Better late than never, I’m finally updating my favorite Things list. First, I’d like to thank everyone who reads this blog (in over 100 countries!). Here are Your Favorite Posts of 2015:
2 – Endymion Extravaganza – My First Ball! (your favorite post of all time)
Now to the list! The categories are: Food & Beverage, Music & Entertainment, Culture, Shopping and Giving & More. Anything named previously in my Favorite Things in NOLA 2013 is marked with an Asterix*. 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.
I’ve added a gallery of photos of some of the items listed.
FOOD & BEVERAGE:
Must have item at Ruby Slipper – Eggs Cochon. A sliced biscuit smothered in pork debris and topped with poached eggs and hollandaise. Plan to wait in line most of the time at most of their 4 locations.
Famous for their Buttermilk Drops, Winks features a menu of standards like a breakfast platter of eggs, a meat, toast and grits as well as when-available items like super-tasty burgers or red beans and rice ($7 to $10).
Downtown Lunch – Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
Must have item – the all-you-can-eat buffet of traditional creole and local dishes cooked just like your Maw Maw makes. The restaurant is also a gallery of works by local artists as well as a historical meeting place for the civil rights movement.
LA to NOLA Restaurant – Willa Jean
I’ll admit that I miss the plentiful avocado dishes of Los Angeles. Local treasure, John Besh’s new venture has plenty of LA to NOLA fare but the must try dish is the Avocado Toast. High in Omega 3, the dish is a grainy bread topped with avocado, poached eggs, olive oil and salt.
Uptown Dinner Experience – Commander’s Palace*
Chef Tory McPhail won the 2013 James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: South. I love the “ballet service.” Commander’s has been serving fine food in a beautiful setting since 1880 and neighbors get seating before celebrities. And they still give out hats and balloons for birthdays and serve 25 cent martinis at lunch.
Downtown Dinner Experience – Bayona
Among Chef Susan Spicer’s many accomplishments, she was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame in 2012. Her food is defined by devotion to a purity of flavor even as she blends things like Smoked Duck, Peanut-Cashew Butter, and Pepper Jelly. The Cream of Garlic Soup is so very good. Though you should always consider the specials, the regular menu features a wonderful Peppered Lamb Loin with Goat Cheese and Zinfandel Sauce.
Food Fight – Got Gumbo?*
Benefitting the United Way and hosted by Royal Sonesta, the annual event features around 20 chefs competing in traditional, seafood and exotic gumbos as well as a table decorating category for “best float” (like in a parade).
Beignets – Cafe du Monde*
Since 1862, there is no substitute.
Donuts (American) – Winks Bakery
With fanciful takes on traditional baked treats, Winks is best known for their Buttermilk Drops. I’m a fan of the Apple Fritters and pretty much every donut they sell.
Bacon – Fogo de Chao
I hate to give this honor to a chain from out-of-town but, wow, the candied bacon that comes as part of the “salad” bar is just plain better than our local versions.
Corn Bread – Frankie & Johnny’s
Buttery and browned, it’s simply the best.
Fest Food – Love at First Bite/Walker’s Southern Style BBQ
These are actually the same event-catering establishment. I’m not a sandwich person but their Cochon de Lait Po-Boy is a must-have any time I see the booth at a festival. Truth – I usually have 2 or 3 during a 3 or 4 day fest.
Crawfish Boil – The “NOLA Crawfish King,” Chris “Shaggy” Davis
A party-in-a-person, Shaggy delivers authentic boils onsite – super-spicy like the locals like. Tourists – be forewarned and plan for your lips to burn if you eat the corn.
Grilled Cheese – Continental Provisions
Located in the historic French Market, this cheese shop offers amazing sandwiches but their very-adult grilled cheeses on thick, grainy bread are amazing. Options include chutney and bacon. Ask about the monthly special like the Hubaner with brussels sprouts, apples and bacon.
Hot Dogs – Dreamy Weenies*
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. Try the Satchmo Dog smothered in red beans and rice and the “Pothole” with potato salad below the dog and chili and shredded cheese on top.
Pizza – (tie) Vieux Carré Pizza* / Dano’s 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.
Dano’s is a pop-up located in front of Wink’s Bakery across from the Art Market on Decatur. Usually open by 10pm on weekends, the crust of this pizza is insanely good. I’m not a crust eater but I can’t get enough.
Fried Chicken – Willie Mae’s Scotch House*
A “Bucket List” item for anyone seeking the world’s best fried chicken. James Beard Award winner where a 3-piece meal runs about $10 (a few dollars more for all white meat) and includes a selection of sides including some of the best red beans and rice I’ve ever tasted. There’s always a line and you’ll have to wait again once you’re finally invited inside. A word to tourists – the group at the table next to us found some of the sides to be a bit spicy and though it’s called a “Scotch House,” don’t expect to find booze.
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.”
Hangover Food – Miss Linda’s Yakamein
Known locally and by viewers of her winning challenge on Food Network’s Chopped: Pride of New Orleans. Miss Linda is known as “the Yakamein Lady” and is a master of this traditional cure. Her Mac & Cheese with Crawfish and Shrimp is also great.
Cocktail – Brandy Milk Punch*
Brandy Milk Punch is a popular brunch drink and hangover-hair-of-the-dog as old as this country. Brennan’s claims perfecting the recipe but I had my first one at Cafe Pontalba on Jackson Square.
Great tasting juice that’s also “medicinal food.”
Local Beer – Abita Grapefruit*
Made with Louisiana Ruby-Red grapefruits, pale, pilsner and caramel malts and cascade hops. I thought nothing could taste better than the elusive Abita Strawberry, but I love the crisp flavor of the grapefruit and how it compliments the beer. Who knew?
Sno-Ball – SnoWizard*
Still the best bang for the buck. Try nectar with sweetened condensed milk.
BUT, they don’t have Satsuma flavor. For that tangy taste, you’ll have to visit Hansen’s.
Bread Pudding – Muriel’s
Bread pudding has many incarnations but most include a white sauce and are mushy in texture. The caramelized sugar sauce over a firm square set Muriel’s apart.
Pralines – Loretta’s*
This year, I finally broke the tie with Southern Candymakers. Both shops make amazing pralines but Loretta’s has made a concerted effort to participate in festivals and contribute to the city and its culture. I like that.
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.
King Cake – Manny Randazzo
This is as big a fight around here as snoballs and many will rightfully disagree but with their thick, white icing, festive sprinkles and flavorful cake, Manny Randazzo’s is my choice.
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 and paninis.
MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT:
Venue – Armstrong Park*
Hosting everything from the Jazz in the Park concert series to the Class Got Brass school band competition, the park’s history as the birthplace of Jazz and center of Treme culture should be enough reason to visit. The park also features the Mahalia Jackson Theater and and statues of local icons like the eponymous Louis Armstrong and Big Chief Tootie Montana.
Festival – French Quarter Fest*
My favorite 6 years running 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 – Dr. John
With so many musical icons dying recently, I was reminded to appreciate our icons while they’re still with us. 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Dr. John has influenced many musicians and his songs have found their way into movies and cultures throughout the world.
Best Record Store – Louisiana Music Factory
With an immense collection of local musicians among their library, they set themselves apart by holding free concerts within their store.
All-in-One Experience – Checkpoint Charlie’s,*/ Igor’s Lounge
These bar/pool-hall/music-club/coin-op laundries offer a place to eat, drink and make merry while waiting for your wash.
Soulful and sassy, Mia’s following steadily grows along with her talent.
Brass Band – New Breed Brass Band*
After 3 years of choosing Rebirth Brass Band, I tried to give others a shot. Featuring several members of Baby Boyz Brass Band and Trombone Shorty’s nephew, New Breed sounds like they’ve been playing together since forever despite their youth. After opening for Trombone Shorty in Lafayette Square, they came in second at Red Bull Street Kings.
Youth Band – Roots of Music*
For the 6th year because they provide training, tutoring, meals and rides for 150 kids throughout the city and the music is amazing.
Street Musicians – Tanya and Dorise*
Tanya is a virtuoso who could play with any number of orchestras but seems extraordinarily happy to have the freedom to play pop and rock and R&B in addition to classical alongside Dorise. Dorise expertly plays a hollow-neck Blackbird classical 6-string made of carbon fiber and kevlar and adds the beat to their percussion-free duets. Catch them busking on Royal Street.
Locally- Shot TV Show – Scream Queens
Not usually my cup of tea, Scream Queens became my favorite guilty pleasure.
2014 – Astronaut wives, True Detective
Movie Theatre – Prytania Theatre
Built in 1914, the Prytania features current blockbusters as well as classic films and midnight movies.
Radio Station – WWOZ*
Because they play all NOLA music all the time. Available everywhere through live streaming.
The Saints because they give us something to fight for rather than something to fight over.
The Pelicans are evolving as a team but even when they lose, the games are entertaining and the pre-game party outside with dancing, games and a beer garden is fun for the whole family. Plus – Anthony Davis.
Athlete – (tie) Drew Brees / Anthony Davis
Brees may not have led a play-off-bound season but he continued to break records, some long-held and some that were his own.
Though he’s still fairly new to the city, Anthony Davis continues to find ways to give back to the community and, in particular, underprivileged children. Oh, and he’s an amazing athlete with a brilliant future.
Local Character (present) – Steve Gleason*
He’s not technically an athlete anymore, but his contributions to our team, our city and those suffering ALS make us all winners. In 2006, blocking the punt at the first post-Katrina game in the Dome made him an instant hero. Now, through his organization, No White Flags, he helps and inspires not only those affected by ALS, but everyone who is touched by his refusal to surrender. Watch his hourlong episode of A Football Life if you want to be inspired too. Though he exemplifies the dangers of sports-related head injuries, he continues to love the game.
Local Character (RIP) (we lost WAY too many recently) – Allen Toussaint
As a singer, songwriter, producer and/or arranger since the 1950’s, Toussaint has contributed to such hits as Working in the Coal Mine, Lady Marmalade and Southern Nights. An inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in 2013.
Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill passed in Japan last May from a post-dental surgery infection. A member of the ridiculously talented Andrews family, Hill was a young and talented man who gave a lot back to his community and his life is well worth celebrating.
We also lost Bo Dollis, Sr., the Wild Magnolias’ Big Chief and the man responsible for Mardi Gras Indians recording music. Though not all tribes appreciated the Big Chief’s efforts to bring their music to the world at the time, Handa Wanda became a jukebox favorite.
And Cosimo Matassa, the studio owner and recording engineer responsible for hits by Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Little Richard and many more. Matassa was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013.
And R.I.P. Saints Superfan, “Saints Fett,” Larry Jehle Jr.
Modeled after the bounty hunter in Star Wars, Jehle battled leukemia as a child and dedicated himself to the Saints and serving children’s charities throughout his too-short 30 years.
Parade – Krewe of Orpheus
The first all-inclusive Krewe (male, female, all races, etc.), Orpheus celebrates performing artists with glorious Kern Studios floral floats dripping with giant pearls. A Super Krewe of 1,300 riders, everything about the parade is grand.
Dance Troupe – Pussyfooters*
Again, I have to admit to bias as I became a Pussyfooter in 2013, but readers of this blog know how much I’ve always loved this group of over-30 burlesque-inspired pink movers and shakers. These formidable women promote the values of service and empowerment and support non-profits benefitting women and their families.
Dance – Second Line
A dance defined mostly by its physical and emotional abandon, steps can include fancy footwork, strutting, splits and spins. Umbrellas and kerchiefs may be involved. The dance is associated with the funeral, wedding and Sunday second line parades throughout the city.
Song – Black and Gold by Chadquentin and Phat Word*
(With All For One Brass Band and 21st Century Brass Band). When the Superdome was looking for a new touchdown theme song to replace the Ying Yang Twins, I did a fairly exhaustive search in my posts Saints Soundtrack and Saints Soundtrack Vol. 2 and this is the only other song I want to hear when the Saints make touchdowns.
Rapper ChadQuentin is Chadrick Honore, Grammy-winning trumpeter from Rebirth Brass Band. Phat Word is a confident street poet and the owner of the sweet-buttery-smelling Geaux Nuts cart in the Superdome.
Mardi Gras Indian – Alphonse “DooWee” Robair
They’re all so beautiful, it’s impossible to choose but I noticed I’ve picked the same Indian a few years in a row so I’m ready to declare a favorite of my favorites. Maybe it’s his color choices, maybe it’s just something in his face, but my favorite Mardi Gras Indian artist often turns out to be Alphonse “DooWee” Robair. (photos below)
Statue – Ignatius Reilly
Situated under the clock in front of the old D. H. Holmes building, the oddball “hero” of John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, is a testament to our city’s pride in its many eccentricities.
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 – Sky-Writing at Jazz Fest
Local Frank Scurlock sponsored the messages of love and hope throughout Jazz Fest 2015 in response to violence in our city and across the country. We got a smiley face, Hi!, Love and Joy.
Comeback/Rebirth – Orpheum Theatre
Built in 1918 and destroyed by Katrina, the Orpheum Theatre finally reopened it’s doorsand it’s just stunning.
Smell – Sweet Olive*
Sweet Olive has been perfuming New Orleans since the horse and buggy days with its honied ripe apricots scent.
Antique Shop – M.S. Rau Antiques*
The 100 year old M.S. Rau is like a museum of decadence featuring art, furniture, lighting and jewelry like a 73 Carat 3-strand diamond necklace ($885,000) or a clock made for Augustus III, King of Saxony and Poland, in 1745 ($1,250,000). Looking is free.
Who Dat and Carnival Shop – Fleurty Girl*
Fleurty Girl specializes in local t-shirts, black & gold tutus and rain boots as well as fun fleur de lis jewelry and household items.
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.
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.
Children’s Clothes – Pippen Lane
The poshest of kid’s boutiques.
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.
Comic Book Shop – Crescent City Comics
The official comic book store of the Django Unchained gang, this shop has a super-helpful, knowledgeable and friendly staff and a huge inventory of comics, graphic novels and small press magazines.
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.
Artist – Brandan B-Mike Odums
A gifted muralist, his Westbank abandoned-building mural #ExhibitBe gained national attention and brought in over 30,000 visitors. I was privileged to be painted by him for the New Orleans Film Festival Mural. (photo below)
Photographer – Gus Bennett
His images have been featured in Ebony and Jet and on the cover of ESSENCE and his Blak Code Series is beautiful. But it’s Bennett’s New Orleans People Project (NOPP) that makes him my pick. For years, the daily series has managed to capture the whimsy, wisdom, joy, scars, talent and history of its citizens. I wrote Bennett a fan letter all-but-begging to be a part of it but it wasn’t until someone else suggested me that I finally got to work with this soul-catcher. (photo below)
Car Repair – GR Automotive
This is a new category I’ve made just to shout how wonderful this place is. Rick and all of the guys that work there kill themselves to get it right and I always feel like I must be underpaying them.
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.
Way to Give Back – Wednesday at the Square*
The Wednesday concert series features amazing local acts and is free. Every dollar spent on the yummy food and beverage goes to Young Leadership Council.
Tour – Two Chicks Walking Tours
With both private and public tours in the French Quarter and Garden District, Two Chicks offers tours of cemeteries, mansions and a Brothels, Bordellos and Ladies of the Night tour.
Contest – Queen of Burlesque
Beautiful women in exotic costumes with inventive props and sets doing skilled, sexy dances – what more do you want? The 2014 winner danced her entire tease on ice skates. It was amazing.
Tranquil Spot – The Singing Oak*
A live oak in City Park covered in giant wind chimes created by Jim Hart. Still the best place in the city to recharge.
Hidden Treasure – Mardi Gras Indians*
HBO’s Treme introduced more of the world to the magnificently plumed and intricately beaded world of the Indians but there’s nothing like seeing them up close or parading past.
Accessory – Wigs
In pink, orange, blue, green and more, we wear wigs for many reasons or for no reason.
Litter – Mardi Gras Beads in Trees*
I choose this every year because every single day they are reminders that life is a celebration.