New Orleans Louisiana - Accent on Tampa Bay Magazine

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New Orleans Louisiana - Accent on Tampa Bay Magazine
TRAVELOGUE
Louisiana
Cajun, Creole, and Loads of
Southern Hospitality
By Melissa Wolcott and Al Martino
seriously. The fellow playing Napoleon’s
envoy looked suspiciously like Napoleon
himself—apparently he wasn’t going to let
his uncanny resemblance to the dictator go
by unobserved.
W
photos by Melissa Wolcott
hen the celebration wound down, we
checked into the venerable Fairmont Hotel,
located just outside the French
Quarter, which only gets better
The Louisiana Purchase reenactment.
with age. Built in 1893 as the
Grunewald, it became the
Roosevelt in 1923, and finally the
Fairmont in 1999. She was always
a fine hotel, visited by royalty,
heads of state, and movie stars.
Our suite was lovely and comfortable, and the hotel staff attentive.
The Fairmont is famous for its
lobby Christmas decorations, and
we were fortunate to be there dur-
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ing the season. It is a truly breathtaking
experience to enter the fairyland of angel
hair, glittering trees and ornaments. Folks
drive in from all over just to walk through
the block-long lobby. And, of course, while
there, they stop in at the hotel’s Sazerac Bar,
which oddly enough, is where the famous
Sazerac cocktail was first created. Speaking
of cocktails, quite a few spots in New
Orleans lay claim to being where the “cock–
tail” was invented, so the jury’s still out on
that one.
The Fairmont houses a famous supper
club called the Blue Room, which back in
the 30s-60s presented the likes of Glen
Miller, Sophie Tucker, Frank Sinatra, Tony
Bennett, Cher, and Tina Turner, all of which
were broadcast across the nation from a
radio station right in the hotel. Although no
longer used for broadcasting, the room still
retains it’s nostalgic charm.
W
hile in New Orleans, we decided to
experience some of it’s more well-known
restaurants in the French Quarter—which
would be Arnaud’s, Muriel’s, New Orleans
Grill and Brennan’s.
Although Brennan’s is known for its fine
dining, it is most famous for breakfast, as in
“Brennan’s For Breakfast”, which is a longstanding New Orleans tradition. Indeed,
when we
A waiter prestopped in for pares Brennan’s
breakfast, the famous Bananas
Foster.
place was
packed, with
many of the
dignitaries
for the
Purchase
celebration
also in attendance. I don’t
believe you
will ever see
photo by Al Martino
photo courtesy of Louisiana Tourism
The Fairmont Hotel’s beautiful Christmas
decorations.
photo by Melissa Wolcott
“P
ssst! Wanna buy some swamp
land?—It’s a really good deal!”
That question would send you scurrying away today, but two hundred
years ago, one of our illustrious
forefathers (Jefferson) said “Yes,”
and it turned out to be the best real
estate deal in history. That would be,
of course, the Louisiana Purchase. In
addition to said swamp land, the
U.S. also acquired the eventual
states of Louisiana, Arkansas,
Colorado, Iowa, Kansas,
Minnesota, Missouri, Montana,
Nebraska, (part of) New Mexico,
North Dakota, Oklahoma, South
Dakota, (part of) Texas, and
Wyoming—all for $15 million
(about 4¢ an acre), which more
than doubled the size of the existing United States.
We had the pleasure recently of
attending the closing ceremonies
for Louisiana’s Bicentennial
Celebration at Jackson Square,
New Orleans. They held a wonderful reenactment with hundreds of
participants in full period costume
outside the Cabildo building where
the actual
Purchase agreement was originally signed
in 1803. Via large screen
TVs positioned outside the
building, ceremony
attendees watched the
signing in the room where
it originally took place. It
was quite well done, and
the actors took their roles
Reveillon dinner in the elegant New Orleans
Grill, located in the Windsor Court Hotel.
Surrounded by fine art in a room reminiscent of 17th century England, we enjoyed a
fabulous French/Creole dinner beginning
with Shellfish Bisque with Tarragon Cream,
then Pumpkin Veloute, on to Rack of Lamb,
and finished off with a Caramel Souffle.
Merveilleux!
And one cannot visit the French Quarter
with having a beignet and cafe au lait at the
original Cafe du Monde. You have never
really ever had a beignet (a donut without
the hole, covered with confectioner’s sugar)
until you’ve had one (or two, or three) at
this open air coffee shop (est. 1862). No
need for a menu, as beignets, coffee, and
hot chocolate are all you can order there, 24
hours a day, 7 days a week (except
Christmas). It’s a great way to begin or end
your French Quarter day.
Menus are full of “Cajun” and “Creole”
cuisines, so we investigated the origin and
difference of the two. A primer on the subject: A Creole is a descendant of an early
French or Spanish colonist born in the New
World, but has become homogenized to
define “an attitude toward life”, so all New
Orleanians are Creoles. Cajuns, on the other
hand, are always French in descent, and are
rustic, country folk, living along the bayous
and swamps—isolated, clannish, and speak
their own form of French. The French has
slowly been merged with English to produce their current distinctive accent. They
have retained their particular foods and
music. Cajun and Creole food both rely
heavily on herbs and spices, with Cajun
being more hot and spicy. For a little of
both, you can always buy Zatarains’ products and make your own taste treats.
Louisiana is, after all, the homeland of
Zatarains, known for their red beans and
rice, and jambalaya.
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W
ith the city gearing up for Mardi Gras,
we thought a visit to Blaine Kern’s Mardi
Gras World would be interesting, and so it
was! This is where just about every major
Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras Museum
photo by Al Martino
photo by Melissa Wolcott
a menu with a more varied egg-style choice
on it, which makes it difficult to choose.
Brennan’s also lays claim to creating the
first “Banana’s Foster”, so we had to have
some. Needless to say, we were extremely
pleased with our breakfast and with the restaurant’s service. A terrific book “Breakfast
At Brennan’s and Dinner Too” is available
on the restaurant’s website, and it contains
over 230 Brennan’s recipes as well as the
interesting history of the restaurant.
We both agree that the Steak au Poivre
that we had at Arnaud’s was either the best
we’d ever had, or the best in a very long
time. Dinner at this well-know eatery was
sheer delight. A fine jazz trio entertained
while we dined in one of the very atmospheric rooms. The 1918 restaurant is a labyrinth of dining rooms of varying sizes,
which were added on through the years as
the restaurant expanded. As we explored the
building we discovered wonderful old photos and a Mardi Gras museum.
Muriel’s Jackson Square Restaurant is a
definite must-visit spot while in the French
Quarter. The
restaurant,
although only
being in business as
Muriel’s since
2001, can trace
it’s building’s
land roots back
to 1750, when
it was one of
the first grand
houses in New
Orleans. The
current facade
has been renovated to look as it was in the late 1800s.
While doing the renovations, they came
across the charred walls and beams from the
devastating French Quarter fire of 1788. The
building housed a variety of businesses during the years that led up to its being a restaurant (1974), including the Royal Club—a
place for drinking and carousing in the late
1800s. There are several lounging rooms
upstairs decorated in what looks like
Toulouse-Lautrec brothel style with red brocade walls and loads of over-stuffed sofas
and pillows—just for effect these days, however! The restaurant’s cuisine is a contemporary Creole, with some interesting tastes
thrown in. A great spot in the restaurant to
enjoy your meal is on the balcony overlooking Jackson Square—one of the best views
in the Quarter.
Another treat during the Christmas season
is the traditional Reveillon Dinner, an old
Creole custom from the mid-1800s of families gathering, sharing and giving thanks on
Christmas Eve, involving an elaborate and
long lasting meal. Today’s Reveillon is celebrated nightly during the season at many
New Orleans restaurants. We had a
float for every major parade in the country
is created. A tour takes you past massive
floats and figures of people and animals and
even some familiar props (they do a lot of
work for Disney World, Universal Studios,
and Tampa’s Gasparilla). The warehouse is
continued on next page...
P.O. Box 190120, Dept. 6172, Miami Beach, FL 33119-0120
ACCENT on Tampa Bay 43
T
San Francisco Plantation
“The Big Easy” is a great city of hospitality and character, but we wanted to find out
more about some of the Louisiana parishes
(counties) drivable from the city, so we set
out for the Northshore, and St. Tammany
Parish. To get there you drive over Lake
Ponchartrain via the longest bridge over
water in the world, at 24 miles. The lake is
the largest inland lake (after the Great
Lakes), but very shallow at 10-12 feet deep.
It opens into the Gulf of Mexico, and is
home to our old friend, the manatee.
In the 1800s, folks used to cross the lake
by steamer to vacation on the Northshore,
and experience the artesian waters at Abita
Springs. Today the waters are still being
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photo courtesy of San Francisco Plantation
he next day we drove an hour west of bustling New Orleans and stepped back in time
at the San Fransisco Plantation in Garyville.
The name is not too glamorous as it is actually a French derivative of “sans fruscins”
meaning “without a penny in my pocket.”
The home, however, is glamorous. Built in
1856, The open-suite Creole style home had
a very successful sugar cane business, and
has been completely restored with authentic
furnishings and elaborate ceiling murals.
Also on the property is an original school
house and slave quarters. Our docent,
Catherine Stephens, made the home’s history come alive for us with her charm and
mellifluous voice.
photo by Melissa Wolcott
W
e decided to stay in a B&B off the
beaten path, and chose Little River Bluffs in
Folsom, which
has 60 acres of
woods with private riverfront
cabins. The
cabins are all
wood, spacious,
fully outfitted,
and with fireplaces for cozy
evenings. Our
host, David
Campbell, was Little River Bluffs B&B
very friendly and accommodating—we even
found his homemade bread waiting for us in
the cabin. If solitude, nature walks and a little fishing are what you like, this is your
place.
There are several such B&Bs in the area
that are just charming. One that stands out is
the Wood’s Hole Inn in Covington. The rustic inn provide suites with private entrances
and all are outfitted with comfortable
antiques. One of the more interesting cabins
was built in the 1850s to house folks with
yellow fever to isolate them from others.
Owners Sam and Marsha Smalley are fun
and hospitable.
Another Covington B&B of interest is
Annadele’s Plantation and Restaurant. Set in
a restored 19th century plantation home on
photo courtesy of Little River Bluffs
O
n one cool evening we visited the New
Orleans City Park, which was transformed
over the holidays into an enchanting wonderland called “Celebration In The Oaks,” an
annual event. Christmas trees—too many to
count—were decorated by different schools,
and the park glowed with thousands of twinkling lights. A fairy tale theme park and
Carousel Gardens featured live seasonal
entertainment, and a hot chocolate while
strolling through the park completed the perfect evening.
them.
Alligators
don’t eat
between first
frost and
March in
Louisiana as
they mostly
hibernate then. Back at the gift shop snack
bar, we tasted our first ever alligator-hot dog
and a delicious homemade jambalaya. We
got a kick out of the giant pig outside the
shop, with the word “PET” spray painted on
her side so she won’t be accidentally shot by
hunters while roaming about.
photo by Al Martino
huge, as you would assume it would have to
be, and artists are busily creating new pieces
for upcoming events. This has been a family
owned operation since 1947.
sought after for their purity, and as the main
ingredient in the very popular Abita Beer.
We stopped by the Abita Brew Pub for lunch
and a “beer sampling”. You may be familiar
with Abita Beer as the choice of Emeril
Lagasse in all his cooking. In fact, he has it
flown in to him wherever he is working. We
sampled about 5 different types of beer and
decided the “Purple Haze” suited our palates. This particular beer is a wheat beer
with fresh raspberries added during secondary fermentation. Abita Beer uses only
malted barley (no rice or corn, or cheap way
to get alcohol). Their draft beer takes 45-60
days to make, and bottled beer takes 5
months. We learned that beer is better
canned than bottled, although the public perception is the opposite. Light is the enemy
of beer, and the bottles still let some light in.
(Brown is better than green, and clear glass
is really bad.) Abita beer is now found in 33
states, Florida being one of them.
Right down the street from Abita Beer is
the most unusual museum we’ve ever seen—
and I wager
you have ever
seen—called
the UCM
Museum (as in
You-See-Em).
Housed in an
assemblage of
buildings
including a
vintage service station, a
90 year old
Creole cottage, and the
“House of Shards,” the collection consists of
thousands of found objects and homemade
inventions, some of which are animated and
are hands-on fun. Several items in the
exhibit look like tabloid creatures - like the
24 foot “Bassigator”—a combination of
giant bass and alligator. This place takes
eccentricity to the max.
L
ouisiana is known for its swamps, so a
swamp tour was definitely in order. Dr.
Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tours in
Slidell, take you on a guided tour through
the pristine Honey Island Swamp, one of the
least explored in America. During the 1800s,
it was a place of refuge for pirates. There are
ghost stories, tales of hidden treasure yet to
be found, AND Swamp Thing (or “Roogeroo”) sightings! The tour uses motorized
boats rather than airboats (which are outlawed). The Cyprus trees hung with Spanish
moss were beautiful as we glided along
looking out for gators. Cyprus trees grow
about one foot in diameter per century, so
we saw quite a few really ancient ones. It
was pretty cold that day, and we didn’t see
any gators, but heard that they really enjoy
the marshmallows the guides toss out to
Annadele’s Plantation
photo courtesy of Annadele’s
TRAVELOGUE C o n t i n u e d
the banks of the Bogue Falaya River, the restaurant is very popular and the mostly
Creole menu is wonderful. There wasn’t an
empty table in all five dining rooms when
we were there. Even though there are four
antique filled rooms for overnight stays, this
property is primarily a restaurant with full
banquet facilities, and features a new kitchen
addition. The property expansion and excellent menu is the creation of longtime local
favorite chef, Pat Gallagher.
Covington’s downtown is truly charming,
and the whole town is on the historic register. With a population of only 8,550, the
affluent town is known for its arts community and galleries. The restaurants are outstanding, as all are owner/operated, and only
one fast food restaurant can be found in
town. The 1927 Camelia House B&B is just
delightful with only one suite available for
guests at the present time, and a short walk
to the galleries and restaurants.
The relatively new and ambitious
Ponchartrain Vineyards just north of
Covington has created wine specifically to
complement the unique Louisiana cuisine. In
it’s short history, it has racked up quite a few
national awards. We visited the Vineyards
Old World Tasting Room, and sampled some
of the various different blends, and witnessed part of the process that goes into
making the wines. Some of the finer restaurants we ate in during our trip served
Ponchartrain wine.
SIGHTSEEING
ADVENTURES
photo by Al Martino
E
ach year in October, the Wooden Boat
Festival takes place in Madisonville. This is
the biggest such event in the South, with 120
boats participating in
the most recent one.
Madisonville is also
home to the Lake
Ponchartrain
Maritime Museum,
which takes you
through the area’s
interesting maritime
history. They also
have a diorama of
Louisiana Bayou life in the early 1800s. A
wonderful service the museum provides is
their boat building classes. In about 12
weeks, and for about $1,200 you can build
your own working skiff out of marine plywood and Spanish cedar. We saw quite a few
boats as works-in-progress.
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M
andeville is another Old South town
located on the lake, and we experienced two
super restaurants there, Alex Patout’s and
Shady Brady. On our Louisiana journey, we
found restaurant’s histories and atmospheres
continued on next page...
photo by Melissa Wolcott
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I
n Jefferson Parish, Historic Gretna is
fiercely proud of its German roots. Settled in
1836, it began with a German plantation
owner who brought fellow Germans over to
work his farm because it was cheaper than
slaves. The German people moved there for
freedom of religion, and brought with them
their knowledge of making beer and growing
vegetables. The German-American Cultural
Center has an exhibit that tells the town
story from 1720 to today. Gretna has done a
lot to preserve some of their 1800s homes, a
1906 depot, and the David Crockett Fire
House, founded in 1841 (the oldest continuously active volunteer fire company in the
U.S.) Some of the thanks for that would
probably go to The Gretna Office of
Tourism’s, Virgie Ott, a little powerhouse of
a lady who does a super job for her town.
Part of the museum area is a recreated
Blacksmith Shop, which originally was used
for weddings in addition to its normal purpose. Weddings you say? Yes. Gretna was
named after Gretna Green, Scotland, which
is world famous for its runaway marriages
that began in 1754 when England declared
that couples under twenty one years old
could not get married without the consent of
their parents. Scotland had no such law, so
English couples would flee across the border
into Scotland with their parents in hot pursuit, and the first village they came to was
Gretna Green, and the first building was the
Blacksmith Shop, so the blacksmith would
marry the couple. Gretna, Louisiana became
the same refuge for couples from New
Orleans because their rules were much
looser. Today couples can get married in
Gretna’s Blacksmith Shop, and every
Valentine’s Day, whoever wants to reaffirm
46
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Ed and Virgie Ott renew their vows over the
blacksmith anvil with Father Frank Carabello.
photo by Melissa Wolcott
If You Go...
their vows can do so. We had the pleasure of
witnessing the reaffirmation of Virgie and
Ed Ott’s vows by Father Frank Carabello.
A
great way to tour New Orleans and the
Parishes is to take the Cajun Pride Tours
which hits most of the high points, and
throws in some fun along the way. They
have a variety of choices depending on your
interests, from refined (Plantations) to funky
(Haunted Swamp Tour). We took the
Festival of the Bonfire Tour in Gramercy (St.
James Parish), available only during
Christmas holidays. Our tour host (and
owner) Chris Smith, was very informative,
jolly and quick witted, so a good time was
had by all.
The “Lighting of the Bonfires” is a tradition dating back to the 1880s. Over 100 bonfire structures are built in the month preceding Christmas along the Mississippi River
by families and the community. Some say
it’s to light the way for Papa Noel, but the
origin’s history is a bit muddy. On Christmas
Eve, they are lit off and make a magnificent
sight, while up to 50 thousand
people stroll along the
levees and eat good
Cajun food. The
structures
A wooden fire truck ready to go up in flames at
the Christmas bonfires.
range from a simple teepee shape to a complicated design. The Gramercy Fire
Department always makes an elaborate
structure, and this year they designed a fire
truck complete with a dalmatian in the
driver’s seat!
S
“ outhern Hospitality” must have originated in Louisiana, since virtually every person we came in contact with in or out of the
city were warm, friendly and helpful, and
we look forward to a return visit to explore
another part of Louisiana.
K
photo by Al Martino
to be as interesting as the menus.
Alex Patout’s was the first house in
Mandeville, built in the 1830s. The same
family has owned it since then (five generations). It went through many incarnations in
it’s history, some of which were a home,
brothel, casino and restaurant. Louisiana’s
popular but controversial Governor Huey P.
Long was known to frequent the place during it’s heyday. They claim our current card
game of poker originated there. It may have
been, since it was definitely played on the
Mississippi steamboats in the 1800s.
Shady Brady, which is just a few blocks
from Alex Patout’s, has a Plain-Jane facade,
but the food is excellent. We count it as one
of our best dining experiences on our trip.
The menu is pure Louisiana, beginning with
Fried Po-Boys, Fried Pickles, Sugar Cane
Pork, and on to Gumbo, and Chicken Fried
Chicken served with cabbage and blackeyed peas. Before this trip, this menu may
not have appealed to our more cosmopolitan
taste, but the food was homemade with the
best ingredients, and we became immediate
converts.
Abita Beer - 21084 Hwy. 36, Abita Springs,
LA 70420; 800-737-2311;
www.abita.com
Alex Patout’s - 2025 Lakeshore Dr.,
Mandeville, LA 70448; 985-626-8500;
www.patout.com/
Annadele’s Plantation Restaurant and
B&B - 71495 Chestnut St., Covington, LA
70433; 985-809-7669;
www.annadelesplantation.com
Arnaud’s - 813 Rue Bienville, New Orleans,
LA 70112; 504-523-5433;
www.arnauds.com
Brennan’s Restaurant - 417 Royal St., New
Orleans, LA 70130; 504-525-9711;
www.brennansneworleans.com
Cafe Du Monde - 813 Decatur St., New
Orleans, LA 70116; 504-587-0833;
www.cafedumonde.com
Cajun Pride Swamp Tours - Laplace, LA
70069; 800-467-0758;
www.cajunprideswamptours.com
Camellia House B&B - 426 E Rutland St.,
Covington, LA 70433; 985-893-2442
Fairmont Hotel - 123 Baronne St., New
Orleans, LA 70112; 504-529-7111;
www.fairmont.com/neworleans
German American Cultural Center - 519
Huey P. Long Ave., Gretna, LA 70054;
504-363-4202; www.gacc-nola.com
Gretna Visitor Center - Huey P. Long Ave.,
Gretna, LA 70054; 504-363-1580;
www.gretnala.com
Honey Island Swamp Tours - c/o Dr. Paul
Wagner, 106 Holly Ridge Dr., Slidell, LA
70461; www.honeyislandswamp.com
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime
Museum - 133 Mabel Dr., Madisonville,
LA 70447 www.lpbmaritimemuseum.org
Little River Bluffs - 11030 Garden Lane,
Folsom. LA 70437; 985-796-5257;
www.littleriverbluffs.com
Mardi Gras World - 233 Newton St., New
Orleans, LA 70114; 504-361-7821;
www.mardigrasworld.com
Muriels Jackson Square - 80 Chartres St.,
New Orleans, LA 70116; 504-568-1885;
www.muriels.com/
New Orleans City Park - 1 Palm Dr., New
Orleans, LA 70124; 504-483-9415;
www.neworleanscitypark.com
Pontchartrain Vineyards - 81250 Old
Military Rd., Bush, LA 70431; 985-8929742; www.pontchartrainvineyards.com
San Francisco Plantation House - 2646
River Rd., Garyville, LA 70051; 985-5352341; www.sanfranciscoplantation.org
Shady Brady’s - 301 Lafitte St., Mandeville,
LA 70448; 985-727-5580
UCM Museum - 22275 Hwy. 36, Abita
Springs, LA 70420; 888-211-5731;
www.ucmmuseum.com
Windsor Court Hotel - 300 Gravier St., New
Orleans, LA 70130;
www.windsorcourthotel.com
Woods Hole Inn B&B - 78253 Woods Hole
Lane, Folsom, LA 70437; 985-796-9077;
www.woodsholeinn.com

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