Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Getting into the Spirits in New Orleans (Day One)

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to tag along on a weekend trip to New Orleans. I am not sure how this city has escaped my attention or my stomach for so long. Most people I know have made this short trip down experience the food, the fun and the music. I couldn't wait to see what the city had to offer.

We arrived mid day on a Friday and settled into our quarters for the weekend. The cute little Hotel Mazarin located right in the French Quarter. The even provided free bottled water, wifi, and breakfast each morning. The hotel was the perfect location and easily walkable to everything I wanted to see and eat!

We made our way toward St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square taking in the typical tourist sights along the way. Around each corner, it seemed there was another great little bar, coffee shop or restaurant waiting to be tried. I had a mission. I wanted to start my vacation out in true French Quarter style with an original Muffuletta. Central Grocery was established in 1906 as a grocery store and became a deli for the Sicilian  truck farmers who sold their produce at the Farmer's Market. The sandwich was invented by by Salvatore Lupo the original owner of the grocery. The traditional New Orleans muffuletta is stuffed with ham, salami, various cheeses and marinated olive salad.  While I have never been a big fan of this sandwich (too much bread not enough cheese and meat) this version won me over. My mouth is watering thinking about it as I write! The olive salad and fresh sliced deli meats paired with super soft sesame bread really make it.

We decided the best way to get to know the city was to take a tour. I was looking for something besides the typical history or ghost tours that I had experienced in Charleston or Savannah so I sought out culinary based tours and found a perfect match! The Cocktail Tour is lead by culinary historian Elizabeth Pearce. She got her start in the food world as the curator of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and writes a monthly drinking column Neat with a Twist. She takes pride in sharing not only the history of the city but how some of its signature libations tell the stories of the development of its culture and people. Elizabeth was energetic and full of great information. This wasn't a tour where you stopped into promotional bars and got a free shot of something here and there, she has prepared homemade classic versions of three special drinks and one liquor for us to sample. We each received a small messenger bag with individually labeled cups. When we arrived at the perfect location or at the right "moment in history" we were instructed to sample. This model of touring provided more ability to see and hear the city as well as a much higher quality of drinks! We sampled the St. Charles Hotel Punch, a sazerac the official drink of New Orleans, and a Hurricane (made with real fruit juice not some over sweet mix) To round out our night we each got a share of praline liquor. We spent about 2 hours walking about 1 mile through the French Quarter. I feel like this was the perfect way to get a feel for the Vieux Carre and to kick off a great Friday night.

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