The oldest scam in the Quarter is for a local to approach a tourist and say, "I'll betcha' five dollars I can tell you where you got your shoes at." If the gullible tourist accepts the bet, the answer is invariably, "You got yo' shoes on your feet on Bourbon Street. Now gimme five dollars!" Woe be unto any tourist who doesn't pay up for losing that bet.
So what about the foodie who wants to visit New Orleans but isn't interested in the hustle and bustle of the touristy Quarter? I recently took a three-day trip to New Orleans and can tell you I never had my feet on Bourbon Street, but that doesn't mean I didn't have a hell of a trip. Here's how you can retrace my steps.
First, the hotel. In a city that's full of charming old establishments, it may surprise you to find out that I actually stayed in one of the newer properties in town. Remember the fourth thing that I told you that I liked? That's right, I took advantage of a bargain gambler's rate and stayed at the hotel at Harrah's Casino. Before you jump down my throat over that choice, remember that it's location, location, location. Harrah's is right at the foot of Canal Street on a streetcar line, within walking distance of the river, the Central Business District, the Quarter (if you do choose to go there) and many, many great eating and drinking opportunities.
As a matter of fact, within the casino and the hotel complex there are eight different dining options from the most casual buffet to the traditional businessman's favorite, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. A highlight of the property is the addition of a new steakhouse opened by celebrity chef and New Orleans favorite, John Besh. As always, Chef Besh's menu was inventive, but you'd better get lucky at the tables to pay for it. The comfortable, relatively affordable rooms at Harrah's can help to ease the stinging pain in your wallet region. While not as charming as some of the older boutique hotels in the Quarter, at least you don't have to play "amenity roulette," where you don't know at time of booking whether you have a suite or a broom closet. Plus, Harrah's has one-third less ghosts.
If you're looking to escape the atmosphere of the casino and the ringing of the slot machines, right across the street from Harrah's is the ultra-swanky Whiskey Blue bar in the W Hotel. Created by ultra-lounge impresario Rande Gerber, Whiskey Blue creates an oasis of cool in the midst of the heat and squalor of a New Orleans summer. The cocktails were top-shelf, the pours were long and the skirts were short, so you can see why this is a popular spot with CBD professionals.
Even with softly pulsing lounge music filling the lobby and the bar, the atmosphere was comfortable and the conversation was lively. Emphasizing the use of local, seasonal and organic ingredients whenever possible, the bar menu at Loa reads like a prop list from a Tennessee Williams play. Just remember to leave before the third act is over or you may not be able to find your way back to your hotel.
I won't taunt you again with the story of my meal at Donald Link's Calcasieu, but I will remind you that it and its sister restaurants Cochon and Butcher are both within a five-minute stroll of all of these bars. Butcher is the most casual of the three, where you can find affordable dishes and high-end sandwiches made with the results of Chef Link's amazing charcuterie talents. Reservations are not necessary at Butcher, but it wouldn't hurt to call ahead. And if you want to visit Cochon, it wouldn't hurt to have already called last week.
New Orleans is an easy city to visit from Nashville. A cheap, short flight on Southwest, a good day's drive through the heart of SEC football territory, or even an Amtrak train trip from Memphis or Birmingham will get you there after enough time to work up a good appetite and a powerful thirst. Check your calendar for a Titans away game weekend and treat yourself to a great time!
Harrah's Hotel and Casino
365 Canal St.
333 Poydras St.
520 Capdeville St.
221 Camp St.
930 Tchoupitoulas St.