided to do my own thing and ordered three "appetizers" only. Started with a cup of chicken and sausage gumbo. Then had fried green tomatoes with whole shrimp remoulade. This was delicious but REALLY hot and spicy. Finally had Buffalo frog legs on mixed greens with a stack of cajun onion rings. These were not merely hot -- they were on fire! The waiter apologized afterwards that he should have warned me but wasn't thinking as I was ordering all appetizers, that I ordered the three hottest things on their menu. The next morning my tongue was still on fire. The food really was delicious, but in all honesty -- I think the fire was less exciting that the subtle mixed flavors of most other Cajun cooking I was getting. I hobbled back to my room and went to bed, really exhausted for the walking and the swollen ankle.

Wednesday morning I was up early and decided to go to Felix's for what I read on Chowhound was the greatest omelette in NO -- an oyster one for breakfast. Hmmm. The place was looked up. They don't open till 10 and it was only 8. I forgot that New Orleans is on their own unique time zone. So off I went to the 24 hours Clover grill on Bourbon for great ham, eggs, hash browns, and whole wheat toast. Fun sitting at the counter with a few locals (mostly bartenders who had finished the red-eye shift).

OK, Algiers was still calling to me. I bought a one day pass on the streecars ($5) and headed down Canal trying to reduce my walking a little. Took the ferry across and began my printed off walking tour. After maybe 45 minutes, I deemed that my waitress yesterday had been right. I wasn't getting excited. I'm looking at kind of "nothing" old buildings and looking at the descriptions of people who had lived there whom of course I didn't know and didn't know why I'd care. It did seem like a quiet little residential area mixed of fixed up houses, and some real slummy ones. The cutest thing I saw was the tiny old Gulf Station which is now a pizza place. But back across the river, streetcar up to St. Charles, then another one out to Julia, and walked down to Cochon for lunch.

Cochon was great. I sat at the bar and had a great bloody mary and following last night's pattern, decided to just order appetizers. Had the rabbit livers on pepper jelly toast with picked onions and a parley and mint salad. Loved the combination -- and I could easily copy that at home with chicken livers -- the whole fresh mint leaves really made the whole thing work. Then I had paneed pork cheeks on beet rosti with arugula and goat cheese -- outstanding. Every bite I had was simply wonderful, and it was the first time I got up from a meal in NO without feeling absolutely stuffed! I liked that. (not cheap though -- with tip my bill for the drink and two apps was $36)

I then rode the streetcar out to the end of the St. Charles line and back again -- a pleasant ride. Headed back to Royal Street and finished off my "tour" of the antique shops. I went back to the hotel to pick up my print outs of the two French Quarter "museum" houses to see as I hadn't spotted them on my own. Both are pretty far into the quarter. I went to them only to discover both closed at 3 and it was now after that. Oh well, so much for that. What to do? Eat of course. I headed to Felix's and sat at the counter for a dozen oysters on the half shell -- a great mid afternoon break.

I tried to book Mr. B's Bistro online for a single reservation and got a message that reservations were limited to please call. I did so and the girl said "no problem" at 8 until I told her it was for one person and there was nothing available but I could probably get into the bar with no waiting. I was fine eating at the bar, but I thought the response was odd. I went back on line, changed it to 2 people and there was no problem getting a table at 8. That kind of bugged me -- as if they don't want single diners. Any table that seats 2 could certainly seat 1. So I called Emeril's instead. They said they had an opening at the Chef's Table (counter?) for 9, so I took it. Rode the street car out to Juia again and walked down there.
Had a spectacular meal and a great chat with the gal next to me who manages a private dining club in Aspen (she gave me her card and a promise to admit me -- if only I were going to Aspen). I had smoked exotic mushrooms on angel hair with tasso cream, then the famous double pork chop on carmelized sweet potatoes with tamarind glaze and green chili mole. No dessert for me here either. I waddled out fully stuffed! I walked all the way back to the hotel rather than wait for a streetcar. I needed it and my ankle was much better with the brace on. I walked the Quarter a bit and just couldn't get excited about going into a bar and again really didn't want any more to drink (guess I'm not a typical NO visitor?), so back to the hotel and to bed.

Thursday morning -- almost time to go. I checked out and rolled my little suitcase down to Brennan's for my 9 AM reservation for breakfast. It was raining -- gee, it must be time to go home. Brennans. Several tried to talk me out of going there -- so touristy and not what it once was, they say. But where else for a full scale "brunch" on a weekday at 9 so I can catch my noon flight? There is much NOT to like at Brennan's. The doors opened, everyone pours in (sure, we were all tourists) and they seat us assembly line style -- I felt like I was on a cruise ship. Then they had you a big plasticized menu -- where are we -- IHOP? Next I look at the three course breakfast, while I had already seen on the website is $36. OK, that's a bit rich, but hey it's a splurge. But what they don't mention is that on the "fixed price" menu, if you choose the turtle soup or gumbo you add $9 and if you choose the bananas foster or the crepes you add another $5. So breakfast is really $50 not $36 and the bloody mary is another $9.75. OK, no big deal -- especially since there's only one of me. I told my waitress that I really needed to leave by about 10:15 to catch my flight (figuring if it were 10:30 I'd still be fine and she promised to watch out for me. She did. She was lovely and again she addressed me as Mr. A____ each time. She got me started on the oyster soup (which was included and really sounded better than more gumbo to me) and it was superb! I had ordered a bloody mary and when she brought it she said, "As a single diner your cocktail is complimentary". Gee what a nice touch -- I've never heard of that! Then I had Eggs Shannon -- wow. Two mounds of wonderful creamed spinach with a hint of nutmeg, topped with two filets of fresh trout in corn meal, perfectly flash sauteed, topped with perfectly cooks poached eggs and topped with the divine Hollandaise. I think it may be the best mix of flavors I've ever had in an egg dish. And served on a very hot plate it actually stayed hot as I slowly savored every bite. At 10 she came by and asked if it was OK to start my bananas foster so we could meet my time, even though I still had a couple bites of eggs left and she assured me not to rush, there would be plenty of time before the bananas were ready. Delicious -- my only dessert in NO and still the perfect one. After I paid my bill and she brought it back to me to sign, and I stood up to leave, I looked at my watch and realized it was EXACTLY 10:15 -- this girl was good! I honestly have to say, that there is not a single thing about the meal I could find fault with. Despite the misgivings at the beginning, it really was some of the best prepared (albeit somewhat simple and certainly traditional) food I had the whole time there.

So I walked around the corner to catch a taxi at the Omni and arrived at the airport at 10:45 -- way more time that I needed to whip through security for my 12:10 flight. The flight ended up delayed on the tarmac as there were high winds in Miami and they only had one runway open. So after sitting an hour there we finally took off. No problem for me as I had almost a three hour layover in Miami before the puddle jumper back to Ft. Myers, so it just cut down my waiting time.

A great and EXTREMELY relaxing four days -- just what I wanted. The only thing bigger than my ankle when I got home however was my stomach! Despite all that walking I managed to gain 4 pounds in 4 days. I'm on maintenance for the week before heading off to London on Wednesday!

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