Eat here: Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, New Orleans, USA

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz
4801 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans
http://www.snobliz.com

If you find yourself in New Orleans, count yourself lucky. Because summer over there is snoball season, and the only place to get them from is Hansen’s. If you live over there, you already know about Hansen’s. If you don’t, keep reading – its much more than just dessert.

It’s a really simple concept for a hot day treat: shaved ice, drenched in flavoured syrup. Starts as a frozen dessert requiring a spoon, ends as a slushie. And they’ve been making their snoballs the exact same way since they started in 1939.

See, Ernest was an enterprising young machinist who created a machine to shave light, fluffy piles of ice. And his wife, Mary, was a whiz in the kitchen where she came up with the syrup recipes (which they still follow to make their syrups in-house to this day).

Now run by the third generation of the family, they open every year while the weather is hot. Walking into their store is like walking back in time to the most perfect cotton candy-pink museum you could imagine. It really is one of those places that make New Orleans what it is, especially these days when there aren’t many family businesses still around. We got lucky last year; with the city experiencing a particularly long summer, they were still open in late October, and we got stuck into this coconut pineapple snoball.

Eat here: Cochon Butcher, New Orleans (sandwiches/meat)

Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans
https://cochonbutcher.com/

A tribute to Old World butcher and charcuterie shops, Cochon Butcher melds a distinctive Cajun accent to the art of curing meat.

With a menu description like that, as if we weren’t going to visit this place! We first saw it through the eyes of Anthony Bourdain, then read a ton of great reviews, and then heard more good stuff about it once we got to New Orleans.

Much like places in Melbourne (think Jimmy Grants, Huxtaburger), Cochon Butcher is the super successful, less formal offshoot from the more fancy Cochon, drawing in a solid hipster and young professional crowd. The menu is very pig-centric, in the best possible way, with everything crafted, cured and smoked in house.

We visited at lunch time and shared a Buckboard bacon melt with collards on white bread (bottom left) and a charcuterie plate (top left). Buckboard bacon melt was probably the best spin on a ham & cheese toastie I’ve ever had – that bacon was amazing.

The charcuterie plate was next level – for a mere USD$16.00, we got dry cured pork loin, country terrine, spicy fennel salami, chorizo, pork rillon, flat bread crackers and pickles. And every single thing on that board was magnificent.

They also have a mean cocktail menu, heaps of beer and wine options, and you can shop their flatware, aprons, sauces and pickles after you’re done eating. They’d have every right to be a little arrogant and pretentious, but the staff were cool and laid back without being complete tools. They made the atmosphere like that of a fun, young deli, but the food was clearly the product of experience. We’d go back to eat there again in a heartbeat. And now all I want for breakfast is a bacon sandwich.

A Introduction to Mardi Gras – and a visit to Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

Happy Mardi Gras!!! Ok, so I’m a day early, but it’s Monday morning and thought we could all do with starting the week on a high! Other than flashy parades and copious amounts of drinking, those of us who don’t hail from New Orleans really don’t know a hell of a lot about the big day. Husband and I knew a little more about it from books we’d read and some documentaries we’d seen, but we knew there was still a lot we didn’t understand. So when we made our return to New Orleans late last year, we decided to visit Mardi Gras World to learn a little more. Before we get to that, let’s look at the basics…

WHAT IS ‘MARDI GRAS’?
Those of you familiar with Easter celebrations have probably heard of Ash Wednesday. And if you’re an Aussie kid, you’ve definitely heard of Shrove Tuesday and ate pancakes for breakfast at school to celebrate; Mardi Gras, which translates as “Fat Tuesday,” is the same thing as Shrove Tuesday, falling the day before Ash Wednesday.

GREAT, BUT WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH THE PARADES AND PARTIES THAT GO ON IN NEW ORLEANS?
Ok, let’s break it down as simply as possible for those who don’t have a Catholic background…

– Ash Wednesday = the first day of Lent.

– Lent = the 40 days leading up to Palm Sunday during which practicing Catholics often give up something they usually enjoy (like chocolate or their favourite TV show) as a symbolic act of repentance and fasting.

– Palm Sunday = the Sunday before Easter, the first ‘celebration’ day of the season after the 40 days of fasting.

AND THE TUESDAY THAT IS MARDI GRAS?
– Mardi Gras = the last day before the 40 days of fasting and repentance begins. The celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is basically rooted in the idea that if you’re going to be fasting and repenting and behaving for the next 40 days, why not overindulge in good food and booze and party like a maniac the night before?!

OK, SO WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE PARADES NEW ORLEANS HOLDS TO CELEBRATE?
No doubt you’ve seen photos or footage of the apparent carnage that is Mardi Gras in New Orleans; it’s actually a lot more organised and symbolic than it may first appear. To understand that, let me go back a bit and explain the ‘who’ behind the parades first.

Parades are organised by krewes, which are essentially social aid clubs. Membership is incredibly prestigious, can be quite pricey, and members take enormous pride in the events they organise and partake in. The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation kindly list the city’s krewes on their website if you’d like to see read a little more about them.

The parades you see, with the big floats and costumed marchers are the culmination of what is usually 12 months work from the members of the city’s krewes (as in, once Mardi Gras is over, they start working on next year’s almost immediately). They commission and finance the floats and costumes, spending endless hours working on them, and the end result is those visually overwhelming parades. And the parades are fabulous, but knowing more about the work that goes into them has given me a much bigger appreciated for it all this year.

It has to be said that this is a very basic explanation of an event that is incredibly intricate and steeped in more tradition than I could possibly hope to cover in one blog post – we haven’t even touched king cakes, Mardi Gras Indians or the beads you see revelers wearing! You can head on over to Mardi Gras New Orleans to learn a little more, but hopefully that all makes a bit more sense, and will help explain what made us decide to visit Mardi Gras World…

Mardi Gras World
1380 Port of New Orleans Pl
http://www.mardigrasworld.com/

When I talk about the floats used in the parades, they’re not some cute little hand pulled wagons. They’re enormous – as in, the size of buses or coaches. Absolutely huge. So it’s fair to say the krewes couldn’t be making them all themselves – who’d have a workshop that big?! That’s where Mardi Gras World come in; Mr Blaine Kern, who started to learn the craft from his father, Roy, and later apprenticed with float and costume makers around Europe, started working on behalf of the city’s krewes (you can read more about the Kerns here). The family business now has 15 warehouses around the city where they build floats all year round for the Mardi Gras season. And you thought it was just a day of partying once a year…

For USD$20pp, you can tour one of their warehouses, see some of the artists at work, and learn a hell of a lot about the process of creating these colossal works of art. A few fun facts we learned during our tour…

– The large floats are owned by individual krewes and are stripped each year and re-decorated with new pieces.

– Old props are kept at the warehouses to potentially be re-decorated and re-used by other krewes.

– To create the pieces adorning the floats, the artists use a lot of old school papier mache over polystyrene, which they then paint over.

– There are around 60 odd krewes that each hold a parade over Mardi Gras period – that means 60 different floats and costumes for every. Single. Parade.

 

And if that doesn’t make you want to check it out for yourself, maybe some of those photos I took in there will! Now, to find a way to get back to New Orleans at Mardi Gras time…

The dining rooms of Antoine’s, New Orleans

Antoine’s
713 St Louis St, New Orleans
http://www.antoines.com

We thought we’d treat ourselves on our last day in New Orleans, and visit one of the city’s classic restaurants. Unfortunately,  it’s not an easy task to pick one… Brennan’s, Commander’s Palace, Emeril’s, Arnaud’s, how are you meant to choose?!

We finally settled on Antoine’s not just because of the food, but because of the history. They’ve been around since 1840, when a French immigrant came to America for the chance at a better life, and have been run by the same family ever since. The food is classic French-Creole, and it is delicious! We did the Sunday jazz brunch, and enjoyed their signature fried puffed potatoes, seafood gumbo, eggs benedict, shrimp and grits, and a big rich slice of chocolate layer cake – head on over to Instagram for more on that…

They also have over a dozen magnificent dining rooms, which one of the wonderful servers offered to show us through after we finished our meal. Many of the rooms are still decked out with original floors and light fittings, and they just scream old world charm and elegance. Let me take you through a few of them…

 

The Rex Room
One of three private dining rooms named after and set aside for some of the city’s biggest Mardi Gras krewes. The walls show off photos and memorabilia from past parades, and the rooms welcome their krewes for private dining events.

 

The Proteus Room
Another krewe room, with more photos of the queens of Mardi Gras gracing the walls.

 

The Mystery Room
Located right at the end of this corridor, the Mystery Room served the locals well in the era of prohibition. The floors were covered in saw dust, so when the authorities came bursting in, the revellers would pour their drinks onto the floor and kick up the dust. And the name?

The protocol phrase at table when asked from whence it came was: “It’s a mystery to me.”

 

The Maison Verte Room
This beautiful room was presumably green at some stage, what with it’s name. Today, it’s a stunning white and cream, with a big regal chandelier and enormous framed mirror. The enormous windows let in a heap of natural light, and also open up onto a balcony overlooking the street below.

 

You can read more about the history of Antoine’s here, otherwise if you’re visiting the city, book a table for a delicious meal and take a tour of the place yourself!

From my travel journal: New Orleans, 2015 (2)

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“Funerary and burial rites and traditions are a little different here, which allows many, many generations of a family to be entombed together. For a start, the tombs are all built above the ground, in order for them to stay buried; before this, floods frequently dislodged the dead and saw their caskets float on down the street. One year and one day after death, it is customary to retrieve the remains if the body – teeth and bones – place them in a bag, and toss that bag back into a deep pit below the family tomb. With temperatures scorching in summer, the bones are generally turned to dust within another year, allowing the bags of bones to pile up almost indefinitely. “Wouldn’t touch that with a 10 foot pole” – that’s what’s used to retrieve the remains, or so we overheard from a tour guide in one of the cemeteries we visited.”

My favourite New Orleans eats

Our New Orleans themed Christmas tree is up again this year. One if my lovely work colleagues has just come back from New Orleans, regaling me with tales of snow white beignets and bowls of gumbo. AND one of my best friends (@jessicavee, fellow food lover and adventurer) has just let me know that she’ll be making her way to that same magical city in a few months. I promised her a highlights reel of food to eat, so Jess, this post is for you!
1. Central Grocery
The food: a quarter of a muffuletta
The memory: our first feed in New Orleans was at Central Grocery, a beautiful, old deli that brought me right back to the days of visiting old Italian delis with Nonna. No frills, no fuss, no nonsense, just a damn good sandwich. We ordered half a muffuletta, but a quarter between us would have sufficed; they’re the size of hubcaps!
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2. Cafe du Monde
The food: beignets!!!
The memory: this place is open 24/7, so you be damn sure we took advantage of that. They were afternoon tea the day we arrived. They were delivered in a paper bag by my husband who snuck out early one morning so he could get them back in time for me to wake up to and enjoy breakfast in bed. They were a midnight snack the night before we flew out, that last bag of beignets I’d have for God only knows how long (I even have a photo of me clutching that bag like the crown jewels). They’re the taste of New Orleans. Just don’t wear black when you eat them…
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3. Coop’s Place
The food: fried chicken and gumbo
The memory: the strongest memory was feeling so at home in Coop’s. It wasn’t because I regularly hang out in dive bar-like restaurants, or because I eat lots of fried chicken at home. It was just a fun, relaxed place where no one gave a crap that you were a tourist. Just sit down, shut up, order and eat! And eat we did!
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4. Domilise’s
The food: fried shrimp po-boy (the roast beef was pretty good, too)
The memory: it was a long walk (via donuts, which I would do all over again) and more than worth it. Domilise’s is a city stalwart and for damn good reason. Their po-boys are some of the best in New Orleans, and so is the establishment – it felt just like sitting in your favourite aunt’s kitchen, being well looked after 🙂
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5. The Joint
The food: combo platter with brisket, pulled pork & ribs
The memory: another long walk from the French Quarter through some questionable back streets at dusk. May not have been the smartest idea to go on foot, but the food was totally worth it! Sitting out in the courtyard at The Joint with music pumping, drinks flowing, and good times rolling, it was a real good night in New Orleans!
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6. Johnny’s Po-Boys
The food: surf & turf po-boy
The memory: we’d seen on a few “what are the best po-boys in New Orleans?” Google searches that Johnny’s were the best option within the French Quarter. We squished in, on two counter seats, and demolished an incredible surf and turf po-boy, on perfectly soft bread, smothered in gravy…
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From my travel journal: New Orleans, 2015

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“There’s a lot to do in the city, and it’s easy to have a good time, but the best part is just walking around… The streets are never the same. The people change, the vibes change, it’s constant movement and completely perfect.”