What to Do in New Orleans: Eat and Drink Like a Local

Written by Barbara Barrielle

December 2, 2016
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New Orleans has persevered against incredible odds and Mother Nature. Wander like a local, enjoying the best oysters, cocktails, and company.

When I mention visiting New Orleans to people, many respond that they haven’t been back since Hurricane Katrina.  Well, it’s been ten years and the city is back – and probably surpassing its earlier vibrancy; here is what to do in New Orleans to experience it like a local.

Exploring Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street is still there with historic restaurants such as  Galatoire’s or Arnaud’s. Go ahead, walk down Bourbon Street, and drink your Hurricane from the giant glass, but know there is so much to see in New Orleans! The city has preserved its unique architecture, hospitality, and traditions, persevering against incredible odds and Mother Nature.

Walk around the French Quarter and stand in line for the famous Café du Monde beignets. The French Market has plenty of souvenirs but is also great for some of the local foods.

Learn how to eat crawfish and grab some at one of the many casual bars serving spicy pounds. You might have to ask them how to peel them, be prepared to take some time, and still be hungry.

Then head straight to Mother’s for a late breakfast/early lunch and another Bloody Mary, which pairs beautifully with their best-in-the-world ham, some turnip greens (w magic ham!), fried chicken, or the Ferdi special with ham, roast beef, and “debris” or the scrapings from the pan.  Employees are as loyal to Mother’s as the restaurant is to them.  After Hurricane Katrina, Mother’s set up FEMA trailers in their parking lot so employees would have a home and a job.  I never go to New Orleans without a visit to Mother’s.

Biscuits, anyone? Serving them up hot and fast at Mother's. Photo be Barbara Barrielle

Biscuits, anyone? Serving them up hot and fast at Mother’s. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Oysters are a cornerstone of New Orleans cuisine, and they are abundant. There are whole guides on where to find the best and cheapest oysters at happy hour. My favorite is a hip brasserie called Luke, where the bi-valves run you 75 cents each, and cocktails like the ones below are half off. It’s elegant, with waiter service from 3-6 p.m., and you can make a reservation!

At Luke, white table cloths and gorgeous bi-valves, Charlotte Barrielle's favorite! Photo by Barbara Barrielle

At Luke, white tablecloths and gorgeous bi-valves are Charlotte Barrielle’s favorite! Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Also, check out The Blind Pelican on Charles Street, easily accessible by charming but sometimes crowded historic street cars where raw oysters run a quarter (yes .25) from 4-8 PM.  These amazing chargrilled oysters, with butter and cheese, are addictive and reasonably priced. Get there early because lines will form!

The .25 raw and .75 cent chargrilled Oyster Happy Hour at the Blind Pelican. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

The raw and chargrilled Oyster Happy Hour at the Blind Pelican. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Where to Stay

After walking, eating, and all the drinking (to-go cups are at the exit of every bar) that makes New Orleans a place to live, a good hotel isn’t far away.  Choose one of the historic properties like Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter with its classic Carousel Bar or a trendy new boutique-like Q and C in the Warehouse District.

At the elegant International House, whimsy takes over as a donkey serves tea! Photo by Barbara Barrielle

At the elegant International House, whimsy takes over as a donkey serves tea! Photo by Barbara Barrielle

The Hyatt Centric French Quarter has the biggest pool and a super location, while the W New Orleans – French Quarter is hip and offers great martini lunches. International House Hotel is a newer, hip luxury hotel in the perfect location.  It may sound like pancakes, but the beds are inviting, the large windows make for great views, and the bar turns into a low-key scene, attracting the best international crowd.

New Orleans likes a good cocktail….or three—and happy hour is a daily ritual. Try hotel bars like Carousel Bar, 21st Amendment Bar at La Louisiane, or Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt for some of the best classics.  At the Q and C, my happy hour fave is a French 75 paired with amazing Pommes Frites.

The French 75, invented in New Orleans, is made with either cognac or gin - and a twist. At the Q and C, it's cognac and comes with fries/ Photo by Barbara Barrielle

The French 75, invented in New Orleans, is made with either cognac or gin – and a twist. At the Q and C, it’s cognac and comes with fries/ Photo by Barbara Barrielle

The Cocktails of New Orleans 

VIEUX CARRE

This 1930s New Orleans recipe is named after the city’s French Quarter. It’s a potent but smooth cocktail, just like the Crescent City. It was a staple of the famed Carousel Bar at the legendary Hotel Monteleone.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 oz. rye whiskey
  • 3/4 oz. Cognac
  • 3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 barspoon Bénédictine
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Tools: mixing glass, bar spoon, strainer
  • Glass: Old Fashioned
  • Garnish: cherry

Preparation:

  1. Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice.
  2. Stir well.
  3. Strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass and garnish.
    (Courtesy of Imbibemagazine.com)

FRENCH 75

Named for an innovative piece of French artillery and comprising just four ingredients — gin, lemon, simple syrup, and Champagne — the French 75, when made properly, features nose-tickling bubbly as the gateway to a perfectly integrated combination of floral gin and citrus.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 oz. gin (or cognac is typical in NoLa)
  • ½ oz. simple syrup
  • ½ oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Brut Champagne or a dry sparkling white wine
  • Lemon twist, to garnish
  1. Combine gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake until well chilled and strain into a glass.
  3. Top with Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist to serve.  (Courtesy of bar.com)

SAZERAC

The Sazerac is the holy grail of historical cocktails and is argued to be where the name cocktail originates (a mixture of spirits, bitters, and sugar, to be exact). Somewhere along the line, it was decided that the Sazerac must be made with surgeon-like precision and that any variation from the recipe deems the cocktail not a Sazerac but some sort of bastard cocktail unworthy of consumption.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Rye Whiskey
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 demerara sugar cube
  1. Muddle the sugar and bitters, then add whiskey and ice.
  2. Stir and strain into a chilled, absinthe-rinsed rocks glass.
  3. Twist a lemon peel over the surface and discard.
    (Credited to William Boothby, World Drinks and How to Mix Them, 1908)

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Written by Barbara Barrielle

Barbara is a long-time publicist who began travel and wine writing several years ago and has been roaming the world since. Barbara also acts and produces films and has a feature film "Break Night" out on Amazon Prime and a documentary on the California wildfires called "Crushed." Her favorite destination is the Cook Islands and spends time learning wine and languages in Europe. At home in Healdsburg, CA, Barbara manages a small vineyard and Airbnb and dotes on her Corgi puppy Pickles.

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