As I’ve been doing my best to consume every last drop of New Orleans, the city has slowly consumed me. Every time I turn a corner, the irresistible smell of cajun spices and other devastatingly good aromas waft out through kitchen doors, made all the more dizzying by the striking colors that decorate the facades of homes in a way that would be gaudy in any other city. My twin sister chose to go to Tulane University because New Orleans “felt like another country.” She’s right! No other place in the United States has created such a distinct, exotic culture. New Orleans is drenched with sultry late night jazz, voodoo magic and an old-world feel evoked by trolley street cars and gas-lit lanterns hanging above every doorway. But forget about the fact that you can roam the streets with open beer bottles – the food is clearly the most intoxicating and liberating part of New Orleans life!

As I’ve worked remotely from local eateries and coffee shops over the past week, I feel the most qualified and compelled to share my daytime meals, with a few evening giveaways. Let’s begin the tour.

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My indispensable and adventurous eating-mate, my husband Bobby. Going forth on a street car to inspire our forks!
My indispensable and adventurous eating-mate, my husband Bobby. Going forth on a street car to inspire our forks!

Elizabeth’s

This funky diner is no secret. Tourists and locals swarm the corner of Gallier and Chartres on weekends for arguably the best brunch in town. Elizabeth’s serves down-home southern food with surprising twists and embellishments, like this past Sunday’s special, “cornmeal waffle with sweet potato and smoked duck hash, and red pepper jelly.” The walls are exploding with quintessential New Orleans artwork. When you arrive, give your name and head straight upstairs to the bar and order a Bloody Mary – these are not to be missed! Return to the sunshine, and recline on the banks of Chartres while snacking on the spicy pickled bean garnish and freshening up your day the bloody right way. To optimize this menu, plan to brunch with a group of plate-swappers (warning: not everyone is comfortable sharing dishes, especially one they covet). Our crew played a generous round of musical plates, sharing the waffles, poached eggs on crab cakes, bubble and squeak, and an insanely delicious “fresh toast burrito” packed with sausage, egg and hash. Sensational. www.elizabethsrestaurantnola.com

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Don't skip out on a Bloody Mary from Elizabeth's - order at the upstairs bar and take your cocktail outside while you wait to be seated.
Don’t skip out on a Bloody Mary from Elizabeth’s – order at the upstairs bar and take your cocktail outside while you wait to be seated.
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Take your bloodies for a walk around the gorgeous, artistic Bywater neighborhood.
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Elizabeth’s “praline-bacon-face” – agonizingly sweet and salty, but addictive.
The spread at Elizabeth's.
The spread at Elizabeth’s.
Musical plates at Elizabeth's. The best game ever invented on Earth.
Musical plates at Elizabeth’s. The best game ever invented on Earth.

Shake Sugary

Lucky us, my friend Eric Lind just moved near Ithaca from the sweet city of New Orleans. He sent me trotting into the urban wilds with a list of top picks, including his friends newly opened bake shop, Shake Sugary. When he said something along the lines of “they have the most tempting baked goods you will not be able to turn down,” I nearly beelined for this place. It helped that we were at Elizabeth’s less than ten blocks away, with over an hour wait for a table and Bloody Mary’s in hand. Our growling stomachs made the choice easy. Though we didn’t spot a sign outside, it was clear we’d arrived. The corner bakery was pulsing with activity; bleary-eyed souls wandered in for coffee and treats, and back out with a zippy smile and a beat to their step. We sampled a “chocolate-orange strudel bar” and the “sweet potato and bacon scone.” I surrendered into meditation over each bite. www.shakesugary.com

We loved this bike, parked outside Shake Sugary, complete with musical coffee grinder and a peanut butter holder.
We loved this bike, parked outside Shake Sugary, complete with musical coffee grinder and a peanut butter holder.

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Shake Sugary's psychedelic-sweet interior.
Shake Sugary’s psychedelic-sweet interior.
Some of the clever and colorful sites in the Bywater neighborhood. Home decor here blows Martha Stewart out of the water - the sense of art and creativity is amazing!
Some of the clever and colorful sites in the Bywater neighborhood. Home decor here blows Martha Stewart out of the water – the sense of art and creativity is amazing!
A view of NOLA from the levy on the banks of the Mississippi in the 9th Ward, where Hurricane Katrina caused the most damage.
A view of NOLA from the levy on the banks of the Mississippi in the 9th Ward, where Hurricane Katrina caused the most damage.

The District

As if Elizabeth’s and Shake Sugary weren’t enough for our Sunday fill, we trailed off to another sugar shack newly opened at the east end of Magazine St., a street worth taking half a day to cruise down for boutiques, antiques and more! A friend of a friend was working here, busily frosting donuts, serving sliders and pumping brew. The vibe was happy, the place spacious and the donuts outrageous. We sampled both tame and daring flavors like pumpkin pie and maple-sriracha. Our friend Andrew had a ham and cheese donut sandwich, grilled to perfection. I’m not usually a donut-lover, but if I hadn’t already been on the verge of a food coma, I could have easily scarfed one whole. www.donutsandsliders.com

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The District, where everyone comes for a bite of good ole' American classics: donut and sliders.
The District, where everyone comes for a bite of good ole’ American classics: donut and sliders.

Satsuma in the Bywater

After what seemed like endless binging on rich, heavy NOLA cuisine, I was ready for a healthy bite without sacrificing the intense flavors I’d come to adore in this town. I also needed wifi and a the option to slurp a proper (decaf) cappuccino. Satsuma answered my prayers. This cafe is brimming with personality and located in the heart of the Bywater, my favorite neighborhood (and also the home of Elizabeth’s and Shake Sugary). I had a farm-fresh raw salad heaped high with arugula, raw beets, sprouts, toasted pumpkin seeds, avocado and an egg sunny-side up at my request. Bobby and I shared a velvety smooth bowl of coconut-pumpkin soup that reminded me of my Curried Carrot-Ginger Soup. Delish! Satsuma has a location next to Tulane’s campus, but the vibe is more sterile and college-y. www.satsumacafe.com
 Satsuma's vintage, artsy interior. Source: I Heart Nola
Satsuma’s vintage, artsy interior. Source: I Heart Nola
A sampling of Satsuma's farm-fresh spread. Source: I Heart Nola
A sampling of Satsuma’s farm-fresh spread. Source: I Heart Nola

Carmo

It wasn’t the menu that sent me in search of Carmo’s, but another trusty recommendation from Eric Lind, who built the tables and bars in this business district joint. The sturdy, colorful and refurbished wood furniture certainly added to the vegan-friendly, tropical cafe’s charm and cheerful vibe, but the service and food truly made this place a happening lunchtime favorite for men in suits, passing locals and meandering tourists. The menu screamed “Hallelujah! A fresh, nourishing and intentional break from NOLA cuisine.” I had a “Rico”: pulled pork over a grilled plantain patty with melted cheese, fresh salsa, avocado slices and mango vinaigrette. I nearly dropped to my knees in praise – this dish was outstanding. Bobby had a “Broken Noodle Salad” tossed with rice noodles, bean sprouts, peas, cabbage, carrots and toasted peanuts, sealed together with a gorgeous citrus vinaigrette. It was healthier than mouthwatering, but wholly satisfying. We couldn’t resist the Caribbean Banana Cake, moist beyond belief and achingly-sweet – a perfect re-boot for our work session at one of the spacious, sunny tables near the street-facing window.www.cafecarmo.com
Carmo's cheerful interior, and Broken Noodle Salad.
Carmo’s cheerful interior, and Broken Noodle Salad.
Carmo's "Rico" Sandwich: pulled pork over a grilled plantain patty with melted cheese, fresh salsa, avocado slices and mango vinaigrette
Carmo’s “Rico” Sandwich: pulled pork over a grilled plantain patty with melted cheese, fresh salsa, avocado slices and mango vinaigrette
Part of Carmo's opens up to a warehouse-style photo studio.
Part of Carmo’s opens up to a warehouse-style photo studio.

Coop’s Place

Without at least one glimpse of the nighttime flavors, a culinary review of New Orleans would have a gaping hole. I offer one word: Coop’s. HOLY SMOKES. The excerpt below, A Jambalaya Journey, says it all. This restaurant is in the heart of the French Quarter. Despite the line out the door and the stream of tourists passing by the entry, Coop’s is still a local favorite. They serve hands-down the best jambalaya to have ever passed my lips. The rice is rich with tomato and seasoned to cajun perfection with a careful combination of spices and the “Holy Trinity” – celery, onions and bell peppers. Each bite is a new adventure: pulled rabbit, sausage, a medley of seafood and fatty, smokey chunks of “tasso” – seasoned ham smoked in the back patio. I have rarely wished so profoundly that a bowl of food would last forever – it was so good it almost pained me take another bite and watch it vanish. Bobby’s fried chicken was nothing short of excellence. The skin reminded me of pork crackling – crisp, light and addictive. The chicken was tender, hearty and bursting with flavor. The gumbo was equally memorable, erring towards a lighter broth than the dark, brown roux so commonly used (like in the alligator gumbo we sampled from Stella’s). The service is as one would expect in a busy bar, with bottles delivered to the table in haste, but no shortage of southern kindness. The prices are more than affordable, and the portions generous. I would come back, over and over again. www.coopsplace.net

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