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Charlyn Keating

Revisiting (and Eating in) New Orleans

By October 3, 2007

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The Atrium Sculpture Garden at the Renaissance Arts HotelNew Orleans, despite the hit from Hurricane Katrina, is still a unique business and convention destination. All of the downtown hotels save two (one is the Fairmont, which will become a Waldorf=Astoria) have reopened. About 25,000 hotel rooms are within a mile of the convention center, which at 1.1 million square feet is among the largest in the United States. The downtown area is undergoing a metamorphosis that was planned long before Katrina set her sights on the city. Buses have already been replaced with streetcars, and concrete sidewalks are being torn up and replaced with bricks.

Add into the mix the restaurants, the fun, history and debauchery of the French Quarter, gambling (ahem, gaming) at Harrah's Casino, funky art galleries and boutiques, and unique museums like the National World War II Museum all within a small area, and there is always plenty to do and see in New Orleans.

I was there to see the Marriott and Renaissance hotels, and how they're fared since the storm. From the towering, 1290-room New Orleans Marriott, to the 210-room Renaissance Arts Hotel, there's a lot of variety in a relatively small area.

Come along with me to New Orleans, where I try some fantastic restaurants, take a Katrina tour and brave the heat at the Wednesday in the Square concert.

More: New Orleans Hotels | Top 10 Things to Do and See in New Orleans

Cafe du Monde in the New Orleans French QuarterOf course, for me, a visit to New Orleans has a lot to do with eating. I have a confession to make: when I lived there, I weighed about 20 pounds more than I do now. I managed to pack in a lot of fabulous meals in the few days I was there:

  • Palace Cafe, where the turtle soup is second to none and the raspberries still come from a lady named Miss Betty in Mississippi
  • Mother's, which is the place to get a debris po-boy (that's a sandwich on French bread made with shaved roast beef with gravy) or a fried seafood platter
  • Restaurant August, just off the lobby of the Lafayette Hotel
  • Wolfe's in the Warehouse at the Marriott Convention Center
  • LaCote Brasserie at the Renaissance Arts Hotel, and
  • Beignets at Cafe du Monde.
It's hard to say which meal was best; I had so much trouble choosing, I ended up with breakfast, two lunches and a huge dinner in one day.

Williams Plum Street Sno-Balls

I took a field trip out to Uptown New Orleans to enjoy a treat I can't get anywhere else in the world: a Plum Street sno-ball. Not to be confused with a snow cone or anything similar you may have tried, a New Orleans sno-ball is unique. The ice is shaved, so it comes out fluffy. Even the syrups are different. My favorite is the chocolate, and it has to be Williams Plum Street Sno-Balls. (For sour lemonade or orangeade, on the other hand, it has to be Hansen's Sno-Bliz, also in Uptown New Orleans. Mr. Hanson invented the first ice-shaving machine, so it's worth a visit just to see it.) They cost about $1.50, come in a Chinese take-out container and will cool you down from the inside out, no matter how hot and steamy the weather gets.

House unclaimed two years after KatrinaI've been working up my courage over the last couple of years, and on this visit, I took a Katrina Tour. I figured this would be a good way to see some of the destruction (and the progress) first-hand, without having to face more personal losses like the house my grandfather built in Chalmette; the Southern Yacht Club (the oldest yacht club in the United States, which I saw underwater and burning down during the days following Katrina); and Jaegar's Restaurant, where I had my wedding rehearsal dinner (which looks like this now).

It was interesting, but afterwards I needed some fun. Luckily, I was in town for the last of the springtime Wednesday Concerts in the Square. The weather was incredibly hot, but it was still a great concert - local favorites Bag of Donuts, dressed in some sort of bizarre Mardi Gras drag costumes, really got the crowd moving. If you're in New Orleans mid-week in the spring, it's a great chance to catch some local talent, free.

Images: Sculpture Atrium © Renaissance Arts Hotel; Cafe du Monde © Charlyn Keating Chisholm; Plum Street Sno-Balls © Kicks in New Orleans; House two years after Katrina © Charlyn Keating Chisholm

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