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Beyond Beachcomberland

A Holiday Visit to the Big Easy

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By Samantha Lambert

 

It had been 42 years since I had been to New Orleans. In the interim, I graduated from college, moved to Virginia, started teaching, got married, and had two sons. Upon retirement, my husband and I moved back to Fort Walton Beach, along with my now-grown sons and 85-year-old mother.

 

My husband is a native New Yorker and a lifelong Jets fan. When we saw that the Jets were playing the Saints in New Orleans, we planned a trip to see the game. My husband and oldest son had never been to New Orleans. We went with some good friends of ours who are huge Saints fans.

 

We arrived in town on a Saturday in the early afternoon. New Orleans is so easy to get to from FWB—pretty much a straight shot on I-10. We checked into the Hyatt Regency New Orleans on Loyola Avenue, which is right by the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. We were all hungry and headed out for lunch. We tried the famous Willa Jean’s, first but it was over an hour wait.

 

Instead, we went next door to Aglio’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar. They had a great selection of sandwiches. I had the Tina Marie on Cubano bread, which had a ton of roast beef inside. The others chose the Godfather with meatballs on a sesame hoagie roll and the Uncle BB Sammy filled with hot ham and cheese on a black brioche roll. We all raved about our sandwiches.

 

From there we took a Lyft to Bourbon Street. We started out at the famous Pat O’Brien’s and then headed into The Funky Pirate Bar. It was small place but had great atmosphere. From there we stopped in at the Huge A.. Beer Bar where they serve beer in very large glasses shaped like a person’s backside. We ran into lots of Jets and Saints fans there.

 

Along the way, we stopped at Willie’s Chicken Shack for a quick snack and then moved on to The Famous Door, established in 1934. There was a great band playing everything from Steppenwolf and Led Zeppelin to Journey.

 

Everywhere you turn on Bourbon Street there are vendors selling items and street kids beating their five-gallon bucket drums. These kids look like they range in age from 8 to 14. Some played more than one bucket and had extra buckets for tips. A little research into these street kids found that this is a century-old tradition. Most of the kids are not homeless but in need of extra money for themselves or their families.

 

On Sunday we enjoyed a breakfast buffet with our friends at the 8 Block Kitchen and Bar at the Hyatt. It had a continental breakfast as well as lunch specials. We then donned our Jets and Saints gear and headed over to the Superdome, a quick walk from the hotel. Our seats were up in the nosebleed section, but we had a good view of the game. Food is not cheap at the Superdome, but we didn’t expect it to be. The Saints defeated the Jets 31-19.

 

After the game we headed back to the hotel and stopped at Vitascope Hall, a sports bar located in the Hyatt. It’s named after the world’s first movie theater built in New Orleans in 1896. It has a high-tech entertainment system and over 55 flat-screen TVs, plus food and cocktail specials. We also ate dinner there. Most of the group had the fried shrimp po’boy which they all loved. I had the grilled 12-ounce New York Strip with garlic mushrooms, caramelized onions, and mashed potatoes. It was delicious.

 

On our way out of town Monday morning, we had to stop at the famous Café du Monde for beignets and coffee. Beignets were brought to Louisiana by the Acadians. These were fried fritters, sometimes filled with fruit. Today, the beignet is a square piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar.

 

The coffee is the Café du Monde Coffee and Chicory, developed by the French during their Civil War. Coffee was scarce during the war, and the Acadians found that chicory added body and flavor to the coffee. Both the beignets and the coffee were fabulous.

 

As for the nickname “The Big Easy,” it came about due to a Louisiana reporter comparing the easygoing way of life in New Orleans to the hurried pace of life in New York City. Our weekend was jam-packed and anything but the Big Easy. Life stays pretty busy and active in New Orleans.

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