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Monday, March 14, 2016

New Orleans: America’s favorite city

Travel

A Cajun Escape

New Orleans: America’s favorite city

Story by Heidi Chackel

Photography provided by Loews New Orleans Hotel

 

Most travel guides rank New Orleans as one of the top ten most-visited cities in the U.S. Even after Hurricane Katrina the city still retains its popularity, and is often given the title America’s Favorite City. Well-known as the perfect spring break destination, it also boasts amazing stylish boutique hotels, live music and concerts, cafes, coffee bars, cocktail hours, antique and vintage shops, neighborhood restaurants, ethnic food, sight-seeing, wild weekends and of course the famed Carnival—known by most as Mardi Gras.

Up until this trip, I had never set foot in Louisiana. Both my parents as well as my brother attended Tulane—a private research university in New Orleans founded in 1834. I have been hearing stories about their time in New Orleans my whole life. Finally, in February of this year, my husband and I made the trip and enjoyed every minute of it. We spent the first week of February there, just as the Mardi Gras season opened.

Our host hotel—Loews New Orleans Hotel—was fabulous and extremely helpful to we first time visitors. This upscale hotel is perfectly located near it all—within walking distance of the Riverfront, the French Quarter and many other tourist destinations. Originally an office building, Loews New Orleans opened in 2003 boasting 285 newly renovated guestrooms, the Balance Spa and Café Adelaide.

Since Loews New Orleans towers 21 stories above the excitement, all rooms offer breathtaking views of the Mississippi River, the historic French Quarter or the New Orleans skyline. The 285 rooms are comprised of 273 guestrooms and 12 suites, all extremely spacious. New Orleans is considered a friendly city, and the staff at Loews New Orleans certainly fits the bill—helpful, informative and just downright friendly.

With over 17,000 square feet of flexible function space, including the 4,245 square foot Louisiana Ballroom, Loews New Orleans can accommodate groups of up to 300 people.

At Loews New Orleans, Balance Spa offers a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of a busy vacation. I enjoyed a Soothing Swedish Massage one morning, followed by a dip in the indoor saltwater lap pool and relaxation in the dry sauna. It was the perfect way to recover from a late night!

While everything about our stay at Lowes New Orleans was amazing and enjoyable, I was truly blown away by our lunch at Café Adelaide. For years I have been listening to my family rave about Commander’s Palace Family of Restaurants, which is based in New Orleans. So I was pleasantly surprised when we were told that Café Adelaide is indeed part of the Commander’s Palace family. A favorite of locals and visitors alike, Café Adelaide offers diners a menu of playful modern Creole cuisine. 

Named after Adelaide Brennan—the Brennan’s beloved aunt (Brennans is another longstanding popular restaurant family in the French Quarter)—the restaurant décor portrays her charming pursuit of the good life. The bar—Swizzle Stick—was also named for her, as her jewelry of choice was a swizzle stick necklace.

But now for the food—I had the most delicious po’boy I have ever had. With the name of Smashed Cochon de Lait Po’boy, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it was a treat—braised pork debris, pickled vegetables, melted Swiss and crab boil aioli on smashed Leidenheimer bread with blackened Cajun chips and a sunny side up egg. It was mouth watering, and the next time I find myself in New Orleans, I will most definitely dine at Café Adelaide.

Outside the walls of Loews New Orleans was a world of adventure to us newbies. We pretty much walked everywhere, day and night. The city was very easy to traverse, especially from the central location of Loews New Orleans.

Within hours of checking into the hotel, we caught our first every Mardi Gras parade. Elaborate floats, marching bands, beads flying—you name it, we saw it. The parade was a joy to watch, with those participating thoroughly enjoying themselves. What struck me the most was the size of local high school marching bands; they were huge compared to what I have seen in the Western states.

For months leading up to our trip, whenever the topic of visiting New Orleans came up with friends and family, the conversation almost always ended up focused around food. Where to eat, what to try, what not to miss. And I have to say, all the hoopla was right; the food was unique and amazing.

Some of our favorites (other than Café Adelaide!) were Mother’s Restaurant, Brennan’s, Jacques Imo’s Cafe and the famous Café du Monde. As an old-time diner, Mother’s Restaurant was exactly what we hoped it would be—locals and tourists alike enjoying indigenous delights in a casual environment. My Andouille sausage jambalaya was delicious as was my husband’s Ferdi (sandwich), but the bread pudding took the cake 

Jacques Imo’s Cafe was the one restaurant we were not able to walk to. But a ride on the St. Charles Streetcar Line was a treat in itself. The St. Charles Streetcar Line is thought to be the oldest operating streetcar line in America—truly a historic landmark. The menu at Jacques Imo’s Cafe also made the trip worthwhile, featuring what they themselves call Real Nawlins Food. And right next door is the Maple Leaf Bar; a local hangout featuring amazing live music.

New Orleans is known for many specialties including beignets—French doughnuts. And Café du Monde is the place to go as all they serve are these square shaped pastries topped with powdered sugar. And of course they have a retail shop next door, and yes we came home with a variety of goods.

The best meal of the trip was experienced at Brennan’s Restaurant, right in the French Quarter just a block off Bourbon Street. A New Orleans tradition since 1946, the large restaurant has a delightful atmosphere as well as a quaint courtyard. Our meal was enjoyed inside, where I ordered Steak Diane and Bananas Foster—both were prepared by our waitress tableside. I’m not normally a “lick-your-plate” kind of gal, but I was tempted with both dishes. Brennan’s Restaurant is known as the creator of Bananas Foster, and as one of my husband’s favorite dishes, it was a must stop for us.

Our nights were spent wandering the French Quarter, up and down Bourbon Street. Everyone was friendly and all were having a good time. What surprised me the most was all of the live music. Yes, I know, New Orleans is known for its music, but there were literally bands everywhere and in almost every bar. From cover bands to local jazz artists, it was exciting and incredible.

Preservation Hall is probably the most well-known jazz spot, and there was a line out the door every night. We did make it in there once, and this small venue transported us back in time through traditional New Orleans jazz.

So many other tourist wonders were enjoyed during our stay—Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, the National World War II Museum and the list goes on. And there was a lot we were unable to get to as well. Next time!

 

Loews New Orleans Hotel

300 Poydras St., New Orleans

800-235-6397

www.loewshotel.com

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