Tag Archives: birthday

Sightseeing New Orleans

It’s embarrassing to see how far behind I’ve fallen with blogging. We spent a weekend in New Orleans in July, and if you follow this blog at all you’ll know that it was an excuse to eat like tourists. We hit all of the classic places.

Fortunately, New Orleans has lots to see for those awkward times when you’re too full to eat and just waiting to eat again.

(Not that that happened much. Let’s just say I was enamored with the daiquiris littering Bourbon Street. There’s a lot to be said for liquid sustenance).

This is Bourbon Street, home of dreams, overpriced-and-under-liquored frozen beverages, and a scene from the most recent season of True Blood.

This is what Bourbon Street looks like on Sunday morning. Be grateful that nobody’s invented Smell-o-vision, because the assault on our nostrils as we strolled down the trash-slicked street was incomparable.

New Orleans is home to some interesting graffiti. I loved the juxtaposition within the architecture: fading grandeur tagged by street artists.

This sign, while not graffiti, made me laugh. I guess my sense of humor is twisted. But really? Really? Can you imagine the dedication ceremony that took place in 2001? “We gather here today to remember countless balls of cells… “

Maybe it was the excitement of being in a new city, but everything was beautiful – even abandoned doorways.

Aside from just strolling around, we made a couple of dedicated sight-seeing stops. One was at St. Louis Cemetery #1. This cemetery is famous for a few reasons, the most interesting being that it is completely above ground. Instead of traditional graves in the ground, these folks have found their eternal resting places in crumbling crypts.

The cemetery is creepy, like most are. But for added unease, the lined-up mausoleums form silent alleyways. As you edge around a row, another explorer might just appear out of nowhere. Some say that this is a very dangerous neighborhood.

Two days in New Orleans wasn’t nearly enough. I can’t wait for our next chance to explore the city!

Eating like Tourists in New Orleans

My amazing boyfriend had a birthday a couple of weeks ago. Of course I wanted to do something fun for him – he had me making pizza at Antico on my big day this past year, after all. He’s a difficult person to buy gifts for, so there was really only one option: an adventure. We love road trips and in surveying the cities we can easily reach by car from Atlanta, there was really only one option. Neither of us had been to New Orleans. Shocking, right? I think NOLA is a city for those who love to eat and drink, two activities that Xavier and I excel at. A quick trip to Priceline resulted in an amazing deal for a birthday weekend. Shockingly, I managed to keep this information to myself for approximately six weeks. Birthday surprise!

Then we made the mistake of whipping up frozen beverages to enjoy with homemade tacos al carbon, whereupon Xavier learned that my threshold for keeping his birthday surprise under wraps is a lowly two margaritas.

We reached New Orleans in late afternoon. There was plenty of daylight left, but thanks to some traffic in Mississippi, Central Grocery closed as we were pulling into town. We would have to wait until our next trip to try the best muffaletta in town. But our disappointment was quelled as we drove down Decatur Street to the hotel. We couldn’t believe how many people were milling around the streets, watching street performers, looking at merchants’ art on display, and drinking. Everyone had a beverage in hand, and most were the alcoholic variety.

I couldn’t believe that people were allowed to drink in the streets here.

Our first night in the city was a Saturday. The hotel was right down the road from Bourbon Street, so we decided to walk around and check out the scene. But first? Dinner.

Two iconic oyster bars were so close that we literally stumbled across them. Then I said, “Hey, I know this place – we’re supposed to eat here!”

The line to Acme was really long, so we checked out Felix’s across the street first. They were cash-only and had just lost their liquor license. It seemed generally sad and sketchy. So we braved the Acme line, which stretched down the street.

Were we ever glad we did! We were seated at the oyster bar, right in front of a shucker. As we waited for our food, he kindly handed over freshly shucked oysters that couldn’t be plated. In this moment, it did not bother me one bit that Xavier doesn’t care for raw oysters. I got them all!

This is the face of a happy oyster eater

If you find yourself in New Orleans, do yourself a favor and order charbroiled oysters. Our shucker recommended them so enthusiastically that we couldn’t say no, despite the fact that – honestly – the description didn’t appeal to us very much. But how wrong we were! Oysters, garlic butter, and Romano cheese – that’s all they were, but how amazing they were. We demolished the plate in approximately three seconds, sopping up every last drop of garlic-butter sauce with the French bread.

Our other choices were a “New Orleans Medley” with gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and sausage. It was a good opportunity to sample a few of the local specialties, but I was disappointed in the rice to other stuff ratio. The shrimp po-boy was fine, but nothing special.

The next morning, we meandered over to Cafe du Monde for a meal I’d been anticipating for approximately four years.

Beignets did not disappoint. 

We discovered, as so many tourists to New Orleans have learned over the years, that cafe au lait and beignets make the perfect breakfast combination. They are the perfect combination of crispy, yet light and fluffy. An avalanche of powdered sugar on top seals the deal.

At lunchtime, we made another attempt at a po-boy. At Johnny’s, where this stuff was heralded as the best po-boy in NOLA, we tried a shrimp sandwich. It looked delicious.

It was here at Johnny’s that we finally sadly admitted to ourselves the truth: po-boys just didn’t do it for us. Don’t get me wrong, they are perfectly decent and definitely tasty. But they had been built up as the Michael Phelps of sandwiches. To me, it tasted pretty similar to a sub from Wegman’s or a hoagie from anywhere in Philly. Delicious, yes, but not worth driving 450 miles to eat one. In typical fashion, Xavier slathered mayo on his and proclaimed it delicious. I ate mine plain and was satisfied.

The most exciting story about eating in New Orleans comes from our pursuit of the muffuletta. Have yo heard of a muffuletta? It’s a sandwich consisting of Italian meats, olive salad, and cheese. It basically sounded like the perfect food for my boyfriend. We’d heard about a place called Central Grocery from everyone – my mom to Serious Eats. Unfortunately, Central Grocery closed approximately ten minutes before we rolled into NOLA, and they weren’t to reopen until after we left. We were forced to find other options for this treat.

That brings us to Sunday evening. Walking around the Bourbon Street area, we happened upon somewhat of a street fight in front of Acme Oyster House. An angry gentleman was screaming and cursing at another man down the road. He looked like a local, and I enjoyed his creativity in unleashing insults. So when he finished fighting, I asked him where to find the best muffuletta in New Orleans.

He immediately cheered up. “Oh, I can show you that! It’s right down the road. Just follow me.”

Thus began our six-block power-walk down Royal Street.

“Where are you taking us?” we asked, struggling to keep up.

“Just a little ways up,” he answered. We learned that he has a daughter in Atlanta, but has lived in New Orleans his entire life. He did stay in Atlanta during the hurricane, and he really enjoys Piedmont Park. He’s still married to his wife, although they haven’t spoken in years. Getting divorced is a pain in the ass, he said. He fired a line of questions at us: what did we do for work? Were we married? Why were we in New Orleans? And silently, we wondered what was going on, what game he was running, and where the hell he was taking us.

Finally, we arrived to the hallowed location that serves the best muffulettas in New Orleans: a grocery store.

“This place?” we asked, doubtful.

“Yeah! The ingredients here are so fresh, and the girl working in back is really cute!”

We perused the shelf of sandwiches. No muffulettas to be found. He led us to the back, where a grizzled old lady curiously sporting pigtails asked what we needed.


“Is that the girl you think is cute?” I asked.

He shook his head empathetically. “Hell no!”

We received the muffuletta in a plastic clamshell box, and our friend – whose name, we had learned, was Richard – began his next campaign.

“Man, I need to ask you something. I got you this great muffuletta. Will you guys buy me a Bud? I need something to get this night started!”

“A beer? Really?” I asked, already knowing I was going to buy him one.

“Yes! Come on, Coach, put me in the game!”

“Okay, fine,” I allowed. “But we’re here on a weekend trip, and I want to have some memories. So can I take a photo of you guys?”

“Let me see that,” he requested when I’d taken the photo. “Oh man, I look like OJ Simpson!”
And so he did.
The muffuletta was decent, but I think we’ll make it a point to plan our next trip around Central Grocery’s hours of operation. Although an adventure is always fun.
Eating like a tourist in New Orleans was fun. Since it was our first trip and time was limited, we had to check out the big-name places like Cafe du Monde and Johnny’s. Next time, though, we’ll have to go beyond the beaten path. I have so many food recommendations from friends that our next time in New Orleans is already planned!
Have you been to New Orleans? What were your favorite food experiences? Do you think asking a local for recommendations is always a good idea?

Quarter-century down

Best birthday ever!

After a mere month of blogging, things got busy and I forgot to keep it up. Not good. In my defense, it’s been somewhat of a crazy week. To begin: I turned 25 last Thursday. If I’d gotten my wishes, this would have been a completely forgettable occasion. Aging ceased being fun after the 21st birthday. However, my birthday ended up being a surprisingly great time.

After ringing things in at midnight on the 9th with some of my favorite people in the world, I was completely ready to leave work a little bit early the next day when Xavier asked me to. (I’m not a work-slacker; I had the flexibility to go after working long hours earlier in the week).

Here’s some context as to why this was the best birthday to ever take place in the history of all human birthdays. As you might know, pizza is my favorite food (see the slice ranking system on What I’m Reading Wednesdays). You also might know that I love making pizza at home. Using a combination of recipes from Jeff Varasano, Peter Reinhardt, and lots of my own trial and error, I make an edible pizza. Unfortunately, as many pizza addicts know, the 550-degree heat produced by home ovens cannot come close to reproducing the magical pies that a 1000-degree wood-fired oven makes. It’s always been my dream to try making pizza in an oven like that – or better yet, to have one in my backyard!

Since we don’t have a 1000-degree oven, we often go out for pizza, and the place we go most often is Antico. Antico cannot be beaten for convenience, deliciousness, and the BYOB factor. Where else can you and your date arrive with your own bottle of wine (or a couple of beers), have a freshly-made pizza at your table in less than five minutes, stuff yourselves silly for $20 total, and have leftovers to spare? While we do love other pizzerias around Atlanta (Varasano’s in particular), for those reasons we find ourselves in Antico at least once a week.

Anyway, Xavier had told me in the morning that we were heading to Antico later. When he picked me up from work, he told me the surprise: he had arranged it so that I would be making our pizza! By the time we got to the restaurant, I could hardly breathe from excitement. But somehow, with the help of the awesome guys who work there, I managed to make a margherita pie with pepperoni. They even let me slide it into the oven from the peel, which I did with remarkable success, if I do say so myself. (It didn’t stick at all!). Xavier filmed everything, so there aren’t many photos, but here are some.

Me holding my pie, making weird face. Flour on my shirt? Comes with the territory.
Close up of the final product

I am so grateful to have an amazing boyfriend who is thoughtful enough to arrange such an amazing surprise for me! Seriously, what did I ever do to deserve him? Between him, my friends who came to dinner later, and the guys at Antico who made everything happen, there are some awesome people in my life. I’m a lucky girl.

Between stuffing myself with pizza and receiving not one but two birthday cakes (ice cream AND cookie – yeah, did I mention that I’m a lucky girl?), my fitness regimen fell to the wayside for a few days. But I have exciting news to report. After months of agonizing and weeks of seeking out options, we have finally joined a fitness facility. Best of all, it’s better than any gym we could have imagined – it’s the biggest rock-climbing gym in the country!

Stone Summit Climbing and Fitness Center
Our new gym has 30,000 square feet of indoor climbing surface. It also has a full workout facility, where the machines have individual TVs! Furthermore, they offer classes: spin, pilates, abs, etc. So now I have a place for cardio when the weather’s not conducive to a run or bike. All of that climbing will help to tone and maintain great physical shape; during our visit, I loved that the clientele was overwhelmingly thin and muscular. If we work out there with regularity, I can only assume that we’ll join their ranks soon! And the best part? The membership cost was considerably less than any other facility we looked into. Jackpot.
An added benefit of the new gym is that it’s going to help me overcome my crippling, overpowering fear of heights. When we went this weekend, just looking at the walls was terrifying and made me want to cry. But after a few attempts, I scaled my way to the top of some of the bouldering walls! Not the ones you see in the  previous photos, but the smaller ones in the bouldering room.
Bouldering room

The bouldering room doesn’t look intimidating, but it’s scary because climbers aren’t hooked up to any ropes. If you fall, you fall. Granted, the floor is soft and bouncy, but if you’re scared of heights, just being off the ground is enough to incite a stress reaction. On our second trip yesterday evening, I managed to overcome my fear enough to work up a real sweat tackling the climbs. There are some seriously challenging courses in that little room. My fear of heights still prevails, though – once I reach the top of the wall, all I can do is slap the taped-on target and then I shimmy down as fast as humanly possible. Today, I’m legitimately sore. It’s a good feeling.

So please pardon my absence from blogging, as this has been a pretty great week. I promise to make it a point to write more often!