Don and I haven't dined out a whole lot, during the pandemic.
But in November 2021, we had a dining adventure or two, in New Orleans. On the day before Thanksgiving, we joined my brother and sister-in-law for a fun mini-adventure at Stein's Market and Deli.
We walked from our hotel to the deli, located on Magazine Street. There were lots of signs on the weathered door. The sign in the center got my attention. "No Mask No Service".
Nola doesn't seem like the safest city to visit, during a pandemic. I don't think it attracts the kind of people who like to follow rules. But we heard that restaurants and bars in the French Quarter were requiring vaccination cards. Suddenly dining out sounded safer and more appealing.
Masks and Card Requirement?
Actually no one "carded" us at the deli. Maybe they have different rules in the Lower Garden District.
But, Don, Chris, Karen and I were vaccinated and we were hungry. We headed in.
Where are we?
Once we were inside the hip little joint, I suddenly felt like I was somewhere far from New Orleans.
I didn't spot any Mardi Gras beads, so it didn't feel like Louisiana. It seemed a little friendlier than NYC. I spotted some medical scrubs and a few hipster hats... some possible students and professors... I'd say it most felt like we were in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
We stood in line and read the menu. There were no Shrimp Po-Boys on the menu. No Cajin this and Creole that. That's okay, we've sampled all that on past trips.
Stein's is a Jewish-Italian deli, so we had other options. We could order Bagels or a Meatball Sub. Or maybe Chopped Liver and Matzah Ball Soup!
After ordering we were able to grab a few stools, at the end of a long table, across from a case of meat and cheese. I heard they have 50 different kinds of cheese, from all over the world.
I studied the staff behind the counter as we waited for our order. I don't think I spotted anyone who could have been the owner, Dan Stein. He evidently moved from Philadelphia to Nola and opened this place in 2007.
Chris and Karen got their food first. They wisely split a Ruben sandwich. I was pretty sure I made the wrong choice when I saw their yummy feast on swirly bread.
I watched the masked staff bustle behind the counter, while I waited for my sandwich. Each time an order came up, there was a muffled announcement that totally confused me. Twice, I eagerly rushed up, only to be turned away. "Oops! Sorry, I thought you said..."
Finally our order was ready. Don ordered the Stein's version of a Muffuletta sandwich.
It was made with Mortadella, Molinari Sopressata, Tuscan ham, Aged Provolone, House-Made Olive Salad, on Ciabatta.
My Egg Salad was just a little lacking in flavor, but it still sort of hit the spot.
Don and I each had a half of a sandwich left. We packaged up the leftovers and meandered back to the hotel.
We took our time, studying all the beautiful homes. By the time we reached our hotel on St.Charles Street, I'd worked up an appetite!
Glad to have those leftovers! Perfect!
November in Nola - 2021
In November Don and I met up with family, for our 5th Nola Thanksgiving.
The gathering involved my 3 siblings and their spouses. 6 of us traveled from 3 different states to have the big turkey feast at my brother and sis-in-law's home. But we made sure to squeeze in one dinner, in the French Quarter.
The outing to Antoine's felt sinful for many reasons. It seemed crazy to indulge in a big dining adventure, before Thanksgiving! (but we always do)
I also felt some nagging guilt, about leaving my poor hubby behind. We love to share adventures, at iconic restaurants. But we planned this gathering (with my sibs and spouses) a year before. We had no clue that Don would have bypass surgery in October and a fractured back in November. Actually, Don was sort of happy to relax at the hotel, after our 6 hour drive from Texas.
After nearly 2 months of hunkering at home during Don's recovery, it felt odd to walk into a restaurant. It also felt strange to enter a New Orleans building, where we actually felt comfortable removing our masks. We've all been so cautious.
A year ago, we never guessed we'd be dealing with our second Pandemic Thanksgiving. But our group felt at ease, knowing that Nola restaurants required vaccination cards. (This was before omicron worries invaded the 2021 holidays!)
Mirrors and Windows
After we each showed our proof of vaccine to the host, we were escorted to a corner table in the front of the room. The floor to ceiling windows were perfect for peeking out at St. Louis street. The mirrored walls made it easy to spy on other guests.
Our table felt like an oasis. We were suddenly being pampered. They even rushed a coatrack over, for my brother's hat. Love that.
After nearly 2 years of zooming with my sibs/spouses, we were suddenly together in person... toasting across a round table. Ah, so many memories and photos of this family sitting around the round the Meyer Table, that moved with family from state to state! (blog tangent!)
Honestly the feeling was a bit surreal. There have been so many ups and downs and so many cancelled trips for all of us, during the pandemic. We weren't sure until this very day, that we'd really pull this reunion off.
Main Dining Room
Antoine's has over a dozen dining rooms and I was so pleased to be seated in the main one. This is the space that all guests have entered, for 154 years.
It was fun to settle in, on a chilly November night. The large Christmas tree was cleverly reflected, in all the mirrors! The room felt festive and warm. Cheers for warmth! Even as recently as the 1950's, the gas chandeliers were the only source of heat.
The menu was a quick reminder that Antoine's goes back 182 years! Antoine Alciatore started the French Creole business a block or two away, in 1840.
I was starved after a day of driving from Houston. I dug into the bread as I studied the menu.
Our waiter Austin took good care of us.
Luckily he was willing to humor me when I pulled out the old cookbook.
First, I asked Austin if they served French Pancakes A La Gelee. He said no, so I had to pull out the 1954 book to remind him, that they once did. He was a good sport and chuckled and posed for a photo. But it was a busy night and I hardly expected him to pull up a chair and flip through the pages... like some waiters have, with past cookbook encounters.
No pancakes for me, so I went for the dish that Antoine's is known for. Austin wisely reminded me that there was no spinach. Most people expect that, when they order this famous oyster treat. But Antoine's created the dish in 1889, with green sauce and a mix of herbs and vegetables. No spinach.
There's a story about how this creation came about. There was evidently once a shortage of escargot and this was a creative replacement. My Oysters Rockefeller was tasty, but I'll admit I missed the spinach. I also missed my special fork. The little utensil was hidden by my plate and showed itself, when my plate was cleared. Oops.
For my main dish, I chose the herb-roasted chicken with smoked ham, onion rice and 2 sauces.
Double sauce! Rochambeau and bernaise, pineapple confit! And how about the classic dish it was served in!
There was another classic dish that I was dying to try.
Luckily my Sis-in-law shared some of her Soufflé Potatoes! Thanks, Kate! Fried little airy puffs of yummy potato!
My other Sis-in-law was sad that we hadn't been warned to order the Baked Alaska earlier. But Austin was able to set us up, with a mini version.
Karen deserved this treat, since she had been a good sport, putting up with a nose scrape. She was also a good sport sharing this goodie, which meant she didn't get a whole lot for herself!
Our server Austin couldn't have been more delightful. When he brought out the check, it was on a very special little plate.
It's hard to read in the photo, but the words say: "Antoine's Restaurant Since 1840 (and) Austin Murray Serving Since 1978" That is impressive! Austin told us some quick stories about rescuing dogs during Katrina. But I wish I could have heard more stories from his 4+ decades, working at Antoine's.
Off to the Ladies Room
After finishing up, I took a trip to the Toilette Des Dames! I took a photo of the sitting area. I was curious about the art covered screen that covered the back door.
Only later with some reading, did I learn about a special door in the back of the Ladies' Room. The door was known to some special regular guests, during prohibition.
After dinner, we did a little wandering. We meandered through most of the endless rooms, on the first floor. The Mystery Room was one of them.
The Mystery Room was once a full bar, hidden in the carriage house. During prohibition, regular guests were given a cup with a key. The key opened that little door in the Ladies' washroom. Guests could get something a little stronger than coffee, for their cups. If anyone later inquired about their beverage, they were to answer, "It's a mystery to me."
Oh I love stories like this!
The 1840 Room
It was about 10 pm, so we did a fairly quick sweep through the halls and rooms. I could have spent an hour in each.
The 1840 Room was built in honor of the restaurant's centennial celebration, in 1940.
The Rex Room
A number of rooms are named for Mardi Gras krewes.
This bright green & gold room, was decorated in honor of one of New Orlean's oldest. The Krewe of Rex.
The Proteus Room
The seaside colors in the Proteus room, were a little more calming!
This was another private dining room, named for a carnival krewe.
I was glad to be touring around at 10 pm, on a weeknight so close to Thanksgiving. If it had been a Saturday a few weeks later, these doors might have been shut for private parties.
Escargot Society Room
I loved the snail on this wall!
This room was established for the Escargot Society, (of distinguished culinary enthusiasts) so I read. I Googled the club and didn't exactly find any scoop, so I guess I won't try to join.
I headed past a lovely old fireplace to find a totally empty bar.
This bar with windows onto St. Louis Street, would probably look very different on a Saturday in the summer. I was surprised to learn it was added in recent years.
The biggest dining area was in the center of the building.
It was busy when I first walked through to the Ladies' Room. I noticed that fewer men were wearing jackets. The jacket rule ended with Hurricane Katrina.
The large red room was empty when we headed back to the main room after our exploring. I was able to peek at some of the famous folks on the wall, without bothering diners.
There are way too many to name. Whoopi and Groucho looked down at one table, Katharine Hepburn at another. Almost every president since Hoover has dined here. And Brad Pitt has been known to ride his bike here.
Last to Leave
As we headed into the main dining room, it looked like we were about the last to leave.
We wished the fabulous staff a Happy Thanksgiving!
Before we took off, we got a photo of our family. (Missing Don and my sis-in-law on this night) It looks like the Meyer gang wasn't the only family in our photograph. Are those members of Antoine's family on the wall behind us?
What an amazing history. Antoine would be pretty happy to know that the restaurant he worked so hard to create was still making diners happy! His great-great grandson, Rick Blount is the CEO today. 5th generation! I love a good family and I love mine!
New Orleans in 1999
It's throw-back time, again. Today I'm thinking of two visits, to Nola's iconic Brennan's on Royal Street.
The first visit was during Spring Break, 22 years ago. Heidi and Scott were 12 and 9 and they weren't exactly thrilled about French and Creole dining. They also weren't excited to stop and pose for this photo, when we were out for a stroll.
But the next day, they warmed up to the idea of dressing up and going to a festive brunch at Brennan's. I have no photos of our outing, but I ran across a journal write up. It amuses me.
"After watching some turtles in the courtyard pond, we were seated... all around us, people were being served flaming dishes and mimosas... Heidi frowned into her menu, pouting that she didn't see sausage or bacon anywhere... Scott was just as grumpy, since he was hoping for a Denny's-type of breakfast... Before long we eased into the blissful feast, with 35-dollar Eggs Benedicts and 5-dollar glasses of milk... The kids split a 15-dollar omelet (at the kind waiter's suggestion) and then he brought them a surprise. Strawberries & Cream Blintzes... Don and I lingered over a Bloody Bulls and then we all feasted on Bananas Foster and Chocolate Suicide."
The kids still laugh about their first trip to Nola, before they learned to adore the charm and adventure of New Orleans dining.
Brennan's in 2019
Don and I made our second visit to Brennan's, in 2019. It was 2 days before Christmas. I'm not sure what my expression is all about.
Don and I had gone to New Orleans, to escape the quiet holiday. With both kids married and living in California and Oregon, the house felt too empty. We decided to hit the road and spend a few days enjoying festive decorations, music, food & drink in Nola.
A Cookbook Inspired Visit
We didn't have dinner reservations on December 23rd, but we stopped at Brennan's anyway. I was carrying my vintage cookbook in my purse... the cookbook that sometimes leads to amusing conversations with people. The cookbook featured a recipe from Brennan's, so who knows?
We headed inside to the Roost Bar. Maybe someone in the bar would enjoy an encounter with 2 Texans and a cookbook. (This is the kind of thing that our kids would not have put up with, 22 years ago!)
Drinks at the Bar
We snagged 2 seats at the bar and ordered. A Sazerac for Don and a French 75 for me. We were patient since our bartender was bombarded with orders.
Feeling festive, I struck up a conversation with the woman who dined alone at the bar. She hunkered over her meal and complained about the bad service. She griped about the cold weather. She couldn't believe that my husband and I would actually want to come to New Orleans for Christmas. "I'm from Southern California." She moped. "You can't believe how hard it is to be here for work, when I could be in California." I insisted that I actually could imagine, since I once lived in Laguna Beach. I made some suggestions about how she could cheer up and enjoy Nola... Then, finally she paid her bill and walked away, taking her little black raincloud with her!
There was zero chance that Raincloud Woman would care about the cookbook, so I waited until she was gone to pull it out. I thought about showing the featured recipe to our bartender. He might be amused by the recipe for Broiled Squab Turkey.
But he was handling a lot of orders. He did happen to mention that he'd just moved to Nola, 2 months before. He probably had little interest in being bothered with a vintage cookbook, or questions about the history of Brennan's.
Then I spotted this gentleman, greeting customers. He didn't appear to be too busy, so I caught his eye and asked if he knew whether Brennan's served Broiled Squab Turkey these days. I didn't capture him laughing in my photo, but he did laugh. Andrew was properly amused by the recipe and book.
We had a fun chat with Andrew about the history of Brennan's. The business (originally on Bourbon Street) was founded by Owen Brennan in 1946. About 10 years later, the biz relocated to this 2-story French Quarter mansion on Royal Street. The mansion has a much longer history, since it was built in 1795.
Then and Now
I wonder about this historic building, when it was brand new in 1795. Was it painted? It looks orange in this cookbook illustration from 1956.It looks pink, now. Who were the people who lived here, when it was a residence? Who were the people who died here? There are stories...
I did a little hunting on the internet and found this old photo, below. It was taken long before Brennan's opened.
I'm so glad we stopped in for a fun and quick Roost Bar visit. We didn't really have a dining adventure, but we did manage a brief cookbook encounter.
Next time, I want food and I want stories. I want to find out about the ghosts that have haunted the place for centuries. Mostly I want to eat Bananas Foster again! I didn't realize 22 years ago, that this flaming dessert was first created for Owen Brennan's restaurant, using a family recipe!
Cheers for that!
Don's Seafood & Steak House
For a long time, Don and I have wanted to stop in, for a bite at Don's. For over 20 years, we've seen the billboard ads, along on I-10, on drives to New Orleans and Florida.
I always remind Don that it's his restaurant and we need to stop. If they had a restaurant named Beth's, I wouldn't wait 20 years to check it out.
We've also been eager to have a Don's experience, because the fine eatery is featured in our vintage cookbook.
Many of the restaurants spotlighted in the cookbook, are long gone. When we find places that have managed to survive, we always put tag the page in hops of a future dining adventure!
We were staying in Lafayette last February, so we decided to give Don's a try!
The corner restaurant was just a 2-minute drive from our inn, so we drove over to check it out in the afternoon. It was quiet and deserted, with a few barricades, left over from the parades. I cracked open the cookbook to compare the illustration of Don's. I could see the corner entrance and some of the old glass block. Lots had been covered with shutters. Funny... the watercolor image showed a Mardi Gras parade!
Lamps and Neon
The old building looked a little weary in the bright sunshine, but I could see that things would be glowing in a few hours.
There were lots of "gas lights" and a few unlit neon messages. One said "Since 1934". I believe the French-Acadian restaurant opened as Don's Beer Parlor, in 1934
I spotted a few beads, left over from the Mardi Gras festivities. I spotted a sign, that mentioned the Landry brothers, Don, Ashby and Willie. At one time all 3 had a part in this business, which was combined with Willie's grocery store.
Don and I arrived for dinner at about 7. It was actually fairly busy at that time, so I waited till later to snap some photos.
I was a little unclear, which part was original in 1934. There had obviously been some expansion and a bit of remodeling.
The main dining area, was filling up steadily, with folks coming from evening mass, on Ash Wednesday. Most of the diners, including a priest, wore an ash cross, on the forehead.
Don and I took a peek at the rather snazzy looking "Spirits" bar. But the bar had a loud TV and the wrong ambience. We headed back towards the arched entrance, into the oddly bright and quiet, dining room.
Brick and Photos
The dining room had a retro Super Club feel to it, with white table cloths and black napkins. There had been a little updating, with enlarged photos, mounted on the brick walls.
I love a restaurant that spotlights their history. I'm sure all the photos had good stories, but I just guessed at them. Our server was very busy. I only asked about the man in the suit and glasses.
Frenchy was a well-loved employee of Don's for over 45 years. Her rode his bike to work, into his late seventies.
One of the restaurant's refurbished rooms is named for Frenchy. I love stories like that!
Don and I were seated beneath a few fishing photos, then we dug into our menus.
The menu cover had black and white photo, of Don's. I'm guessing in the 1960's.
We opened to a colorful page, with cocktail suggestions. Our Cajun fiddler, at the B & B had recommended the very powerful, Don's Old Fashion. The drinks that came in Don's glasses, looked mighty inviting!
Don with Don's Old Fashion
I of course had to get a photo of Don with his glass. I'm afraid I failed to capture his cocktail very well. There was a lot going on in that drink! I enjoyed the sugar-stick-stir-er!
I usually only like a Bloody Mary at a brunch, but I went all out. It came with pickled okra, a green bean and olives on a pink sword! That was a meal in itself. Both drinks were powerful and packed with flavor. I couldn't finish... but that's just me.
I went for the Cajun Casserole, which was a combo of shrimp and crabmeat dressing and eggplant. My baked potato was the size of small animal! All good!
Don worked on his Crawfish Half & Half, with fried and Etouffee. Both meals were huge and filling and tasty.
We watched the tables empty and finally we were the only ones left.
Gina and the Cookbook
Things were finally relaxed enough to chat with Gina, our super upbeat server. Usually, when we take the cookbook on a dining adventure, we try to order the featured recipe. This can be pretty fun, if you have a server who's old enough to appreciate a little history.
We waited a while until Gina's work eased up a bit, then I pulled out the book. I pointed to the Crawfish Etouffee recipe. She leaned in and gave the page a good look, before she reared back with a laugh. "Where did you get this?"
Sharing and Posing
Gina rewarded us with the perfect reaction. She asked if she could borrow the book to show others in the kitchen. That's always a good sign.
She disappeared for a bit, then returned, grinning with the book. We chatted a while, before Gina and Don did a little posing for my camera.
A Good Night at Don's
The staff couldn't have been sweeter. We had slowed things down with our cookbook and a couple of purchases... Don's cocktail glasses were for sale, at $5. each.
As we headed towards the doors, some lingering staff wished us well and thanked us for coming. I'm pretty sure we were the only non-locals on Ash Wednesday. We certainly were the only diners who brought a show-and-tell item.
A fun little Dining and Cookbook Adventure, for sure!
Christmas Eve Brunch in Nola
This past Christmas, Don and I changed up tradition and spent a few days in New Orleans.
We lucked out with some last minute brunch reservations. We wandered from our hotel in the French Quarter and arrived at this iconic restaurant on Royal Street, at 10:30 am.
I was excited to finally visit the Royal Street restaurant. The building has been here for 132 years, but it wasn't always a restaurant.
The French, townhouse-style building was first home to the Cavalier family. In 1886 the house and street level store was purchased and two sisters from an aristocratic Creole family, opened up a fine notions shop.
When we entered the restaurant on Christmas Eve morning, it was hard to picture the space, back in the day.
Emma and Bertha would have displayed imported gowns and perfumes in their shop.
I wonder where the arched doorway would have led, before it was turned into bar seating?
I'm sure the brick fireplace kept the shop cozy on cold mornings. On pleasant days, the sisters would have escorted their special guests, back to the courtyard for cakes and tea.
It was nice to arrive before the things got too busy. The staff was cheery and relaxed, inviting us to take a look around and decide if we wanted to eat in, or out.
The famous courtyard is the largest in New Orleans. It looked inviting with its wishing well and fountains. But it was a tiny bit chilly on that December morning.
Royal Court and Grand Marquis
I found more dining areas upstairs and in the front of the building.
They weren't serving in the formal spaces, but it was fun to see all the chandeliers and white tablecloths. The Fein Family has owned and run the restaurant since 1963.
I'm how these spaces were used before then. The Sisters closed shop in the early 1900's. I believe the building has been serving food and drink since the 1920's.
Back downstairs, we peeked in the Terrace Dining Room. It looked inviting, with a jazz trio and large windows, overlooking the courtyard.
The dining room was bright and airy, but the green garden colors lured us outside.
Table by the Fountain
The air was cool, but we warmed up with coffee. Chicory! We knew we were in New Orleans.
Our waiter Mario, kept the coffee coming. He said he'd only been at The Court for 2 years, but he had worked at another famous nearby restaurant for 42 years. "You were hired as a baby?" I asked. He laughed and said he started working at Brennan's, at age 12.
It was nice to be some of the first guests to hit the buffet. What a wonderful spread!
First I took a good look at all the options in the inviting, black and white serving area. There was an Eggs Benedict station and a meat carving station.
There were Creole favorites, like turtle soup and crawfish pasta.
Best of all, there were lots of Christmas sweets and pieces of Christmas King Cake!
Feasting in the Courtyard
While Don and I feasted, I waited for the right moment to share a little something with Mario.
When there seemed to be a lull in activity, I pulled the old Ford Motor Cookbook from my bag.
"Does this recipe look familiar?" I asked. Mario took a long look at the old book from 1959. He laughed at the courtyard image, that accompanied the recipe for Shrimp Au Gratin. "Where is this from!"
Yay! I love adding a cookbook adventure to an already fun meal. It almost always gets a good reaction, but I had been a little concerned about sharing on a busy holiday. Mario showed the book to a couple other waiters, then he happily agreed to pose with us. So fun!
We finished up and wished Mario a Merry Christmas.
Instead of heading out through the old house, we exited through the back of the courtyard. We passed through a gate, that seemed to match the wrought iron in the cookbook illustration.
How have these separate buildings been used over the years? Did many buildings share the courtyard equally? I left with so many questions about this old place.
Cheers to three generations of Feins, for keeping this restaurant running on Royal Street for so many years. Cheers to Emma and Bertha! It was a fun dining adventure!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.