For corresponding photos click here.
It’d occurred to me that whilst here, and for all the amazing local foods I’d eaten, in so many casual, varied places I’d not yet been to a traditional American diner / breakfast grill. So my first stop yesterday was…The Grill!
It was rated as the best of its kind in the city, and is something of a local legend, located right in the heart of the French quarter, just over from Jackson Square. The place was a true American Breakfast joint, hectic, fast moving, and like stepping into the 1960’s – but without the chintzy chrome and vinyl seating.
Instead all seating at the Grill is set around two curved bars, with the servers / busboys stationed in the centre of each. This makes for a very efficient, fast paced experience – the server simply yelling out your order to the kitchen, and them scribbling your order on a paper slip for the cashier. It’s classic American diner fare – pancakes, omelettes, hash browns, sandwiches and pecan pie and was exactly the experience I was looking to tick off for this trip. Whilst the food isn't my favourite – you go for the experience, it was cheap, and fast.
I had pancakes and bacon – which cakes with a traditional jug of maple syrup. And another jug of a bright yellow syrup. What could it be I wondered? Lemon curd? Citrus syrup? Honey? Agave? Nope. It’s butter. Liquid, pourable butter. I posted a video of it to Social Media and lots of people were like “eew yuck” but to be honest, it was delicious, and makes perfect sense. It was just butter, and is no different than letting a pat of butter melt. So I don’t get why people are such a babies about this stuff. Plus you get better control over the pour, so probably end up using less than you would if you put pats of butter on.
My main mission for the day was to head across to the Arts/ Warehouse district – which is just past downtown – to the Ogden Gallery of Southern Art. My Air BnB hosts recommended it to me and their tips so far have been right on the money. The museum, as the name suggests, is a gallery dedicated purely to Artists and pieces relating to the Southern States – with a strong emphasis on folk and craft. When I went to NOMA, my favourite exhibit was the local collection, by NOLA artists, I really loved the energy, quirkiness, brightness and history behind the pieces – so it made the Ogden a must-do.
The gallery was easy to find, set just across the road from the National WWII museum – it’s ranked super high as a must-see – and it’s bloody huge, looking like a couple of big grey war ships parked in the neighbourhood – but I have decided to skip this one. The scale and business of it, with huge groups of American ‘veterans’ in full uniform walking around the area, and not enough interest in the subject (or more, should I say, the American pov on the subject, which I know this will be), to make my admission worthwhile. I know the scale of it will only make me grumpy and tired – and it’s good to know and acknowledged your personal limits, y’know!? Though I know my Dad will be disappointed.
But the Ogden, well it was wonderful, and I’m so glad I heard about it and made it. The collections were varied and engaging and the layout lovely and digestible. Which is something I’ve appreciated about both galleries I’ve visited in NOLA. The South really does have such a unique culture and perspective, and it makes for a very distinct style of art. Very bold, bright and great at social commentary, often with a sense of humour. The folk / arts and craft side of things is also wonderful with use of glass, ceramics and textiles everywhere. I saw some particularly great collages too. There was also some great photography on display and I discovered a couple of new photographers who I adore and depict exactly the subject I like – the mundane, quirky, and wry slices of everyday life and Americana.
And I’m not ashamed to admit that a favourite part of any nice gallery, is the gift shop – the perfect storm of design based products, books, and stationery. This one did not disappoint and I picked up a print and a book whilst I was in there.
Just across the road was the Centre for Contemporary Arts, which is typically for theatre performances, but their own design / bookshop beckoned me across the road. The centre is housed in what seems to be a huge old warehouse, which has been renovated. But wow, I had no idea of the building that lay inside. As you enter, the building has been completely opened up, floor plates removed, and you can look up all four storeys to the roof. However the original timber beams remain in place and cut across the air above you. The rest of the building has been retro fitted with facilities, and performance areas – but the way they have handled the building was quite breathtaking and such an incredible example of modern architecture blending with the old, and was an architectural highlight of this visit. Which is something completely wonderful and unexpected.
There were lots of cool things going on in the warehouse district – renovated old buildings housing interesting shops, cafes and businesses. All in old brick buildings with great original murals on the side. Wide, cobbled, streets. Not a New Orleans that even gets mentioned or listed as a feature, but somewhere I really appreciated and loved exploring on my bike.
With my time here running out, it was time to embark on some chainstore retail activity. Not very cultural, but I do love a Sephora and it’s something we don’t have at home. A visit there is always a splurge of any trip to the US, because they have brands and products I can’t get / won’t ship to NZ so is worth stocking up.
An hour and a significant dent in the cashflow later, as I was leaving, our daily torrential thunderstorm hit, so I ducked across the road to the Crescent City Brewhouse, which fortunately was just across the road on the edge of the Quarter, and took shelter in the arms of a nice cool IPA.
I’d never heard of NOLA being called the Crescent City before I came here, but it’s a lovely name and one that gets used all the time by locals, on the radio and the likes (WWOZ is the local jazz station here and I love it. I listen to it non stop when I’m at home and will do when I get back to NZ too. It’s an incredible station with such a good mix).
The Crescent City. The Great City,