Sunday, October 23, 2011

What to See in NOLA - by neighborhood

Hey everybody! Sorry I haven't posted in a while... here is an article I did for the national photography guild, which will be having it's convention in New Orleans next January. This is pretty spectacular since the last national photography convention held here was in January 2005, just 8 months before the storm, so having them back is fantastic! Just because I'm addressing this to photographers doesn't mean that anyone can't get some great what to do and where to go info from this article, and amateur photogs might enjoy the tips as well!

New Orleans Welcomes You Back!

          It’s been six years since Imaging USA graced the streets of the Crescent City, and boy, has the Big Easy been through a lot since then! If this is your first time visiting since 2005, you might be wondering how much has changed since you were here. Well, the answer to that is – a whole lot, and so much for the better! In fact, there are more restaurants open in the New Orleans area now than there were before the storm even though our population numbers are still slightly lower than Pre-Katrina levels. You know what that means? We’ve got more to share! Actually, our rebuilding efforts have managed to bolster our local economy above the levels of financial crisis that the rest of the country has been experiencing. If this is your first time ever to New Orleans, we are more than excited to see you! We’re a very generous city, and our favorite pastime is sharing it with guests.
          We know you’ll be having tons of fun learning and exploring everything the convention has to offer, but in your free time, there are some things in our city that you’ve just gotta see! Get your cameras ready because New Orleans is a photographer’s dream! Here are the greatest areas of the city that you won’t want to miss!

The French Quarter

Of course, the French Quarter is a must. It’s the oldest section of the city, with buildings nearing 300 years old. You’ll find fantastic music, drinks, and food all through the Quarter, which stretches from Canal St. to Esplanade Ave. In between the Mississippi River and Bourbon St. is the main area you’ll want to see. While the Quarter technically extends to Rampart St., past Bourbon is nearly all residential. People tend to think only of Bourbon St. when they think of the French Quarter – free-flowing booze and scantily clad women. Now, while you are free to roam the streets, drink in hand anywhere around the city (as long as it’s not glass – just ask for a go-cup!), the Girls-Gone-Wildness is fairly contained to just Bourbon Street (and more-so on the side closest to Canal Street). In fact, just one street up from Bourbon is Royal St., where you’ll find some of the most elegant antique stores, boutiques, and galleries that the city has to offer. If you are looking for drinks, order a hand grenade from Tropical Isle and/or a hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s! Just don’t make early plans the next morning!
There are many historic buildings that allow tours in the French Quarter, but there are three right next to each other that are probably the most iconic images of New Orleans – the Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral, and the Presbytere. Both the Cabildo and the Presbytere, once government buildings, have been converted to museums retelling the grand history of our city (with extremely low admissions!). They serve as bookends to St. Louis Cathedral, the centerpiece of New Orleans’ rich Catholic heritage. It was featured prominently in Walt Disney’s film The Princess and the Frog, which is a great movie to watch to get you into the spirit of the Crescent City! These buildings sit on Jackson Square, around which fledgling artists, face-painters, and fortune tellers congregate. I see some great images in your future!
Find yourself hungry in the French Quarter? There are tons of good eats around from the very casual to the ultra-fancy! Two of New Orleans’ favorite sandwiches are the po-boy and the muffaleta (MOO-fah-lotta). Get your po-boys at Maspero’s on Decatur St. A po-boy is a sandwich made on thick, crackly French Bread with anything from roast beef or ham to fried catfish, shrimp, and oysters. They’ll ask you if you want it “dressed”. That means do you want it with everything (lettuce, tomato, mustard, etc.). A muffaleta is a New Orleans Italian sandwich on a huge Italian bun with every sort of meat imaginable plus cheese and olive salad. Get these at Central Grocery further down Decatur. They’ll ask you “whole or half?”. Ask for a whole if you haven’t eaten for at least a month. For dessert (don’t tell us you’re full??) stop into Café Du Monde right at Jackson Square on Decatur for coffee and beignets (ben-YAYs). Beignets are square, fried doughnuts, doused in powdered sugar. They come in orders of three. The coffee they serve (and pretty much all coffee at any New Orleans restaurant) is made with chickory, which is a form of tree bark that is ground in with the coffee beans which makes it thicker and gives it a stronger flavor. It’s served au lait (with milk). Don’t ask for it black. At the least, you’ll receive startled looks, but more caring waiters will warn you of its potency. Trust us on this one… drink it like it comes. All you need to add is sugar… if you like.
There are some fairly famous breakfast places in the Quarter that will all provide entertainment as well as great food! Breakfast at Brennan’s Restaurant is practically a New Orleans institution. Attire is dressy casual. Anything on the menu will knock your socks off but a great local dish is Grits and Grillades (GREE-odds…strips of savory veal in a spicy sauce on top of grits), and for dessert you can’t pass up Bananas Foster, which was invented by the Brennan family. It’ll be cooked and flambéed right at your tableside! The Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch Buffet (same attire as Brennan’s) will have you tapping your toes and licking your lips! You can get some fantastic Grits and Grillades here, along with Bananas foster, plus gumbo, Shrimp Creole, Eggs Benedict and omelets made to order – the list goes on and on! A Jazz trio keeps the atmosphere fun and casual! If you like to hoot and holler, do the House of Blues Gospel Brunch! Note: All 3 of the above restaurants get packed quickly so reservations are your best bet! Could you eat breakfast at any meal of the day? Stop into Camellia Grill on Toulouse and Chartres. This diner’s original location is in the Carrollton neighborhood and has been insanely popular for decades with locals. The food is great but it’s really the waiters that you’ll be talking about after! These guys just love to cut up! There’s no way to make reservations here. Just be aware that there will probably be a little wait. That’s a good bet for pretty much any New Orleans restaurant. Don’t let a line scare you away. If there’s a line at any restaurant, chances are there’s really good eats at the end of it!
Dinnertime in the Quarter? Take your pick at any number of classic New Orleans restaurants! Red Fish Grill, Mr. B’s Bistro, and Brennan’s are all Brennan’s family restaurants, which assures deliciousness! Other famous restaurants are Galatoire’s, Antoine’s, and Arnaud’s. Antoine’s is where the dish Oysters Rockefeller was created and is the oldest continually operated family restaurant in the country! It also houses some fantastic Mardi Gras artifacts and paraphernalia so it’s worth walking into and asking to be shown around even if you don’t wind up eating there! All of the above places fall into the “dressy casual” category. If you’re looking for casual dinner spots, check out Acme Oyster House (featured on Man vs. Food!), Fiorella’s, and Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. Acme and Fiorella’s both serve fantastic fried… well… EVERYTHING. Fried pickles at Fiorella’s are awesome, and of course, Acme has fantastic oysters. Louisiana Pizza Kitchen serves gourmet brick oven pizzas that are out of this world!

The CBD (Central Business District)

          Chances are you’ll be staying at the New Orleans Riverside Hilton which means this area of town is right at your doorstep! The CBD is situated in between Poydras and Canal St. While it doesn’t house the amount of historic sites that the French Quarter does, it certainly doesn’t fall short on fantastic hotels! Le Pavilion, The Roosevelt, and Windsor Court are probably the ritziest hotels in the city and worth stepping into! Le Pavilion is famous for its ties to Napoleon. One of his bathtubs is actually housed in one of the hotel’s suites! The Roosevelt is known for its grandeur, and its music lounge, the Blue Room, has seen performances by countless numbers of the world’s great musicians. The Sazerac cocktail was created at the Roosevelt’s Sazerac bar, and the hotel is also home to Domenica, one of world-renowned Chef John Besh’s restaurants. Windsor Court’s lobby is not as grandiose as the two aforementioned hotels, but taking tea at Windsor Court is a fantastic treat! Along with delectable teas, you’ll be served tea sandwiches, scones, as well as chocolates and tarts. Don’t be afraid, gentlemen! It’s not unusual to see the guys taking afternoon tea here as well! Reservations are essential!
          And while we’re speaking of luxury, it’s appropriate to mention Restaurant August. True cuisine connoisseurs will not be able to pass this restaurant up! This is John Besh’s signature restaurant, and effort is made here to not just make phenomenal food but to make food ART. Get the tasting menu with the wine pairings, and you just can’t go wrong! Don’t even look at the menu! Just put what they stick on your plate on your fork and in your mouth, and you will be treated with a true experience of taste Nirvana!
          If you’re looking for someplace casual, all you have to do is go right downstairs at the Hilton to Drago’s. Drago’s is famous for its charbroiled oysters, and they have certainly well-earned their fame! Even if you “don’t eat oysters”, these are well-worth a try! Also close by is Mother’s (also featured on Man vs. Food!). It’s po-boy heaven right at the foot of Poydras! They are famous for their “debris” po-boy. They take all the juice and crumblings and pieces that fall off when they slow cook their roast beef and put it right back on the po-boy. If you’re particular about dropping food on your shirt, you might want to consider a bib!

The Warehouse District

          Once New Orleans’ industrial district, former warehouses have been converted to high-end lofts, galleries, and fantastic eateries. The length of the Morial Convention Center is your landmark and outline of the span of this area. At the end of the Convention Center, you’ll find Mardi Gras World, where you can see some of the biggest, most extravagant floats that grace the Crescent City’s streets during Carnvial Season! The Warehouse district also houses the National World War II Museum. Its 4-D film, Beyond all Boundaries, was put together by Tom Hanks and is truly a one of a kind, awe-inspiring experience. At the World War II Museum is John Besh’s casual restaurant, the American Sector, serving the best of classic American dishes. The USO style shows at the Stage Door Canteen (also at the WWII Museum) are tons of fun as well! You can also find great music at the Howlin’ Wolf.
          There are several great bars with equally great eats in the Warehouse District. The Ugly Dog Saloon has fantastic burgers, the Red Eye has the “Unbelievable Tuna Steak Sandwich” (which lives up to its name!), and you’ll find truly delectable appetizers (mussels, sweat breads, and escargot – to name a few!) at Tommy’s Wine Bar. Lucy’s on Tchoupitoulas (Chop-ih-TOO-luss… you’ll impress locals by being able to pronounce this street!) is also a great dinner time hot spot!
          The Warehouse district is also a great place for ethnic cuisine. Want some real Cajun cookin’ along with Cajun dancing? Check out Mulate’s (MEW-lots) right across from the Convention Center. Another great place is Cochon (KU-shawn… which is Cajun for “pig”), whose whole menu is focused around pork. Looking for Spanish cuisine? Try La Boca on Fulton St. Their steaks will melt in your mouth! If you’re a sushi fan, there is no place better than RocknSake, also on Fulton St.


          Walking through Uptown New Orleans is like taking a stroll through the Old South. Centuries-old oaks canopy the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line, embracing Greek-revival style antebellum mansions. It’s a pretty safe bet that if the Streetcar line passes by, it’s an area you want to check out! Don’t let locals hear you call it a trolley! You’ll be swiftly corrected! It’s the perfect vantage point for photographs of stately homes lining St. Charles Avenue. Past Napoleon Ave. to Audubon Park (right across from the universities Loyola and Tulane) is where you’ll see the largest homes on St. Charles so don’t get off and turn back early! The Streetcar moves fairly slowly and stops on nearly every corner, so be sure to take some time take everything in. You won’t be disappointed! Check with your concierge because there are lots of walking tours that will point out historical and celebrity homes in the Uptown area. Be sure to look up as well. It’s very easy to spot the Uptown parade route from the Mardi Gras beads that hang year-round on Oak trees lining St. Charles Avenue.
          A few blocks up, running parallel to St. Charles Avenue is Magazine St. This is THE street for shopping in New Orleans! There are tons of Boutiques and specialty stores running for countless blocks! You’ll also find great local hang outs like the Bulldog (check out the back courtyard for a fountain made of beer taps!), Buddha Belly (combination bar and Laundromat), and St. Joe’s. Local coffeeshops can also be found, like CC’s and PJ’s, as well as great dessert places like Sucre. Speaking of desserts, the Creole Creamery is located on nearby Prytania St, and has New Orleans style ice cream flavors (Bananas Foster!) that are not to be missed!
          It is near impossible to talk about Uptown New Orleans and not mention the culinary legend that is Commander’s Palace, the crown jewel of the Brennan’s restaurants! The best part is, you don’t have to break the bank to eat here! Go for lunch on a weekday (or brunch on a weekend) and you’ll find three-course meals for $35 PLUS martinis for 25 cents. That’s right. One quarter for a martini. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you can get good and sloshed for a mere $1 at one of the finest restaurants in the city of New Orleans. Dreams do come true right here in the Crescent City!
          On St. Charles itself you’ll find one of New Orleans’ best Mexican restaurants, Superior Grill! The margaritas are fantastic and the atmosphere is all fun! Afterwards, stroll along St. Charles to wind down at the Columns, this beautiful hotel’s bar is a local favorite for sipping a glass of wine on their large front porch or in one of the hotel’s stately parlors.


          Stay on the Streetcar as it turns onto Carrollton Ave. and you’ll find yourself in the quaint yet still stately neighborhood of Carrollton. You’ll see that the homes here turn from the imposing to the inviting, as a more relaxed, homey, yet still naturally New Orleans neighborhood emerges. Get off the Streetcar and be sure to stroll up Oak St. where there’s fun local stores and great restaurants. Oak is a great, classy bar with a selection of fantastic mixed drinks and a generous wine list, but it’s also a restaurant even though it has more of a bar atmosphere. We’d suggest a few cocktails and a selection of their amazing appetizers. On Oak St., you’ll also find an awesome restaurant called Jacque-Imo’s. Be prepared for a wait because this place is always packed and rightly so! Very often you’ll see Jacque-Imo’s waiting patrons spilling into the street! If you’re a barbecue fan, Squeal is out of this world! It’s phenomenal! Sushi fans will love Ninja. Their sushi is outrageously fresh, and man, are they sticklers for presentation! Their rolls are beautifully presented! Be sure to order the Caterpillar Roll, which they decorate with avocado and asparagus so that it looks like a little caterpillar!
          If you like Middle-Eastern food, stay on the streetcar and don’t pass up Lebanon’s! Delicious! Plus, this restaurant knows that people can be particular about their alcohol, so while they don’t serve any, you can bring in whatever you like, and they’ll provide the glasses, and a bucket to ice your wine or beer bottles down if necessary! Afterwards, hop on the Streetcar and kick back and relax while you head back Downtown.

Mid-City and City Park

          St. Charles isn’t the only street you can wander down on a Streetcar! The Canal St. Streetcar line is also tons of fun! You can tell the difference easily because St. Charles Streetcars are green while Canal St. Streetcars are red. Those red streetcars will take you to a treasure-trove of fantastic restaurants called Mid-City. NOTE: Mid-City New Orleans is not to be confused with Central City New Orleans! Yes, only in New Orleans is the Middle not the same as the Center! Central City is not an area you want to visit. Mid-City is. There ya go! Got it? Alrighty!
          The intersection of Canal St. and Carrollton Ave. is where you’re headed! You’ll see on your left, a block before the intersection, a fantastic restaurant called Mandina’s. It’s in a big pink house where the neon in the windows proudly advertises that this restaurant is Air-Conditioned! Step on in (once again, there’s probably a line!), and you’ll be looking at a classic New Orleans restaurant menu. You’ll have your po-boys, gumbo, and fried seafood platters as well as some amazing Italian dishes. Few out-of-towners (if you’re not from New Orleans, you’re from “out-of-town”, whether that be Mississippi or Minnesota) realize the influence that Italian immigrants have had on the New Orleans area. It’s a big reason our accent sounds more like Brooklyn rather than Southern. Anyway, let’s focus on Mandina’s! The Trout Almondine is a big favorite here. If seafood isn’t your thing, the Veal Parmesan is fantastic. Be sure to also check the daily specials on the back of the menu!
          At Carrollton Ave., get off the Streetcar and walk right to your right. You’ll see a great Italian restaurant called Venezia’s. Once again, everything on the menu is delicious! Just be sure you leave room for dessert! Walk a block further on Carrollton and you’ll see Brocato’s, a local phenomenon! It’s an Italian ice cream parlor serving smooth, refreshing Italian gelato as well as an amazing array of Italian desserts! Have some spumoni, have a cannoli, or have some Italian Ice and a hot cappuccino… or, hey!, have it all! Nobody’s gonna judge you in New Orleans!
          You’ll notice that at Carrollton and Canal, the Streetcar line veers in two different directions. One way continues on Canal St. and goes to the cemeteries. Because New Orleans is below sea-level and our water-table is so high, it’s really not practical to bury people in the ground so our cemeteries are full of above-ground tombs that are usually very ornate and adorned with all sorts of statues. Some have stained-glass windows! Photographers love the cemeteries! There are many guided cemetery tours you can take. Just ask your concierge! One other thing you’ll find at the end of the Canal St. Streetcar line right by the cemeteries is a little bar called the Beachcorner. Best. Burgers. Ever. Not exaggerating here. They’re phenomenal. A Streetcar ride here is certainly well-rewarded!
          Back at the Carrollton and Canal intersection, the other direction the Streetcar goes to is down Carrollton Ave to City Park. Get off when the line ends and walk straight. You’ll find yourself in New Orleans’ City Park. There’s lots to see here! The New Orleans Museum of Art will be on your left at the end of a long line of young Magnolia trees. In front of the Museum to the right, you’ll see a jogging path surrounding a pond where you can rent a little paddle boat. Behind the Museum is a beautiful sculpture garden as well as a picturesque amusement park called the Carousel Gardens, which is named for the antique carousel at the center of the park. It’s enclosed in a white gazebo, and locals often refer to it as “the flying horses”. Next to the Carousel Gardens is a little park called Storyland full of adorable attractions for younger kids themed to everyone’s favorite nursery rhymes. All through City Park, you’ll see ancient Oak trees, many with limbs trailing the ground. There’s also stone bridges and gazebos that make for amazing photographs. City Park is a New Orleans hot spot for wedding portraits.

But what about the Lower Ninth Ward?

          There are lots of tour companies that do “disaster tours” and will take you to areas that still have major recovery to do. Tour groups are the best way to do this because the areas most affected are nowhere near the Streetcar lines and are far away from any areas that visitors usually frequent. Fortunately for New Orleans, the areas that tourists most look to see – the French Quarter and Uptown – didn’t flood at all! In fact, Johnny White’s Bar in the French Quarter, whose famous reputation is that they never close, was able to stay completely operational – even during the height of the storm!

For more fun information about New Orleans, please visit!
We hope that you’re as excited to see us as we are to see you!
See you soon in the Crescent City! Let the good times roll!