Day Two: Window on New Orleans Past and Present
On the first night of our visit to New Orleans compliments of Harrah’s for their “Best Weekend Ever” promotion we spent a mere four hours wining and dining at Emeril’s Delmonico, which as Joe has promised will have its own post. Today found us eating through the history of New Orleans’ traditional dishes and cooking lessons at New Orleans Cooking School all in the French Quarter.
The morning started with coffee, beignets and a little history of the Harrah’s New Orleans property – since we get a tour on Sunday, I’ll save the details for that post. Then we met Mary La Poste, certified New Orleans tour guide. If cities had docents, Mary and her French Quarter tour would be right up at the top of the list with our Chinese Uncle Gee’s Chinatown tour in San Francisco. Since Mother Nature had other ideas, the start of our walking tour turned into a limo bus tour to avoid our sloshing in the rain and cold.
Some interesting facts about the Crescent City as told to us by Mary:
- The cocktail and Jazz were both born in New Orleans
- New Orleans beignets were originally called French Market Doughnuts, says Mary. But fancy marketing folks from New York City decided that was boring, and suggested the doughnuts be called beignets. The name stuck, and they are now the “official doughnut of the State of Louisiana.” If you look closely, says Mary, they are simply Spanish sopapillas with powdered sugar instead of honey.
- Po’ Boys (sandwiches) were first served during the Depression. It was a way a “poor boy” could get a meal on French bread.
- Canal Street is so named because the city planned to put a canal in its location, “but like a lot of things, just never got around to it,” says Mary.
Following a bus ride that took us around some pretty tight corners with Mary shouting “Turn Left Here” right as the driver approached an intersection, we disembarked for a private tour of Antoine’s Restaurant. Opened in 1840, Antoine’s is the oldest in New Orleans and oldest family-run restaurant in the country. It has 15 different dining rooms, with a variety of old photos and artifacts from Mardi Gras royalty. It continued to serve wine and booze during Prohibition, we’re told, by using a bit of hallway which was part of the “ladies room” to allow the men to pass through a secret door.
From Antoine’s we went to lunch at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen (Paul Prudhomme’s restaurant) where we and our fellow bloggers dined on gumbo, red beans and rice, fried pork chops and po’ boys. Then we visited Faulkner House Books in Pirate’s Alley, where I bought a copy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Poetry as Insurgent Art and a signed copy of Rosemary Daniell’s 20th Anniversary Edition of A Sexual Tour of the Deep South.
This shop is on a lot of walking tours of the French Quarter because it’s where Nobel prize-winner William Faulkner lived while he was writing his early works Mosquitoes and Soldiers’ Pay. Those who step inside instead of just snapping a photo and walking on will find something remarkable: possibly the best selection per square foot of any bookstore in the whole wide world, with every bit of shelf space occupied by a book that’s both highly collectible and of literary value. The shop holds a large collection of Faulkner first editions and rare and first-edition classics by many other authors, and it has a particularly comprehensive collection of New Orleans-related work. Taking up one room and a hallway, Faulkner House feels like a portion of somebody’s private home — which it is — but the selection of books here shows the art that is in bookselling. – Frommer’s Review
We left the book store to duck into Pirates Alley Cafe and Absinthe House before heading to the New Orleans School of Cooking for a journey through the area’s Cajun and Creole cooking history, and, you guessed it — more food! During our lessons the heavens started rumbling, the sky opened up and it began to pour — so we grabbed a cab and took a rather harrowing ride back to the hotel to prepare for dinner at Besh Steak and a bit of gaming at Harrah’s Casino.
Stay tuned for more, as well as the winner of the 2-night stay compliments of Harrah’s New Orleans!