New Orleans: A (Very Limited) Localist City GuideMarch 9, 2015
A trip to New Orleans, even if it’s barely over 24 hours, is always an adventure. I love Nola for so many reasons: It’s beautiful, the food is fantastic, and personality is jammed into every single space — from the colorful houses to the costumes (sometimes there’s no other word for those outfit choices) of people on the street to the tip jars on the coffee shop counters (labeled “Good Life Choices” and “Bad Life Choices” at Spitfire). I love that people leave Christmas lights up all year (or at least through Mardi Gras), that a random Second Line parade could block your route at any second, that jazz and banjo music floats through the streets, and that street performers still have a voice here (and can sometimes even make a living).
I certainly can’t write a definitive New Orleans city guide, but I can tell you about a few of my favorite places. I was signing in the French Quarter, so my list is heavily weighted with favorites from that area. A few of these places (French Truck, Continental Provisions, Crepe Cart) are all in the French Market, which is definitely worth visiting — it’s the oldest continually running public market in the U.S., and as of Saturday it’s now open daily, which is pretty rad. Oh, and naturally I’ve spent a lot of time in bookstores and coffee shops, so my list is full of those places, too.
New Orleans: Local Food
Ancora commented on one of my Instagram posts in the morning, and I couldn’t stop thinking about them all day. This is fancy pizza and Italian food that’s still really delicious, and it isn’t overpriced. We’ve always been served pretty quickly, the waitstaff is really knowledgeable, and the food is incredible. This time, we got an “anti-pizza” plate full of appetizer samples (anancini, meatballs, bruschetta, roasted cauliflower and more) in addition to pizza, and both were wonderful.
Last time I came to the French Market I had a CP sandwich from Continental Provisions, and once I heard my signing and talk was back at the market, I knew I had to repeat the experience. I don’t know what to say — it’s the best meat (from Cleaver & Co.), it’s the best cheese (from St. James Cheese Company), it’s the best bread (from Bellegarde). It’s just perfect.
My signing table was right next to a couple of women making crepes at the Crepe Cart. I’m a bit obsessed with all things French, so I had to try one for breakfast, and it was just outstanding. I had a savory crepe with broccoli, cheese, bacon and other stuff (I don’t know what I ordered — I just told them I wanted something savory and to take it from there). I got a half crepe, and that was plenty filling, but I would’ve eaten a whole crepe (or a whole dozen) because it was just that good.
I didn’t hit up Killer Poboys on this trip, but my friend (and localist) Jessica was heading there right after my signing. Killer Poboys is an excellent New Orleans experience: I mean, it’s a poboy, so you have tradition covered. Plus it’s kind of a secret pop-up shop (there’s no signage outside, so you just have to know to look for it in the back of the Erin Rose bar), so you’ll feel like an insider. Oh, and the poboys really are killer, so you’ll be glad you came.
New Orleans: Local Cocktails
I have weird allergies that make me an annoying cocktail drinker — I can really only have cocktails from people who really know their ingredients well, or they’ll accidentally slip in something that I shouldn’t have. I’m guessing bartenders sorta hate me for this, but a few are nice about it anyway. The staff at Cure and Cane & Table certainly knows their stuff, and my drinks there have been great: And if you can actually drink what’s on the menu, you’ll have an even better time.
New Orleans: Local Craft Coffee
On my last two visits to Nola, I got coffee from French Truck AND came home with bags of their beans. This time, I tried a pourover from their new stand in French Market, and last time I stopped by their fantastic little shop. I also chatted about coffee for a few minutes with the owner and barista at the market on Saturday, and they were remarkably knowledgeable but also very un-snobby and kind (trust me, those qualities are rare in the coffee business). Oh, and their little orange truck is super cute.
This was my first visit to Spitfire, and it was perfectly magical: Bubbles filled the street in front of us as we walked (I guess this has nothing to do with the coffee, but I enjoyed it), and we ended up in a seriously tiny shop with seriously great coffee. After a long day of talking to readers (great!) and tourists (not so great!), I was exhausted and freezing and ready for coffee. The fact that the espresso and the craftsmanship was incredible made it even better. I also personally love that they have maple as a flavoring option (those pesky allergies again).
This is really a donut/slider place, but District makes a really tasty cold brew. And it comes out of taps! Neat!
New Orleans: Local Coffee Shops
I love craft coffee, but sometimes you don’t really care if your barista can make the perfect cortado — you just want to hang out, maybe set up your laptop for an hour or so. I did this a lot while writing The Localist, and I pretty much bounced between Mojo, Rook and Church Alley. (And if you’re going to use a coffee shop as your place of business, it is best to bounce around — or buy something every hour-ish so you’re not using tables intended for paying customers. At Mojo, they’ll force you to do this, but it’s a good habit anyway.)
New Orleans: Local Bookstores
Finally! The book stores!
I signed on the sidewalk outside A Tisket A Tasket on Saturday, and the owners were some of the kindest I’ve ever met. They can’t carry a huge selection of books anymore, partly because they’re smack in the middle of a huge tourist area, but they have all the great New Orleans cookbooks and perfect choices for gifts to bring home to the people who didn’t make the trip to Nola with you. (Oh, and they’ll wrap it all up in a basket — hence the name.)
I rarely come to New Orleans without heading to Octavia — this is a thriving local bookshop that does everything right, as far as I’m concerned: Their stock is huge and well-organized, they have staff picks everywhere that range from quirky to mainstream, they showcase local authors who do good work, but they also bring in national authors as well. They rotate their display stock often, so it’s always fresh and perfectly tailored to whatever people are talking about in the city and the world. Oh, and they have a cool bike rack outside that’s shaped like an open book. (I’m having a signing at Octavia at the end of my tour — May 9 is the tentative date — and I’m so excited for it.)
Maple Street feels exactly how neighborhood bookstores are supposed to feel. It’s in an old house, so the charming factor is on-point, but Maple Street doesn’t rely on quirkiness to survive — they have a great book selection and booksellers who really know their stuff and can point you in the direction of a great gift or a new personal favorite. They carry mostly adult books, but they have a really strong collection for kids, too.
Well, those are my picks — definitely try them, but don’t limit yourself to what’s here. Part of the beauty of New Orleans is that it’s always changing and growing, and part of the joy with each trip is discovering what’s new. And if you want a more in-depth story of my Localist trip to New Orleans, click here to sign up for my mailing list; I’m still pretty shaky with direct emailing (mostly because I hate getting marketing-heavy emails and I’m trying to come up with something more personal), but I’d love for you to join me as I try to figure it all out — spam and junk emails annoy me to no end, so I promise not to send you that kind of thing.
Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist: Think Independent, Buy Local and Reclaim the American Dream and co-founder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @crollwagen.