MARCH 18, 2015 | NEW ORLEANS | SHANTZ PHOTOGRAPHY
Shrimp & Alligator Sausage Cheesecake from Jaques-Imo's, actually, and it’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted!
Having been a Louis Armstrong fan most of my life, I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans and this trip didn’t disappoint. I could go on and on about the amazing food, the incredible local music culture, and even the beauty of the swamps, but here’s my list of absolute must-do’s if you’re ever in town:
The very day you arrive, take a cab to Jaques-Imo’s restaurant (8324 Oak Street, 5pm to 10pm). There will be a lineup for a table, so wait at the Maple Leaf Bar two doors down (8316 Oak Street) and they’ll text you when your table’s ready. Jaques-Imo’s is extremely casual, but definitely the best local food I had in town and absolutely worth a visit.
When your meal is done, walk back to the Maple Leaf and stay for the show. The night I was there, I had the great fortune of watching Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen and I will not soon forget it.
You can't beat The Leaf's jazz hall for that authentic local feel, but I also recommend going to Frenchman’s Street during your stay to watch the local bands play in one of its many bars. Such an incredible music scene!
You should also make sure to stop by the Ritz-Carleton Hotel on Canal Street right on the edge of the French Quarter to have a cocktail in the swanky Davenport Lounge and watch the Sinatra-style jazz of Jeremy Davenport (Wed/Thurs 5:30pm to 9:30pm; Sat/Sun 9pm to 1am).
In the morning, wander through the French Quarter along Decatur Street and stop at Café du Monde just past Jackson Square at the start of the French Market for beignets and café au lait. If there’s a lineup, wait in it. The lineup’s quick and the strange experience of eating deep fried donuts for breakfast in this historic location is worth it.
When you’re done, head back to Jackson Square and visit the Hurricane Katrina exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum in the Presbytere (check out this virtual tour). It’s both fascinating and horrific. My visit to New Orleans coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Though the warmth and spirit of the residents of New Orleans can not be diminished, it was appalling to see that much of the Lower 9th Ward remains largely unchanged.
Afterwards, walk over to Johnny’s Po-Boys (511 St Louis Street) for a crawfish po-boy and a muffaletta sandwich. Don’t ask. You have to try them, and you have to try them there.
Next, take the St Charles Streetcar (a National Historical Landmark) for only $1.25 from Canal Street at the edge of the French Quarter to the Garden District to stroll through the Lafayette Cemetery. It's both lovely and creepy.
I also really enjoyed a swamp tour that I took with Pearl River Eco-Tours (8:30am pickup from your hotel and you’ll be back for lunch). As I visited Louisiana in mid-March, the alligators were only just beginning to come out of hibernation, so small mammals were still able to forage around the swamp for food without harm.
I saw alligators, snakes, turtles, wild boars, raccoons and an assortment of birds, but the most amazing part of the swamp visit was how peaceful it was. I hadn’t expected the glorious bird song or the wonderful fragrance of spring blossoms. Truly extraordinary!