A Long Weekend in New Orleans

mardi gras beads

On a warm and sunny Friday morning in late March, we packed up the car, dropped Juno off at puppy camp, and headed for The Big Easy.

Southwest and Frontier do have quick non-stop flights to New Orleans, but we didn’t book early enough for a cheap rate (Southwest) or plan our trip around the days the flights operate (Frontier), and with our frame of reference for road trips a bit skewed these days (23 hours to Virginia, anyone?), the eight-hour drive from Austin to New Orleans seemed easy and reasonable. So drive we did.

Day One

We rolled into New Orleans in the late afternoon and checked into our Airbnb, located in the Irish Channel neighborhood (one block south of the Garden District’s Magazine Street). So cute! It was the back two rooms of a shotgun-style house, with the sweetest host named Vic. While not fancy, the place was everything we needed for the trip, and nothing we didn’t, in a great location at a good price.

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The rest of our Friday consisted of walking around the neighborhood (drinks in hand), washing down some fresh oysters with a few beers at neighborhood favorite Tracey’s, and going out for a nice dinner at Atchafalaya, about a half-mile walk from our place.

We picked Atchafalaya based on reviews and proximity, but it blew us away. In an insane twist, the bar manager at Atchafalaya turned out to be none other than a former co-worker of Alex’s from his Union Jack bar days; Jordan moved to New Orleans almost 10 years ago and Alex hadn’t talked to him since his trip to Mardi Gras in 2011, but there he was behind the bar of the restaurant we randomly selected. He totally hooked us up and we had an amazing feast between the top-shelf tequila, sazeracs, fried green tomatoes with crab meat, crab ravioli, shrimp and grits, duck, blue cheese flan, and vermouth. Needless to say, I unzipped my skirt waistband for the walk home.

Day Two

We had a good amount of time on our own on Saturday before Clint, Emily, Kristen, and Mike arrived, and not wanting to waste any of it, we were at District Donuts by 8am for breakfast. A smoked salmon kolache, brown butter drop, and cookies and cream donut later, we were fueled up for a leisurely stroll through the beautiful Garden District to Lafayette Cemetery, one of New Orleans’ oldest cemeteries.

Though the timing of this trip to New Orleans meant we weren’t able to attend the Austin March for Our Lives, it also meant we could be part of the New Orleans March instead! After a bit of digestion, we Lyfted over to Washington Park off Frenchmen Street to join the marchers. We had some extra time before the march started so we meandered around the French Market off Decatur Street, Bloody Marys in hand, before heading back to the park to line up with the marchers. It was a really awesome experience and very empowering to be part of a group of such passionate people. And the signs were so clever!

A few miles of walking, lots of cheering and support from viewers, and tired feet later, the march ended in Duncan Plaza and we grabbed a Lyft to Turkey and the Wolf for lunch, which was conveniently located pretty close to our Airbnb. I can’t even write about this place without drooling for another collared green melt. I know, it sounds kind of weird, even maybe sounds not good, but the combination of slow-cooked collard greens, swiss cheese, pickled cherry pepper dressing, coleslaw, and rye bread amazingly mimics a reuben sandwich, with its own mouth-watering twist. I wish I’d had room for a second.

Then it was on to meet up with Clint, Emily, Kristen, and Mike for oysters, round two! The Blind Pelican in the Garden District has a 25-cent oyster happy hour every day from 4-8 p.m. which we couldn’t miss. After 72 oysters, we were ready for a trip to Bourbon Street and the Cat’s Meow Karaoke Bar. Dirty? Yes. Lots of sloppy drunk people? Yes. So much fun watching people attempt to sing poorly-chosen karaoke songs? Yes. We killed an hour or so at the Cat’s Meow before the night’s main event, jazz at Preservation Hall. Clint and Emily had the foresight to reserve tickets in advance, so we didn’t have to spend any time queueing outside hoping for tickets or squeezing into standing-room-only space in the back of the small venue. We had front-row seats for this 45-minute, intimate jazz concert with some of New Orleans’ finest musicians. A must-do during any trip to New Orleans!

Day Three

Sunday started with the two of us back at District Donuts – this time for a smoked salmon kolache, a sausage, candied jalapeno, and cheese kolache, and a sweet and salty donut. This was just a warm-up for the next activity, brunch at Coquette (though we did manage some more walking around the Garden District between the two). Coquette had super amazing brunch cocktails – strawberry old fashioned or cilantro margarita, anyone? The group went in on the family style whole fried chicken with all the fixins’, while I opted for chilled asparagus soup and scrambled eggs with crawfish beignets from the two-course brunch menu.

We lucked out that our trip coincided with the make-up day for the Mardi Gras Indians Super Sunday Parade, which occurs every year around St. Joseph’s Day (this year, the original event was postponed due to rain). After brunch, we walked about a mile north into Central City, where we found the Mardi Gras Indians, led by their Big Chiefs, parading along Lasalle Street in vibrant beaded and feathered costumes, while performing dances, chants, and songs. Their suits are incredible – each one is worn only twice a year (for Mardi Gras and Super Sunday), as they’re dismantled, redesigned, and reconstructed each year, entirely by hand. They can weigh up to 150 pounds, and the Big Chief’s headdress alone is often 50-75 pounds! And it was in the low 80s during this late March parade. Can’t even imagine how hot they must have been.

After the parade dwindled down, we migrated west along Lasalle Street until we reached A.L. Davis Park, which was packed with food and drink vendors and stages with brass bands and D.J.s. We spent a few hours enjoying the sun and the festivities.

Sunburned, sweaty, and tipsy, we eventually meandered back to Tracey’s on Magazine Street where we devoured a couple of crawfish platters surrounded by basketball fans intensely watching the Kansas vs. Duke playoff game. Kristen and I learned we have the same birthday, and we all had a few more drinks to celebrate this fun discovery before calling it a night.

Day Four

When we find something we like, we tend to stick with it, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that District Donuts was our first stop Monday morning. This time, we opted for a scrambled egg and cheese biscuit each and a shared peanut butter cup donut. While digesting, we once again walked around the Garden District, this time looking for particular houses belonging to various celebrities, thanks to the list of addresses left in our Airbnb by our hosts. We walked by the homes of Archie Manning, Anne Rice (Vampire Chronicles), John Goodman, Sandra Bullock, and Beyonce and Jay-Z. Archie Manning’s was the most modest (if possible in the Garden District), while Bey and Jay’s place was an insanely unique converted old church.

By this time, the rest of the gang were awake so we headed back to the French Quarter for traditional New Orleans beignets at Cafe du Monde. Yep, the line was long, but yep, it was worth it. After Clint got a “shoe shine” from an enterprising man in nearby Washington Artillery Park (which consisted of hand sanitizer rubbed all over his shoes), we dusted the powdered sugar off our shorts, caught some live jazz in Jackson Square, and ended up over in Louis Armstrong Park on the edge of Tremé. Named for one of New Orleans’ best known musicians, it’s also home to Congo Square, a place where the city’s slaves would come together on Sundays to socialize and celebrate with music, drumming, singing, and dancing, and also to sell their homemade goods.

We walked from Louis Armstrong Park back into the French Quarter, admiring all the brightly-colored houses along the way, and ended up at Acme Oyster House for a late-afternoon lunch, and in particular, their mouth-watering chargrilled oysters in herb butter, topped with cheese. Absolutely get these if you’re in the area (there’s always a line, so if you can go late afternoon, versus right around a meal time, you’ll likely avoid much of a wait – our party of six only waited about 10 minutes). Alex and I both also got po-boys (oyster and shrimp for me, all shrimp for Alex); these were not as good.

We had hoped to make it to Domilise’s – Alex has raved about this place since his Mardi Gras trip – but we ran out of time.

After afternoon siestas, we spent our last night taking a French Quarter Ghost Tour. These tours are a really great way to learn about the city and its history while walking around the French Quarter, drink in hand. Unfortunately, our tour group included some ignorant, middle-aged assholes who made increasingly bigger fools of themselves as they got progressively drunker; regardless, I’d still recommend the two-hour tour. Our guide, Jennifer, was really fun, super unique, knew her stuff, and handled the idiots very well. We wrapped up the evening with a few slices of pizza on Bourbon Street.

I was watching Tremé after our trip, and in one of the first few episodes, Antoine is in the French Quarter for a gig and as he’s walking down Bourbon Street, someone he knows comes out of a pizza shop right next to Preservation Hall – that’s our spot!

Back to Austin

After a last breakfast from (you guessed it) District Donuts, we packed up Tuesday morning and hit the road for the eight hour trek back to Juno and home, bellies filled with a brûléed cinnamon roll, croque madame, and final smoked salmon kolache (yes, they’re really that good).

Laissez le bon temps rouler!

Weather-wise, March was a beautiful – likely perfect – time of year to go. Every day featured sunny skies with the perfect amount of fluffy clouds, highs in the upper 70s, evening temperatures in the low 60s, and no trace of the stifling humidity that plagues the city in the summer months.

Other New Orleans recommendations:

The Country Club – This 21-and-up restaurant has a Drag Brunch every Saturday, as well as a private pool and outdoor bar area. Make sure you bring lots of $1 bills for the show!

Honey Island Swamp Tour – While a bit out of the city, this is a really fun way to spend a few hours and get way up close and personal with the local alligators, as well as other swamp life. If you don’t have a car during your trip, you can add a hotel/French Quarter pick-up option to your reservation.

Cane & Table – Good food, great drinks, and a really cool space in the French Quarter.

Arnaud’s Jazz Brunch – A stomach-bursting four-course brunch set to live traditional New Orleans jazz, also in the French Quarter.

Because of how much the food plays into the culture of New Orleans, it’s not an easy place for those with very restrictive diets; knowing this, I decided to eat pescatarian during the trip, though there are quite a few vegan options I’d like to check out next time. Can you be a strict vegetarian, or even vegan, while in New Orleans? Sure – a quick Google search results in tons of options. But it could be challenging if you’re with a group of omnivores that want to take advantage of the city’s traditional cuisine. 

What are your favorite spots in New Orleans?

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