I was not quite sure what to expect going to French Quarter Fest, a jazz and food festival in New Orleans taking place April 6-9. Of course I had seen Princess and the Frog, but I know Disney is not always the best source for accurate information (@Pocahontas). When I arrived, I realized the architecture and sense of energy depicted in the film was representative of the city. Most buildings in the French Quarter of New Orleans had galleries (cast iron balconies) and were painted in various colors, ranging from pink to green. It may have been because it was French Quarter Fest, but I feel as though every street we went down had at least one band or singer. Most were performing jazz, gospel, or blues.
Throughout my trip, I was in a constant food coma. With a delectable mix of Spanish, French, Cajun, and Italian culture permeating the city’s food scene, there were endless opportunities, and, of course, I had to try them all. There were many seafood options that we do not have in Richmond, including alligator, turtle, and various gulf fish. I was honestly quite surprised when food stands had items like alligator sausage or fried alligator tail (similar to chicken nuggets) that were made from real alligator meat! I tried both alligator boudin balls at Red Fish (fried pockets filled with alligator, rice, and spices) as well as fried alligator tail. I was skeptical that it would be chewy and taste swampy, but to my surprise both dishes were delicious.
While we missed Crawfest, a crawfish and music festival at Tulane University, by one week, at nearly every restaurant there was at least one dish with crawfish in it. My favorite was without a doubt boiled crawfish. Drenched in Zatarain’s spice and still steamy as it reached the table, it was perfection. Other family favorites were sweet potato cookies from the French Market and beignets from Café Du Monde—fried square doughnuts drowning in powdered sugar. We woke up early Friday morning to get in line at Café Du Monde, famous for their coffee and beignets, with high hopes that were met by the soft and sweet beignets and chicory coffee. We were glad we arrived around nine in the morning, because by the time we finished our food around 9:30, the take-out and eat-in lines both wound down the block.
To take a relaxing break from the festival, we took a streetcar through the Garden District, an area of mansions and parks. The streetcars in New Orleans are the oldest continuously operating railways system in the world. The houses in the Garden District had grand entrances with professionally tended gardens, giving the area an extravagant feel. Nearby was Audubon Park, a large green space right outside New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo and near popular universities Tulane and Loyola of New Orleans. Right as we entered, we saw a sign that warned for alligators, so, of course, I did the next most logical thing and went looking for alligators. Equipped with years of watching Steve Irwin: Crocodile Hunter, I knew I was ready. This was my time to shine. I was going to make an alligator friend. To my disappointment, we saw no alligators, but we did see a cute turtle, so I guess that makes up for it. Sort of.
On Saturday, it was impossible to move through the streets at a reasonable pace. Every place there was a street performer or a musician, there was also a crowd of people. While walking along the Mississippi River near the bigger stages set up for the festival, we spent about an hour trying to walk a one mile stretch. With the crowds came more and more independent performers whose music was often times better than the bands who played on the big stages. On our way to breakfast, there was a man outside a cafe on Royal Street who sang gospel music with an angelic and raspy voice, and at lunch there was a band outside the French Market playing blues music with unconventional items, such as suitcases. The streets were also scattered with palm readers and fortune tellers, artists, “spontaneous poetry” writers, and food vendors. Though I was too nervous to get my palm read (we all know how that wound up in Princess and the Frog), it was great to listen to others learn their future.
With the liveliness of the festival and the friendly demeanor of everyone we met, I will definitely return to New Orleans. Even though we were out and about all day Friday and Saturday trying to see and eat as much as we could, there were still so many places we did not get to see, such as the World War II Museum and taking a riverboat down the Mississippi. New Orleans is a city with endless activities, sights, and snacks; there is never a dull moment.
All photos by Elizabeth Murphy.