St Charles Avenue

Probably the best street in America. Why? Take the quaint old Streetcar the full length (and also the sharp right on to the terminus along Carrollton Avenue), then get the next one back, and I’m sure you’ll agree!

The hustle and bustle at the Canal Street terminus in the centre of the city gives way to a range of restaurants and bars, including the Streetcar Cafe… the ideal spot to plan and start your discovery of the avenue.

Continuing on the streetcar through the Garden District towards Uptown, the best pub in America is located on the left… a visit is highly recommended but best left until your return journey, lest you enter and find yourself entranced…

… by a beer infused with Malbec and Blackberries and a small plate of Chilli Glazed Brussels Sprouts!

The residential architecture becomes increasingly dramatic…

Tulane and Loyola Universities face across the avenue to Audubon Park… a place for quiet contemplation at the Meditation Garden

Where St Charles Avenue turns into Carrollton Avenue, you could stop off to call in for a beer at the traditional Cooter Brown’s Tavern… but don’t stay too long, don’t forget you have the Avenue Pub to visit on your return journey!

There are plenty of diners in the area for those not burdened by the duty of maintaining the profits of the alcohol industry. Satsuma Cafe on the parallel Maple Street is recommended…

And when you reach the terminus on Carrollton Avenue there will always be a streetcar waiting to take you on the return journey.

Until we speak again, how does your street match up? How many pieces of genuine historical interest, dramatic residences, universities, green spaces, and pubs can you list? None at Chez Juno in Cardiff… so I’m adopting St Charles Avenue (at least in vivid memory).

A Gumbo of Experience

New Orleans has always been a down and dirty in your face kinda place. Debauchery, moral corruption, and a sense of danger have been at the heart of the experience for nigh on 300 years. The food, the music, the people, the culture. It’s a marmite sort of place; you either love it or you don’t, there’s no in-between.

Then, there’s Gumbo… the official Louisiana State cuisine, which essentially refers to a stew. There isn’t just one kind of gumbo… it’s what you make of the experience. Likewise, New Orleans is what you want to make of the experience… but generally, it’s an open celebration of life.

For me, on a 5th visit, it’s looking for more of the new whilst hoping some of the best of the old is still there (post-Covid)! Maybe that’s why this visit can best be summed up as chocolate alligators in search of a good cappuccino. Read on… it still probably won’t make any sense, like New Orleans… who knows? This determined looking guy had more than chocolate on his mind!

Finding a good cappuccino in the US, well… needles and haystacks come to mind. Cafe Beignet is an institution with new locations open across the city. They say certain things really should be tried before you die… then again, trying certain things may hasten on the demise. Believe me, the search for a good cappuccino doesn’t start here! And, as the powdered sugary topping of a deep fried coating of a tasteless gloop… this does take some beating. However, in the Cafe Beignet v Cafe du Monde debate (does such a challenge really trouble the world?), the latter plumbs even greater depths, in my opinion!

Surely, I could rely on my good friends at Who Dat Coffee Cafe…over in the Marigny district of the city, way off the usual tourist radar. They’ve always been my go-to place for a relatively good cappuccino, and the humorous welcome bodes well. Unfortunately for me, now they want to spoil the experience by insisting on plastic cups! What’s that about? The Rueben sandwich certainly demanded a better side.

Perhaps technology will provide the answer. Googling best cappuccino brings up the interesting sounding Streetcar Cafe on St Charles Avenue. The promise did manage to beat the standard fayre so ubiquitous of anywheresville, but that’s a low bar. Then again, the experience did offer an opportunity to sample that strange (to us foreigners) breakfast of Biscuits & Gravy! Meanwhile, the search continues…

My erstwhile native US travel companion kept up her nearly 3-decades attempt to persuade me of the tempting and strangely sweet world of desserts… my resistance to which would be something Juno would be proud of. But, unbeknownst to me, this just maybe the gateway to good coffee… who’d have thought it?

On a planned stroll around the Garden District, she witnessed what looked like a local chocolate emporium, and it just happened to come with a side of coffee making. Piety & Desire source and make their chocolate ingredients locally with loving detail. With such admirable principles, they also get their coffee from neighbouring fellow purveyors who happen to roast their own beans on site. Heaven, if it exists at all, can be found in strange and quiet quarters, and that delightful green piece of chocolate includes duck fat… but no alligator fat, apparently!!!

Fortified with chocolate… I mean a good cappuccino… I’m ready to take on a range of what this unbelievable city has to offer. I tried a few of those dreaded desserts (but the incriminating evidence that I actually enjoyed the experiences shall remain under wraps). In order to possibly satisfy my quirkier side, how about some art… galleried as only they can down in the Bywater district:

Alligators… chocolate or otherwise, on the Swamp Tour had a habit of showing as much interest in the floating can of people as we did of them:

Though, as the second photo suggests, some had already had their fill of cappuccino for the day… any later than 1.00 pm and rumour has it they don’t sleep as well at night!

Then again, peace and harmony along the Lafitte Greenway through Mid-City and Treme helps to burn off some of the inevitable calorie intake more usually associated with visiting almost anywhere in New Orleans:

Until we speak again, there was an obvious solution to any of us influenced enough by levels of alcohol consumption… at the tried and trusted Avenue Pub on the wonderful St Charles Avenue… a Coffee Stout. The problem is that at 9.3 per cent, a few of these cause mobility issues… if you catch my drift. And, yes, please do catch my drift!

P.S. No alligators were hurt or injured in the making of this production! Chocolate, on the other hand, was consumed in a range of weird flavours!

To Juno’s Dismay

The long deceased inspiration for this 10-year blog could just be spinning in her grave… if such a thing existed. For here I am, back in New Orleans sampling Catfish in some of its diverse yet delicious presentations. And I’m really fussy and limited in the types of fish I generally eat.

I can sense Juno’s paw tapping me on the chin as she informs me that cats are cats, superior in all ways; fish are fish, purely for eating. But mixing the two is strictly, well, unusual to say the least.

First stop was ‘Elizabeths‘ in the Bywater district of the city. This is a venue not visited in previous sojourns to the Big Easy, so this was definitely on the list of new places to try on this occasion.

How do you like your eggs with your Catfish? Not a question I had anticipated tackling until arriving here! Then there is a side of something called Calas, which has the ability to stop you in your tracks and ask you how you’ve lived this long without sampling such a delight. This is a Creole deep fried rice, eggs, and sugar mix complete with honey-infused dip. Not for the calorie-obsessed diner… but then again, hardly anything in New Orleans is!

The next variation was provided by a place frequented as a favourite whenever I mosey on down the Mississippi…the Palace Cafe. We can’t avoid the signature dish of Crabmeat Cheesecake, this time with a side of Turtle Soup. OK, I get your indignation… but these guys exist for a reason, right? But the Catfish Pecan, now, that’s a new taste altogether. The sweetness of the pecans perfectly complimented the savoury flavour of the Catfish.

Look out aquatic culture… I might need to reappraise my relationship to eating fish… which is something I’m sure Juno would have delighted in, except for the suspicious influence of cat-infused fish dishes.

Until we speak again, the Doobie Brothers song comes to mind… Catfish are jumping, that paddle wheel thumping… Black Water for those of you unacquainted. Check out the track, as it captures New Orleans, Louisiana, very succinctly.

Dining fine NOLA-style

Sometimes… things can just take the wrong direction. Take eating… New Orleans style, for example. As a native of Cardiff, I could think… wow, an eating sensation has just arrived from New Orleans right on my doorstep…

I could try to think that! But, then again, let’s see what happens if you have the good fortune to travel in the opposite direction. August might be more recognisable as a distinct month of the year… but on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans, it just happens to be a place where real New Orleans fine dining takes place all year round.

No Southern Fried Chicken burgers to be seen here. After all, the wine selection alone demands that something a little more, let’s say, refined, should be adorning plates.

When the meal starts with a hollowed egg of chef’s special artfulness of the day, you just know you’re about to experience something that mere cooks couldn’t dream of.

This is where Black Truffles take the measure of Giant Lump Crab, with just a hint of Parmesan, in a dish entitled Gnocchi black & blue… designed to slow down your pace of life and focus your attention, and give thanks for the invention of taste buds!

This is where Escargot come to play delightfully with Wild Mushrooms… hermaphrodite cuisine at its most delicate.

As for the Duck… Huey, Dewey, and Louie, look away now. This is a dish that comes three ways, and is definitely not for the faint-hearted if youre put off by the idea of Foie Gras. But it does come with something called Bayou Cora Grits… ? me neither, but it was a delightful accompaniment all the same.

And the Grouper most definitely comes with a delicate, flaky meatiness that no fish in its rightful mind should dare to claim! Just to compliment this piece of aquatic genius, you might just find a hint of grapefruit backed up by a Persilade of parsley, garlic, and herbs… ? me neither, but I’d come back for more of the same whenever you invite me!

Until we speak again, much of the above required a very delicate German Reisling, but that duck also stood up and demanded a glass of an Oregon Pinot Noir before it gave up its deliciousness.

If your first thought is how small the portions of food are on such wide plates, your quality to quantity ratio is completely out of sync… don’t forget to take your shovel of choice to the nearest food buffet or the newly opened Popeye’s in Cardiff!