Category Archives: Louisiana

RIP Kansas’s Brookville Hotel, KCMO’s The Rieger and NOLA’s Cake Café – felled by the pandemic of 2020.

As a travel writer (and as a traveler), I seek out the places that feel emblematic of the place I’m visiting, with a storied history and local cuisine, with atmosphere, character and grit. Some of those places, sadly, have been felled by the pandemic as I learned in a NYTimes story yesterday. Oddly, we drove past The Rieger restaurant in Kansas City during a day trip there on Saturday and vowed to return once we can to eat at a place that not only had inventive food but allegedly a bathroom that gangster Al Capone once peed in. Sadly it is no more, as the NYTimes story reported. I had been to three of the nine restaurants mentioned in the story – including the Brookville Hotel in Abilene and the Cake Cafe in New Orleans.

End of an Era in Kansas

I first went to the Brookville Hotel – which specialized in fried chicken and biscuits – in the mid-1980s when I lived in Wichita. The 1.5 hour drive to the tiny worn town of Brookville was worth it, to eat in the old tumbledown hotel that was mostly (or maybe completely) a restaurant by that time. I took many a visitor there as well, since it was so evocative of old time Kansas. A lot of atmosphere was lost when the restaurant moved to a faux hotel recreation on the edge of Interstate 70 in Abilene but the chicken and biscuits were still great. Our memory is the wait staff only asked two questions: What kind of salad dressing do you want? What do you want to drink? Otherwise the order was chicken and biscuits.

I wandered into the Cake Cafe a few years ago while exploring the Marigny and Bywater districts. It was a cheerful alternative feeling coffee house, painted yellow on a quiet corner. Very cozy and they were advertising their NOLA-classic King Cakes with the little plastic baby in them.  I had only an orange juice, resisting the tempting pastries (which I now regret) and sat outside, back in the pre-pandemic days when you didn’t do this for your health and safety.

The pandemic has caused so much devastation – first and foremost, deaths and lasting health consequences for people, but also devastation to businesses and livelihoods, some that make a place distinctive. On a happier note, we did get carryout at two Kansas City classics that appear to be hanging in there — ribs from Gates BBQ and a chicken dinner with cinnamon buns (not biscuits) at Stroud’s. We need to remember to keep patronizing these places, helping them to survive.


Leave a comment

Filed under Kansas, Kansas City, Kansas misc, Louisiana, Missouri, New Orleans

Sunshine! More streetcars! A second Cafe du Monde, Cake Cafe and Crescent Park/Bywater,The Napolean House – NOLA

What a difference sunshine – and warmer temps – make! The city and river looked particularly lovely in the sun. And I was much more comfortable walking around. I even took off my light down coat instead of shivering inside it.

We followed yet another tip from an Uber driver (we used several Ubers and several drivers were eager to weigh in on where we should eat in particular) and went to the Cafe du Monde outpost in the outlet mall next to our hotel (The Hilton). Nowhere near the charming atmosphere of the original cafe in the French Quarter BUT the beignets and coffee au lait were idential and the inside-mall location improved when we discovered we could leave and eat outside at a table on the Riverwalk, overlooking the Mississippi.  I wanted to take the short ferry ride to Algiers Point, nearby, ($2 each way) but opted instead to use my Streetcar Pass from the day before which I discovered was valid for 24 hours — so good until 11:15 a.m. Wow!

I didn’t realize how many streetcars New Orleans has, beyond the most famous — The St. Charles Avenue line. I could have taken the Riverfront line to the French Quarter. But since I was trying to get further east to the Bywater neighborhood, I took the Canal Street Car north and then the Rampart Street car east which got me to the Faubourg Marigny neigborhood, one neighborhood west of Bywater and probably the place I’d like to stay next (or even live).  There seemed to be fewer Rampart Street cars but otherwise, all good. (I also could have taken a boring old bus.)

I walked for blocks and blocks around Bywater and Marigny, charmed (and sometimes amused) by the houses, many all tarted up.  I stopped for an orange juice and resisted eating the pastries (including small portions of King Cake) at the welcoming Cake Cafe in Marigny. I also enjoyed the new-ish Crescent Park in Bywater. My visit began by walking through what looked like a dreary industrial area and walking up and down the steep steps of a  huge rusted arch, above a railroad track.  I was rewarded by a completely different landscape — a riverfront with landscaped gardens and lovely views of downtown, shimmering in the river, off in the distance.

Dirck and I had a great lunch at Napoleon House yet another very atmospheric place (a 1798 building), full of character with crumbling walls, old portraits, worn wood tables, old-fashioned waiters and a lovely garden. The food was very good too – we shared half a muffuletta and sides of red beans and rice and jambalaya. Also had an excellent Pimm’s Cup. (My second one of trip. No ginger this time.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Louisiana, New Orleans

Streetcar day pass, Garden district, Stein’s deli, warehouse art galleries and museums (Elliot Green!!) Gabrielle’s- NOLA

Wish I had discovered the $3 day public transport pass earlier here. Then I wouldn’t have overdone it by walking miles and miles on Sunday. I bought a pass with cash on the St. Charles Streetcar and used it all day to wander around the city. When I got tired or when the walk to the next spot was too long, I hopped on a streetcar or bus. And I did my old trick of hopping aboard the streetcar when walking became an issue, riding all the way to the end of the line and back which is a great ride, past gorgeous stately homes and Tulane and Loyola Universities and Audubon Park and the gated streets across the street (Audubon Row).

I followed the Fodor’s walking tour in the Garden District, which took me past a number of beauties, some homes of famous folks, from the former confederate president Jefferson Davis to the actor John Goodman and the author Ann Rice. (Along Prytania and Coliseum Streets between Washington Avenue and First Street; First Street between Prytania and Camp Streets.)  I also went past  Lafayette Cemetery #1 which I meant to revisit (next trip) and Commanders Palace, where we ate during my first NOLA trip in the late 1980s. Lunch was a corned beef sandwich at the funky Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street, where I also did a little birthday shopping for my daughter at Grandma’s Buttons (jewelry made from old buttons) and Funky Monkey (vintage.) I really wanted to eat at Turkey and Wolf but it is closed on Tuesdays…

I got off the streetcar in the Warehouse District, had some hot chocolate (it’s still cold here but the sun finally came out around 3 p.m. What a difference!) while sitting in a mod comfortable chair in the coffee shop of the Contemporary Arts Center and browsed briefly in the gift shop of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (both look well worth a visit), which had some lovely work by, yes,  southern artists. But the biggest shock was when I was strolling casually past the galleries nearby on Julia Street. First I spotted new work by Eric Fischl, one of my favorite big name artists. But in the next gallery I chanced upon a solo show of work by an artist I know — Elliott Green, who I went to high school with my brother and is his close friend/former NYC roomate circa the early 1980s.  Crazy. And I loved his new work!

Yet another superb dinner. We were 4:4  this trip. Every dinner was not only delicious but distinctive from the other. Tonight we went to a cozy homey neighborhood place in Treme called Gabrielle’s, serving outstanding Cajun food — grey-colored she-crab bisque, quail gumbo (deep red-brown with slices of sausage),  baked oysters topped with bread crumbs, artichoke bits, cheese. We shared an entree that was a thin grilled blackened white fish draped over a thick moist crab cake. And dessert was traditional lemon chess pie. Enjoyed every bite. (Although our Uber driver chastised us for not trying char-grilled oysters at Drago’s, a famous suburban place that opened a second location in: Our Hotel…)


Leave a comment

Filed under arts festival, Louisiana, New Orleans, THE ARTS

Whitney Plantation (Wallace, LA), B and C Seafood (Vacherie, LA), Abita Springs/Mystery House, Coquette (NOLA)

Road trip day! I drove about an hour west to the Whitney Plantation. What a change from the plantations I’ve visited in the past. Since the late 1980s, I’ve visited three. The first one, Oak Alley, I think, was all Scarlett O’Hara, little to no mention of slavery. The second one, the Laura Plantation, seven years ago, was the rare woman-led plantation and slavery got a brief mention.

The Whitney Plantation, opened in 2014, is entirely about slavery, with moving memorials that list all “the enslaved” (our guide’s term) by name and include photos etched into memorial walls and quotes with gruesome memories recalled by elderly people who somehow managed to survive the brutality of being enslaved on a sugar cane plantation/factory. There is also an emphasis on children who were slaves, with poignant sculptures of kids who lived there. Each visitor gets a pass to wear with a specific child’s name, a photo of a sculpture of the child and a quote from the elderly person who was once that child. Clever touch and it had us all looking in the church and old worn shacks and the Big House (which had a more sinister vibe then other plantations I’ve toured) for our child. Apparently the other plantations have cleaned up their act a bit and now mention slavery more, although none to the extent that the Whitney does. I was reminded a bit of concentration camps I’ve been to in Europe.

Lunch was a bowl of hot gumbo at nearby B & C Seafoods on Vacherie, where I ate seven years ago with my London pals, Francine and Russ. Solid roadside joint with friendly servers and locals.

From there I drove about an hour north and east to tiny Abita Springs, to visit a small folk art/grassroots art place called the Abita Mystery House, an old gas station packed with entertaining clutter/“found objects” that make fun of Southern stuff (UFO reports, Mardi Gras parades, voodoo). Reminded me of the town of Lucas, the grassroots art capital of Kansas.

I drove around the narrow streets of the Bywater to see what’s going on there. Still a bit rough but gentrified in areas and lots of cleverly painted tiny shacks and cottages. I drove past the great music club, Vaughn’s and Bacchanal, the little hidden wine and cheese shop and bar.

Tonight we had dinner in the Garden District at Coquette. Another clever southern food spot. We had grilled shrimp, perfectly seasoned, plus remoulaude and gremolata. The beef short ribs were fattier than I like but deliciously seasoned. I ate dirck’s trout instead, which was covered with brussel sprouts, cauliflower and preserved kumquat. Lovely. Light and tasty.

The dessert was a stunner although it looked like a flop. (Or a tart I would bake.) It was advertised as a lemon tart but it was deconstructed so there was a puddle of lemon curd and another puddle of white whipped cream and a few little round cookies that served as crust, plus fresh satsumas and some green tart gremolata ice. It was full of unusual flavors that all worked remarkably well together. Dirck and I walked along Magazine street, window shopping and admiring the beautiful old buildings housing the shops. On a very chilly night (low 40s and overcast and windy all day, glad I brought my down coat), no one else was around.

Leave a comment

Filed under Louisiana, New Orleans, Uncategorized

Cafe du monde, central market, Compère Lapin, Frenchmen Street – NOLA

I finally got my bearings after finding my way out of this massive hotel and into the French Quarter. It was harder than you’d think but only the first few minutes because of the strange way the hotel entrance is situated plus construction everywhere. I ended up at first behind the hotel on the Mississippi riverfront, where an old fashioned cruise boat was parked.

Once I emerged from the walkway, I found Canal Street and walked away from the river north a few blocks and hung a right on Decatur Street. In a few minutes I was in The French Quarter, in Jackson Square, in St. Louis Cathedral, all of which were particularly clogged with tourists, many wearing Saints gear because there is a big football game here today, at another massive structure near our hotel, the Superdome.

I stood in a fast moving line outside Cafe Du Monde and sat happily in the small original space at a little table, sipping delicious cafe au lait and eating warm beignets drenched with fluffy white confectioners sugar. The place was packed and I was impressed with how quickly the servers in their paper caps got us all fed swiftly. I was glad I had a little cash since the place is cash only.

As I left the cafe, a brass band was playing “Oh when the saints” while bystanders in Saints shirts boogied and cheered. I do love the spirit of this city. I wandered further east, crossing Esplanade Avenue and glancing not too fondly at The Frenchmen Hotel, where we stayed 7 years ago. Not the best experience. Walking up Frenchmen Street to dip briefly into the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, I looked at the lineups listed at the music clubs, seeing famous names like Neville and Marsallas. Charmaine Neville is still singing at Snug Harbor, where we saw her in the late 1980s.

I tried to avoid Bourbon Street but had to cross it a few times to get to other streets like Royal, Chartres and Dauphine. As always, the architecture in the French quarter and Faubourg Marigny neighborhood is a charming eyeful. Brick mansions with elegant wrought iron balconies, small whimsically painted wood cottages, Creole plantation houses but I didn’t find the shops or galleries particularly interesting. What I liked best were the quiet residential streets, where the loveliness of the architecture and landscaping is not marred by tacky shops and loud bars.

Lunch was a “half” muffuletta at the wonderful old Italian grocery store where the sandwich was invented – Central Grocery. I didn’t realize before this visit that there is a counter at the back where you can sit and eat. I happily sat elbow to elbow with strangers, watching a football game on a TV (not the Saints) and eating one half of my half sandwich, which was enormous.

Dinner, by design, at Compere Lapin, was very different from last night’s. Warehouse district (a six minute walk from our hotel) rather than Uptown/Carrollton; large and lively exposed brick space, attached to a hipster hotel vs. small and intimate in an old house on a quiet street. And the food was sort of bizarre, but it generally worked. The chef is from St.Lucia so there is Caribbean influence (coconut milk, bananas) but mixed with New Orleans, French and Italian notes. The waitress talked us into getting a goat curry with Thai flavors, cashews and gnocchi made with sweet potatoes (but fortunately not sweet tasting ) that was superb and completely original. The black eyed peas were also unusually prepared, with bacon and crispy fried Onions.

The desert was really odd. A soursop (a tropical fruit) semi Freddo (sort of a small log of iced creamy stuff) with coconut and yogurt topped with crumbled white meringue and a peel of cucumber. It was light and refreshing and sort of sweet. We were less impressed with the tuna tartare, which I usually love. It was too slimy (prepared with a spicy chili oil, I think) and the much lauded conch croquettes were ok. We sat next to several parties of happy New Orleans Saints fans whose team had just won a big playoff game at the Superdome a stone’s throw away. We watched part of the game in the hotel bar which was fun but a friend reported that the scene was really crazy at another local bar and we saw plenty of drunk folks when we walked back to the hotel after dinner. Fun day, fun city.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Orleans, Uncategorized

Boucherie, Hilton Riverside — New Orleans

The last time I tried to fly to New Orleans, in 2012, it was a bright sunny day and my flight was delayed for hours and then cancelled. Mechanical problems. So I had a good feeling this morning when we woke up to a snowstorm in Iowa. And of course there are the uncertainties about flying, thanks to Trump’s partial government shut down. Sure enough, our flight took off with only a slight delay…for de-icing. And I made a point to thank the TSA agent in Des Moines for his service!

We are staying in a huge soulless hotel, the Hilton Riverside, because dirck is working at a conference at the convention center next door so the price is right (free). we did get a little glimpse and big taste of charming NOLA tonight when we returned to Boucherie, a great little restaurant in a small wood house on a side street in the Uptown/Carrollton neighborhood.

We had one of our best meals here seven years ago and were not disappointed …again. Char-grilled oysters with preserved lemons, duck confit, boudin balls with garlic aioli, smoke wagyu brisket with Parmesan fries, Blackened shrimp & grit cake, Krispy Kreme bread pudding. Yes, we are very full. And I got serious indigestion later. Dirck also tried sazerac, the classic powerful New Orleans cocktail, and I had a delicious Pimm’s cup (with citrus ,cucumber and ginger.)

Leave a comment

Filed under New Orleans

The latest restaurant picks for New Orleans

These from my stepdaughter Emma’s friend Jenny who lives in NOLA and knows her stuff! Thanks Emma and Jenny!

1. Gabrielle – (#1 on Eater’s Heat Map).  It’s OUTSTANDING – we had such an amazing meal here.  Word of warning – it’s like 1.5 blocks from where I live, aka it’s in a rather economically depressed area, so it’s not the most charming exterior or surroundings.  But it’s definitely a fine dining experience.
2. Bywater American Bistro – Nina Compton’s new restaurant – soft opening has been going on this week.  Chas is actually going to be server there! He’s said the food is amazing.  slated as one of the year’s bigger openings, it’ll be a trendy stop for all foodies.  it’s purposefully more casual so maybe lunch?
3. Compere Lapin – Nina Compton’s other restaurant – if they haven’t already dined there, it’s really, really good.
4. Toup’s (another Top Chef alum) – really good, very creative Cajun dining experience.  All I’ll say is …. bone marrow, from the bone, followed up with a whiskey shot taken through the bone, like a bone luge.  Yeah.  amazing.
5. Gautreau’s – great fine dining, tiny lil spot hidden in Uptown, very romantic.  we had a great meal.
6. Coquette – excellent beautifully plated food, chefs just got nominated for their first Beard Award – South region.  If they can’t squeeze it in for dinner, Coquette also does an outstanding brunch.
Also Couchon and Couchon Butcher is always a hit.  For brunch, I think Elizabeth’s in the Bywater is outstanding.  For a fun outdoors experience, Bacanal is awesome.  It’s basically a cheese and wine shop with a big back yard and live music.

Leave a comment

Filed under Louisiana, Uncategorized

Suggestions for taking kids to New Orleans and Plantations

My sister and her husband are going with their three kids to New Orleans over New Years so here’s some thoughts on things kids in particular might like or find interesting:Dining at the Camelia Grill in NOLA

– Near the Garden District, the famous Camelia Grill is a great place to get a burger or omelette smothered in chili, sitting at the curving counter watching the entertaining waiters. (see photo above) You can take the street car almost all the way there, I think, although the St. Charles line may still be under repair so you may have to transfer to a bus. Camelia Grill isn’t far from Tulane.

– Walk along Frenchmen Street at night to hear some live jazz (the kid are probably too young to get into the bars but there are often musicians playing on the street who sound just as good…to this untrained ear at least.) St. Louis Cemetery #1 ( think it’s #1) worth a trip as is French market and nearby Cafe Du Monde for beignets (touristy, yes, but for good reason.) For a look at the lingering devastation of Hurricane katrina, take a tour led by someone at (You’ll need to call ahead to book and have a car so the guide can drive you around.(504) 278-1240)

– For good neighborhood place famed for Cajun classics, try Mandinas (excellent gumbo and po-boys)…or Luizza’s By The Tracks (it was closed when we went due to a power outage but the owner pointed us to Mandinas nearby.) Both are out-of-the-way and you have to take a cab (so you may not want to do but does give you a feel for real life beyond the French Quarter or Garden District.

– In Plantation County, near the fabulous Laura Plantation is B&C Seafoods where you can try several local delicacies including an alligator burger or boudin balls (deep fried balls of a creamy sort of sausage.) You can also more familiar stuff like a crab cake with hush puppies. A great down home atmosphere. (see photo below) The kids will probably like Oak Alley Plantation perhaps better than Laura. Oak Alley is more touristy/with people dressed in period costume (hooped skirts) while Laura is more humble but gorgeous and tour is more focused on history and realities like slavery, from what I recall.Dining in Plantation country

Leave a comment

Filed under Louisiana, New Orleans

Possible hotels for next trip to New Orleans

The Soniat HouseWe won’t be staying at the Frenchmen Hotel again in New Orleans – it has its charms but was too noisy, too disorganized (we’re still trying to sort out our final bill), and too uneven in terms of the quality of the rooms and especially the beds, particularly the sofabed. But I did get some ideas for our next visit if we stay in the French Quarter including: The Hotel Royal, The Soniat House Hotel  and we’d gladly return to The Provincial Hotel (where we spent our last night.) I’d still prefer to stay in Uptown or the Garden District – which was our original plan until Hurricane Isaac knocked the b&b where we were booked – Chez Ellie Marie – out of commission. Next time! (Ellie Marie is right by two restaurants we really liked – Boucherie and Camelia Grill.


Leave a comment

Filed under New Orleans

Scenes from the Swamp – Breaux Bridge/Lake Martin Louisiana

Swamp tour guide extraordinaire, Norbert LeBlanc on Lake Martin, La. Oct. 2012

A week ago I was cruising slowly through a swamp with two friends from England, a young Morrocan-born woman living in Paris and a gregarious alligator hunter/swamp tour operator named Norbert LeBlanc. I highly recommend his swamp tour – which lasted about two hours and cost a very reasonable $20 per person. Here’s Norbert giving his tour in french (ours was mostly English);

Here’s some more scenes:

Norbert serving his own personal label of Moonshine en route.

The view from the boat: cypress and tupelo gum trees dripping with spanish moss, alligators and turtles lounging on logs in the water, elegant blue herons and white egrets

Leave a comment

Filed under Louisiana