We asked Ginger Valentine to share her insiders’ tour guide to New Orleans as well as her favorite Louisiana recipes. Here’s what she had to say:
I lived in southeast Louisiana for about five years, and what an impression it left on me! Trips to New Orleans were frequent, and before I knew it, I had fallen in love (really fallen) with the city. I will never be the same. To keep my sanity I visit at least once a year. The following is a very short list of some of my favorite places to visit for food and drinks. I hope if you plan on going to the upcoming New Orleans Burlesque Festival that you will check out some of my favorite spots – you’ll probably see me there devouring a po’boy or giddy from one too many Pimm’s Cups.
Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club
This is the queen mother of all dive bars everywhere. Located near Tulane and Loyola in Uptown at 7612 Oak Street, this bar is nothing more than a glorified shack where you can get beer like Schlitz in a can. The bar is an old house and it’s in the middle of a residential area. It’s hard to tell whether it’s a home or bar. They say they open at seven, but things don’t really get going till 1 a.m. At my first sojourn to this truly locals-only bar, I found myself in need of the ladies room. You can imagine my surprise when a bartender led me to the end of the hall where there sat an exposed toilet. Ha-ha, joke’s on me. That one was just for show; they do have a private bathroom. Use it if you dare.
Café Du Monde
Sandwiched between the mighty Mississippi River and the French Quarter you will find Café Du Monde French Market on Decatur Street. Open 24/7, this is my favorite late-night spot for a quick pick me up after too many sazeracs and hand grenades. Famous for their scrumptious beignets (so much more than just a French doughnut) and café au lait with chicory, Café Du Monde is always packed no matter the hour. There is a perennial dusting of powdered sugar throughout, so think twice before wearing black.
That famous red and yellow hotdog cart that you find parked throughout the French Quarter is more than just ordinary street food – it’s a Crescent City tradition. Sure, some may scoff at a greasy hotdog bought from a vendor, but this has a literary connection that permanently endears them to me. Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces is part tall tale and part love song (albeit wacky one) to New Orleans. The main character, Ignatius Riley is briefly employed by Lucky Dogs, and what ensues is some of the funniest shit I’ve ever seen in literature. I suggest picking up a Lucky Dog and taking it to the corner of Canal Street and Bourbon where you’ll find a bronze statue of Ignatius Riley parked in front of the old store front of the D. H. Holmes department store.
You want tradition? You want unique cocktails and the best damn muffaletta you can wrap your hungry mouth around? Then you want to go to The Napoleon House located on 500 Chartres Street in the French Quarter. Built in 1797, story goes that this was a residence intended for Napoleon Bonaparte after his exile, but he died before he could move in. Now it’s the most famous place to get a muffaletta (call it a “muff” if you wanna blend in, but try not to giggle like me) and one of my favorite cocktails, Pimm’s Cup. The building really hasn’t changed much in 200 years, be sure to check out the cash register at the bar. And the bartenders wear arm garters there, which I think is really romantic.
If you want to get rowdy (I mean really rowdy), and don’t mind hitting up a tourist spot (but hey, I’ve even known some locals to have fond memories of this joint), then you have to go to Tropical Isle to get a Hand Grenade. Order the big one in the commemorative cup. About half way through your drink, you’ll swear it’s talking to you. Yes, it’s obnoxious and cheesy, but that’s usually how I like to start out my visit in the Quarter, but then again, I kind of turn into a hedonist once I’m in the 504, so I’ll just say I can’t help it.
Not far from the French Quarter, you’ll find Mother’s Restaurant on 401 Poydras Street. This is a cafeteria-style deli that serves po’boys so good it’s hard for me to express my feelings without using profanity. When you go to Mother’s this is what you get: The Ferdi Special. Baked ham, roast beef, debris (crusty bits of roast beef that fall off during the roasting process) and gravy crammed in between two perfect pieces of crusty french bread are the key players in the Ferdi Special. I’ve stood in the line that wraps around the block (hungover and in the rain!) to eat a Ferdi special, and I’d do it again (and again) in a heartbeat.
Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop
If you keep walking down Bourbon, and then walk a little more, you’ll come across one of the oldest bars in the country. Built sometime before 1792, this bar is lit by candle light, and it’s easy to imagine yourself transported back 100 or so years ago, that is until your cell phone rings. They have all the usual New Orleans cocktails here, but I suggest trying a sazerac. This whiskey cocktail is one of the oldest cocktails (which is why it’s great to order it here) and it has such a yummy and distinctive flavor that you’ll always associate with the magic of New Orleans. I think this place is a piano bar too, but I can’t be for sure. I could have had one too many drinks and found myself singing along to a song that only I could hear.
Click here for Ginger Valentine’s Red Beans and Rice recipe.