Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 16, 2017

© Chris Granger / New Orleans CVB

Local Gulf oysters taste milder than other US varieties so they’re particularly well-suited to cooking.

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New Orleans

The American city where cuisine is culture

The single most important thing to know when visiting New Orleans is make reservations. Yes, the city is crawling with 1000-plus restaurants, but, it’s home to 361,000 people, and each and every one of them love to eat. New Orleans was also voted the number one Food and Wine Destination in the US in Trip Advisor’s 2011 Travellers’ Choice awards so the competition to nab a table at the city’s best eateries is red hot — and it’s only going to get worse. The US Census Bureau recently announced that New Orleans is the fastest-growing major city in the country. Its population grew 4.9 percent between April 2010 and July 2011 or more than six times the national average. What’s more, 8.75 million people visited last year and they spent a record US$5.47 billion. Smarter still: make your reservations early.

Of course, deciding where to dine won’t be easy. The city is devoted to food and its best can be had at a corner po’ boy shop or at a grand, centuries-old dining hall that oozes Southern hospitality. Luckily, New Orleanians are avid restaurant-goers — and extremely picky eaters — so it’s almost impossible to have a nightmare of a meal here. Still, there are local favourites.

Start with a signature dish like jambalaya at Coop’s Place (1109 Decatur Street; coopsplace.net; no reservations) in the French Quarter. A straight-up traditional jambalaya is a combo of veggies, seafood, sausage and rice, but budget-friendly Coop’s makes a mean rabbit and sausage version with onions, tomatoes and bell peppers. The drawback: the always busy resto features lottery machines so anyone under 21 isn’t permitted inside.

Jambalaya, like many of the city’s iconic dishes, has its roots in the exiled Acadians (later Cadiens and then Cajuns) who left Nova Scotia for Louisiana in the 1700s. Combine their French traditions with the filé (or ground sassafras leaves) used by Native Americans, saffron from the Spanish, sugar cane from the West Indies, and later African and Italian influences too, and the upshot is Cajun (from Louisiana’s country folk) and Creole (from Louisiana’s city folk) cooking that’s worth conferencing for, again and again and again.

Another N'awlins favourite is the po’ boy, a sub-style sandwich on French bread most often filled with roast beef or fried seafood like catfish, shrimp or oysters. When President Obama and his family were in town to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in 2010, they ate at Parkway Bakery and Tavern (538 Hagan Avenue; parkwaypoorboys.com; closed on Tuesdays) in the Mid-City District. You should too. The 101-year-old resto is known for its golden fried shrimp po’ boy, which is reportedly what Mr. President had himself.

And, for beignets or square, French doughnuts covered with powdered sugar, go to the city’s original Café du Monde (800 Decatur Street; cafedumonde.com; open 24 hours a day) in the French Quarter near Jackson Square. It dates to 1862, is hugely popular and is the perfect place for people watching.

Neighbourhood watch

Like Nancy Sinatra’s boots, New Orleans is made for walking. The city is nice and flat, and very picturesque. The convention centre and the Intercontinental Hotel are in the groovy Arts/Warehouse District (neworleansartsdistrict.com) where Julia Street, dubbed Gallery Row, is home to 20-odd galleries, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the National World War II Museum.

Immediately east is the French Quarter, also reachable via the Riverfront streetcar. One-way rides are US$1.25 (fare boxes don’t give change), though a Jazzy Pass (for streetcars and buses) costs US$3 for one day of unlimited travel and US$9 for three days. (Go to norta.com for maps and more.)

The Vieux Carré, as the 294-year-old Quarter is also known, is home to what you might imagine of New Orleans: wrought-iron wraparound balconies, quaint cobblestone courtyards, and history and romance to spare. There’s Bourbon Street too, where many a girl has gone wild, but Royal Street, what with its spontaneous swing bands and second-line parades, may be more your style. It’s open to pedestrians only, daily between 11AM and 4PM.

If you like the clang clang of the Riverfront trolley, you’ll love the 24-hour St. Charles streetcar. It’s a National Historic Landmark so its green cars resemble those from 1923. Take it to the Garden District, west of the Arts District. The area is beautiful. Its antebellum mansions date to the early 1800s and feature generous, manicured yards for which the district is named. Well-to-do Americans who made their living in cotton and sugar lived here and, today, it’s big with celebrities and Hollywood. Sandra Bullock owns what’s been described as a “dollhouse” that dates to 1876 and the six-bedroom, six-bath mansion featured in 2008’s Oscar-winning The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is here too.

Go on tour

Conference-goers visiting for five or more nights should consider a plantation or swamp tour in Acadiana, or Cajun Country, which is a collection 22 counties (or parishes) east of New Orleans. Lafayette (lafayettetravel.com), a good 265 kilometres away, is the Country’s unofficial capital. Tours by Isabelle (tel: 877-665-8687; toursbyisabelle.com) offers four different plantation tours (from US$86 per person) and two swamp tours (from US$76), and even a combo of both (from US$135). The 33-year-old company will pick you up in a comfy, air-conditioned passenger van at any downtown hotel and drop you back too. Tours are at least four hours long.

The 19th-century plantations visited include the Oak Alley mansion, which features a canopy of 30 magnificent live oaks, the Laura Plantation (its tour ends in an 1840s slave cabin where sugarcane workers lived as late as 1977) and the Evergreen Plantation, which is the most intact in the South with 15 buildings and 22 slave cabins on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information, check out the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (neworleanscvb.com).

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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