New Orleans Getaway: Exploring New Orleans
I woke up unreasonably early Friday morning—far earlier than I wake up for work. As I eagerly waited for my friends to arise, I thought about all that we could do on our first full day in New Orleans. The first, and most important task, was breakfast. We already decided that we wanted to eat at Ruby Slipper Café before our cemetery tour.
Ruby Slipper Café
Ruby Slipper Café was recommended by several Instagram foodies, and received high marks from local and travel blogs. We headed to the closest location in the French Quarter, on Canal Street. The exterior of the restaurant was reminiscent of an old-time movie theater.
The first step to any good meal is choosing a cocktail. While I’ve been all about mimosas lately, I couldn’t pass up one of Ruby Slipper’s award-winning Bloody Marys. Elyse, Katie and I all chose the Bloody Mary made with bacon-infused vodka. The drink came garnished with a pickled green bean, slice of bacon and a green olive. Ruby Slipper makes their Bloody Marys from scratch, creating a spicy tomato base that’s the perfect kick to start to the day.
For our entrées, we all took the savory path versus sweet. Although Ruby Slipper’s French toast options and Cinnamon Swirl pancakes were very appealing. I ordered the Catfish and Grits, while Katie and Elyse chose the BBQ Shrimp and Grits and Hot-Smoked Salmon benedict, respectively.
Ruby Slipper’s stone-ground grits are not to be missed. Even if you just order a side, do yourself a favor and try these creamy grits. My Catfish and Grits showcased thin-fried, nugget-sized catfish, accompanied by a pork tasso cream sauce. I’m a notoriously slow eater, but it took me no time to woof down the long, shallow bowl of grits.
After I finished, I had my eye on Katie’s BBQ Shrimp and Grits. The sautéed Gulf shrimp that top the grits are served with a beer and rosemary butter reduction. This was the most savory shrimp and grits I’ve ever had in my life. If I had more room in my stomach, I easily would’ve ordered that as well as my Catfish and Grits.
Ruby Slipper Café has several locations in New Orleans.
Cemetery Walking Tour
After brunch, we took the rest of our Bloody Marys to go and headed to the meeting spot for our cemetery tour. We booked a tour through French Quarter Phantoms, a TripAdvisor award-winning tour service. *Tip: Book online and save $3 on the price of every ticket.
Our tour took us along Rampart Street, near Louis Armstrong Park, to the world-famous St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Along the way, our tour guide, Robert, gave us an entertaining history of the area, dating back to colonial days. We learned why New Orleans has above-ground cemeteries and what it took to maintain them back in the day.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also the most haunted cemetery in New Orleans. Fortunately, our 11 a.m. tour kept us from getting totally spooked out, although we tried not to touch anything, as to not disturb the spirits. We viewed and learned more about several tombs, including the tomb of Marie Laveau—New Orleans voodoo queen.
Over the last century, people have visited the cemetery, leaving offerings for Laveau. Many offerings are still there, but you can also see where many have fallen for local folklore and vandalized her tomb as well.
Standing out in the centuries-old cemetery is a pyramid-shaped tomb that belongs to actor Nicholas Cage. It’s safe to assume that National Treasure was the inspiration for his future final resting place.
French Quarter Phantoms operates out of The Voodoo Lounge, located at 718 N. Rampart St., New Orleans.
Café Du Monde
After our tour, and a quick trip back to the hotel, we set our sights on beignets at the original Café Du Monde location. When you think of New Orleans, beignets are typically one of the first things that come to mind. Beignets are French-style doughnuts covered in powdered sugar. While New Orleans does have other cafés that serve beignets, nothing compares to Café Du Monde.
We headed down St. Ann Street to Jackson Square. The historic park is surrounded by local artists, street performers and shops. At the intersection of St. Ann and Decatur Streets, you can’t miss Café Du Monde’s green and white awning. It was an early Friday afternoon, so we lucked out on avoiding a terrible line. We quickly found a seat and received our order of beignets in just minutes.
The beignets came out hot and soft. We made a bit of a mess with the powdered sugar, but it was all worth it. If it wasn’t 90-something degrees outside, I would’ve dipped my beignet in hot chocolate, just like Gizelle on Real Housewives of Potomac. I mentally checked “have beignets at Café Du Monde” off my New Orleans bucket list, and we continued to explore more of the area.
Café Du Monde has several locations in New Orleans.
Our aimless exploration took us to Washington Artillery Park, The Moonwalk Riverfront Park, Steamboat Natchez and right by a streetcar. After seeking refuge from the heat at the Shops at Jax Brewery, we decided to go somewhere that’s not on many “must do” lists.
After a 15-minute Lyft ride from Jackson Square to the Bywater area, we ended up in a very industrial neighborhood in search of a wine bar. I saw a picture of Bacchanal Wine on Instagram and thought it’d be a cool spot to have a glass of wine. When we puled up, we were mildly concerned as to where we just got dropped off.
Enter the small shop door and you walk into a wine-lover’s paradise. Bottles of every varietal live inside Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirit’s store. Exit through the backdoor and you’ll enter the charming backyard. We each ordered a glass of wine, sat outside and sipped as live music played on the stage. *Tip: Purchase a bottle of wine to-go from Bacchanal and save $5.
Bacchanal Wine is located at 600 Poland Ave., New Orleans.
After hours of exploring, we returned to the hotel room to freshen up and relax. We wanted one nice dinner of the trip that wasn’t too pricey. We found a fantastic menu, upscale environment and moderate prices at Royal House.
Located on Royal Street, Royal House began as the residence of the Tortorici family, then transformed into a café then the restaurant that stands today. It is one of the oldest restaurants in the French Quarter, making it a landmark and a staple among New Orleans cuisine. The century-old restaurant specializes in oysters and other seafood dishes to create a menu that is true to the city.
I’d never heard of chargrilled oysters before, but they are a highlight on many menus in NOLA. We started with an order of these fresh-shucked Louisiana oysters topped with butter and parmesan cheese. Royal House uses their own parmesan butter cheese filling to dress the oysters before grilling them. The end result is a rich oyster dish that comes out bubbling, however the smell of the butter and garlic will make you want to dive right in.
In addition to the oysters, Elyse and I also started with the cup of the chicken and andouille gumbo, while Katie selected a cup of the French onion soup. My father has made gumbo almost my whole life, and it was always the best in my book. Sadly, Royal House’s gumbo has now taken my number one spot. While the spice made itself known, it wasn’t overwhelming. The chicken and andouille sausage had quintessential Cajun flavors that complemented the traditionally prepared gumbo.
For the entrée, we each ordered something different then tried a bit of everyone’s.
Katie went with the Taste of New Orleans. This dish is a sampling of New Orleans’ favorite fare—chicken and andouille jambalaya, chicken and andouille gumbo and Crawfish Etouffee. Katie’s tasting bowls were filled to the brim and topped with shrimp, at an extra fee.
Elyse ordered the Crawfish Etouffee. Much like gumbo, etouffee is a stew. The difference is that etouffee is often thicker than gumbo. Royal House’s sauce sets themselves apart from other local restaurants dishing out etouffee. The blonde roux is thickened to make a savory sauce that offers just enough heat to pair perfectly with the fried crawfish tails.
I had been craving pasta, so I chose the Crawfish Ravioli. Traditional ricotta-filled ravioli gets a seafood boost with sautéed crab meat. The ravioli is topped with a creamy crawfish sauce accompanied by red and green peppers. You better believe that I scooped up every drop of that velvety sauce until my bowl was clean.
Royal House is located at 441 Royal St., New Orleans.
We ended our night by exploring Bourbon Street’s nightlife. I had my first Hand Grenade from Tropical Isle that night. Little did I know that those Hand Grenade would eventually be my demise. Check back in for my next blog posts to hear that tale.