© Photos by Sherri Tilley
Leah Chase, Chef
Fill up your senses.
New Orleans, Louisiana | The Big Easy
Known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase has cultivated wonderful smells and delectable tastes for customers of the well-established Dooky Chase's Restaurant in the historic Treme neighborhood. After marrying musician Edgar
Dooky Chase II in 1945 and subsequently working at his parent's po'boy sandwich shop and lottery ticket outlet, Leah gradually converted the venue into what ultimately became one of the most significant gathering places for entertainment, civil rights discussions, and local culture. Today, Dooky Chase's remains the premier restaurant for authentic Creole cuisine and is widely known for its substantial collection of African-American art.
A trip down Bourbon Street will quickly put you right into the heart of the action of New Orleans' famed French Quarter. Arriving on a Friday evening, we walked along the neon-lit historic district gawking at an abundance of ornately detailed architecture and swaying our shoulders to the melodic sounds of talented street performers, both young and old. Jazz musicians played their instruments from open street corners, dancers tapped out rhythmic cadences on storefront sidewalks, and buskers cleared sections of the street for impressive acrobatic routines. LaFitte's Blacksmith Shop, reputed to be the oldest bar in the United States, attracted a happily imbibing crowd early on; and Pat O'Brien's famous dueling piano bar served up specialty drinks in their much-sought-after souvenir glasses. Doubling back on Royal Street, we popped into antique shops and art galleries before browsing through the opulently-eclectic Fischer Gambino, a must-see home furnishings store featuring upscale lighting fixtures.
Our whirlwind sightseeing tour on Saturday began at Jackson Square in front of the majestic St. Louis Cathedral which is flanked by the Cabildo and Presbytere, each of which are components to the Louisiana State Museum system. Painters and proficient artists also gather in the area to display their works along the iron fence in hopes of turning passersby into potential clients. Meandering along the Moon Walk boardwalk promenade which borders the Mississippi River near Woldenberg Park and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, we ventured toward Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World where breathtaking parade floats are built and we also spent a couple of hours exploring the fascinating National WWII Museum which was recently voted the #11 top museum in the world. Tourists can also get around by ferry or streetcar service as well as Hop-On Hop-Off City Sightseeing Tours which offer 18-stop tours that include points of interest such as the French Market, Garden District, Canal Street, Magazine Street, Superdome, and more.
The Cajun Encounters Tour Company offers plantation tours and exciting swamp expeditions while the beautifully-restored Saenger Theatre, designed in the style of an Italian Baroque courtyard, features live entertainment weekly including touring Broadway shows and first class musical programming. The Immaculate Conception Church is also worth a visit, as is the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, The Museum of the American Cocktail, New Orleans City Park, and perhaps the elaborate Metairie Cemetery on your way out of town just before crossing over the 23-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway which is designated as the world's longest bridge over a body of water.
It would be practical, and in some ways appropriate, to plan your entire New Orleans experience around food. For us, our first stop of the morning was none other than the world-famous open-air Cafe Du Monde coffee stand for a trio of French-styled beignets covered with powdered sugar. Midday found us aboard the Steamboat Natchez enjoying sounds of the calliope and a two-hour cruise which included a casual buffet lunch, narrated tour of the harbor, and live jazz concert.
While New Orleans dishes include classics like gumbo, shrimp etouffee, jambalaya, crawfish boil, and the iconic red beans and rice, you might also consider trying the fried chicken from Willie Mae's Scotch House, a shrimp po'boy from Domilise's, or a classic muffaletta from Central Grocery. Frozen daiquiris to go are another favorite, while Bacchanal Wine offers courtyard dining, Coyote Ugly serves up sass to boot, and the whimsical revolving Carousel Bar at the elegant Hotel Monteleone is a long-time hotspot for businessmen and travelers alike. To satisfy a sweet tooth craving, try Leah's Pralines for gourmet Creole candies, La Boulangerie artisanal bakery for a wide assortment of fresh pastries, or the glamorous Brennan's Restaurant which was the first to serve bananas foster back in 1951 and now delights diners with its old world elegance and fanciful ambience.
Tradition melds with innovation making New Orleans one of the best food cities in the country, so deciding on where to have dinner can become a matter of personal taste and integration into various facets of the community. Amongst over 1,000 local eateries, a few of the most highly recommended restaurants can be narrowed down to include Gautreau's, Clancy's, Galatoire's, Restaurant R'evolution, Herbsaint, Domenica, Luke, Cochon, Peche Seafood Grill, La Petite Grocery, Toups' Meatery, Palace Cafe, Upperline Restaurant, and many more.
To recover after any given late night of carousing, notable brunch options include the world-class institution of Commander's Palace, authentically-French Cafe Degas, and trendy Coquette along with Dante's Kitchen whose menu includes bacon praline cinnamon sticky buns, Atchafalaya complete with a bloody mary bar, Arnaud's with its roving Dixieland jazz band, and The Court of Two Sisters where a buffet jazz brunch is served seven days a week.
Conveniently located on a prestigious corner in the heart of the Central Business District, The Whitney Hotel, part of the New Orleans Hotel Collection, is a tranquil respite from the lively hustle and bustle of downtown. The elegant seven-story brick and granite structure originally made its debut as the Metropolitan Bank of New Orleans in 1909 and boasts architectural components that seem to capture the sophistication of long-past days and gracefully extends a bygone era of commerce and style into a modern-day aesthetic. Similar to the city of New Orleans itself, The Whitney Hotel is an authentic experience featuring attentive customer service as well as uninterrupted guest privacy.
Although New Orleans is famous for its Mardi Gras celebration, Cajun Zydeco Festival, and Tales of the Cocktail, it is the annual Red Dress Run that hilariously brings out hundreds of male and female runners in scarlet-colored attire to run through the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods. This outlandish fun event sponsored by one of the local hash groups (drinking clubs with a running problem) has grown to become the largest in the world and raises money for literally dozens of local New Orleans charities.
Noted as the birthplace of jazz music, New Orleans is also known for distinctive music styles like Dixieland, funk, rhythm and blues, and more which can be experienced as part of the city's thriving nightlife scene. The upscale Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse on the lobby level within the Royal Sonesta Hotel showcases some of the greatest in jazz talent, while venues such as The Spotted Cat Music Club on Frenchmen Street offer a more casually intimate experience in the adjacent Faubourg Marigny area. Whether its hip-hop, habanera, or heavy metal, the Big Easy has musical roots that run deep.
Our full review of the Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited, which was driven on this 3,000-mile trip through six southern states, examines ten unique aspects of the practical yet elegant upscale sedan.
The Dynamic Radar Cruise Control of the Avalon Limited we drove was no doubt one of the most-used vehicle features on our trip. If we were on the highway, chances are high that the DRCC was engaged ... primarily for personal driving convenience, but secondarily as an integrated safety precaution. The car's adaptive cruise control made easy work out of driving long distances as it automatically adjusted our vehicle speed to help maintain a preset following distance between us and the vehicle directly in front of us. We also much appreciated the blind spot monitoring which intermittently illuminated a warning signal on the corresponding outside mirror, as well as the indispensible backup camera with guidance lines for helpful parking assistance in tight spaces. The Avalon's Star Safety System also comes standard with a suite of six advanced safety features including vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brake system, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and smart stop technology.
For more information about New Orleans, Louisiana, please visit:
New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau