Gourmet Vacay

A Weekend in the Big Easy
by Teri Cook

Some cities are for relaxing and others for shopping, but my dear ol’ New Orleans, she is for dining.

A friend recently asked about the quality of the spa at my favorite New Orleans hotel, Hotel Monteleone. Our family visits almost every year, and I had recommended it to her and her husband, but the truth is: I had no idea. I’d never stepped foot in a New Orleans spa. I realized that I love a lot of cities, and that each is for a different type of retreat. I could recommend where to get a good massage in Cabo San Lucas or an absolutely fabulous handbag in Las Vegas, even where to get a good drink in Juneau, Alaska (though my mom helped me with that one). I associated those cities with relaxation, shopping and the need to warm up, respectively. But my dear ol’ New Orleans, she is for dining.

Our day starts in the French Quarter at Brennan’s, which is a must visit for breakfast lovers. If that’s not you, try out the dessert that became world-famous, the bananas foster, named after a friend of the founder. Of course, the other mornings, you can snag a hot, powdered-sugar-covered beignet at one of several Café DuMonde locations or at Royal Street’s Café Beignet. You can’t go wrong.

For mid-day energy, we stop at Mr. B’s Bistro for some gumbo ya ya and soft-shell crab. Not until I was downloading my pictures did I realize just how much we enjoyed the food; we had photos of our meals, but none of us! Did I mention to wear comfortable shoes for sightseeing and strolling between meals? You’ve probably figured that out already, though!

If you’re looking for something no-frills and off the beaten path, visit Central Grocery on Decatur Street for a hearty muffuletta sandwich that will surely fuel you up for the day—and leave a good chunk of vacation cash in your pocket.

Finally—if you make it to dinner—end it in style at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. From traditional options of McIlhenny oysters and seafood gumbo to the delicious prime rib, it’s delectable. While the food is reason enough to go, the restaurant is also known for its level of service. Dickie Brennan, the founder and owner, describes his philosophy of service with the words: “We’re not here for today, we’re here for 50 years down the road.” After six decades of business, Mr. Brennan has mastered the dining experience. Go and be spoiled!

At the end of the night, we wind down at the Carousel Bar back at the Monteleone, whose lights and shine are second only to the dazzle of the drinks. The Carousel mixes up the best version of the famous hurricane cocktail in the French Quarter.

Though the drinks and dining of New Orleans may lure you in—or back, as in our case—the city has a rich and sometimes rugged history, with stories well worth seeing, hearing and absorbing. Whether it’s the incredible French architecture, excitement of Mardi Gras (which feels celebrated year-round), the soothing sounds of the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival, or the shopping boutiques of Magazine Street, there’s something for everyone. I can assure you that you’ll be happy with anything you do in the city. If New Orleans doesn’t win over your appetite, it will win over your heart. a&s

Teri Cook is owner of Cook Travel and Cruise in East Peoria. For more information, visit cooktravelandcruise.com.