Random Facts About New Orleans Sunday, Mar 4 2012 

These facts have been supplied to help my students get a snapshot of New Orleans prior to their spring break, service-learning trip. Some facts may be subject to bias (mine). Those generally appear towards the end of the list. No harm or misinformation is intended by these pronouncements.

St. Louis Cathedral, March 2010.

Distance from Durham NH to New Orleans LA: 1,586 miles

Road hours from Durham NH to New Orleans LA: one day; two hours

Average high temperature on March 10th in Durham NH: 37 degrees

Average high temperature on March 10th in New Orleans LA: 71 degrees

Population of New Orleans LA (2010): 343,829

Population of Durham NH (2010): 14,638

New Orleans founded: 1718 by French explorers and speculators

Durham founded: 1732 by English settlers

Portion of New Orleans below sea level: 49%

Top New Orleans employer: Ochsner Health System, 10,000

Second line parade, March 2010

New Orleans racial composition: African-American 60.2%; white, 33%; Hispanic, 5.3%; Asian 2.9

% of New Orleans population who are Roman Catholic: 35.9%

Rank of New Orleans in murder rate (US): 1st

Rank of New Orleans in bicycle and foot traffic (US): 8th

Best cross-dressing bounce artist: Big Freedia

Best radio station: WWOZ (90.7 FM)

Best seafood po’boy: Domilise’s

Best music club: Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street

Best place for traditional music: Preservation Hall

Me and Kermit Ruffins, Rock and Bowl, March 2011.

Oldest regularly performing jazz artist: Lionel Ferbos (100 years old) at the Palm Court

Coolest senior citizen in America: “Uncle” Lionel Batiste (81 years old) bass drummer for the Treme Brass Band and Frenchmen Street denizen

Best New Orleans brass band: Rebirth Brass Band (OK Stu, I’ve come around)

Mr. New Orleans: Kermit Ruffins

Best city in America: Do we really have to ask?


Diners, Drive-ins and Dives Wednesday, Feb 10 2010 

I like good food, but I find that good food is not always found in the fanciest restaurants at the highest prices. And New Orleans is the poster child for fine eating at inexpensive, out-of-the way places. I discovered this years ago, when we ventured to Austin Leslie’s Chez Helene. Unpretentious food in a plain setting at a reasonable price. To this day, a memorable dining experience.

New Orleans has it’s share of celebrity chefs, trendy venues, and tradition-bound restaurants where patrons pay others to wait in line for them. But those are not the places I frequent.

No, I’m not talking McDonald’s or Subway, but locally owned places, with well-prepared, traditional food. The places where you’ll sit next to a group of elevator repairmen. Where servers might offer you a draft beer if you’ve waited in line too long. Places where you consider it lax service if the waitress fails to call you “baby” at least three times.

I do not consider myself an expert; I’d have to visit New Orleans more than once a year, which would be just fine with me, by the way. But over the past five years, I have acquired a list of places that I return to again and again.  And they are:

  • Mena’s Palace, in the French Quarter, on Chartres at Iberville. Friendly, inexpensive lunch counter for hearty breakfasts and fabulous lunch specials. Attentive waitresses, frequented largely by locals, it is a New Orleans experience waiting to happen. Favorites: fried chicken plate, red beans and rice, and fried oysters. I have to eat there at least once when I’m in New Orleans.
  • Rocky and Carlo’s Restaurant on St. Bernard Highway in Chalmette, LA. A wonderful melange of Creole, Italian, and fried seafood. Clean, moderately priced, with an overtly friendly staff and clientele. it’s like eating at home without having to bother with the dishes.
  • Central Grocery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. OK, this is right up there with Cafe du Monde as a tourist spot, but it is a singular experience. As someone for whom food and cooking is close to being a religious vocation, the vibe of this century-old Italian grocery cuts to the bone. Add to that, muffalettas on incredible Italian loaves and cold beer out of the cooler; it doesn’t get much better.
  • Domilise’s Po-Boys, Uptown on Annunciation Street. A nondescript frame building in which the most fabulous po-Boys in New Orleans are prepared. It features a wide range of sandwiches, but for me it is impossible not to gravitate toward fried seafood po-boys, fried and made to order, fully dressed. While many locals go with a Barq’s as an accompaniment; it’s an Abita Amber for me. Check out the autographed photos of the Archie, Peyton, and Eli Manning behind the bar.
  • Praline Connection on Frenchmen Street in Faubourg-Marigny. Maybe not the best-known Afro-Creole restaurant in New Orleans, but for a music lover, it’s location, location, location.  And, reasonably priced entrees coupled with friendly, attentive service. Favorite’s: fried okra, fried catfish, and vegetarian sides, i.e. prepared without meat. And when you’re finished, you are only steps away from the music on “The Street.”
  • Wild card. OK, there has to be one fast food alternative, found most everywhere and consistently good. For me, it’s Popeye’s Fried Chicken. Seldom a first choice, but never a last resort, it is real fried chicken with passable sides. The meal of choice when on the go.

Every year, I find at least one new thing, but for the time being, these are the kind of places you’ll find me at mealtime.