Go beyond New Orleans' French Quarter
Go beyond New Orleans' French Quarter
August 5, 2010
By JILLIAN COHAN
Charity concerts and volunteer crews aside, one of the best ways to help the Gulf Coast in the wake of the BP oil spill is to go there and support its businesses. If you've already done Mardi Gras, JazzFest or the Essence Festival, there's still lots to explore in New Orleans beyond the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street, including a growing arts district.
Walk around the Quarter, by all means. Listen to street musicians, putter in curio shops and stop for famous treats such as coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde (800 Decatur, 504-525-4544, cafedumonde.com) or muffaletta at Central Grocery (923 Decatur, 504-620-0174), where a single order can easily feed a family of four.
If you're looking for Gulf oysters before they disappear from menus, there are still some places to satisfy your craving. Skip the line at tourist staple Acme Oyster House and visit its upscale neighbor, Bourbon House (144 Bourbon, 504-522-0111, bourbonhouse.com), whose award-winning shuckers deliver the raw materials for dishes such as Plateaux De Fruits De Mer, which pairs oysters on the half shell with local caviar, mussels, Gulf shrimp and crab fingers.
Bourbon House hasn't taken oysters off the menu yet, nor has it raised prices. "Now is no different than any other time," said restaurant spokeswoman Alyson Tyron. All of the restaurant's Gulf seafood is tested for safety, she added. Raw oysters from Louisiana are increasingly hard to get, though. Bourbon House will keep serving them as long as it can, Tyron said, but check its website for updated menus before you dine.
If you're out and about when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is in town, check them out live (726 St. Peter, 504-522-2841, preservationhall.com). If they're on tour, consider spending a buck for It Ain't My Fault, the band's single to benefit Gulf relief efforts, available on iTunes. The House of Blues (225 Decatur, 504-310-4999, houseofblues.com) also offers live music and a terrific dirty martini that's even better accompanied by the Voodoo Shrimp appetizer, a plate of cream-kissed, pan-seared deliciousness served with sweet-spicy cornbread. The bartender says the dish was one of the original menu items Emeril Lagasse developed for HoB when it first opened. Truth or legend, it's a standout on a fairly traditional menu.
For accommodations, consider the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel in the warehouse district (700 Tchoupitoulas, 504-613-2330, marriott.com), not far from the French Quarter and the convention center. In a nod to the art studios and galleries nearby, the hotel has two sculpture gardens and boasts Chihuly glass chandeliers in the lobby, which feeds into a display space housing works by New Orleans artists such as John Scott and Mitchell Gaudet.
Alternatively, consider the Ambassador Hotel (535 Tchoupitoulas, 800-455-3417, ambassadorneworleans.com). Three 19th-century warehouses were combined to create the hotel, which has the exposed brick and distressed wood floors common in industrial lofts but avoids sterile modernity with gilt-edged mirrors, luxe textiles and wrought-iron four poster beds.
Just blocks from the hotels, the converted warehouses lining Julia Street hold galleries specializing in contemporary art, traditional crafts and African-American artwork.
Several gallery owners have stepped up with benefits for people affected by the oil spill. A recent show at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (400a Julia , 504-522-5471, jonathanferrara gallery.com) featured dozens of pieces by artists such as David Bradshaw, who meditated on the plight of the brown pelican, and Bob Compton, a photographer who used to shoot commercial images for energy companies.
Not far from the galleries and the convention center, Riverwalk Marketplace (1 Poydras, 504-522-1555, riverwalkmarketplace.com) has snack shops, bead vendors and kiddie attractions, as well as a sweeping view of the riverfront from its observation deck. Another pleasant surprise: The Southern Food and Beverage Museum (504-569-0405, southernfood.org), which is acting as a clearinghouse for information about the oil spill's cultural impact. Current exhibits include a history lesson on the Hurricane Cocktail and an homage to the oyster. Fans of the HBO series Treme might enjoy the museum's online multimedia exhibit devoted to the culinary history of the neighborhood.
Foodies and food TV viewers also might be tempted to try any one of chef John Besh's restaurants. If you can't score a table at August (301 Tchoupitoulas, 504-299-9777), Luke (333 St. Charles, 504-378-2840) or Domenica (123 Baronne, 504-648-6020), consider Cochon, another excellent local venue owned by chefs Donald Link (a James Beard award winner) and Stephen Stryjewski. Cochon (930 Tchoupitoulas, 504-588-2123, cochon restaurant.com) specializes in regional delicacies, such as boudin, pig ears and fried alligator, with a contemporary twist. The place gets packed on weekends, so consider arriving just before the early seating and settling in with a signature drink -- maybe the Porch Swing, their take on a Pimm's Cup, or the Cochon Royale, with champagne and pomegranate liqueur.
When making dinner plans, keep in mind that many bars and restaurants close on Sundays - it's best to check their hours in advance rather than just dropping in. One Sunday staple, however, is brunch in the Garden District, accessible from the St. Charles Streetcar (norta.com). Stop at the genteel Columns Hotel (3811 St. Charles, 504-899-9308, thecolumns.com) for jazz brunch on the veranda and a nice view of the neighborhood's Victorian homes. The four-course production starts after church and drifts into mid-afternoon.