I first set foot in New Orleans in 1984 during a family trip to the World’s Fair Exposition at the age of 14. I knew right then and there that this was my spirit city. It captivated my heart. I felt connected there, as if I had lived a past life strolling through its enchanting streets. I was fortunate enough to return as a student at Tulane University, and spent some of my most memorable years with dear friends and my future husband, Ricky.
The two of us settled in Memphis but we always felt a tug back to New Orleans, and when we watched in horror the destruction of Katrina on television, we pledged to each other to make our way back and embrace the place that brought us together. Several years ago, we purchased an apartment in the Lower Garden District and this past spring we traded it in for roomier digs in an adorable historic cottage in Uptown. New Orleans is the perfect weekend getaway from our busy lives in Memphis and we love being a part of such a beautiful neighborhood and exploring the city with friends. It’s a perfectly imperfect place dripping with beauty and decadence, and we can’t get enough.
Discovering the treats and treasures of New Orleans is a never-ending journey, but here are some suggestions that are some of our favorites and hot on our radar screen right now. I highly encourage you to check out the charms of the different neighborhoods in the city.
Uptown DelightsM ost days, you can catch us walking, running, or biking in Audubon Park and the adjoining levee, stopping for a meditative break under the Tree of Life or to observe Bird Island and the rookery, where an astonishing assortment of birds gather daily. Standing under the majestic, mossy oaks and listening to the toll of the Holy Name bell tower across St. Charles Avenue is a moment of sheer bliss for me. Seeing the city on foot or bike is the best way to appreciate the architecture and lush foliage that makes New Orleans the “capital of the Caribbean.” Bike tours have become an increasingly popular activity and I suggest you call Cassady at A Bicycle Named Desire to hook you up with a comfy cruiser and great tours of different parts of the city. You might spot yard signs saying “The Boys are Back Uptown” and that’s because Tulane school spirit is at an all-time high with this year’s unveiling of Yulman Stadium, a gleaming new home for the Green Wave and 30,000 fans. Alums are flocking in for Homecoming on November 15th against none other than the Memphis Tigers. Our crew is in high gear and the planning for this weekend has been going on for months. Dining in Uptown is all about finding the hidden restaurants disguised in residential streets. My husband is addicted to Tartine, where the eggs in brioche and daily specials will make you swoon. My all-star “oyster po-boy and Barq’s root beer in a bottle” experience happens only at Domilise’s Po-Bo & Bar. This family has been serving up their legendary po-boys for almost 100 years and, trust me, it’s worth every minute of the wait. Just please don’t try to talk to me while I’m eating my po-boy, it’s messy and I’m utterly focused! Restaurant Patois is New Orleans fine dining at its best, totally romantic and French. I cannot get enough of Chef Aaron Burgau’s house-made charcuterie plate, gnocchi with fresh crab, and a magical duck confit salad. It’s a spot to see and be seen with local celebs, like John Goodman and James Carville and a fave of other local chefs.
If you are lucky enough to be in New Orleans during the warmer months between March and October, do not miss our favorite sweet, Hansen’s Sno Bliz. Ashley Hansen is keeping the family legacy alive, making the syrups in house every day and still using the amazing sno bliz machine invented by her granddaddy. Do not miss some of my favorite flavors … cream of nectar, cardamom, ginger, honey lavender, all made even sweeter with a dollop of sweetened condensed milk to take it completely over the top.
Staying Uptown, all the cool college kids hang out on Maple Street. After a big night on the town, we line up at Satsuma for tofu scrambles and frothy cappuccinos and slowly come back to life. Directly across the street is Ba Chi Canteen, which makes incredible banh mi sandwiches, the Vietnamese po-boy, and the tasty sweet chile shrimp “baco,” Ba Chi’s version of a taco on a sweet steamed bun. Maple Street also has some great shopping, and my girlfriends and I are devoted to the fashions at Angelique Boutique. Ask for Mollie Williamson, a fabulous stylist who can get you dressed to the nines in no time.
Continue on to the Riverbend area and discover Oak Street, which in the past five years has boomed with an amazing collection of new storefronts. For family-friendly dinners, we love Cowbell, located in an old gas station at the end of Oak Street; this local gem is famous for its ridiculous burgers, figgy toast, and midnight skirt steak. Their bartender is also really talented so there’s something there for all the age groups. You can catch some of the city’s most talented musicians performing seven nights a week at Maple Leaf Bar; it’s a real deal NOLA music venue and one not to be missed.
The New FreretA round the corner from our home on Octavia Street is the revitalized Freret District, chock-full of newly opened businesses of all kinds, and representative of the forward momentum of post-Katrina New Orleans. Our mandatory first stop, every single time we come back to town, is our good friend Chip Apperson’s High Hat Café. Memphians remember Chip from his days as one of the owners of the Grove Grill in Laurelwood. He has since moved to NOLA and opened one of the most successful and delicious casual restaurants in a highly competitive restaurant town. Chip makes Memphis proud, welcomes you in with his charm, and serves up insane boudin, tamales, BBQ shrimp, fresh gulf fish, and all that is good about Louisiana and Mississippi Delta cuisine. Also on Freret, do not miss Ancora Pizzeria and Salumeria, for the tastiest Neapolitan pizzas and fresh salumi. For addictive and hand-pattied burgers of all kinds, look no further than super-popular The Company Burger, for double-fried hand-cut fries, house-made pickles and mayo all on fresh baked buns … yummy! For more starchy goodness on Freret, we love the new Humble Bagel, making kettle-boiled bagels and serving the most delicious fresh-squeezed OJ I have ever tasted. We buy extra to mix with our cocktails later in the day. And speaking of cocktails, make sure you make an evening stop at Cure, for crafty goodness and an upscale scene.
Magazine MadnessT he six miles of Magazine Street are a retail and entertainment paradise. You could spend months exploring all your options here, and meeting some really wonderful and talented folks in the process. One of my favorite things about New Orleans is the welcoming and friendly attitude of the locals. You step into one of these shops, and you might be awhile, getting to know its proprietor, hearing some great stories or getting a tip or two about where to eat next. On a short list of some of my frequent stops? The artfully curated Pied Nu is a luxury clothing and home décor must-see. Owner Azita Clark is a master of chic, and delivers well-known designers and emerging brands with impeccable service in her stylish boutique. Grab a mind-blowing blueberry mojito a few doors down at St. Joe’s Bar and thank me later. Cross the street and keep spending at Mimi and CeCe Shoe, an emporium of high style, owned by Mimi Robinson and her daughter, CeCe Colhoun, some of the most impeccably dressed women I have ever met. Their store is drop-dead beautiful, as are the cuffs and lariats from local “It” girl Jody Candrian, and exquisite threads from top design houses such as Michael Kors and Monique Lhuillier; it’s pretty hard for me to leave empty-handed. When looking for gifts and something unique and special for my home, I head to Perch, for antique, vintage, and contemporary treasures in all price ranges. It offers beautiful local art and my favorite paper goods from NOLA designer Alexa Pulitzer. Caroline Robert is the owner; she’s gorgeous and charming, and her eclectic style is so “on point” for the modern New Orleans lifestyle. Don’t miss a stop at my good friend Jane Scott Hodges’ Leontine Linens. We were sorority sisters at Tulane, and she has recently enjoyed meteoric fame as the doyenne of fine linens, celebrating the successful debut of her book Linens for Every Room and Occasion, published by Rizzoli books. Her beautifully monogrammed couture linens are pure bliss and meant for everyday use. Her philosophy is that you don’t save the good stuff for special occasions because every day is a special celebration. AMEN, sister!
Magazine Street is also a foodie theme park. Check out Casamento’s Restaurant, famous for everything oyster, including its original oyster loaf between two slices of Bunny bread. It really doesn’t get any better. This eatery is so dedicated that it closes for the summer, and only open during oyster months. I also love lunching at Baru Bistro & Tapas, a Caribbean Latin fusion flavor explosion. It’s a great mid-day rest stop. Ask Patricia to make you her special mojitos, share some small plates, and you’ll understand why this place is routinely voted best Latin restaurant in New Orleans.
The fine-dining superstar restaurant battle on Magazine has to be between La Petit Grocery and Lilette. I simply cannot get enough of these two incredible establishments. La Petit is Chef Justin Devillier’s masterpiece, serving his famous blue crab beignets and the ridiculously delish LPG cheeseburger washed down with the best Pimm’s Cup in the city, served in a mason jar, with extra cucumber. It’s a bustling scene and you must plan ahead for a table. The most romantic room in New Orleans has to be Lilette’s jewel-box dining room; awash in the softest light and deep wine-colored walls, it’s a total throwback to another time. Everyone looks beautiful here, especially the clientele of Hollywood celebs, but the food is the showstopper. Alaskan king crab claws with passion-fruit butter, truffle toast, fresh Hawaiian hearts of palm salad, beef cheeks, and a glass of French Chardonnay are enough to make my heart skip a beat.
New Orleans does not have to be all butter and cheese. So if you are looking for a healthy alternative, check out my friend Sheena at her fabulous Raw Republic. Her juice is absolutely addictive and makes me feel like a million bucks every time.
Lower Garden DistrictT he LGD is very hipster and funky, and a great place to find some really unique New Orleans experiences. You must make a stop at the Green Fork, for clean take-home cuisine and the yummiest smoothies, made with coffee, dates, and other delicious alternatives. It’s a true hidden gem. If delivery is your thing, go online and visit The Good Egg; these folks will bring the freshest groceries, prepared foods, and gifts from local farmers and purveyors direct to your doorstep. Such a dream. Incredible options for brunch abound but I highly recommend Surrey’s for the best huevos rancheros and cheese grits. Also check out District, for out-of-this-world gourmet doughnuts and made-to-order sliders. Or go next door to Stein’s Market & Deli for authentic Jewish and Italian sandwiches made with top-quality sliced meats and cheeses. It’s fast, casual, and reminiscent of the best delis New York City has to offer. After lunch, take a walk around the corner to see the impressive and dreamy homes of the Garden District, between Magazine and St. Charles, from Phillip Street to Eighth Street. The gardens and architecture are a source of inspiration to me. If you are looking for a place to stay with an authentic historic feel, then book a room at Terrell House, an Italianate mansion built in 1857. Striking a balance between luxury and comfort, you can enjoy the home’s unique ironwork and beautiful porches and fountains and imagine yourself stepping back in time.
The French Quarter, Warehouse District and Beyond
T he French Quarter is home to the famed Galatoire’s Restaurant, where every Friday afternoon locals and tourists alike join in the ritual of the famous Friday lunch. The gorgeous dining room comes to life with celebrations at every table, impromptu dancing, singing, and the “joie de vivre” that so completely defines New Orleans. If you are lucky enough to get a table, make sure to make nice-nice with the servers. They just might share their cell number with you and be your ticket through the door on your next visit.
At the back end of the Quarter you will find a tiny little treasure on Rampart Street called Meauxbar. What it lacks in size, it makes up in the elevated and perfect execution of French dishes like Goat Cheese Tart, Moules-Frites, and Hanger Steak au Poivre. Regulars from the neighborhood pack the place and the staff is engaging and utterly passionate about their food.
I love to hit Royal Street and wander in and out of the super high-end antique stores. The most outrageous of them all is M.S. Rau Antiques, where you can see museum-quality treasures, some with royal provenance, up close and personal. I can spend hours in the galleries of this store; its staff is incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, and every visit feels like a history lesson. A few blocks down is Café Beignet, where you can get the sugary, powdery pillows and rich coffee drinks … and best of all, no waiting in line.
A rainy day never gets me down, because that means I go to The Theatres at Canal Place, to catch the latest flicks and enjoy the most luxurious movie theatre experience ever, with gourmet cuisine brought directly to my giant leather club chair at the touch of a button. It is the height of “let’s go to dinner and a movie.” After the show, I make a mandatory stop at Saks Fifth Avenue, for a little of all my favorite things!
The Warehouse District is home to the New Orleans Arts District, anchored by Julia Street, and the wonderful Ogden Museum of Southern Art. It’s also now home to Memphis native Chef Ryan Prewitt’s Peche Seafood Grill, the city’s James Beard Award winner for Best New Restaurant. If you can score a table at this super hot spot, you are in for an extraordinary journey in everything seafood. Ryan is a master of fresh flavor, a hot grill, and stunning presentation and his raw bar, fried bread, and whole fish are just THAT special. No joke. Just go.
Tucked behind the French Quarter, the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods are bustling with music, arts, and a serious edgy bohemian vibe. Both are full of colorful Creole cottages that are all being snapped up and renovated, sending real estate prices skyrocketing in this hip spot. The Marigny is home to Frenchman Street, a great destination to see live local music; my favorite has to be The Spotted Cat Music Club. Head to the Bywater and have dinner at Mariza, located in the super cool Rice Mill Lofts. Their Italian-inspired cuisine is fresh and absolutely delicious, with seriously great cocktails. If you can sneak up to the roof of the building, you can enjoy one of the most jaw-dropping views of the Mississippi River. I’m trying to come up with a reason to have a big party up there! Another Bywater favorite is Bacchanal, a super casual and cool wine, food, and music laboratory with a cult-like following.
Another area of the city that is enjoying an enormous revival is Mid City, with a crazy amount of development taking place and new shops and restaurants popping up everywhere. Visit the historic and gorgeous City Park and the adjoining New Orleans Museum of Art, and see why the locals love the quality of life in this area. There’s also a serious food scene going on, with some oldie but goody landmarks like Liuzza’s Restaurant & Bar, whose Bloody Marys and onion rings are legendary. If you’re in the mood for chargrilled oysters or Brooklyn-style pizza loaded with yummy local ingredients, check out the family-owned Katie’s Restaurant & Bar, a real neighborhood staple.
New Mid City additions include the Southeast Asian casual and innovative MoPho, where Chef Michael Gulotta is riffing on Vietnamese flavors and dishing out the best chicken wings, glazed with lemongrass and ginger, and crispy pork belly over noodles, paired with a super creative cocktail program. The ingenuity of the new New Orleans can be tasted in the out-of- this-world cakes made by Debbie Does Doberge. My first slice happened to be at Toup’s Meatery in Mid City, a tasty meat-centric Cajun restaurant with a serious wine program. The doberge cake is a NOLA special occasion tradition, but Debbie is making them sky high, with six to eight layers of fluffy cake, pudding or ganache and topped with perfect fondant in the most outrageous flavors. Since Debbie’s doesn’t have a storefront, you have to order online and pick them up at the Twelve Mile Limit Bar, which is kind of awesome and hilarious, since I will hunt a good cake down to the ends of the earth. I am counting the days to my birthday so I can get my I-Used-To-Be-Thin-Mint, or Red Velvet Elvis, or Salted Caramel … the options are just so sweet.
Editor’s note: Lucia Heros and her husband, Ricky, have lived in Memphis for 22 years. She and her two brothers own Cafe Las Flores, a specialty-coffee business with its marketing headquarters in Memphis and a growing, planting, harvesting, drying, packaging, and shipping operation in Nicaragua. Lucia is well-known for her many charitable fund-raising efforts including her volunteer work on behalf of the Latino community in Memphis; she even has found time to model in this magazine’s fashion pages. Stay tuned for a very special Memphis magazine feature next spring on Lucia’s historic New Orleans cottage, which has been beautifully decorated by Memphis’ own Greg Baudoin. — Anne Cunningham O’Neill