Thursday, November 11, 2010

My French Quarter Eating Tour

The Quarter: Always Exciting
As many times as I have been to New Orleans for business and/or pleasure, I still have a built in GPS if you will, that leads me to the same places time and again. In this edition, I will cover one of my French Quarter eating/beverage tours. If I had to guess I would say I have done this tour in some form or fashion well over 100 times over the years. There may be a slight deviation at times like the main eating place but all in all they are pretty consistent. They are one reason I have still to try some really good places in New Orleans, in the Quarter and elsewhere. Two places I found by finally venturing out of the comfort zone are Manales and Ralph's On The Park.

The places and faces may not all be 5 Star joints but they hold a special place in my life as memories and places I will still frequent when I am back in the area again. Hopefully soon.

Careful, They Are Strong
I began my treks to the Big Easy in the mid 70's and continued after school into the 80's, living in the city in the mid 80's for a short stint. I can recall the days of Saturday morning shopping at Schwegmann's with a draft beer in one hand and the cart handle in the other.  Pleasure trips brought me back often from 85-90 and then jobs, business and pleasure have had me back in the city of the best cuisine from 90 until now. I have seen more than 15 Sugar Bowls, three Jazzfests, a couple of Mardi Gras and countless other celebrations of birthdays, anniversaries along with another countless business trips. I was in the city with my son two weeks prior to Katrina and we walked and visited many of the places that you saw on TV in the aftermath. A surreal experience indeed. The memories can run together there are so many and some due to a few too many Pat O's libations or maybe a Hand Grenade too much at Tropical Isle.

So, without further delay, let's walk the tour of the Quarter and enjoy the journey together.

Early on I always stayed in the Marriott on Canal at the mouth of the Quarter and did so religiously for about 10 years or so. I was a Platinum in the Marriott Honored Guest program and after a while I was known by name by the Bellmen and was actually asked to participate in a marketing program to help them improve. I got to the point of getting suites on many of my trips into the city. Since then I have branched out some but lean toward Marriott due to the many choices and the fact I am now a lifetime gold with 950 plus nights to my credit. Other places I have stayed in are the Omni and the Country Inn and Suites, which is very nice and the right price.

For the tour sake we will use the Marriott as our starting point since the old lobby bar facing Canal began many of them. That was the meeting place for friends or business associates as we headed out. That being said, more of the tours were on my own than with people due to the nature of my visits. My wife has been on a good many of these as well.

From the Marriott I headed down toward Decatur by zig zagging my way off Royal to the corner where Johnny's Po-Boys is and then turned left and headed down to Crescent City Brewhouse. Sitting at the bar for a Red Stallion, Wheat or Seasonal and depending on the later plans, grab some raw oysters. The barkeeps knew me after a while. Great start to have a homemade and great tasting beer. From here I took a left on down Decatur to the Square and wander around there people watching, checking out the art and saying hi to the horses or mules on the buggys waiting to tour the area. Most of the time my next stop took me right through the square onto St. Peter, past Gumbo Shop and you might have guessed it, Pat O'Briens. Now, depending on the time, date and if the wife was with, I hit the CD Jukebox bar upfront or other times the Flaming Fountain Courtyard. Order? 99% of the time, Hurricane in a cup. Never more than two and if I had two I was good to go for the rest of the evening. CD Jukebox got alot of my money as music goes with Hurricanes nicely.

After this stop I usually head toward the place of choice for eating lunch or dinner. This is also where the tour could get into a diverse list of stops. Although I love my regular spots, I have enough of them where I can also go for some variety.More often than not I headed back toward Canal by way of Royal or a street adjacent and ended up at my all time favorite New Orleans restaurant, Mr. B's Bistro. Waiting at the bar with a Bloody Mary for a table and getting hungrier by the minute. This is our place and always will be which is why I still have yet to try Bayona for one.

My stool is 2nd from the left
Now, if I did not do B's I would be heading down toward the Market and this might be a noshing night or afternoon where a few places were hit for the hunger pangs. Many times I end up at Margaritaville for the namesake drink and some Conch Fritters and some acoustic music. It is like a home away from home there. Always end up in the store for a few minutes too, never buying, always looking.

After this the tour can get to be like a hurricane in the gulf meandering slowly and not really knowing where it is going. So the MAIN tour is over but usually more remains. I might sit in for a set in some Bourbon St. bar with an R&B band and have a $7 Screwdriver, Stop in at a Daquiri joint for a small or many times hit Tropical Isle for a nightcap. And if you know the place, it is REALLY a night cap. To end it up the must have was, back in the day, Takee Outee shrimp on a stick but since they are not around anymore, it is more likely Krystal for a bag of cheeses or Popeyes on Canal for a two piece, all white spicy. They may or may not make it to the hotel room depending on how hungry I was at the time.

Careful of the Hand Grenade

So, that my friends is my tour for now. Not glamourous, not five star for the most part BUT a piece of the tradition, the legacy that is mine in my visits to the Big Easy and ALWAYS enjoyable.

Now I have to plan on my next tour. And add a few new spots to the itinerary this time around. See y'all soon and remember, Turducken is the ONLY way to go on Thanksgiving!