Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans to remember the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. A few months ago, AEO sponsored a denim drive in each of our stores to collect used jeans, which we would eventually turn into insulation to be used in conjunction with the Make It Right Foundation in the houses they are building in the Lower 9th Ward.
So, last Friday morning, my friend Cheryl and I boarded our plane and jet-setted our way to NOLA. Being that we were the first of the team to arrive, our first order of business was to find somewhere to eat lunch. It was my mission to eat true Nawlins cuisine… and as much of it as humanly possible.
We wandered down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and ended up at Desire Oyster Bar, a stunning restaurant with a tin ceiling, black and white checkered floors, oversized windows and antique mirrors. It was gorgeous. We ordered Crispy Fried Alligator with Louisiana Pepper Jelly as an appetizer. Pepper jelly is a southern staple, made with peppers (obviously), vinegars, sugar and liquid crab boil. And, in my opinion, it was the highlight of the appetizer. It was lovely and bright and delightfully tangy. I thought about just eating it with a spoon.
Then, we both ordered Catfish Po’Boys, successfully filling our fried food quota for the day. (But the side of greens has to count for something, right?) The catfish was light and gummy and the bread was sour and warm and flaky, and everything I’ve ever wanted in a Po’Boy. We left happy, considering our first Big Easy meal a raging success.
The next night, we dined at NOLA, Emeril Lagasse’s French Quarter eatery that fuses traditional Creole, Acadian and Southern cuisine with global influences. The three-story restaurant featured a wood-fired brick oven, an open kitchen and a stunning collection of wine. I ordered a Fleur-de-Lis cocktail (orange vodka, St. Germain, chambord, chardonnay, lemon juice and ginger ale topped with a lemon wedge), and Shrimp & Grits for dinner. Oh my lawd. The sautéed shrimp sat on top a bed of smoked cheddar grits, with grilled green onions, applewood smoked bacon, crimini mushrooms and doused with a lemon butter sauce. I don’t think a single word escaped through my lips while this plate was in front of me. Each bite was creamy and tangy, and it was everything it should have been when you’re eating Shrimp and Grits in the south.
On Sunday morning, Cheryl and I dragged ourselves out of bed bright and early, so we could hit up the infamous Cafe Du Monde for beignets and a morning cup of joe. The line was long, the sun was strong, but the hype was all worth it. The coffee — chicory and iced — was the perfect pick-me-up and the beignet was like a bite-size funnel cake.
After a few hours of meandering through the French Quarter, shopping for trinkets and art and exploring the sights, we asked a few locals for one last restaurant recommendation. Before we knew it, we ended up at Oceana Grill for our final meal of the trip. We started with an appetizer of Oyster Rockefeller, which Cheryl hated and I loved. Stuffed with spinach, bacon and parmesan cheese, there was nothing to hate about them. Nothing at all. Then my Cajun Jambalaya Pasta arrived, and every spicy, alligator sausage and shrimp filled bite was better than the last.
After a short and sweet, fun and food-filled weekend in New Orleans, Cheryl and I started our walk back to the hotel. We were surrounded by the stunning of architecture of the French Quarter when Cheryl said, “New Orleans is visually delicious.” I looked around, and couldn’t help but agree. It’s visually delicious… and also just the regular kind of delicious, too.