New Orleans Food Tour Extravaganza

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While on vacation in my favorite city, I decided to take a food tour to experience the culture in a new way. I couldn’t choose between the different companies, so I decided to do 4 food tours in 4 days! Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly…

Day 1 – Culinary Bike Tour with Confederacy of Cruisers

This tour was excellent! We met at 12:45 pm at Washington Park in the Marigny district. A line of beautiful cruisers were ready and waiting. We each got fitted on our bicycles, which were in great condition and incredibly comfortable. After introductions and a brief safety talk, we were off – we did a quick spin in Washington Park and then got a little history talk about New Orleans cuisine. Cassandra, the guide, is a trained chef and is clearly passionate about local food. I immediately loved her and felt a great sense of camaraderie with her. My kind of gal!

Our first food stop was a quick bike ride into the outskirts of the French Quarter. A West African restaurant I have walked by dozens of times, but never noticed. We sat down and we were immediately greeted by bowls of creamed spinach and plates of plantains with chutney. Yum! A hidden gem – I will be back!

Our second spot was Elizabeth’s in the Bywater neighborhood. I have heard this place mentioned many times before and was grateful to finally eat there. We enjoyed boudin balls (deep fried pork and rice balls), fried green tomatoes, shrimp with a creole mustard sauce and their specialty, praline bacon! I wouldn’t go out of my way to dine there again, but I’m glad I experienced it. I loved the Dr. Bob’s artwork all over the walls!
We took a brief stop at the levy, which was a great addition. We parked the bikes and walked up the grassy knoll, which gave us a view of the Lower Ninth Ward. Cassandra talked a bit about Hurricane Katrina and the impact on the current culture.

Our final stop, The Joint, was a winner. Incredible, fall-off-the-bone pork ribs, macaroni and cheese, and my personal highlight of the day, peanut butter pie. Oh baby. I will be back for that. There was no shortage of food – we all ate until we were full and Cassandra was still happy to order more for anyone that wanted it.

After a leisurely bike ride back through the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods, we were back where we started, happy and full. The bike shop also had a wonderful local gift shop, which I thoughoughly enjoyed. It was a treasure trove of letterpress postcards, local artwork and unique jewelry – a great find even if you don’t go on the tour!

Price: $89

Final verdict: A

Day 2: Walking Tour with Tastebud Tours

I had reservations about this tour because it looked pretty touristy…I guess I should have gone with my intuition! This company started doing food tours in Chicago and now has a branch in New Orleans – and it has the feel of an impersonal chain operation. We met at Serio Mike’s Po-Boys, a cafeteria-like sandwich shop on a busy street outside of the French Quarter. There were 12 guests and we took up 2 tables. Linda, the guide, did a little introduction, but talked more about herself than the history of New Orleans. Her heavy New York accent and the fact that she lived an hour outside of New Orleans didn’t win her big points in the authenticity department. Our first snack was a Muffuletta – an Italian inspired sandwich with salami, mortadella, provolone, and olive salad on French bread. Nothing to write home about…a whole lotta bread and not much filling.

Now for the worst part of the tour – walking in the French Quarter with a group of 12! Linda had a large pizza peel with a tambourine that she would use to stop traffic. Needless to say, we had many people honking at us. I have never felt like such a tacky tourist!

Our next stop was the Cafe Beignet on Bourbon Street. This is actually a gem in the chaos of Bourbon Street. It was an electric company and when the business moved out of the city, they took out the building and created a lovely public park. There are beautiful statues and live music playing from 10-10 everyday. The little cafe had excellent beignets (better than Cafe du Monde!) and the cafe au lait (coffee with chicory and milk) was tasty.

 

Next, we wandered around the French Quarter for a bit – our guide artfully avoided the grit of Bourbon Street by cutting though the beautiful Royal Sonesta Hotel and then down Royal Street. Linda gave tips on where to dine and pointed out a gem I had never noticed before – a viewing window into Antoine’s wine cellar! Because the water level is so high, there are no basements. They store wine in between the buildings instead!

We made our way to the Old Coffeepot for (very) little tastes of jambalaya and gumbo. Both were good, but certainly not the best I’ve had. It seemed like an authentic spot, catering to locals, but I wasn’t inspired to return.

 

Next was a visit to the Spice & Tea Exchange. While we were shopping, Linda went to Johnny’s Po-Boys to pick up our next snack. After we stocked up on Cajun seasonings, we walked to the Mighty Mississippi River to eat our roast beef Po-Boys. The roast beef seemed dry and tough…I’d go for the shrimp next time.

Our final stop was Laura’s Candies. I love this place because they are very generous with their free samples. We each got a praline to go and a chance to sample their Mississippi Mud and other delicious treats. We said our good-byes and left on a sugar high.

Price: $44 per person

Final Verdict: B-

Day 3: Walking Tour with New Orleans Culinary History Tour

This tour was really a wonderful treat. We met at the bar at Antoine’s (the oldest restaurant in the US!) and were ushered into a side room (their speakeasy during Prohibition!) We had a nice small group of 5, which made a huge difference. Warning: the tours go up to 16 guests and that would be a whole other experience! Mary, our guide, was incredible. Probably in her 70’s, she grew up in New Orleans and still lives in the French Quarter. She had a great sense of wry humor – I was hanging on every word she said. After about a 10 minute introduction to New Orleans cuisine, the waiter brought in a tray of gumbo over rice. A classic, tasty version.

Next, we ventured into the back of Antoine’s. Wow! We went from room to room, looking at all of the private dining rooms that were decorated with Mardi Gras crowns, gowns, and photos. The family room was filled with photos and paintings of the family – with 174 years in operation, there is plenty of history! We also visited the wine cellar (the same one I had seen from the street the day before) and the grand kitchen. Wandering through the depths of the restaurant, the other guests and I repeatedly looked at each other and said, “this is so awesome!” On our way out, Mary showed us the secret entrance to the speakeasy – through the ladies room! That little trick prevented them from ever getting caught!

Rather than avoid Bourbon Street, Mary chose to blaze a trail right through the seediest part, remarking that, “many of the ladies aren’t ladies at all!” Did I mention that I love her?

Our next stop was Remoulade, which wasn’t anything special – the neon sign and the location on Bourbon Street could have given that away. We sat down an had a little cup of Shrimp Remoulade, which was great. Their mother restaurant, Arnaud’s, invented the Remoulade sauce, which is similar to a thousand island dressing.

There is a passageway from Remoulade to Arnaud’s and once we went through that door, we were in a whole different world of guilded beauty. The dining room was lovely – I look forward to having a meal there! The original owner’s daughter ran the restaurant for many years and was quite the socialite. She was the queen of more Mardi Gras balls than anyone else in history. When she finally had to sell the restaurant, she required the new owners to create a museum upstairs to display all of her gowns! Amazing!
Next we went into Desire, an oyster bar in the Royal Sonesta Hotel. We walked by the oyster shuckers (such HUGE oysters!) and into their beautiful courtyard. We each had a little bowl of turtle soup, which is an old world New Orleans specialty. It was delicious, but I can’t help but feel bad eating turtles…I once had a classroom pet named Speedy that I was particularly fond of.

Next was to La Devina on Royal Street for a Muffalino. This is a panini version of the classic Muffuletta, which is much better than the original! We finished up with a little taste of gelato, which was delightful.
We wandered through Jackson Square, which is alway lovely. We timed it perfectly and caught a traditional wedding in front of St. Louis Cathedral, complete with a brass band. We made our way to Tujaques on Decatur, a bar famous for its beef brisket. It was tender and delicious. I loved it, and I’m not even a big meat eater. Mary encouraged me to be adventurous and sneak upstairs onto their balcony, which of course, I did.
Our last stop was the Creole Connection on Jackson Square. We went into their back courtyard, where there was a little demonstration cooking stove. The owner of the store served us some Mardi Gras dip (a party in your mouth) and some red beans and rice. Next was a demonstration of how to make a classic roux and introduced several New Orleans ingredients (file, chicory, Camellia red beans, creole mustard, etc.) We finished up the tour there and I bought several culinary goodies to take home. 

Price: $46.00

Final Verdict: A

Day 4: Culinary Crawl with Creole Pub Crawl 

This tour was the most expensive, but by far the worst! It was so awful, I actually asked for my money back! The concept of the tour was a culinary crawl, visiting 5 different restaurants and having 7 courses (5 dishes and 2 drinks). The tour guide had never done the tour before and she was obnoxious and offensive. After 10 minutes, I was looking for an exit plan! There were only 3 other guests (and one was a friend of mine), so we were all trapped! None of us could believe a company would hire this woman and send her out on a tour!

The tour was in the Warehouse District, which caters to the conventions. The restaurants are all fairly new and didn’t have a lot of soul. Our first stop was for a pineapple mimosa at Apres Lounge. A 5:30 pm, it was empty. It felt like it belonged in Miami Beach. We all downed our drinks, just so we could move on.

Next was gumbo and baked oysters across the street at Grand Isle. The food was decent, but I excused myself to the bathroom, so I didn’t have to listen to the guide! She was arguing with the waiter…

Next, we went to Tomas Bistro, where we were saved from our horrendous tour guide. She was booked on another tour, so she was replaced by the owner of the company. We were all relieved she was gone, but then we realized, the owner wasn’t a whole lot better! He didn’t know the history of the area or the stories behind the restaurants – his original business plan was to bring mobile bars to the streets of New Orleans and take people from bar to bar. He showed us these contraptions with pride as my friend and I looked on in horror! He hasn’t been able to get them approved, so he started tours with them in 2 other cities. The culinary crawl is something he is doing in the meantime…not terribly inspiring. In fact, downright disappointing and disheartening.

 

During this conversation, we had a panzanella salad and fried catfish on grits. Both were good, but hard to enjoy being so uncomfortable. Next, we walked 4 blocks to our final spot, Haro Coffee & Chocolate. It was deserted. Even delicious chocolate couldn’t make up for the traumatic experience we had. We left at 8:30, an hour before the tour was scheduled to end.

The next day, I called an expressed how disappointed I was. They agreed to give me 40% of my money back. Sigh.

Price $135

Final Verdict: F

Doing 4 food tours in 4 days was quite an experience – I’m glad I did it, so you don’t have to! I highly recommend the Confederacy of Cruisers and New Orleans Culinary History Tours. Other than that, I would explore New Orleans’ culinary gems on your own. Bayona and Domenica are great restaurants for elegant dinners, Satsuma Cafe is perfect for casual, healthy fare, and the Camellia Grill is a classic diner experience. 

Enjoy the Big Easy and laissez les bons temps rouler!