Saturday, April 28, 2018

2018 New Orleans - Part Two

Saturday was a lazy morning. Instead of hustling out of bed and taking a morning walk around The Quarter we sat around the hotel room and watched TV. We had one event scheduled today: Brunch at Commander’s Palace over in the Garden District. Since we had to wear pretty clothes we decided to use Uber to get us to our destination vs. taking the iconic street car.

Our Uber driver was a man well into retirement age. He grew up in New Orleans and pointed out places along the way that had a link to his childhood. We passed the Ann Rice’s home as well as many other pretty mansions. There were many tourists out-and-about on Garden District walking tours as well as rows of rental bikes outside of Lafayette Cemetery #1.
Commander’s Palace doesn’t look like a high-end dining experience from the outside. The light blue paint white stripes doesn’t scream "jacket required", nor does the overhanging sign spelling out the restaurant’s name in light bulbs. It has been a restaurant since 1893, and has been the epicenter of New Orleans cuisine for decades.
Inside the building it’s a different story. The décor downstairs had all the charm of a southern parlor room. As we were led upstairs to the sunroom we must have passed 20 staff members – all of them welcoming us to Commander’s Palace. We had a corner table in the bright sunroom made a little more playful with balloons at each table. A jazz trio was working the tables (Which we don’t enjoy. Stand in one corner and perform. It’s awkward to have our meal disrupted and be pressured to come up with a song for them to play.).

We went into this meal knowing it represented the majority of our food consumption for the day. Brunch is a three-course event with appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Prices for the trio are based on your entrée selection. Our waiter brought over a plate of garlic bread and butter to start us off. There was no need for the added butter. For starters Holly had the soup trio which included gumbo, turtle soup, and the soup du jour of sweet potato. Dave had the crawfish gnocchi. Some crusty French bread replaced the butter-soaked garlic bread slices. Everything was top-notch and the pace of the courses was right. For the main courses: Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish with Blue Crab and BBQ Gulf Shrimp. Both were fantastic! Dessert consisted of a slice of pecan pie and the signature Creole Bread Pudding Souffle. The experience lived up to the hype and the prices were not horrendous for three courses ($39 for the shrimp and $45 for the fish – which included the appetizers and desserts). Actually, having this meal significantly reduced our food spending for the day since we could not eat anything for hours!

After brunch we walked a few blocks to Magazine Street. This is an area famous for its shopping, cafes, and bars. The little stretch near Commander’s Palace must have been the lame section of the street as there were not too many businesses on the block. Since Holly was wearing her uncomfortable "pretty shoes" we decided to get a car back to the hotel and get into more comfortable clothing.


After ditching the dress-up clothes we figured a good long walk would help with the digestion. We cut over to Bourbon Street to get a walkie of local beer from Beer Fest (tip: overpriced and has dirty taps. Local beers – especially Abita Amber - are available at most places) and headed towards the French Market. Before browsing the food and souvenir stalls we stopped in the Jazz National Historical Park. This tiny museum seems to exist to allow folks like us pick up our National Park Passport stamp and to host seminars and musical acts. While we visited a man was performing a steel drum demo.  

The market was packed on Saturday (as expected). We actually came here with the goal of eating Praline Beignets from Loretta’s  We waited in line for about ten minutes and stared at all the other great looking cookies and pastries in the cake. We had finally succumbed to the pressure and bought a King Cake cookie along with the beignets. Dave had cargo shorts so the cookie would be a before-bed snack. The praline beignets were filled with a caramel and pecan crème. They were good but we prefer the traditional style. We skipped browsing through the rows of vendors in favor of walking a few more blocks to a brewery.
Brieux Carre  is just around the corner from all the clubs of Frenchman’s Street. Upon arrival we were ID’d and wrist-banded. We lucked into their 1 year anniversary celebration. This meant more people in the tiny space to navigate around, and a lot more beer choices. We enjoyed a stout and sour ale while sitting in their outdoor space. As part of the celebration they were serving up crawfish, which were in season. Dave was hoping to get some this trip but the Commander’s Palace meal was still fresh in our stomachs. On the way back into the Quarter we found a fun spot for music – BMC (Balcony Music Club)  On stage was a 4-piece traditional New Orleans jazz band. We grabbed two reasonably priced Abita Ambers and enjoyed the show.

The weather was perfect today so we decided some quality time on the Pat O’Brien’s patio was required. It took a few minutes to get an empty table but the wait was worth it. Today’s crowd included several bachelorette parties and other folks whooping it up. Several of the large communal hurricanes were being served. On this trip we determined we couldn’t have two hurricanes – just too sweet. Fortunately Pat’s offers a wide variety of drinks. Still not hungry we decided to check out the Bourbon O Bar which was connected to the Omni hotel. This was an upscale retreat in the heart of the Bourbon madness. They had a great milk stout on tap for us to enjoy, but their food menu was limited. This meant we had to forage someplace else.
We finally gained some appetite and decided getting some food would be in our best interest. We headed into Cornet on Bourbon Street because it looked respectable. We lucked into a balcony table so we could watch all the antics from a safe distance. The menu was more chain restaurant than fine NOLA cuisine but that was just what we needed. Dinner consisted of appetizers that tasted good for chain restaurant food, but this was not destination dining.   

One "good" thing about having our hotel outside the Quarter meant we made a deliberate decision when we’d head back. If we were at the Four Points on the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse we might have fallen victims to the influence of visiting more bars to listen to the bands.  There weren’t too many appealing places on the side of Bourbon near our hotel. Back at the Roosevelt we visited the Sazerac Bar.  It was nice and old-timey but just lacked that certain vibe you get from a decent classic hotel bar. Finding no enchantment we headed up to our room and enjoyed our pocket cookie.  

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Beers from Around the World 2018

Our tradition of celebrating the Olympic Opening Ceremonies continued in 2018 with our Beers from Around the World event.    For the last few Olympics we've been videoing our fun and posting on Youtube.  This year we did a Facebook Live event on our Team Tizzel page.  Dave finally got those downloaded and posted into Youtube for others to enjoy (or make fun of).

Playlist of all 8 segments:

This year's featured beer reviews included selections from Peru, South Korea, Poland, India, Germany, Scotland, and Belgium.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

New Orleans 2018 - Part One

Author’s note:  This is the second attempt at writing this post.   We lost the almost-complete first version when Dave upgraded his iPad to IOS 11.  This disabled his editing software, Blogsy, which is no longer supported.  Rather than trying to roll-back to 10.3.3 he decided to try again.   Unfortunately he will not be able to recreate that masterpiece of a post.)

Both our companies give us a holiday for Good Friday (AKA the “Spring Holiday” as written on the holiday memo).  We knew we wanted to work the day into a long weekend getaway.   Our first thought was to go to Santa Fa, NM.  But when we found out it could still be cold there we nixed the idea.   Memphis was the next city on our radar:  Not too far, should be warm, and it had enough attractions to fill a long weekend.   Then we figured out we could extend the trip for a few more days and it seemed like too much time in Memphis.   Key West, FL was too expensive to fly to and Spring Breakers could be crowding up the bars.  

We eventually settled on New Orleans.   This would be our third trip to the Big Easy together (Holly went one additional time for work).   Our first trip we were in our mid 20’s when the party atmosphere of Bourbon Street and drinking Huge Ass Beers while wandering the streets was appealing.   We returned 18 years later (and older) and discovered the finer points of the French Quarter and had since fallen in love with creole and Cajun food.   Since that trip in 2015 was for a marathon we didn’t feel like we had the full NOLA experience.   We found reasonable airfare and a decent hotel rate at a Waldorf-Astoria on the edge of the French Quarter.

Our noon flight out of O’Hare landed us into the Louis Armstrong airport before 3:00.   The cab to the city was a flat-rate of $18/pp; which was cheaper than Uber.   The Roosevelt Hotel had the typical features of a late-1800’s hotel:  opulent lobby with wood painted to look like gold, big crystal chandeliers, huge oil paintings of European royalty, etc.  We were on the west side of Canal Street which kept the party crowds away, but gave us a block walk to the start of Bourbon Street.

Our plan was to have a late lunch, and then a late dinner.   We started at the Hotel Montelone and their famous Carousel Bar.   The circular bar actually rotates.   Upon arrival we had to hover for seats, which is normally not too bad but it becomes hard when the seats you are scoping out keep moving.   Our wait wasn’t too long fortunately.   We had a couple of beers and shared a snack of crawfish and blue crab beignets.  Afterwards we headed to Hermes Bar for snacks round two:  soufflé potatoes and crawfish bisque.    

By this point we had been in the Quarter for almost two hours and hadn’t been to Lafitte’s yet.   We love the dank old blacksmith shop-turned-bar.  We drank about ½ our beers before turning them into walkies and strolled down Bourbon Street to Pat O’Brien’s.   Since it was still early on a Thursday night we had no issues getting an upfront table in the piano bar to go with our Hurricane.  As touristy as it is we still enjoy our time at this bar. 

Dinner took place sometime around 10pm.   We headed to a favorite from our last trip, The Gumbo Shop, and ended up waiting on a line out-the-door to get it.   Fortunately we got seated relatively quickly.   After ordering Turbo Dogs (a longtime local favorite) we both decide the three-course fixed-price menu was the way to go.   For $27 each we got an appetizer, entrée, and dessert.   We went with traditional gumbo and etouffe.  

We decided this trip to New Orleans was going to be a marathon and not a sprint.   Pace yourself….. We decided to skip the neon allure of Bourbon for a quiet glass of wine in the hotel room.     One thing we noticed this trip was Bourbon Street was more crowded (than January 2015) and seemed skankier than our last visit.  With all the neon it was like a modern day Pottersville.


We got a later start than we wanted to on Friday.   Our free breakfast (Hilton Honors status level benefit) was delayed because the kitchen could not figure out how to assemble ham and cheese croissants.  We walked 20 minutes through the Central Business District and Warehouse District to our first destination:  The National World War II Museum.   We got there too late.   School kids on field trips and other visitors were all over the place.   We ended up booking the 2:00pm 4-d experience, giving us only 3 hours to tour the exhibits.    Not enough time at all.   This museum requires the full day to see everything at a still abbreviated pace.  We did not visit the submarine or take in the “shipping off to war” train experience.  

The museum/exhibit layout causes some bottlenecks but overall the displays are excellent and present the information in a very informative, and personal, way.   In many places you can read about an individual’s personal account of their service time.  Most rooms featured a film giving an overview of the events while the displays provided supporting information.

After finishing the 4-D experience (narrated by Tom Hanks) we decided we should have lunch vs. viewing any additional exhibits.   We ate at a fairly new restaurant by the museum:  Flamingo-A-Go-Go.   The weather was pleasant so we dined in their courtyard.  The food was delicious and we found another great local beer – Irish Channel Stout.  Our second round became a walkie as we headed towards our hotel.
We changed for the evening and grabbed our coats in case it got chilly at night.   We walked down Bourbon Street and you could tell it was Friday as the crowd was a bit larger and rowdier.   We grabbed a beer from one of the bars and walked with it to Jackson Square.  We benched it for a while to enjoy some fun people watching before heading to Café Du Monde for a beignet snack.   Dinner would come after our “Haunted Pub Crawl”.  

We booked this tour a few weeks before our trip through Ghost City Tours.  For $25 each we would be guided through the French Quarter to hear about some of the haunted buildings in the area.  With about 10 other people in the group we made our way through the Quarter visiting TuJague's, Pirate’s Alley (where we learned about absinthe), and Lafitte’s.   We sat down for dinner around 9:30 at Pere Antoine’s Restaurant.   The food did not photograph well but rest assured it was good. 

After dinner we had one more round at Tropical Isle’s Bayou Club to listen to the zydeco band.   After a few songs we weaved our way through the dense crowd on Bourbon to our quiet hotel. 

Part 2:  Commander's Palace and French Quarter Touring