I must confess that I didn’t get out as much in 2012 because Hollywood South is booming and I worked a lot. Even so, here are my 2012 favorites in a nutshell followed by my Favorite Things in NOLA 2011 and Favorite Things in NOLA 2010. Anything named previously in my Favorite Things in NOLA 2011 is marked with an Asterix*.
I have divided the list into categories this year including: Food & Beverage, Music & Entertainment, Culture, Shopping and Giving & More.
Most items have links to their site, but if you’d like to know more, use the search window on the right to find photos, videos, history and stories.
FOOD & BEVERAGE:
Breakfast – Audubon Clubhouse Cafe
Location, location, location! The all-you-can-eat brunch includes made to order omelets and other tasty treats but it’s the view from the patio that makes this such a treat.
Downtown Lunch – K. Paul’s
Though they only serve 11-2 Thursday through Saturday, the menu changes weekly with Paul Prudhomme and Executive Chef Paul Miller’s extraordinary food at ordinary prices (around $12). Their super-tasty hearty gumbo is a permanent menu item.
Uptown Lunch – Butcher
Okay, it’s really the CBD, not Uptown – but it’s worth making your way to the best sandwiches in town and tasty side dishes from James Beard Award winner Donald Link.
Dinner Experience – Commander’s Palace*
Because they do “ballet service,” they’ve been serving fine food in a beautiful setting since 1880 and because neighbors get seating before celebrities. And because they give out hats and balloons for birthdays.
Beignets – Cafe du Monde*
Since 1862, there is no substitute.
Gumbo – K. Paul’s
Rich, dark and hearty, just like Mama makes. SO good.
Pasta – Coop’s Place*
Must have dish – Pasta Rosa. Inexpensive but long lines and you must be 21 to enter.
Hot Dogs – Dreamy Weenies
Oddly enough, hot dogs have become a major food player in the last year. Dreamy Weenies offers beef (Halal AND Kosher), lamb and vegan dogs with lots of topping combinations and yummy waffle fries – all right across from Armstrong Park.
Pizza – Vieux Carré Pizza*
Vieux Carré will bring you hot, yummy pizza until at least 3 am in the French Quarter – even during a game. Only half a block from Bourbon St., they also have dine-in seating and sell slices to go.
Drinking Spot – The Street
Because we can drink and walk at the same time here. Once you’ve purchased a beverage, it’s yours to keep – just ask for a “go-cup.”
Cocktail – (tie) Crescent City Cooler, Brandy Milk Punch
Though the refreshing Crescent City Cooler was apparently created by Flo Woodard of Court of Two Sisters, I love the Commander’s Palace version featuring Guava Rum.
Brandy Milk Punch is a popular brunch drink and hangover-hair-of-the-dog as old as this country. Though Brennan’s claims perfecting the recipe, I had my first one at Cafe Pontalba on Jackson Square.
Because juice never tasted so good and it’s “medicinal food.”
Local Beer – Abita Strawberry*
Seasonal only, but made with the finest Louisiana-grown strawberries and no artificial flavors, extracts or oils.
Sno-Ball – SnoWizard*
Still the best bang for the buck. Try nectar with sweetened condensed milk.
Gelato – La Divina*
La Divina uses fresh, local ingredients whenever possible and biodegradable cups and spoons.
Popsicle – Meltdown Gourmet Popsicles*
Love the salted caramel for a creamy flavor and the watermelon with freshly ground mint leaves for something more refreshing.
The smell of the Southern Candymakers shop ought to be illegal and both places make amazing pralines.
Cookies – Angelo Brocato*
Cookies as good as the ones at Vacarro’s in Baltimore’s Little Italy and I don’t have to pay for shipping.
Chef – Susan Spicer of Bayona*
Because she lets her food speak for itself.
Server – Daniel at Commander’s Palace
Because he keeps you feeling constantly served without ever making you feel hustled along. Plus he’s easy on the eyes, has a good sense of humor and tells fun stories.
Grocery Store – Rouses in the CBD
Because they’re the first grocery store in the U.S. with an aeroponic herb farm on their roof, their bakery rocks, they make lots of yummy dishes for you to heat up at home like stuffed mirliton and shrimp with capers and they have a made-to-order bar for burritos, soup bowls and paninis. Best of all, their staff includes people like Miss Karen, who always has a smile and often some homespun wisdom.
MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT:
Venue – Woldenberg Park
Because more and more concerts and festivals are setting up camp on that location and I love the gentle breeze off the river on a hot day. Plus the Aquarium and it’s IMAX theatre are right there.
Festival – French Quarter Fest*
Because it’s free to attend and features some of the best local food and music the city has to offer during 4 days of fun in the heart of the Quarter.
Musical Auteur – Billy Iuso
Because his Restless Natives are amazing and he also plays with Anders Osborne, the Wild Magnolias, Iko Allstars and more. He seems to be everywhere and there’s a party wherever he goes.
Musical Wonder Woman – Margie Perez
Because she sings with everyone and always sounds great and she writes songs as infectiously fun as “Ooh Baby La La” and because she’s got a sexy sway onstage. All that and she’s always finding new ways to give back to the community.
Brass Band – Rebirth Brass Band*
In 2012, they became the first brass band to ever win a Grammy so I’m clearly not the only huge fan of Rebirth.
Youth Band – Roots of Music*
Because they provide training, tutoring, meals and rides for 150 kids throughout the city and the music is amazing.
Local Movie Production House – Court 13
Because they nurtured both Tchoupitoulas and the internationally acclaimed Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Locally Shot Movie – Django Unchained
I’ll admit I’m wildly biased as I play DiCaprio’s sister in the movie, but Tarantino’s film is an amazing achievement and a ton of fun. The crew arrived the day after Mardi Gras and stayed through the 4th of July and employed many local actors and crew members.
TV Show – HBO’s Treme*
Because it’s a time capsule of New Orleans with live recordings of some of our greatest musicians playing themselves (and I’m finally part of the story).
Book – Taste of Treme: Creole, Cajun and Soul Food from New Orleans’ Famous Neighborhood of Jazz by Todd-Michael St. Pierre
It’s like a recipe for living in the Treme including the food, culture, history and even the HBO series. And the dishes look amazing!
Author – Cornell P. Landry
Initially inspired to offer positive stories of the Katrina-ravaged city to his daughter at bedtime, Landry keeps coming up with festively illustrated stories celebrating our unique culture from One Dat, Two Dat, Are You a Who Dat? to Happy Mardi Gras and the classic Goodnight NOLA.
Radio Station – WWOZ*
Because they play all NOLA music all the time.
Newspaper – The Advocate
Because the Times-Picayune has shifted to more online blogging and less investigative reporting in their move away from printing paper.
Sports Team – The Saints*
Because they give us something to fight for rather than something to fight over. And because they survived having no coach all season, suspensions of many defensive players and the general manager and constant character assassination and still they broke records and gave us 7 hard-fought wins.
Athlete – Sean Payton
I know he’s not technically an athlete, but his contributions to our team were made obvious by his absence. Our city spent a season wearing “Free Sean Payton” t-shirts and holding masks of his face at games.
College Athlete – Mo Isom*
A record breaking soccer player for LSU, she’s also an accident survivor and a Homecoming Queen who tried to become the kicker for the LSU football team. Though she didn’t join the team, she was an inspiration to dare to dream and the door is kicked slightly open for the next girl with an amazing leg.
Local Character (present) – Ashley the Traffic Tranny
Because she keeps the traffic moving in the French Quarter and I once watched her back up a giant bus (that got stuck at a turn) for over 5 traffic-filled blocks with nothing more than a blonde wig, some platform shoes and a loud whistle. Here’s someone’s video of her at work. Woooooo child!
Local Character (RIP) – Uncle Lionel of Treme Brass Band
Because I treasure every encounter I ever had with him, he made the bass drum sexy and he was one heck of a sharp-dressed man. His well-attended second lines went on for weeks.
Parade – Krewe of Muses
A female parade with a Vegas-lighted stiletto leading the way, Muses has become a must-attend parade with my vote for best “throws” – hand-decorated shoes.
Dance Troupe – 610 Stompers*
Guaranteed to make you smile – “Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Moves” and a great sense of humor.
Dance – “Getting Crunk”*
Because we dance to the Ying Yang Twins’ (Halftime) Stand Up and Get Crunk after every touchdown.
Phrase – Who Dat!?!*
Because it unites the Who Dat Nation and reminds us how good next year is going to be.
Awesome Cultural Thing – Second Lines
A moving block party with brass bands, food and beverages and plenty of dancing – some on rooftops and fence lines. Here’s a video and explanation of the tradition.
New Thing – The Crosswalks in the French Quarter
Because every time I cross the street, I feel like I’m posing for the Abbey Road cover.
Smell – Sweet Olive*
Sweet Olive has been perfuming New Orleans since the horse and buggy days with its honied ripe apricots scent.
Litter – Mardi Gras Beads in Trees*
Because there are year-round reminders that life is a celebration.
Antique Shop – James H. Cohen & Sons, Inc.
Because I’ve yet to meet the man who doesn’t love to look around at their Civil War era money, weapons and more.
Fleurty Girl specializes in black and gold tutus and galoshes, local t-shirts and fun fleur de lis jewelry and household items.
Roux Royale is a kitchen goods store stocked with local cooking books, fleur de lis serving pieces and tasty treats. Perfect for entertaining NOLA-style.
Costume Shop – Uptown Costume & Dancewear
Racks and racks of wigs and costumes – it’s like being a kid again.
Dress Shop – Trashy Diva*
With slightly-retro flattering, feminine shapes in beautiful fabrics and prints, there’s something wonderful for every woman in Trashy Diva’s dress, shoe and lingerie shops.
Plus Size Shop – The Voluptuous Vixen*
Pretty and shapely dresses, lingerie and swimwear for women sizes 12 and up.
Fleur de Paris makes each hat like it’s a party on your head. Though most are very refined, each hat expresses some flight of fancy (or feather).
“Bold hatmakers since 1895,” Goorin Bros. part classic – part hip hop American-made hats are functional and fashionable. Leonardo DiCaprio bought a bunch while in town.
Perfume Shop – Bourbon French Parfums*
Established 165 years ago, they do custom blending and feature a re-creation of Marie Laveau’s Voodoo love potion. Intoxicating.
Mardi Gras Masks – Maskarade*
An amazing array of leather, feathered or laser-cut metal masks in every shape, color, character and animal imaginable. They also carry decorated second line umbrellas.
Wig Shop – FiFi Mahoney’s*
Specializing in outrageous up-do’s (and great regular wigs), this is where the divas get their “do.”
Bookstore – Garden District Book Shop*
Because they constantly host readings and signings and have an eclectic mix of books with a heavy bent toward local writers and subjects.
Gallery – Photo Works*
Because photographer Louis Sahuc has been lovingly recording the French Quarter for decades in black-and-white and color, in landscapes and candids. The gallery is like the city’s memories.
Because Stephán’s Guinness World Record-setting mosaics are not only beautiful portrayals of the city and it’s icons, they are made of recycled Mardi Gras beads so they actually are made of the city’s memories. Plus, he has selflessly dedicated himself to this state and it’s people though he’s originally from Germany.
And because 12 year-old Kaia’s charming big-eyed square-headed characters, her “dudes and dudettes,” are whimsical, modern and kitschy-cool. Find them at Bon Castor in the Bywater.
GIVING & MORE:
Charity – Raintree Children and Family Services*
Because Raintree has provided services for special needs children and foster children since 1926. And because they also run Raintree House, a group home for teenage girls with no family or foster family.
Tranquil Spot – The Singing Oak*
Despite the recent addition of the civilized park bench, “The Singing Oak” created by Jim Hart (a live oak in City Park covered in giant wind chimes) is still the best place in the city to recharge.
Hidden Treasure – Jean Lafitte French Quarter Visitor Center
Tucked in an alley I found during a rain storm, the museum is like an interactive primer for the city explaining colloquialisms and local culture.