From Cajun Flavors to French Quarter Beats: 3 Locals Give the Scoop on New OrleansBy Nathan Lump
If you’ve only been to New Orleans once — particularly if it was a long time ago — you probably have a clear memory of all the things that made the city famous: the historic architecture, the jazz, the party scene on Bourbon Street, all those Cajun and Creole specialties, from beignets to po’boys to gumbo.
Lately, though, the city has witnessed an explosion of creativity that is rooted in the culture and tradition of the place but has also added attractions that are more diverse, cosmopolitan and surprising.
We asked three locals, all of whom are playing a role in this ongoing transformation, to share some of their favorite places to go and things to do.
MICHAEL GULOTTA, CHEF, MAYPOP
Michael Gulotta has made a name for himself combining the produce and techniques of Cajun and Creole cooking with the flavors of Southeast Asia, and his latest venture, Maypop, beautifully brings his approach to life.
Slide into the sleek, light-filled space that is a far cry from traditional New Orleans — concrete floors and Edison bulbs, a gigantic holographic mural that merges the Mekong and the Mississippi deltas — and order the Louisiana blue crab and andouille tom-yum over gnochetti.
Local and Authentic: Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
In the lush oasis that is City Park, beside the New Orleans Museum of Art, this 11-acre garden is a revelation: a collection of more than 80 sculptures from an array of international artists, mostly modern and contemporary — Joel Shapiro, Claes Oldenburg, Louise Bourgeois, Anish Kapoor — set amid pools and bridges and winding paths shaded by sprawling trees draped in Spanish moss.
Famous and Great: Commander’s Palace
When you want the old-school New Orleans experience, you still can’t do better than Commander’s. Gentlemen, put on your jacket, and ladies, your best dress, and enjoy a couple hours of an experience that defined the term “fine dining.”
Go for the classics, which are executed with both care and some flair: turtle soup or gumbo, pecan-roasted Gulf fish or perhaps the peach-lacquered quail, bananas foster for dessert.
Worth a Splurge: Galatoire’s Friday lunch
Galatoire’s is a New Orleans institution, perhaps more famous today for its atmospheric time capsule of a dining room — brightly lit and lined in mirrors, with its signature green wallpaper and black-and-white tiled floors—than for its menu of standard-issue Creole fare.
To lunch here on a Friday is to witness a special moment of magic, when the usual tourist crowd is supplanted by a throng of locals, who dress to the nines and gather for a lively, drinks-fueled celebration of life that lasts all afternoon.
ASHLEY LONGSHORE, OWNER, LONGSHORE STUDIO GALLERY
Art world phenom Ashley Longshore is the Andy Warhol of our times — an artist who makes big, brash, candy-colored works that incorporate iconography both human (Audrey Hepburn, Abraham Lincoln), commercial (Veuve Clicquot, Valium) and natural (butterflies, birds) and are bedazzled with all manner of glittery baubles and irreverent phrases. (“Park Your Own Maybach. We Are All Vanderbilts.”)
Her gallery is also her workshop, and whether you’re a collector or just a gawker, it’s an Instagram-worthy feast for the eyes.
Local and Authentic: Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits
At the far end of a scruffy industrial street along the Mississippi in Bywater that will make you wonder if you are on the right track is Bacchanal. You enter into an unassuming wine shop that will again make you scratch your head.
But the reason you’re here is for the scene out back in the outdoor garden strung with fairy lights, where on busy nights seemingly every creative in town has gathered to hang out, enjoy a bottle of wine or a cocktail and a cheese plate, and listen to live music. It’s casual, fun, and effortlessly cool.
Famous and Great: Mardi Gras World
It might seem like a tourist trap — you’ll see the free shuttle buses hopping around the French Quarter—but the 300,000-square-foot warehouse that is Mardi Gras World actually offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the work that goes into one of the country’s biggest and most beloved celebrations.
Of particular interest is the painstaking work that each year goes into creating the parade floats, on display in all their glory here.
Worth a Splurge: Saffron NOLA
Indian food in New Orleans? Yes indeed.
The space at this Garden District favorite is simple and contemporary, the kitchen is open, and the dishes — like the oyster bed roast with carmelized onions, garlic, and curry, and the nariya gulf fish with korma sauce and mango pickle—are a heavenly marriage of local ingredients and the flavors of India.
The best way to do it: order everything that appeals, even if it seems like too much. You’ll want to try it all.
BRANDEN LEWIS, TRUMPETER, PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND
Since 1960, Preservation Hall has been a cradle of New Orleans Jazz, and attending one of its nightly shows in a tiny ramshackle room in the French Quarter is one of the easiest ways to experience an hour of sheer joy. (The last show of the night, at 10 pm, is especially good fun.)
The band is exceptional, and the young trumpeter Branden Lewis is one of its bright lights, part of a new generation of young musicians finding inspiration in the traditional expression of jazz.
Local and Authentic: Jean Lafitte National Historical Park Barataria Preserve
The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park is composed of several different sites in Louisiana, and one of its highlights is the Barataria Preserve, 26,000 acres of wetlands outside of the city.
Taking a boardwalk trail through the swampy preserve is the perfect way to slow down and immerse yourself in the natural world; keep your eyes peeled for alligators, turtles, and the abundant bird life.
Famous and Great: Kermit’s Treme Mother in Law Lounge
If you saw the HBO series “Treme” you already know legendary jazz trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and this place, and it’s undeniably true that for a night of great jazz outside of the French Quarter, this is the place to go.
Kermit himself plays here, and the lounge also hosts a rotating roster of musicians. You can also get some honest food — barbecue, beans and rice — and drink while rubbing elbows with a crowd composed of both jazz-loving locals and pilgrims from out of town.
Worth a Splurge: Hire a second line band
If you want to make an occasion a real New Orleans experience, you can hire your own second line band—a brass band on parade — to transform an ordinary walk into a celebratory procession.
If you’re doing Friday lunch at Galatoire’s, having your very own band come to play for you and the other patrons will make you the toast of the town. There are many bands, both formal entities and informally arranged groups, in town; ask your hotel concierge to connect you to a recommended one.