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The Not as Big, but Cleaner, Easy

April 3, 2009

I recently spent approximately four days and three evenings in New Orleans. This was my first visit since Hurricane Katrina, and my first for work since….ever. The most notable change for me was how few people there were, and how CLEAN the streets were. This was a theme echoed by a co-worker who has been to New Orleans as much, if not more than, myself.

So I have never been to New Orleans when their weren’t more people than you knew what to do with. Not so this trip. We were part of a convention crowd, staying at the Hilton Riverside, and even with other conventions in town, the walk to and from each day was sparse. However, the lack of people and the walking did allow me to see up close and personally how much cleaner the city was than I have ever seen. I would find out on my last evening in my self concocted pub crawl through the Quarter the reasons why it was so much cleaner.

The Foodies.

My coworker and I were salivating over a month ago at the thought of New Orleans cuisine. Our first stop was lunch at Drago’s for charbroiled oysters. Yes, this is the same Drago’sin the Hilton Riverside hotel lobby. Normally, I would never give a hotel restaurant a second glance, but everyone we spoke to told us we had to try the oysters at Drago’s. Trusting the natives on this one turned out to be our first great decision of the trip.

Drago’sserves their signature charbroiled oysters with a side salad and half a loaf of crusty French bread. The oysters themselves are some of the largest I’ve ever seen and served on the half shell. They are covered in garlic, bread crumbs, parmesan and a collection of other grated cheeses and spices. They are also swimming in melted butter. The shells are grilled to the point the edges of the oysters are blackened. After the first one, I was hooked. I quickly ate the entire dozen and wished I’d ordered at least a half dozen more. Joe will definitely be back at Drago’s for more at a later date. Jazz Fest?!

Dinner that evening was at a another local favorite: Pascal’s Manale. The last time I was there the place was dingy, crowded and honestly looking worn down. We were concerned for the overall cleanliness of the place after our concierge told us it had been underwater but had undergone considerable cleaning and refinishing. After splitting a dozen oysters on the half-shell, I had the signature BBQ shrimp. This is one of the most fun dishes you will ever eat if you like shrimp or even just eating with your hands. I came dressed business casual and it wasn’t long before Allison, our waitress, was tying a giant bib around my neck and encouraging me to roll up my sleeves and take off my watch. Joe knows the eating is going to be good when you have to prep your wardrobe! The shrimp arrived in a bowl soaking in the BBQ sauce. Aside from being some of the largest shrimp you’ll see, the mess you create reminds me of watching my son finger paint outside on a windy day. They had just the right amount of spiciness to them and the flavor was out of this world. Two meals, two very enthusiastic recommendations. 

For lunch on the next day, we attempted to eat at Restaurant August, only to find out it was closed for lunch except on Fridays. Bummed, but undeterred, we chose The Grille Room located in the Windsor Court hotel. If you’ve never been in the lobby of the Windsor Court, you should check it out. It is very European, and filled with fresh flowers. We thought we were in The Grille Room, only to find out mid meal it was actually, “Le Salon,” because The Grille Room is also closed for lunch. I don’t think it mattered in the end. Our service was the best yet from a young lady who joined her husband from North Dakota in the rebuilding effort post Katrina. I got the sense they were not looking to leave when said rebuilding was complete. She did correct us when we called it a buffet, and corrected again when smorgasboard was mentioned. Essentially, the entire lunch offering was spread out in two areas of the restaurant. Featuring fresh salads, cold cuts of beef tenderloin, duck breast and roasted chicken with a lamb chop carving station, a cheese station, gumbo, grilled vegetables and ahi tuna to make the choices even more tempting. Another area of the restaurant offered pastries, petit fors, and chocolate wafers. Let’s just say my two co-workers took naps and declined dinner we all ate so much. I of course took this opportunity to begin my pub crawl that evening.

The Drinkies.

Being across the street and in plain view from my hotel room of a Gordon Biersch finally broke me on Tuesday evening. I started my pub crawl with a Czech Pilsner and then a Golden Export before walking up Peters Street to the Hard Rock Cafe. While in the Cafe, I tried the Abita Amber and drank a couple in honor of my friend Michael. I really was trying to pace myself, so I also took time to eat a favorite and sentimental dish of Josephine and mine, the twisted mac and cheese. It didn’t disappoint. I walked up Peters a little further trying to get into the Jackson Brewery and upon realizing my ‘to go’ beer from the Hard Rock was almost gone, I ducked in the Crescent City Brewhouse. I took the bartender’s recommendation for two beers – a dark and a red – which ended up being okay, and then got promptly downgraded to awful the next day when I realized they must have been brewed from Drano.

After the Crescent City Brewhouse, I decided to sit in de Bienville park and do some people watching. Again, I was struck by how clean everything was and thanks to my bartenders’ in the Hard Rock and Gordon Biersch, I can pass along the knowledge to our readers. After Katrina, the city was given equipment and money to finally upgrade their street cleaning department. No doubt those of you who have been to New Orleans before know that pre Katrina, that department consisted of local shop owners using a garden hose on their portion of sidewalk. Today New Orleans boasts trucks and pressure washers which pass through town religiously. Couple that with the lack of people, and the city reaps the benefits of being cleaner than any time in history. The rain chased away my thoughts of pristine sidewalks and I literally ducked into Coyote Ugly. Big mistake. I was one of three people in the bar and I got to watch the bouncer/owner teach the bar tenders how to dance on the bar. I don’t know how much detail I need to go into other than to say Travis was over 6′ tall, and probably well over 260 pounds. Both bartenders combined probably weighed in at 220. Thankfully, the rain stopped just after midnight and I took my Corona to go and meandered back to the Hilton.

Josephine and I are plotting our trip to Jazz Fest the first weekend in May so look for updated posts that thankfully include the fairer sex.

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