I recently spent some time exploring historic Gretna, a fascinating, somewhat mysterious city on the West Bank (technically east of New Orleans but that’s another story). Like Uptown New Orleans, where I live, Old Gretna is loaded with historic homes in quaint neighborhoods that hug the Mississippi River. The primary centers of commerce are dotted with quaint shops, restaurants, and cafes.
According to the City of Gretna website Mechanikham (Old Gretna) was established in 1836 when wealthy landowner Nicholas Noel Destrehan hired surveyor Benjamin Buisson to divide his long and narrow swath of land on the river into lots. Buisson’s original symmetrical plan created a two-block-wide settlement with Huey P. Long Avenue (originally Copernicus Avenue) at the center and one street on either side (now Newton and Weyer streets). Mechanikham quickly became home to many German immigrants who played a vital role in the city’s development and whose descendants became some of Gretna’s most prominent citizens.
This weekend (Friday-Sunday) marks the 25th anniversary of the Gretna Heritage Festival (gretnafest.com). Encompassing 25 city blocks, the festival promotes and supports Gretna businesses and organizations though music, carnival rides, arts and crafts, food booths, cultural pavilions (including an Italian Village, the German Beer Garden and, brand new this year, the Latino Village, featuring Latin music, and food) and a classic car show.
This year’s headlining music performers include Rick Springfield, KC and the Sunshine Band, Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, Foundation of Funk, The Wallflowers, and Better Than Ezra. Single day tickets are $25 at gate, a three-day Weekend Pass is $60, a Saturday and Sunday Pass is $40; VIP passes are $400, and $5 Same-Day Re-entry arm bands are available at the gate.
When you visit Old Gretna check out Cafe 615 at Da Wabbit (615 Kepler, St., Gretna, 366.1225, cafe615.com). Opened in 1948 as a drive-in diner, the popular spot is easily identifiable by its original, iconic Bugs Bunny-themed neon sign. Since 2004, the restaurant, a hugely popular spot for lunch and on weekends, has been owned and operated by Eric and Dawn Savoie, who run the kitchen and front of the house, respectively.
Hearty, fresh, abundant daily plate lunch specials range from red beans and rice with smoked sausage or pork chop on Mondays for $10, to white beans and rice with smothered rabbit for $12 on Thursdays, and shrimp stew with two pieces of fish and potato salad for $12. I am a connoisseur of fried chicken and I have never encountered one finer than that at Da Wabbit. Kept juicy on the inside by a long soak in brine then battered and cooked until hot, golden and shaggy on the outside, $14 will score you half of a bird served atop buttered toast with a choice of two fresh sides.
A few blocks away on Huey Long Avenue, Amore (307 Huey P. Long Ave., Gretna, 322.2122, facebook.com/Amorebakeryandcafe) is an absolutely gorgeous bakery and cafe featuring decadent hand-crafted cakes, pastries, gelato, and breakfast and luncheon specials from Pastry Chef Sage Spicuzza, 27, who has operated the business with her mother, Bonnie Pecot, and her sister, Calli Boullosa, since late 2016. Spicuzza makes the spectacular array of Italian and French pastries, including buttery croissants, Danishes, flaky Napoleons, beignets and zeppoles. She graduated from Delgado’s culinary program in 2013. She worked afterward at Angelo Brocato’s and the Hotel Monteleone.
Recent specials included a triple decker sandwich with roast beef, smoked turkey, Chisesi ham, and lettuce, tomato, mayo on toasted sourdough bread; and a corn and crawfish bisque. There is also a full case of ices and gelato from Angelo Brocato. The cafe uses coffee from the local roaster Coast Roast.
Pecot is an enthusiastic decorator who lavishes her passion upon both the interior and exterior of Amore for all major holidays. The elegant space is currently decked out with a not-to-be-missed display for Halloween.
On October 12 historic Gretna will host a Citywide Yard Sale (information at gretnala.com) from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. Residents in the historic neighborhood will sell their wares from their porches, garages and patios, businesses will offer special items for sale.
The city also holds a Farmers’ Market every Saturday from 8:30-12:30 on Huey P. Long Avenue between 3rd and 4th streets.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Use it to celebrate the people and the community you love.