We arrived in New Orleans in the evening after a 10+ hour drive from Austin. We were famished. A quick shower and change at the hotel and we were off to whatever restaurant the concierge had reserved for us when we called from the road.  I must admit feeling like a typical tourist relying solely on a hotel's recommendation, especially when she told us she reserved a table at Emeril Lagasse's restaurant Nola.  

Nola

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Emeril has three restaurants in this city, Nola being slightly more casual than the other two and featuring authentic Cajun home-style cooking.  While it was packed with mostly tourists, the food was outstanding! The gumbo of the day was chicken and andouille sausage – dark, smokey with a little kick of spiciness. The best soup I've ever had.  For dinner I ordered buttermilk fried chicken breast with bourbon mashed sweet potatoes.  Also perfection.

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After the trip I went online and read review after review from bloggers to food critics who all raved about this restaurant. Put it at the top of your list when you visit New Orleans!

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Avoid this street if you're over 35 and/or have kids with you.

Beads:nola

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Jazz was everywhere – deep and soulful. The perfect soundtrack to this city.

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The next day we spent walking along Magazine Street.  There are more antique stores than one has stamina to visit.  Maybe my next trip here should be with girlfriends… 

The second night we ate at Cochon. Chef and owner Stephen Stryjewsky was the 2011 James Beard Best Chef: South recipient. 

Cochon

The interior is lightly decorated – hip not trendy.  Great service.

 

Cochon interior

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To start, the five of us shared gumbo, hush puppies and fried alligator with chili aoli.  All were very good except the alligator which was chewy.  I had the roasted fish with vegetables for an entree (yes I know what Cochon means, but I was trying to pace myself!!) Also a highly recommended restaurant.

The next morning – chicory coffee and piping hot beignets from Cafe du Monde.  I'd recommend taking them to go and eating along the river.  The restaurant (that only sells coffee and beignets) is like being at the Central Park Zoo.

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The next day on our way to Mississippi, we decided to drive along the Bayou and go on a tour of a swamp .  We lucked out choosing the company we did – Cajun Encounters – it was INCREDIBLE!  We are not tour types either. The company is locally owned and is a member of the Nature Conservancy. The Honey Island swamp that we visited is on Nature Conservancy property.

We boarded our boat and set off.

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It wasn't long before we saw the first swamp creature…

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eeeek!

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Ever wondered where spanish moss comes from?

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Down the swamp quite a distance from the river, was a cluster of about 5 shacks.  The tour guide explained that the state of Louisiana leases these plots for $100 per year with a 99 year deed.  They have electricity, plumbing and sewage.  The only hitch – no road.  They're only accessible by boat.  And they flood from time to time.

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These plots are passed on from generation to generation.

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If you are in New Orleans and want a fun excursion, Cajun Encounters offers a pick-up and return service.  It's about a 45 min drive from the French Quarter.  But driving there was a great experience.

If you do go, request Nolan as your guide.  He was fantastic!  Born on the Bayou and doing this tour for 14 years, he has stories and facts that keep you interested for the entire 2 hours.  He was very proud that he toured Kelly Ripa from Regis and Kelly and her family a few years ago. Afterwards she talked about it and him on the show. About a year later she brought the entire filming crew on the tour (of course requested Nolan) and they televised it on the show.  He got to go to New York and sit in the audience.  Since then, he's become the 'celebrity' tour guide and has had Brad and Angelina, Tommy Lee, Usher just to name a few!

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Next up, Mississippi! (Hope I'm not boring you?)

all photos except those noted taken by and property of serena armstrong

 




 

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