Nerd Orleans: Our Favorite New Orleans Shops, Restaurants, Bars and Parks

This isn’t our first time in New Orleans, in fact it was pretty much the city that ushered us into the second stage of our US travels. It’s where we decided to upgrade to a much larger trailer and truck setup back in 2010 (about 6 months into our travels), it’s where we adopted our cat Susa and where we discovered how great the South can be. We spent 4 months here, saving up for the trailer and truck, getting ready for the unplanned long term traveling that we’ve been up to ever since.

Both times visiting this awesome city, we’ve explored a lot. New Orleans is different than any other city in the world, and aside from what you might already know about it (possibly things like Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street and Po’ Boys) like most places with huge international reputations, it has so much more to offer than a quick party.

We made up a guide of our new and old favorites in this awesome city, and although it’s not full of war museums, blues music and mansions (other interesting things about the city), it’s a list of our favorite places that we hope some of you will remember or get use out of down the road!

Vegetarian/Vegan New Orleans

The whole country is, overall, not very vegetarian/vegan friendly when you leave the safety of large liberal cities, but Southern towns and cities can be completely unaccommodating. In this regard, New Orleans is definitely an oasis in a desert. There isn’t much in the way of vegetarian for a few hundred miles in any direction. Rural Louisiana may have the occasional natural store and chain grocery stores have an OK selection, but as far as eating out, It’s pretty much Chili’s for a blackbean burger ( if you can keep them from putting bacon on it).

13 : This restaurant bar is in our favorite neighbourhood, Marigny, It’s a funky little area just outside of the French Quarter where we always park when going anywhere downtown, as the streets are always full and narrow.  13 doesn’t have much vegan food but it does have great BBQ Tofu Po’ Boys that are great before or after wandering the streets of the French Quarter in search of drinks and interesting people.

Sneaky Pickle: This was one of the only places that actually came up in search as “vegan” and actually had vegan options, although it is not really a vegan restaurant (although the claim it, the table next to us ordered fish). It’s basically a tiny cafeteria designed by hipsters and grandmas, but that works out pretty great. It’s a little hard to find, as it’s just on a cruddy road surrounded by tons of mechanics and boarded up shops but worth looking for. We both got a delicious and enormous Vegan Ruben sandwich that I should not have finished but was definitely worth the money! They also offer Jarritos Mexican soda, something you don’t often see east of Texas. yousneakypickle.com

 

Yo Mama's
Yo Mama’s

Yo Mama’s: This place has been in the back of my mind since we first are there years ago. We were of course eating lots of spicy foods, as always, but I was still training for the 9 out of 10 level that I am today (hot sauce bar hotness scale at least). Yo Mama’s had a great black-bean patty that you could get put on their Bull Fighter burger that we expected to cause us some nostalgic woe. The bull fighter used to feature a pile of about 15 raw jalapeno slices so hot that I’d painfully gnaw my way all the way to the end just to prove I could, but alas, they no longer pile them on like they used to. This time we got about 4 per burger, and although they were still spicy, there was no pain and suffering and it wasn’t just because of our tolerance this time.  We went 3 times anyway and loved it every time. There’s not many places in New Orleans to get a good veggie burger so we will always be repeat customers. The upstairs is the best place to sit if you can. Good Time Sushi

Good Time Sushi: This was another favorite of ours, far from the crowds and traffic in northern New Orleans (if you can call it that). They have some vegan appetizers, miso soup and a few vegan sushi rolls. We always love our meals there without feeling taken for a ride (as sushi often makes you feel). When we used to go there they would be playing crime TV shows on a TV near the middle of the dining area but unfortunately they removed it. No more laughing with the sushi chefs and eating fried tofu while rednecks get arrested for us! Still, great food, and it’s a Good Time.

Slim Goodies Diner: In every decent sized town we always look long and hard for a breakfast tofu scramble. After some menu searching we finally came up with Slim Goodies on Magazine Street. When we got there after a long drive across town, the place was super crowded and there was a bit of a wait. Eventually we managed to make it to some seats at the counter on some very diner like stools that were a bit close together but not entirely uncomfortable. While waiting, we had some time to look at other people’s meals and I noticed something with corn tortillas and tofu, which I ended us getting. The only other option on the menu was the scramble, which turned out to be more of a hash-tofu mash, but Ross seemed to enjoy it. The downside is that we did have to sit about 2 feet from the fryer where they cooked bacon almost constantly, aside from that it pretty great. We didn’t go back but that was because we rarely eat breakfast and it was 15 miles from our RV park, not because it wasn’t delicious, because it indeed was and I’d definitely recommend Slims for breakfast!


Sucre SorbetSucré:
 Sucre was a big favorite of ours the last time we were here but since we’re not eating dairy anymore, we figured our options would be almost null at Sucré this time. We were wrong! Well, at least a little wrong. They do have a few sorbet flavors and since I prefer fruity things to Chocolate or Vanilla any day, it worked out great for me. I got a scoop of Pineapple Passion, which oddly have cilantro in it (not normally a fan), but still turned out to be quite great. They have a big selection of chocolates, gelatos and macarons, and if you want to drop a bill, you can get a super fancy cake.

Mellow Mushroom: This is one of the best chain restaurants in the South (and now all over the US). When we first traveled the South it was one of the “sure bets” in some of the less compatible towns we visited. Back then, they didn’t even have Daiya vegan cheese, but now that they do, I’m always willing to go to Mellow Mushroom. They have great pizza, with a couple vegan protein options, a tempeh melt sandwich and a BBQ tofu sandwich. It’s always satisfying to get 2 meals out of one and we usually do with their pizzas and full sandwiches.  They always have a great beer selection, often many local beers on tap, and their decor often features local artist’s murals, sculptures and their patented stoned looking mushroom man. They’re just about to celebrate their 40th anniversary!

Mellow Mushroom
Mellow Mushroom – Let the Good Times Roll

Bars

IMG_20140711_200932Aunt Tiki’s: This place is just on the edge of the French Quarter and Marigny neighbourhoods, making it a place lots of people walk by but tourists rarely seem to enter.  There’s some regulars and people like us who like the music and decor and pop in for a drink. Aunt Tiki’s is tastefully decorated with Halloween decorations, the best being a giant spider that Aunt Tikishangs from the ceiling over a suspicious but comfortable couch. They don’t offer anything special in the way of drinks and have an average selection of beer but it’s a good place to pop in for at least one before wandering towards the teeming masses of Bourbon Street.

 

The Dungeon:  So, Google Maps has this place marked as closed, but it certainly is not and despite my attempt to get it marked as opened, they decided it’s still closed – so ignore Google’s advice and visit it anyway (maybe they want to be listed as closed.. who knows).  This bar is one of the only Rock  bars in the French Quarter and lucky for everyone, it’s not directly on Bourbon Street. You find it by a fairly noticeable sign on the road that points down a long dark, narrow alley way, barely wide enough for a drunk person with their elbows out. After a curious walk down that, you are then spat out into a nice little courtyard with a suspicious looking statue of a bear-pig-cat and a large bearded man who will hold open the door for you and ask for your ID. Then, The Dungeon. Quite tiny by any definition but rife with interesting seating options, especially upstairs if it’s open. There’s always metal playing the the place is often filled with smoke. The mixed drinks are ALWAYS strong because the bartenders are awesome and the decor fits the dark, metal, doomy feel of the place. Lots of cool dragon skulls and such. I’m glad I got a shirt when I did back in 2010 because we weren’t impressed with new design but this place will always be a favorite. They don’t allow photos so.. sorry!

The Bulldog Mid-City: This place we found sort of out of necessity after an afternoon in City Park with Sherlock. Since we adopted her, we’ve been looking for places that allow dogs, and sadly finding that the South, so far, doesn’t really “do that”. The Bulldog was the only bar we found that allowed dogs in its outdoor seating area and oddly you have to go through the bar to get to it. I didn’t get to spend any time looking around the place, just ran through the bar to the outdoor seating, but the selection of beer was quite vast I hear, and I wish I’d had more time to peruse. The outside, awesomely enough, had a couple fountains for dogs to drink out of (my guess anyway), and some natural shade for her to rest under when she wasn’t sitting in my lap. There was at least one other dog out there with its owners who were attentively watching a World Cup game. After walking by the Magazine Street location at a later date and seeing a line outside, we were glad we visited this one in Mid City and had some space to ourselves.

The Bulldog New Orleans
Sherlock having a light beer.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop: Everyone has to go here, there’s really no excuse. It’s the oldest continuous bar in the country and it was owned by a pirate. If that isn’t the coolest place to have a drink in the United States, I don’t know where is (yet). Sometimes this place can get a bit busy, and even when it’s not super busy, it can get a bit shouty, and by shouty I mean “singing Piano Man at the top of your lungs” shouty, because Lafitte’s is a piano bar. Strange I know but it sort of fits when you see it – aside from the type of music being played that is. The piano player/singer is the same guy who was there in 2010, singing and playing the same songs, night after night, and keeping a good spirit about it. The bar itself really does resembled a blacksmith’s shop. Low ceilings, dark oily wood and a great bit fireplace in the middle. We’ve been here at the end of just about every night we’ve spent wandering around the French Quarter and I usually get a pretty strong, if not too strong, rum and coke here. You have to get rum at a pirate bar.. you just have to.
20140704_221237_St Philip St

Shops:

Pepper Palace
Pepper Palace New Orleans

Pepper Palace: I don’t remember seeing Hot Sauce Bars the last time we were in New Orleans but I’m so glad we found them this time. We ran into a few but the Pepper Palace was by far the best.  Boasting a much larger selection and variety than the others, and not just a majority of Louisiana hot sauces but also the painfully spicy ones we love, as well as salsas, mustard, jams and a gigantic variety of joy for anyone who loves all things hot.

Our trio of pain
Our trio of pain
French Market
French Market

French Market: Even if you don’t buy anything at the French Market it’s worth walking through. The market spans 6 blocks and features everything from hot food (even some vegetarian options) to cheap beads to live plants. We passed through it on our way to the above mentioned hot sauce bar and after passing over tables and tables of imported decor and jewelry we found a great little hot sauce bar there too! This one featured a majority of locally made sauces, though not necessarily in the “Louisiana hot sauce” style (think, Tabasco). I picked up a couple Scotch Bonnet sauces for me and a friend and we tasted about 8 of their great variety of flavors. On the way out of the market we passed a live plant stand and I grabbed two dried up resurrection plants, something I’ve been wanting for a while – a plant that won’t die!

More Fun Comics
More Fun Comics, Oak Street

More Fun Comics: You can’t loose with a great comic book store, and whether you’re REALLY into comic books or a casual reader like me, this place is great for nostalgia or the newest publications. The staff are funny and a bit on the “know everything” side, but nice, and it would be fun to pick their brains if I had anything to pick with. It’s the kind of place to just hang out and get lost in for hours, appreciate art and geek out.

Hong Kong Market

Hong Kong Market: We always look forward to large asian grocery stores, if not only for the opportunity to see new and interesting foods and spices. They also typically have strange and interesting varieties of vegan “meats”, sometimes awkwardly shaped like the animal they’re meant to resemble in taste. They also have canned mock duck, a favorite of mine, and best of all, meatless jerky. We end up leaving with a pile of fake meats, new spices and sauces and small pile of strange snacks. Hong Kong is probably the largest we’ve been to in the country, one in Portland, Oregon running a close second. If you love asian foods (from Indian to Thai to Chinese) this is the place to go! Hong Kong Market is technically in Gretna.

 Neighbourhoods and Parks:

Magazine Street
Magazine Street, New Orleans

Magazine Street: This area is great for food, offbeat shopping, coffee, antiquing, you name it. It’s a very walkable area too and every time you stroll, you notice something new and go inside. The shops are friendly and there’s a real “local” feel to it – much different than downtown in that regard. It’s nice to see cashiers talking to customers they know, smiling, happy, rather than irritated by tourists all day. We love this area for food and shopping at places like Buffalo Exchange and Funky Monkey. The antique shops are unbeatable, I stocked up on skeleton keys and vintage luggage last time we were here and I still use the luggage every day for my etsy stock. A must visit.
Magazine Street

Marigny and Decatur Area:

decaturThis neighbourhood is the more down to earth neighbour of the French Quarter. There are some funky shops and book stores, the restaurant/bar 13 that I mentioned earlier, and several bars good for wandering into like the Dragon’s Den (where they seem to always have live music - Rock rather than Jazz). One of the other perks of this neighbourhood is that it always has parking (and for larger vehicles) unlike any other part of downtown. Sometimes you have to go into a lot and pay, and sometimes you get a meter (free in the evenings), but there has always been a spot for us, even in our giant trucks, and even when we drove the Brougham (our first RV).

Leaving Marigny is where you find Decatur Street, which is the street we take most of the way to the Bourbon Street area.  Here is where our favorite Hot Sauce bar and “away from the mess” dive bars are. There’s also a few Irish pubs along this walk that are interesting to pop into and get a pint!

Decatur Street

Oak Street: This is a small neighbourhood, only a couple blocks long but packed full of good things. Anywhere with a comic book store, vegan food and a coffee shop within 2 blocks of each other is awesome in my book. We went to Mellow Mushroom to get one of their delicious vegan pizzas, admired their fun decor (as always) and walked down the street to get a coffee. On the way I noticed an interesting door to an unknown place so I took a photo, on the walk back to the truck we discovered it was in fact a great comic book store! I tried not to buy anything but of course left with a graphic novel and a magazine. It’s a great little neighbourhood for a lazy afternoon before or after visiting City Park.

Jackson Square: Now this place is really touristy and we’ve never gone into the adjoining shops or cafes but it’s just someplace you have to walk through, whether to people watch or to look at the art, there’s always something going on any day of the week.

Jackson Square Art
VooDoo Bone Lady
World Famous* VooDoo Bone Lady

City Park: City park is one of the best parks we’ve encountered in the country. It’s well maintained and features miles of walking and biking trails, a pond with kayak and paddle boat rentals, a train ride, a dog park, a cafe, a sculpture garden and an art museum. You can easily spend an afternoon here and make of day of it with the nearby St Louis Cemetery III. We’ve visited several times but on our last visit finally saw the resident sculpture garden, formerly a botanical garden, which makes for a gorgeous place for art.

Bourbon Street and Canal Street: Bourbon Street is bearable to walk down depending on many factors, time of day, day of week and tolerance of smell. Bourbon Street stinks, sometimes more than others and sometimes it’s just so crowded you can’t bear it any more. Sometimes the street smells like a mix of horse urine, vomit and old garbage, and sometimes’s it just smells like city.  We walk fast, weaving in and out of drunk people and tourists with their young kids stepping in vomit (it’s a good experience for them), but sometimes breakdancers, magicians, musicians or body painted women will hold up the entire street and you just have to stop and watch the performance. The bars go from insanely cheap to “why did I just pay $6 for a lager”, depending on what part of the bar you’re in, how much you drink (more seems cheaper) and what you prefer. If you want to drink sugary red grenade’s all night you can probably get drunk cheap, but if you just want a pint, maybe leave Bourbon Street for pretty much any other street. We usually just people watch and move on to side streets. Fighting the crowds, looking for interesting people sounds like a weird hobby but it’s quite fun. We rarely stop at any of the bars until we get to the end of the street at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. On the nights we go to the French Quarter, we walk a lot and usually end up on Canal Street at some point. This street is where the trolley can take you from the French Quarter to Magazine Street and where many of the larger hotels (and casinos) reside. The sidewalks are larger but most of the people on them late at night are drunk people heading back to their hotels so expect to dodge a drunk here and there.

There’s a lot to be said for this area but mostly I admire its feel. The debauchery, art, tourist attractions, alcohol, talented and “less than talented” performers – every night of the week. It’s extremely easy to forget what time it is while walking around the French Quarter, the party never seems to stop… just slowly tapers off, then naps a bit, and is ready again by noon the next day. The city that naps for a short, sometimes (“the city that never sleeps” was taken).

A couple fun things to do downtown that don’t involve getting drunk are the VooDoo Museum and the Haunted History Tours, which  highly recommend for both history and entertainment reasons.

There’s countless places to visit in New Orleans, and many we didn’t mention that we should have (mainly because this blog would be a mile long). So if ever in doubt on where to go, you will never run out of things to do in New Orleans.

Taking Care of Business

So we’ve been Florida residents since we started traveling, getting our mail at a place called “My RV Mail” in Okaloosa County. Most full timers use services like that and Florida is one of the most popular states because it doesn’t have state income tax, which saves us on our yearly taxes and on registering our vehicles (It also gives us a good excuse to come to Florida once in a while). For this to work out for the best we have to be pretty much dedicated to both keeping all of our records in Florida and over the years that’s made it harder for me (Kat) to get my license reinstated after it expired years ago. The last time we were in Florida I couldn’t get a license let alone a Florida ID because the DMV wouldn’t allow me to use our mail service as a “permanent address” and required all kinds of mail and proof of any other place we might stay (they also wouldn’t let me register to vote for the same reason). Ross didn’t have the same problem because apparently the person who helped him didn’t know it was a mail service he was claiming as his address, and mine did (it’s a small town).  So, we just went on, with only one vehicle  and pretty much wanting to do the same things at the same times anyway, and I just rode my motorcycles off road or down country lanes once in a while for the last few years.

Sci-Five!But finally, here we are back in Florida, in the same county but a different town, with the main purpose of getting my license, getting my bike registered (needed to be inspected in Florida) and to get us both our motorcycle endorsements. Reading up I had the impression that I needed to take all of Florida’s driving tests, a 4 hour drug and alcohol class (required for all new drivers here) the written test, and the driving test in our giant truck which I’ve almost never driven. I have terrible anxiety about driving tests and any test where someone is looking over my shoulder. I finally get my bike registered and decide to get the written test over with as well while we’re int he office. We spend a half hour at a cafe while I read the manual, looking for any weird Florida laws and brushing up then reluctantly go back in to the DMV to start the process. The lady who helped me was super nice and asked if I’d had a license before and I said “yes, in Oregon for about 10 years”. She goes to the back to speak to her supervisor, comes back and says “we’ll just give you a new license then”… About 3 weeks of scheduling tests and practicing driving, gone! So, win, in the first few days of being in the area. 

Now, with my fancy new plate and driver’s license we get to go take a 3 day Motorcycle Safety Class (required for the endorsement) at the end of August.. that is, after Ross learns how to ride mine in preparation! There WILL be videos.

Loading the bike with our new toy hauler method
Loading the bike with our new toy hauler method
New Florida License Plate
New Florida License Plate

Wow, I almost feel like a real person!

 

Jungle Gardens on Avery Island

The Lafayette area of Louisiana has quite a bit to offer in public natural areas, from wildlife preserves to state parks, but the privately owned Jungle Gardens on Avery Island is one of the best nature experiences in the region. You can’t go kayaking from its shore and it costs more than most other parks in the area but the gardens are pristinely maintained and open to all the animals that live in the area.

There are a few places to get out and walk around, some short trails to explore and a little history lesson as well. The property has been in the same family since the mid 1800s and maintained as if it was a giant private garden, as it once was for the family who long ago lived in a mansion there. Oaks that would have otherwise rotted and died decades ago flourish and Snowy Egrets and other creatures find the place a perfect place to nest.

The best part about it to me is that it’s not an “alligator farm” type experience where tourists come in and are gauranteed to see huge alligators battling over the meat they toss them. All the animals are wild and there of their own free will.  I noticed some people complain about that fact in reviews, because they didn’t see an army of alligators just waiting to amuse them. We saw plenty of creatures and birds just by looking closer and getting out of the car (it would be easy for someone to just drive through the place in a few minutes and not see a thing, then complain about the price of the ticket). As soon as we came onto the island we saw a group of vultures, my second favorite bird, taking a break at some water. On the first trail we stopped at in Jungle Gardens we saw several Orb Weaver spiders, a frog and the back end of a turtle diving into the algae. We then saw a Great Blue Heron, a juvenile alligator, lots of little Anole lizards, and a giant flock of Snowy Egrets. I can bet that at no time are all of these creatures missing from the park at once. Even without the myriad of creatures, the oaks themselves are breathtaking, covered in spanish moss, their branches crawling for dozens of feet across the ground and into the sky…pretty great.

The only complaint I have about the park is the Buddha statue that seems to be a main attraction (inside the pagoda in the photos below). It’s 900 years old and was apparently acquired by the owners after having been stolen from China and shipped to New York in the 1920s. I think the proper behavior when you find out that you own a stolen item is to return it to its owners (at least a Chinese museum), not just say “their loss!” and put it in your for profit attraction. Maybe that’s just my personal opinion but that seems like the “cool/ethical” thing to do *hint,hint owners of Jungle Gardens*.

Overall I would recommend anyone in the area to visit the gardens, with the optional tour of the Tabasco factory on the way out. Then, just hop on over to Lake Fausse Point State Park afterwards for some canoeing or hiking (bring bug spray)!

Vermilionville Historic Cajun Village, Lafayette

We enjoy history but don’t often visit all the places we could. For example in Oklahoma City we were within walking distance of the Cowboy Museum and never went, but we have been to Dodge City and Deadwood, and we’ll hike miles to see some petroglyphs over going to a Native American Museum. I guess you could say we’re more into tactile history than walking around in buildings.

While in Lafayette we explored as many of the Wildlife Reserves, National Forests and parks that we could for hours in all directions and were running out of things to do nearby. I have a special place for Cajun music and history, maybe it’s the whole “French Canadian” association, since I’m apparently, in part, French Canadian; And I’ve always been interested in Cajun French, Cajun Music, etc (everything but the food basically). Our last weekend in the area we found a restored Cajun Village just a few miles from where we were staying and decided to skip canoeing for some history.

I may geek out a bit because I love restored mining towns, settler villages and the like and this place was more hands on than most. Some of them have an entire plexiglass wall between you and the contents of the homes, others have a velvet rope or simply a painted line and a sign but Vermilionville was all about getting to know the conditions people lived in and what life was like.

We started off with a little watershed conservation walk through, just past the gift shop, and learned how the Louisiana delta was formed and what kinds of snakes (Susa had just gotten bit a few days earlier), insects and animals lived and thrived in the region, then we moved on to a rustic looking building pumping out the sounds of live Cajun music.  Apparently this is a regular thing but this weekend they had a rather famous female (aka rare) Cajun musician, Sheryl Cormeir, the Queen of Cajun Music. Her husband was (singing) and a whole mess of talented local musicians of all ages were playing in a syncopated unison.

We stayed for several songs and story telling, which was pretty fascinating, then went on on our meandering tour of the rest of the village.

The village featured a spread of little houses with no roads, only walking paths between. Also included was a chapel (catholic), a smithery, a schoolhouse, a cemetery and a hand driven ferry. The ground themselves were gorgeous, a healthy pond in the middle, the Vermilion River to the side and dozens of Live Oaks covered in air plants and vines. We spent our time walking around and exploring every building, many of which had actors in era appropriate clothing who would tell you about the home or process.

In one home a woman explained the tedious nature of making cotton into yarn and then weaving it into clothes. A single shirt could take 8 months to complete (mostly the gathering cotton and converting to yarn part) so most or all of the women in the village would at some time be involved in making the yarn and clothes.

In the chapel a woman dressed as a nun sat making rosaries out of what appeared to be beads, they were in fact seeds that grew in the region in a perfect black or grey, already with a hole through the middle. They were a great source of trading with the indians in the day and were used for rosaries and jewelry similar to the ones she was making.

In the school a man sat making violins, literally making violins just as if he was in a wood shop – while an older man sat at the front of a few rows of seats talking about cajun music and playing a bit of fiddle music.

What surprised me the most was how cool all the buildings were. It was at least 90 outside and high humidity and every building whose doors were shut was as cool as an air conditioned room. The walls were thick and plastered, so as long as the place was kept closed up it stayed perfectly cool. It completely destroyed everything I imagined about life in the South for people back then (at least rich white people). They didn’t sit around in 50lbs of peticoats and wigs fanning themselves, passing out 3 times a day from the heat, they sat comfortably indoors making yarn.

As far as restored villages go, of all the ones we’ve been to, Vermilionville was the best, or sort of neck and neck with South Park, Colorado since I love mining towns. It certainly was the most well kept, the best for the price and the best for the experience. It also made me want to visit as many of these places as I can during our travels. Maybe we don’t want to visit every Folk Art Museum along the way, but we’ll take the real deal any time.

Fiddle Maker, Vermillionville Vermillionville Girl Vermillionville House Woodshop Schoolhouse Desk Bedroom in Vermillionville Sheryl Cormier Fiddle Vermillionville Vermillion River Vermillionville Sign Vermillion House Vermillionville Cemetery Schoolhouse, Vermillionville

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