New Orleans & The French Quarter Festival
After a short but sweet stay near Destin, FL at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, we hopped back into Roberta for the 5-hour drive to The Big Easy, New Orleans, LA, a place neither of us had ever been.
New Orleans (or NOLA if you’re from the area) is located at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi river, and is the heart and soul of the state of Louisiana. NOLA is a place that has a true culture unlike anyplace else, rooted from a time before the U.S. was completely formed. It’s been controlled and influenced by Native American tribes, Spanish & French conquerors, as well as African cultures and traditions, giving it a unique place in American history, and affecting it’s vibe, food, architecture, and overall character still to this day. There’s one word that describes everything listed above: Creole. That word is synonymous with Louisiana, affectionately known as the Creole state.
Through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the U.S. took control of New Orleans, and roughly another 800,000 square miles west and northwest of the city, in what turned out to be the largest land purchase in U.S. history. At the time, America was a country influx, controlling only those lands east of the Mississippi. New Orleans gave the U.S. the sought after Gulf port at the mouth of our largest river, not to mention the expansive breadbasket of the central U.S. – All of this for a cool $15 million dollars. If not for this single purchase orchestrated by Thomas Jefferson, with New Orleans as the cornerstone piece, our country could be in a much different place today. Adjusted for inflation, in today’s dollars the cost would be $236 million, or 42 cents per acre. (Where do I sign?) Not a bad deal if you ask me!
For me, it’s hard to come to this city without thinking about history. It’s full of it, and it’s part of what makes this city so great for tourists and the residents alike. Not all of its history is pretty. But you’re probably not reading this for a history lesson, so on to the good bits that any traveler might find useful and interesting…We decided that trying to drive/park a 25 foot RV in the French Quarter might not be the best decision, considering there are countless one-way streets, tight corners, and enough drunk and rowdy people to fill The Superdome (where the New Orleans Saints play). We opted instead to stay in a friendly NOLA suburb, Metairie, and take cabs into the city as needed. Metairie is the first suburb of New Orleans, located on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain between the areas of downtown and the airport. It’s one of the oldest cities in the U.S., established in 1718, and is a short 15-minute cab ride to the French Quarter.
Our first night in the city, we took our good friend Jason Wolfe’s recommendation to eat at Drago’s, which as luck would have it, was just down the street from our suburban hotel.
Before I tell you about how the charbroiled oysters from Drago’s are the best thing you could ever put in your face, I need to tell you a side story about the man who recommended we eat them, Mr Wolfe. Jason’s been to NOLA many times, having done business in the area and also visited for vacation. For someone not from Creole country, he has a good sense of what Morgan and I would like to see and do. He truly loves the city. Wolfe, as his friends call him, actually planned to move to New Orleans in summer of 2005. He quit his job in Columbus, OH, and had one waiting for him in the Big Easy managing a wine store. He sold many of his belongings. We even had his ‘going away’ party… and as he was packing to leave, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, flooding the business Jason intended to work at after the move. Needless the say, he didn’t move south, as half the city was underwater and struggling to recover. His life went in a completely different direction as a result.
But not to worry – He’s now a successful software sales rep, and is expecting his first child with his wife Dana later this year.
I always think of this story when something bad happens to me or someone that I know. It helps put things into perspective – Your circumstance could always be worse, and even when it’s bad, you can rebound. Jason did, and so did the city of New Orleans.
Ok, enough of all the feels… back to delicious food.If you like seafood, you HAVE to try the charbroiled oysters from Drago’s. Scratch that… Even if you DON’T like seafood, you should STILL try them. They don’t taste like seafood. They barely even tasted like oysters to me. It was more like a grilled, buttery, garlic-y, perfectly seasoned piece of tender meaty goodness. No, it doesn’t taste like chicken. It’s waaaaaaaay better…take my word for it. Or better yet, eat them yourself next time you’re in town. It’s a must! One of the best surprises of our trip, without a doubt, happened during the cab ride to Drago’s. I like to make conversation with cabbies. They typically live in the city you’re visiting, and it’s good to get a local’s perspective. As it turned out, she (the cab driver) had some great news for us: We were lucky enough to be visiting New Orleans during the French Quarter Festival, the largest free festival in the south. We immediately had our plans for the next day, which happened to be Friday. Sometimes things just work out in your favor. The French Quarter Festival is aptly named, as it basically takes over the entire French Quarter section of downtown, with live music on every block and in many bars. It was started in 1984 to bring locals back into the Quarter. Food vendors and merchants spill out into the streets, and there are countless opportunities for fantastic people watching. The best part about this fest is that is stays true to the ‘Keep it Local’ motto – Over 60 local restaurants, more than 1500 local musicians sharing 23 stages catering to over 700,000 guests. The Festival even goes so far as to only employ local companies during the 4-day event, which means all the money spent stays local. We were able to listen to several live jazz bands and sample a delectable assortment of Creole favorites while we leisurely strolled through this famous (some would say infamous) section of the city. If you’re thinking of visiting New Orleans in the future, The French Quarter Fest is a perfect way to experience many of the most interesting parts of city in a short amount of time. You have access to all the great restaurants via vendor booths, which makes sampling oodles of scrumptious food easy and inexpensive. It was hard to choose between so many worthy options, but we’ve managed to put together our Top 5 Must Eats in New Orleans.
Top 5 “Must Eats” in New OrleansShrimp & Alligator Sausage Cheesecake from Jacques-IMO Cafe’ Po Boy: Meat or fried seafood served on New Orleans style French Bread – A Creole tradition.
1) Drago’s Charbroiled Oysters – I told you they were delicious!! No picture needed – just go eat them.
All in all, our roughly 40 hours in one of the most iconic cities in American just wasn’t enough, especially since half of our Friday afternoon during the Fest was spent desperately trying to catch a cab in the pouring Bayou rain.This means only one thing – We must return!
If you have any tips or advice for visiting New Orleans, feel free to comment below. We’d love to hear from you and learn more about this amazing gem on the Mississippi delta.