Mardi Gras 2013

New Orleans during Mardi Gras season (which is the four weeks before Lent) is an amazing experience. The entire city turns itself out with gusto, decorating every available surface in purple, green, and gold and embracing the traditions of the season.

These people were NOT fooling around.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I had visited New Orleans on a number of occassions - but never during Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, due to my aversion to large, drunken crowds. My main interest in the city was the food, the shopping, and the spooky history.

My first couple of trips included graveyard tours, ghost tours, a drive by Anne Rice's house, eating in "famous" (read: touristy) restaurants, and wandering around the French Quarter. As I got to know the city better, I started to branch out - visiting farther-flung neighborhoods and seeking out favorite shops, bars, and restaurants. This trip, I traveled with two, dear friends who are at a similar place in their relationship with the city, so we had a great time sharing best-loved spots with each other. We, basically, ate, drank, and shopped our way around the city.

For today's post, I'd like to focus on the food and drink. We ate some EPIC meals at restaurants that were off the "tourist" path and we drank some amazing cocktails, both fancy and basic.

Our first night in the city, my friend John had made reservations at a gorgeous little bistro called Coquette, located in the center of the Garden District. We arrived for our 8p reservation and had to wait a bit for a table. It was immediately apparent why. The atmosphere, the service, and the food/drink were so wonderful that I can completely understand not wanting to leave.

I ordered a Sazarac, a rye and bitters cocktail that originated in New Orleans. I drank a few during this trip and I can honestly say that the one at Coquette was the best of the weekend. In the "craft" tradition, the bar makes its own syrups and specialty cocktails and only uses the best ingredients. Which leads me to my best find of the weekend - "shrubs".

On the cocktail menu, I noticed a number of ingredients referred to as "shrubs". Apple shrub, cucumber shrub, pear shrub, etc. The slightly-Cajun-accented (and very charming) bartender explained that shrubs are, basically, cocktail syrups that are made in-house. The difference between a shrub and a soda syrup, like the ones I made last summer, is that shrubs have the addition of vinegar. The basic recipe is this:

1. Cook down your fruit/vegetable/herb in water
2. Strain and discard the solids
3. Mix equal parts (1/3, 1/3, 1/3) of your fruit/vegetable/herb concentrate, simple syrup, and vinegar
4. Bottle in a tightly-capped glass bottle

Wikipedia has an interesting entry on shrubs - otherwise known as "drinking vinegars".

Once we were at our table, the first epic meal started. Cheese board, appetizers, entrees, and desserts. I had some of the most delicately fried sweatbreads I've ever tasted and a pork chop that was - no lie - the size of my dinner plate and an inch and a half thick. It was insane. Dessert was a butterscotch pudding with bourbon "bubbles", scotcheroo crumbles, and... wait for it... BACON ICE CREAM. Oh.My.God. It was one of the best things I've ever eaten.

The next day, we had lunch at Luke (there's supposed to be an umlaut over the "u" but I don't know how to make that happen...) which is a John Besh restaurant that focuses on updated versions of traditional Louisiana cuisine. I had a shrimp and grits that was absolutely divine. Turns out that they make their grits (slow cooked, not instant) with marscapone cheese. So, yeah. Pretty much the best grits ever. As an appetizer, we had an onion tart that I can't even begin to describe other than to say "amazing". And, I enjoyed one of their signature cocktails called Riverbend - vodka, lemon juice, basil syrup, blueberries (crushed), and ginger ale - which was very light and refreshing.

Saturday's epic meal was at Toups' Meatery in Mid-City, a neighborhood I'd never visted before. This unassuming little corner storefront has a great, informal atmosphere, fun service, and an outstanding menu of meat, meat, and more meat. We ate so much - cheese board, meat board, boudin balls, deviled eggs (with bacon, of course), cracklins, the best dirty rice I've ever tasted, and then our entrees - that I could write a post on this meal alone. My entree was a porchetta that was so large I could barely eat half. Then we topped it off by splitting a salted caramel, bacon, and peanut butter cake. The new-favorite  drink I was introduced to was a liquor called Liquer Strega.

This bold, yellow digestif is made with 70 herbs which include fennel, mint, and saffron (which gives it its color). It was a surprise after-dinner-drink gifted to us by our wonderful waiter. I can't thank him enough for introducing me to this interesting concoction and I can't wait to start experimenting with Strega cocktails.

Finally, we had to have one, semi-touristy meal so we had brunch on Monday at The Court of Two Sisters, a French Quarter institution with a lovely "80-item" buffet. While it wasn't the most amazing food of the weekend, it was a nice, solid way to finish up our stay. Of particular note was the blue cheese potato salad and the turtle soup with sherry. Oh... and the peel-and-eat boiled shrimp with the stone-ground mustard sauce. Yum.

On Sunday, we intentionally went to the Krewe of Barkus Mardi Gras parade which is the largest dog parade in the world. It was amazing fun and there are enough stories and photos for an entire separate blog post. Look for that one next week. :)
If you get a chance to go to NOLA, plan your food carefully and you too could end up with meal memories that will last a lifetime.

- Alex


  1. I'll have to send this post to my boyfriend - he's going to New Orleans next month (albeit on a work trip so he might not have quite enough time to check out everywhere you've mentioned!)

    1. So, both Coquette and Toups' are kind of expensive but, if you don't eat a 6 course dinner like we did, you can get away with a reasonably priced meal. Luke is great for lunch and brunch (menu is nearly identical except that brunch includes a few breakfast items.) More than likely, he'll be near the Quarter so Luke, Coquette, and Court of Two Sisters are totally do-able. There's a place on Jackson Square called Muriel's that's amazing too. Oh, and a little breakfast/lunch place called Cafe Beignet in the Quarter. :)

  2. I am inspired!

    It's grand to see that New Orleans is still offering up wonderful experiences.

    1. In any of the "high-ground" neighborhoods, you'll see very little evidence of the Katrina damage. Tourism seems to be back to "normal" levels and the city is in full swing. :) Of course, I didn't get out to any of the harder-hit neighborhoods but, by all accounts, there's still a long way to go (seven years later!)