Vieux Carré Views
A beautiful way to spend a day in the French Quarter
A morning stroll along the Mississippi River is a great way to begin any day with sweeping views of riverboats, rushing water and open Louisiana skies. Right off the levee, the French Market (Barracks Street & N. Peters Street, 636-6400, FrenchMarket.org) offers a perfect starting point for a day in the French Quarter, from the café au lait from Café du Monde, gourmet coffee from PJ’s Coffee, a hearty breakfast from Market Café or a bite from the various French Market farmers market vendors. After fueling for the day, a visit to the famous French Market flea market is always in order with its quirky offerings that range from New Orleans-themed souvenirs to fashion, art and accessories. Open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., the flea market hosts approximately 150 vendors on weekdays and 250 on weekends.
“Those extra 100 vendors tend to be a mix of local artists and local businesspeople who also operate other businesses throughout the city and sell here on weekends,” says Amy Kirk, Marketing Director at the French Market, “so I would be surprised if, strolling the aisles, you didn’t see a product or a person you recognize from various boutique shops, arts markets or Facebook posts.” Some highlights include children’s apparel, festival-wear and sundresses, and other items that tend to be less expensive than in traditional retail outlets.
Located not far from the French Market is a one-of-a-kind shop quickly building steam with its array of eco-friendly, leather-like items: handbags, wallets, shoes, hats, tablet and phone cases and much more. Conceived by Amanda Dailey and Julie Araujo, Queork (838 Chartres St., 481-4910, Queork.com) is a store devoted to providing designer-quality, useful items made from cork, which they refer to as “the new leather.” After first seeing a cork hat and belt in Portugal, Dailey fell in love with cork fabric and began designing her own items. After selling at festivals and markets, Queork quickly grew into a brick-and-mortar store known for its lightweight, leather-like and stain-resistant handbags and accessories. Queork continues to expand with a new Magazine Street location that opened last month.
Dailey loves the sustainability of cork and its inherent qualities: unique patterns and lightness of weight. Essentially a wood grain, every pattern on an item is going to be different and will weigh substantially less than a similar item made of leather. While most items are designed in-house, Queork exclusively features the Rutz shoe line by Portguese designer Raquel Castro, which ranges from casual loafers to formal men’s oxford boots.
“In general, cork is considered the most eco-friendly material in the world, and it’s the only tree that doesn’t die when you take its bark off. It’s meant to be harvested,” says Dailey, who insists there’s no cork shortage, despite Internet myths.
With a little shopping under your belt, pop into one of the neighborhood’s many art galleries. You can count on finding something unusual and eye-catching at Graphite Gallery (936 Royal St., 565-3739, GraphiteNOLA.com), which is a busy Dirty Linen Night destination (August 13 this year) located on an art-focused block of Royal Street. Opened just under seven years ago, Graphite Gallery is the vision of Taylor Lyon, who wanted a small and intimate space filled with a wide variety of work.
LEFT: Graphite Gallery RIGHT: Queork
“I have everything from pop surrealism to assemblage, to very intimate portraiture,” he says. “Having diametrically opposed images in one small space is a good indicator of how people can collect.” Lyon generally holds group shows so that patrons can see different types of work together and understand that they, too, can have a variety of styles and pieces in one room.
Graphite Gallery currently features pieces from emerging Louisiana artist Joshua Chambers, whose “kind of strange, almost on the verge of dark,” pieces have hooked Lyons. Chambers’ work often features a rotating cast of characters within depthless, yet often tethered worlds. Chambers uses text to draw the audience into the work and to seek their own meaning within the scene.
Between the shopping and art, it’s easy to work up an appetite in the French Quarter, which is probably the best neighborhood in the world in which to find yourself with a hankering for flavor. Whether you’re looking for a light lunch to sustain you along your adventure or a leisurely afternoon meal, Red Fish Grill can accommodate it all with its varied, seafood-focused menu.
“Chef Austin, our Executive Chef, has done a great job,” says Dwyre McComsey, General Manager. “He offers a variety of fresh fish – local, from the Gulf, anywhere from seven to 11 fresh varieties daily – and he grills the fish over a hickory wood fire.” The fish is then served with a choice of specialty sauce (Lemon Butter, Louisiana Citrus Glaze, Ginger Soy, etc.) and a locally sourced Covey Rise Farm vegetable of the day.
If grilled fish is too light a lunch for you, a top seller is the BBQ Oyster Poboy, which features flash-fried oysters tossed in a spicy Crystal BBQ sauce and topped with a housemade blue cheese dressing. The poor boy also comes dressed with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles and is accompanied by a creamy Creole potato salad. The poor boy was named “Best Seafood Po-boy” four years in a row at the Po-boy Festival, and is perhaps best washed down with a refreshing afternoon cocktail such as a Pimm’s Cup or the Red Fish Grill Lemonade.
While three meals a day may be your usual routine, a day in the French Quarter calls for numerous food and beverage stops, so why not stop in for a coffee at a New Orleans institution? Arnaud’s (813 Bienville St., 523-5433, ArnaudsRestaurant.com) famous Café Brûlot marries coffee and cocktail in a decadent, artful libation.
“Café Brûlot is a house specialty at Arnaud’s, and the pageantry of preparing the flaming dessert tableside makes for a grand finale to any meal,” says Co-Owner Katy Casbarian. “Founded in 1918 by French wine salesman, Arnaud Cazenave, the restaurant opened up right on the heels of Prohibition. It is said that Cazenave would serve libations in coffee cups to disguise the alcohol. Today, guests can openly enjoy this theatrical cocktail with hints of orange, clove and brandy.”
If the day is too warm for a flaming coffee, a refreshing French 75 is a staple of the restaurant and its bar by the same name. At the French 75 bar, the cocktail is made with cognac in lieu of gin, adding an “indulgent quality,” says Casbarian.
Red Fish Grill
With a little more time to spend shopping for gifts, NOLA Couture (528 Saint Peter St. (in the Upper Pontalba building), 875-3522, NolaCouture.com) makes for a colorful stop. Now in their fourth year in the French Quarter, NOLA Couture carries its signature New Orleans-inspired neckties, bowties, pocket squares, scarves, makeup bags, glassware, dog collars, men’s and women’s shirts and more.
“Our customers, whether they’re locals or visiting New Orleans, always love the New Orleans food prints, and when they see them for the first time they typically laugh and pull at least one off the tie wall while saying ‘I have to have this one,’” says Cecile Hardy Tanguis, Founder and Owner. For the guys, Tanguis recommends Oyster, Po-boy, Red Beans and Rice or Snoball ties with a corresponding pocket square. She suggests their vibrant, soft scarves for the ladies, which can be especially helpful on a cool spring night along the river.
NOLA Couture also offers a little something for dapper pups, bringing them fashionably into the season with a little seersucker. The Southern patterned bow-tie collars and matching leashes come in blue, pink, orange, green, grey and multi-color seersucker.
Festival season is in full swing, and NOLA Couture will be offering new seasonal items including what Tanguis calls “the perfect festival dress.”
“And, one of our favorite prints for festival season, which is a classic in our line, is our Second Line print, which you can find in all of our silk and ribbon items from ties to scarves to dog collars,” she says.
Now that you’re in festival-mode, stop by California Drawstrings, (812 Royal St., 523-1371, CaliforniaDrawstrings.com) which brings a little West Coast vibe to the French Quarter with its airy cotton, linen and silk fashions. Deemed “resort wear,” their lines could easily be called festival wear because of their light colors and lightness of weight. Founded by Linda Keenan in 1984, California Drawstrings has maintained its reputation as a go-to destination for spring and summer staples from brands such as Flax, Match Point, Banana Blue, Chalet, Color Me Cotton and Tommy Bahama, many of which are made in the USA. In addition to fashion, California Drawstrings also stocks an assortment of hats, handbags and jewelry.
“Spring is our busiest time of year, our peak season, so it’s a fun time to come into the store,” says Jade Peterson, Regional Manager. New this season, California Drawstrings welcomes the high-quality Italian linen line, Inizio.
“This is one of our first fitted linen lines – dresses, skirts, pants and tunic tops,” says Peterson. Linen is a top choice during the spring season for its light weight, and pants, dresses and shirts, fill the store in a variety light colors – whites, pastels, turquoise and coral.
When deciding what to do with your French Quarter evening, more food is at the top, and entertainment is probably just as obvious – so how about the theater? Dickie Brennan and Company’s partnership with Le Petite Théâtre du Vieux Carré marries food and performance on the edge of Jackson Square with Tableau restaurant (616 St. Peter St., 934-3463, TableauFrenchQuarter.com), located next door and connected to the famous historic theater.
“Whether having a dinner party in the rustic Wine Room, watching an afternoon second-line from the balcony over historic Jackson Square or having a glass of wine in the courtyard before a Sunday matinee at Le Petit, Tableau is quite possibly the most versatile restaurant in the French Quarter,” says Chris Esteve, Assistant General Manager.
The Cornstalk Hotel
According to Chef de Cuisine John Martin, Tableau has created a three-course pre-theatre menu for Le Petit patrons. Additionally, the restaurant features a courtyard concession program with artisanal versions of theatre classics, such as caramel corn.
At Tableau, the menu changes with the season. Chef John will be celebrating crawfish and citrus early in spring, and then it’s on to corn, tomatoes, okra and strawberries. If you’ve got crawfish on the mind, the Crawfish Au Gratin appetizer is a current favorite. Other top dishes include the Chicken Tableau (herb roasted chicken breast, crispy boneless thigh, potatoes Tableau, béarnaise and chicken demi-glace) and the Chocolate Almond Sundae (coconut sorbet, hot double-chocolate brownie, almond powder, salted caramel and Chantilly cream).
April at Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré (616 St. Peter St., 522-2081, LePetitTheatre.com) brings the French Quarter Film Festival (April 8-11), and a special performance by Marcia Ball presented by Dickie Brennan and Company on Friday, April 29, during the second weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Opening in late spring is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (May 20-June 5), which will bring numerous familiar faces to the historic New Orleans stage and backstage.
“This show will allow us to kick up our heels together in celebration of the close of Le Petit’s 99th Season,” says Katie Hallman, Managing Director. “It’s a truly joyful romp into the world of musical theater.”
Originally organized in 1916 (and based in its current location since ’22) Le Petit is one of the oldest community theatres in the country. One can sense its impact on Southern theater and feel the lasting legacy of the hundreds of actors, designers, directors and technicians that have contributed to 99 seasons of shows.
After a day of adventuring and a night of entertainment, why not retire with a romantic overnight stay in the neighborhood at one of its unique, alluring hotels? Known as one of the most iconic and photographed hotels in the French Quarter, The Cornstalk Hotel (915 Royal St., 523-1515, TheCornstalkHotel.com) has housed the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elvis and Bill and Hillary Clinton.
“In a neighborhood that’s already known for its architectural gems, The Cornstalk still stands out. With its castle turret, graceful balcony and of course the wrought iron cornstalk fence, the converted mansion is one of the most unique buildings in the Quarter,” says Janna Holderer, Director of Operations at NOLA Hospitality. “The entirety of the interior has maintained its Victorian décor with 14-foot ceilings, crystal chandeliers and period antiques throughout.”
In tandem with its Southern history and atmosphere, Southern hospitality is a distinguishing trait of the hotel. “There’s nothing more satisfying than having someone, whether they’re a first time visitor to New Orleans or a veteran traveler, tell us that our staff was the best part of their trip,” says Holderer. As a way to say thank you, The Cornstalk Hotel offers a 20 percent discount to all returning guests on future stays.
Obviously these are just a portion of the shops, galleries, restaurants and businesses that make the French Quarter the unequaled wonderland that it is. Hopefully now you feel inspired to spend a day between the river and Rampart Street, Canal Street and Esplanade Avenue, experiencing new sights and sounds with a little old-fashioned flavor and ambiance.