New Orleans: A Retrospective

I didn’t get eaten by any alligators, so we’ll call that the basis of a successful trip. And considering how many I saw, the chances of me finding myself between the jaws of one of the reptilian beasts was greater on this trip than probably any other trip I’ve been on, so it was doubly good.

And yes, I ate alligator, as well.

Although I was here for a business trip, I was able to carve out a couple of days for sight-seeing and fun. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were definitely business-oriented, from the meetings in the day to the meals in the evening (thanks to a couple of great vendors we ate very well after a day of meetings). The meetings were good, solid meetings – walking out of them I have no doubt we’re well aligned across my peers in terms of what our goals for the next trimester are, so that alone makes the meetings worthwhile.

Thursday and Friday were sight-seeing and walking. Lots and lots of walking. I wish I’d brought a pedometer with me – I’m curious how many miles I walked. Our hotel was right off St. Charles and Poyodras, just a few blocks from Canal Street. We walked through the French Quarter (a 5-10 minute walk from the hotel), across the Marketplace, around the Financial District, down the river, in the Riverwalk and down Bourbon Street. In many cases multiple times each.

Food-wise I can’t think of a better trip. Dinner Monday was at a nice local place (off the tourist path) which Trace (a former local) found for us. It was absolutely incredible – I had the soft-shell crab and grilled Brussell sprouts.

Tuesday we had dinner courtesy of one of our business partners at a local brewery. Excellent beer – good body and flavor. But the redfish topped with another soft-shell crab (that was a pleasant surprise) took the cake – it was cooked and spiced just right to give it a good flavor and a kick that let you know it was there without being overpowering. That’s what a great meal is supposed to be.

Wednesday morning was breakfast at Cafe Beignet (“ben-yay”, not “beg-net”) down in the French Quarter. The breakfast was good, but the beignets were better. I even brought an extra order to the meeting that morning. Wednesday evening was my only poor dining experience. It was at the restaurant in the Hilton (Luke) and was far from stellar. The service was horrible – not “I-spilled-boiling-hot-coffee-on-your-white-shirt-and-dont-care” horrible, but pretty bad. It took over 45 minutes for us to get our food (a salad and the special of the night), and when we got it…SO not impressed. I had the lamb and it actually tasted more like pot roast than lamb (yes, really). So if you’re not going to have top-notch flavor then you make it up in quantity, right? Nope – I felt like I paid 3x too much for the meal when I was done. But wait – surely the service was polite, then? Not in the least – I’m not sure the guy who served us said a dozen words to us total, and it took half an hour from the time I was done eating before we got our bill. Thirty minutes. Three-zero. TO PAY. Needless to say if you’re in New Orleans, do not eat at Luke – or at least set your expectations at the same level you have for McDonald’s so you’re not disappointed (and even then you might still be).

Thursday morning we ate breakfast at Huey’s down by the river. EXCELLENT FOOD, highly recommended. I had the cajun omelet which had good flavor and some bite to it. The sauce was to die for, though – smooth and spicy. Just right. Thursday night, however, took the cake for the entire trip as far as dining goes. And the kicker was it wasn’t even at a cajun or Creole restaurant. We ate at JagerHaus down by Bourbon Street – German food. We were starving – we didn’t have lunch and hadn’t eaten any substantive food since about 10:45am (it was about 6:30) – but even if we’d just eaten I imagine I would have chowed down on the best German food this side of the Rhein at that little restaurant. We opted for the Munich Plate which had a nice sampling of several items from the menu (not “sampling” in terms of small portions – they weren’t small – but “sampling” in terms of many). Our waitress was an absolute blast, as well – making the entire dining experience the best (by far) we’d had all week long.

By the way, in case you didn’t figure it out my diet (as flimsy as it was to start with) is now gone. I told myself I wasn’t going to eat everything in sight, but it’s really hard not to when you have such good food sitting in front of you. I also didn’t do nearly as good drinking water as I should have (mostly coffee), so I suspect it’s time to step up the workouts (considering volleyball season opens in about two weeks) to get myself back down to 190 vs. just doing the eating thing.

I also drank more this week than I have in a long time. Whether it was the beer on Bourbon Street Monday night or the drinks with dinner on Tuesday, more alcohol passed my lips this past week than the entire volleyball offseason thus far…combined (excepting the famous Ray Halloween Party, of course). But when you’re on Bourbon Street…exactly. What was crazy is that it’s not Mardi Gras season and there are no festivals in town and yet the entire street was packed with people from one end to the other every night. Crowds, noise, lights, drinks – it was happening.

Activity-wise it was great, as well. Since we didn’t rent a car we were fairly limited in where we could go…but there was plenty to see and do within walking distance so there was no shortage of activity.

We walked around the French Quarter Monday, mostly down Bourbon Street. Which, incidentally, is pretty much exactly as advertised, even two weeks after Mardi Gras ended. Tuesday and Wednesday there was walking to dinner and back, and that was about it. Thursday we took one of the swamp tours and had an absolute blast. I got a couple hundred pictures of alligators (mostly) while we were on the airboat flying through the canals and bayou. I even got to hold an alligator (a little one, but still an alligator) which was pretty neat. The tour was just shy of two hours and the weather was exceptional. Think upper-70s, alternating between slightly overcast and sunny. Yes, incredible. A great and highly-recommended experience.

We got back and decided to do the aquarium which sits right on the Mississippi. It was a neat experience, but not something I’d ordinarily drop $30 for. They had a nice walk-through underwater tank with rays and fish (somewhat like the one at the Omaha Zoo, but not as big), and their shark exhibit was pretty, as well. I’m still trying to figure out why the sharks don’t go after the smaller fish that are swimming around in that tank with them. Other than that and the anaconda there really wasn’t much to see – or at least as much as I was hoping to see. We spent maybe 45 minutes in there, and 15 of that was sitting staring at the rays swimming around their enclosure.

Friday we hopped the St. Charles Street streetcar and rode it down – you guessed it – St. Charles Street. We passed by Loyola and Tulane Universities, dozens of nice, large houses (many built before the Civil War I’m told) and the gorgeous Audubon Park.

I did realize why things started to get crazy around town on Wednesday and Thursday, though. Apparently Bourbon Street is always crazy (it’s just a matter of degree), but the SEC men’s basketball tournament was in NOLA this year. I proudly wore my KU Jayhawks t-shirt around to taunt everyone…especially the millions of University of Kentucky fans that were out in force to support their team. No fights, but several good-natured “did you get lost?” comments to accompany my crimson and blue shirt.

All told New Orleans is a city I’d love to go back to. It’s not going to be a Gillespie Family vacation destination, I’m certain (not a ton of kids stuff to do, although I’d love to take them on the swamp tour), but I could see it making a great four-day-weekend kind of trip. Head out Thursday morning, head back Sunday evening exhausted, stuffed and probably hungover but with a smile a mile-wide on my face.

(post image courtesy of Debra Hurd from Daily Painters)

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