Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How many restaurants are in New Orleans?

Governor Nicholls Street, New Orleans, LA
Admit it, you were expecting me to open with a picture of a restaurant.  Regular readers, like our guests, know that we don't do things the way we're supposed to.  I'm from Connecticut originally, so I'm a contrarian, besides, New Orleans is all about delightful surprises.  You never know what you'll find when you turn a corner.  I took that picture with my phone the other day while I was walking our dog around the neighborhood.  The dog is not allowed in the inn.

Governor Nicholls Street is two blocks behind Esplanade Avenue in the 6th Ward.  The house in the picture, and the truck, are between North Rocheblave and North Dorgenois Streets.  The house is behind St. Luke's Episcopal Church, which used to be the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the oldest Greek Orthodox church in America.  The Greek Orthodox church is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.  The new Catherdral is located on St. Bernard Avenue, way up in Lakeview on the shores of Bayou St. John.  

Every story is a tangled skein in New Orleans.  Talk to me long enough over breakfast and you might feel hopelessly lost in the thicket of details, but then, all of a sudden, the story will become clear, like an epiphany.  That's what it's like to spend time in New Orleans.  It's like coming out of a corn maze.
St. Roch Market, New Orleans, LA
The St. Roch Market is located in the St. Roch neighborhood, which is home to the St. Roch Cemetery and the St. Roch National Shrine.  I'm sure I've written about the cemetery in an earlier post, so I won't bore with the same information here.  If you want to learn more, you'll have to trawl through our archives.  You can waste a lot of time there.  There is talk of putting a restaurant in the St. Roch Market Building.  It's just been renovated.  The city, which owns it, did a beautiful job.

I recently read that there are 1400 restaurants in New Orleans.  That isn't technically true.  It sounds more impressive that way, but it's more accurate to say that there are 1400 restaurants in the New Orleans Metropolitan Statistical Area as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.  The NOMSA includes such places as Slidell, Covington, and Mandeville, LA, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain, as well as all the restaurants in Jefferson Parish, St. Bernard Parish, Plaquemines Parish, and St. Charles Parish on this side of the lake (though not necessarily on this side of the Mississippi River).  Didn't I just say that things are complicated here?  

You probably aren't going to go to any of those places.  We don't recommend them.  We rarely go there, either, unless we're forced to by some unpalatable errand that takes us outside of the city.  There's no sprawl like suburban sprawl.  Outside New Orleans, all the dry land is thick with strip malls and chain stores.  We like where we live.

Frau Schmitt likes to say that there are about 800 restaurants in New Orleans proper.  She just started saying this, and she is usually right about these things.  I haven't asked her where she got the 800 number, but, knowing her, it must have been a reliable source.  Otherwise, she wouldn't say it.  She is a stickler for accuracy.  

I prefer to say there are a little more than 600 restaurants, which is what Frau Schmitt used to say.  She hasn't corrected me yet, so I don't know which one of us is right.  It's probably somewhere in the middle.
Sweets of the Southern Wild
Once a week or so, we like to serve buttermilk drops from the Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Cafe on North Dorgenois Street in the 7th Ward, a few blocks from our house.  The owner is Dwight Henry, an Oscar-nominated actor who was a baker before he was an actor.  I read an article about him in the newspaper recently and he said that he can't hand down his film career to his children, but he can hand down his bakery.  That's why he keeps at it.

I was at Rouse's Supermarket the other morning and saw that he's selling his buttermilk drops in the supermarket.  A buttermilk drop is a local kind of donut.  They're delicious.

Sometimes, before arriving, people ask us for a list of restaurant recommendations.  There are about 600 restaurants in New Orleans, a city of about 340,000 people.  It's hard to make recommendations to people we've never met, about whom we know nothing but their names. I tell them, via email, about the restaurants in our neighborhood.  If you're going to stay on Esplanade Avenue, you should sample some of the culture and cuisine in this part of the city.  You're going to go the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street and there are plenty of places to eat there.  It's hard to have a bad meal in New Orleans.  We don't really talk about places Uptown or on Magazine Street unless we already know you're headed in that direction.  If you are, we've eaten at over 250 restaurants so far, as of this writing.  That's a lot of dining rooms to keep straight in our memories, but we manage.

We recently had a couple stay with us for five nights.  They ate at a few of the restaurants they read about in guide books: Lilette, Coquette, Flaming Torch, Herbsaint, Bayona, Emeril's, Commander's Palace... those kind of places.  I asked them where their favorite meal was.  They thought about it awhile and then they replied, "Lola's was probably the best meal we had here.  Everyone was so friendly and the food was delicious."  Lola's is just up the street from us, toward City Park.  It's the only place open on Mondays this time of year.  It's open for a good reason.  It's for the locals.  They are also open for you.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Good food in New Orleans

Ponce de Leon Street, New Orleans
I'm going to pull the curtain aside for a moment and let you in on a little secret that I let slip this morning to one of our guests.  Most of these blog posts are written a few weeks in advance.  I have a file I pick and choose from when it's time for an update.  Unlike some B&Bs, we don't hire a PR firm or professional writer to handle our image.  For the most part, it's just Frau Schmitt and your humble narrator, and Tammie the Housekeeper, of course.
Tammie the Housekeeper
Today, though, apropos of some recent correspondence, I felt I should break my regular schedule to share something a recent guest sent us about their stay.  This post is fresh.

Before I share that, however, we recently had a guest stay with us who is also named Tammy.  Her name, of course, is a homophone of our Tammie the Housekeeper's name; it sounds the same but it's spelled differently.  Tammy the Guest didn't smoke a pipe, but when people at the next table heard us address her, they couldn't help but ask me in a stage whisper: "Is that Tammie the Housekeeper??!!?"  Nope.  Tammie the Housekeeper showed up later that day, though, to the delight of everyone who met her.

Tammy the Guest said that she went to Orleans Seafood on North Claiborne Avenue, a few blocks from our house.  We didn't recommend it, but we would have if we had known she was thinking about it.  Orleans Seafood only has two reviews on Urban Spoon.  It's that kind of place.  I agree with the first review, it the kind of place that's "not for Cajuns from somewhere else."  I couldn't have said it better myself.

So what did our guest from the Berkshires write to us?  This:

Matthew, thanks again for a wonderful stay. When we awoke at home this morning we were disappointed that we couldn't walk downstairs to share yesterday's adventures, so I thought I'd share this post. As usual, Melanie was right, the hidden gardens were something special. We walked your lovely neighborhood one last time and stumbled into a passing parade. Truly the best send off we could ask for. Our last bites, sinfully delicious fried chicken at Dizzys. Our memories will linger.

I could take some lessons in poetic brevity, don't you think?  That last bit could almost be haiku:

Our last bites,
Sinfully delicious
Fried chicken at Dizzy's.
Our memories will linger

Almost.  I didn't say it was perfect haiku.  I can never remember how many syllables are supposed to be in each line. 

Li'l Dizzy's is also a few blocks away from us, on the corner of North Robertson Street and Esplanade Avenue, one block after crossing North Claiborne Avenue heading toward the French Quarter.  Li'l Dizzy's has 33 reviews on Urban Spoon

What I find most interesting is that neither of these places appears to have their own website.  They don't need one.  People who need to know about them, know about these places.  A person's got to eat, after all.  
Use your melon
I like this painting so much, I'm thinking about asking a local painter we know to make one similar to it to hang in one of our suites.  We're expanding the art collection at our inn.  We're always trying to make our surroundings more interesting.

We're always tickled to get correspondence.  Keep those cards and letters coming.  What will the next post be about?  I can't say I don't know because I told you at the beginning of this one that it's already written.  I'll tell you this much: it will be interesting.  At least one of us will think it is.

Until then,
A votre santé,

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What's it like to stay in a B&B?

A small view of our breakfast buffet
People who stay with us sometimes ask beforehand how we compare to other B&Bs in New Orleans, or other B&Bs elsewhere. I've gotta be honest: we don't know.  

The bed and breakfast industry is made up of small owner-occupied-and-managed eccentrically individual inns, each with its own personality.  No two are alike.  I read a lot of reviews in my line of work.  

If you're planning to stay in a B&B, you should read a lot of reviews, too.  Individually, the reviews don't tell you much.  Every place is great!  Read enough of them, and you can discern a pattern of what each place offers, though.  Sometimes, the bed and the sheets set a place apart.  If that's important to you, stay there.  Sometimes, it's the breakfast.  Sometimes, most of the time, it's the hosts.  Good hosts make good company the way good guests make good company.  If a B&B has a dead blog, it's probably running on a chain hotel resting on its reputation or its brand.

As of this writing, we have 132 reviews on Trip Advisor.  That's pretty respectable for being open only two years (October 2014 marks our entry into our third year of being open for business).  I look at other New Orleans B&Bs and see that some have over 300 or 500 or 600 reviews and I think, "Boy, we're still pretty green."  Then I see that those 600 reviews go back more than ten years.  I guess 132 reviews in two years is pretty impressive.  We're still green, but that only means we're still enthusiastic about our profession.  We love what we do.

I'm waiting for somebody to rate us "Terrible."  No stars.  "La Belle Esplanade sucks."  We don't serve dry cereal for breakfast.  No Kellogg's Raisin Bran.  Nobody eats it and we end up throwing it away.  And, we don't offer other things we don't advertise.  No hot tub.  There's no ADA compliant ramp to the front door of our historic district mansion.  The city won't let us install one.  There's no elevator to the second floor.  There aren't any grab bars in the antique claw foot tub.  We don't serve breakfast in bed.  You have to come get breakfast yourself and take it to your suite yourself.  (We don't mind if you do.)  We don't offer in-house dry cleaning, though we do have coin-operated laundry facilities on the premises.  

We have tried to anticipate every need but we can't anticipate every contingency or flight of imaginative fancy.  If you ever have a question about what we offer, please ask in advance.  We sometimes serve sausage for breakfast.  If a guest chooses to tell us they are vegetarian for the first time when they sit down for breakfast as we are putting an artfully arranged sausage plate in front of them, we apologize for not knowing this in advance, but, really, how could we?  Most people aren't vegetarian and most people are happy with what we serve.  We do scramble to serve something different, and special, for that person the next day.

It's going to happen some day.  The 1*, one-star, poor-service, crummy inn, review is coming, like a buzzard that circles a fat calf in a field hoping it trips and can't run away.  Easy pickings.  Somebody is going to complain that we didn't accommodate them in some way, and they won't tell us while they're here, and we won't know how we could make their visit to New Orleans better until we read that dreaded review online, after the fact, posted for all the world to see.  Ha-ha!

I can't say that I stay up at night wondering how I'll respond to that review when it comes, but I know it's coming.  I'm sure it's going to be a doozy.  If you are reading this blog before you stay with us, don't be that person.  We do whatever we can to make you feel at home.  It's our home, too, after all.  Happiness loves fellow company.  If you have a request, make it known.  We'll go out of our way.  I'm going to buy a pint of skim milk tomorrow morning, after all, fully aware that most of that pint will be tossed in the trash come Monday trash day.
Use your melon
We went to Cowbell the other day.  It's a hamburger shack on the outskirts of the Riverbend, in Carrollton, at the farthest boundary of New Orleans proper, where New Orleans ends and Jefferson Parish, suburban sprawl, begins.  We probably won't have many guests who ask us about it.  It's not easy to get to.  It's worth a visit, though.  We went there twice, two days in a row, and your humble narrator isn't even much of a hamburger fan.  We went the second day to sample the vegetarian burger.  It was worth recommending.  In fact, we were talking to somebody yesterday, a vegetarian, and Frau Schmitt said, "You need to try the vegan Cowbell burger at Cowbell."  She's usually right about these things and she was this time, too.  That's the way most conversations go in our house. 

Cowbell is a quirky place.  It's got some nice original artwork in there, like the "Use Ya Melon" painting.  All the food and the cocktails are good.  Yes, cocktails for lunch.  This is New Orleans.

If you're looking for a B&B that has hosts who travel hither and yon throughout their fair city looking for the best that New Orleans has to offer, convenient or not, I have a place to recommend.  Is it like other New Orleans B&Bs?  We don't know.  I suppose they're all good.  That's what most of the reviews on Trip Advisor say, anyway.  It all depends on what you expect.  When you don't plan too much, you'll never be disappointed.  Be careful what you wish might be ready for it, and then you, too, will fall in love with this magical city we call home.
Morning in New Orleans
That's the view I had when I was buying bread yesterday morning before any of our guests were awake.

You make your choice and you take your chances.  

We look forward to meeting you.

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.
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