The best place to hear live music: Frenchmen Street in New Orleans

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Brass and sass at the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street

On any night of the week, within a two-block stretch of Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, you can follow a brass band down the street, catch a reggae groove at Cafe Negril, and swing dance at Mimi’s and the Spotted Cat. Just across the street, get down with rootsy rock and brass at d.b.a. and at the corner, grunge out at Check Point Charlie’s, a serious rock ’n’ roll dive where you can also do your laundry. A few doors up, you might catch some excellent funk at Blue Nile with Big Sam’s Funky Nation, and support local talent at the Apple Barrel Inn. Hungry? Frenchmen is also a great spot for cheap ethnic eats, like Italian at Adolfo’s and Middle Eastern from Mona’s, along with assorted food trucks that keep things cooking. Window shop for a tattoo at Electric Ladyland before finishing the night at Snug Harbor, a straight ahead jazz club.

Kayak-iti-yat Paddles Along Nola’s Bayou St. John

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Sara Howard, co-founder of Kayak-iti-yat

A snowy egret is watching us cagily from the banks of the Bayou St. John, strutting with his over sized yellow feet like a clown on parade.

Maybe he’s not used to seeing humans kayaking in his urban waterway, a sight that’s becoming increasingly common, thanks to Kayak-iti-yat, a fledgling touring business owned by local partners Sara Howard and Sonny Averett.

Founded last year, Kayak-iti-yat (a paddling riff on the local query, where y’at?) sheds new light on the city’s charming Mid-City neighborhood bounded by the historic canal, once a vibrant transportation waterway connecting to Lake Ponchartrain.  Sara and Sonny take turns leading the tours, which are geared mostly to novices, unless a wind whips chop into the usually placid canal.

Bits of history and lore are shouted into the breeze, historic homes are identified and a growing confluence of birds remarked upon, from great blue herons to beady eyed pelicans.   Special tours can include lunch at Liuzza’s at the Track (don’t even think about getting anything besides the barbecued shrimp po’boy) and admission to the racetrack during the season, a fun chance to see what happens there when Jazzfest isn’t the main event. If you’re feeling lucky, and since you’re in New Orleans, that’s a given, the night is still young, and anything can happen.

Paddling along Bayou St. John in Mid-City

Obsessed with Mariza in the Bywater

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Coins of beets add snap to this salumi gorgonzola salad at Mariza

I can’t stop dreaming about the burrata.

It was love at first bite when I first visited Mariza , the new Italian inspired eatery in the Bywater from Iris chef Ian Schnoebelen and his wife and business partner Laurie Casebonne. Located inside the Rice Mill Lofts on the river, Mariza sports an industrial vibe, with brick walls, floor to ceiling windows and high ceilings. The setting is relaxed and casual, but the real star of the show is the food. There’s a raw bar and an open kitchen where you can spy cured salumi and pickled veggies, which along with the pasta, is all made inhouse. Love love the private dining room for eight guests, with its swank chandelier and cushy banquettes.

But back to the burrata, a plate of creamy mozzarella goodness served with a drizzle of pesto, micro greens and crostini, just one of the value priced apps in the $7-10 range that makes this place such a gem.  The yellowfin carpaccio glistens with EVO, a salami and gorgonzola salad delivers the unexpected crunch of baked beet chips.  Other deliciousness includes a duck ragout pappardelle, a short rib rigatoni, vegetable lasagna, and meat and vegetarian pizzas.

I love that you can order a small plate of pasta in the $8-12 range instead of a large serving. The tangle of squid ink pasta with shrimp and crab tasted so indulgent, but the serving kept the guilts at bay.  All of the meats and most of the produce are local.  Schnoebelen and Casebonne have earned raves over the years at Iris, the restaurant they started in 2006, the same year Schnoebelen was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs.

Oozing goodness — the burrata at Mariza

Crispy red snapper, a steal at $20


New Orleans: Home of the Indie Supermarket

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Langenstein's in the early days

When New Orleanians “make groceries” in the Big Easy, chances are they’ll be patronizing one of many locally owned, independent grocery stores.  Langenstein’s, Robert Fresh Market,  Dorignacs and Rouses are four great options, each with its own signature style and claim to fame.

Marc and Darlene Robért are newcomers to the party, opening their first Robert Fresh Market in the suburb of Metaire in 1994, now with multiple locations around town, each with an emphasis on local and organic  product.  Rouses is the go-to spot in the Quarter, with a fancy new location in the burgeoning Central Business District. The store has its roots as the City Produce Company, founded by J.P. Rouse in Thibodaux, Louisiana, in 1923. Dorignac’s, opened in 1947 in Metairie, is known for its terrific wine selection and outstanding customer service.

When Michael Langenstein and his sons George and Richard opened Langenstein’s supermarket in the early 1920’s, their goal was to carry the best meat and seafood in New Orleans. Locals love this place for its amazing quality meats and gourmet prepared Louisiana specialties.

Making groceries N’Awlins style means it stays in the family.

Two Langenstein's specialties, The Original Better Cheddar and The Original Le Popeye Dip

 

Good Sleep at Hotel Monteleone

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Hotel Monteleone, a family tradition since 1886

In 1886, Antonio Monteleone–a shoemaker who came to New Orleans from Contessa, Italy, and prospered at his French Quarter boot factory–bought the 14-room Commercial Hotel and gave it his name. Four generations – and a $60+ million renovation later – the family-owned 600-room Hotel Monteleone, a six-time AAA Four Diamond award-winner, is secure in its reputation as a grand hotel. The vibe throughout is retro-European, from the guest rooms’ rich fabrics and marble bathrooms to the liveried doormen, and the 16-story building’s distinctive Baroque façade. With its central location in the French Quarter, a few blocks from Canal St., Jackson Square and the River Walk, the Monteleone is an ideal home base for exploring the Crescent City in style.

Truly By Hand at Nola’s a Mano

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Chef/owner Adolfo Garcia at a Mano

Standing out from the crowd in America’s best restaurant city is a feat.

Which is why a Mano, which means by hand, is such a New Orleans gem.  Owned by chef Adolfo Garcia (Rio Mar, La Boca), with chef de cuisine Josh Smith in the kitchen,  a Mano is, along with John Besh and Alon Shaya’s Domenica,  at the forefront of the Big Easy’s new Italian wave.

House cured salumi and bresaola, a seasonal salad of heirloom tomatoes and clouds of burrata, the fresh cheese made with mozzarella and heavy cream and lump crab meat in a squid ink cavatelli were highlights of a recent meal.

Burrata, the fresh cheese made with mozzarella and cream, and heirloom tomatoes at a Mano.

Then there was the amazing seafood salad, a bellwether of Southern Italian cuisine from the region of Campania. Chilled calamari and shrimp, along with paper-thin coins of octopus,  tender potatoes and bits of celery leaf elevated this appetizer to hall of fame status. Delicate, to the point of being ethereal, was what one diner swooned.

At a Mano, the wine service is stellar, the ambiance sparely elegant.  Although the chef is relocating come fall, here’s hoping that his replacement, sous chef Nick Martin, will be equally adept at letting seasonal ingredients tell the story, in a style that is both simple and sophisticated.

Definitely put a Mano on your must dine list the next time you visit New Orleans. It’s wonderful.

 

Camellia House – Not Your Usual B&B

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Camellia House - the un-B&B

Camellia House B&B isn’t the typical B&B experience.  Tucked away in the charming Northshore town of Covington, about 45 minutes across the lake from New Orleans, Camellia offers an elegant retreat without the usual B&B preciousness. Apologies to B&B lovers, but I’m not usually a fan. Too much VIctorian flounce and forced breakfast conversation for me.

Lovely porch retreat at Camellia House

But not here.  Innkeepers Linda and Don Chambless have created a Zen habitat with plenty of privacy and amenities. The pool and garden is a lush hideaway, there are balconies with rocking chairs, little loungy seating areas and best of all, you’re on your own for breakfast.

Poolside at Camillia House

Each comfy suite comes self catered, with a fridge stocked with quiche, pastries, organic milk, juice, cereal, coffee and water.  You can have breakfast in bed, out on the porch or at the little table in your room – choice is up to you.  The rooms are outfitted with books, games and cable TV on the flat screen. Nice full sized bath products in the roomy bathroom, house bikes available for borrowing and free wifi add value. Rates start at $115.

Even if you’re like me, and are not a B&B fan, you’ll love this place.  It’s a charmer.

 

 

VInsantos Keeps it Real at the French Market

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I was walking through the French Market today, saying to my friend, ‘I love the market, but too bad everything in it is made in China.’ Pre-Katrina, there were many local artists who set up shop here, but since the storm, it feels like most vendors are moving imported souvenirs, cheap sunglasses and t-shirts.

Then we met Vinsantos. A San Francisco transplant, musician and performance artist, he moved to New Orleans a year ago intent on joining the city’s art scene.  After setting up shop at the French Market, he moved from the mosaic work he’d been doing on the left coast to something new.

Vinsantos

 

Vinsantos takes vintage jewelry and found objects and turns them into a three dimensional tableau, with whimsical bits of text creating a winsome back story. He also does custom work, and will personalize a piece of art with family keepsakes that tell a more particular story, something he did recently for John Fogarty.  Priced from $40 up, the art evokes a sense of place and mood that is bracingly original.  One place in the New Orleans French Market where what you buy is definitely not made in China.

Just one of the artist's creations