New Orleans Day 1: So Long Pittsburgh, Hello Big Easy

Our trip got off to an auspicious start when, halfway through our drive to the airport, ice began falling from the sky. It was a brisk 29 degrees out with a delightful wintry mix on deck for pretty much the entire day.

We made it to the airport and managed to avoid the worst of the approaching storm. After making it through security in record time, we decided to kick off our trip the right way by visiting Michael Symon’s Bar Symon restaurant. If you’ve never been to the Cleveland area (or the Pittsburgh airport), Michael Symon’s food is delicious. Fries topped with bacon and a cheddar gravy? Yes, please.

Looking back on it, I am still amazed we managed to leave Pittsburgh that morning. With only a short delay while our plane was de-iced, we were off.

Due to the de-icing, we were about 20 minutes late getting in to Charlotte. We only had about an hour between flights, so we booked it to our connection, which was about as far on the opposite side of the airport as it could possibly be. We met Kathleen’s parents (hereinafter referred to as MIL and FIL) at the gate and had an uneventful flight to New Orleans.

After collecting our bags, we headed to the airport shuttle service window and arranged our transit to the hotel. We were also able to arrange for our transport back to the airport from the cruise terminal at the same time, which was nice, as you get a discount if you book the shuttle roundtrip.

We stayed at the Hotel Provincial on Chartres Street toward the end of the French Quarter, a couple blocks from the French Market. The hotel was fantastic and I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants a French Quarter experience. Plantation shutters, wrought iron verandas, just a ton of charm. One small caveat: Our room faced the street and it got pretty noisy as the week went on and the partiers came out in force. I did enjoy hearing the horses go clopping by every half hour or so though.

Outside the Hotel Provincial in New Orleans, LA
The Hotel Provincial, decked out for the season.

After getting settled in our rooms we decided to find dinner, as we hadn’t eaten since Bar Symon earlier that morning. We decided to walk over to the New Orleans institution, the Acme Oyster House.

I should probably note here that this trip, while incredibly fun, was very touristy. I was the only one of the four of us who’d been to New Orleans before, so we spent a lot of time in the Quarter doing touristy things. So if you’re looking for hidden gems or where the locals hang out, this isn’t the review for you.

That being said, the Acme Oyster House is justifiably famous. Kathleen and I love Cajun food—so much so that we make gumbo on Thanksgiving and we regularly make things like barbeque shrimp and crawfish etouffe. The food at Acme blew us away, especially the char-grilled oysters in garlic butter sauce. It is not an exaggeration when I say that it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.

Grilled oysters at Acme Oyster House in New Orleans, LA
World famous, mind-boggling Acme oysters!

After dinner, we took our first walk down Bourbon Street. There was a fantastic brass band playing right outside Acme and we stopped to listen for a while. There is no shortage of excellent street performers in New Orleans, but my favorite was that brass band that set up shop at Iberville and Bourbon.

Our leisurely stroll took us to another of my favorite New Orleans haunts, Pat O’Brien’s. As it was a Tuesday night, the place wasn’t packed, so we nabbed a table for four in the piano bar and ordered our first round of hurricanes. These puppies may taste fruity and delicious, but they definitely pack a punch. MIL and FIL aren’t big drinkers, but one hurricane got them more giggly and in the mood for drunken singing than I’d ever seen from them. Kathleen and I had a second round and all was right with the world.

We hung out and enjoyed the music for about 2 hours. We had a great time singing along, especially when one of the piano players took our request and played a song by Rush, our favorite band. I think everyone in the bar got a kick out of watching Kathleen and I singing (or slurring) along happily.

MIL and FIL were ready to turn in for the night, so we walked with them back to the hotel. Kathleen and I, on the other hand, didn’t want the evening to end just yet. We set out in search of a small snack. We ended up back on Bourbon and we stopped at one of the ubiquitous Willie’s Chicken Shacks.

Here’s the thing about New Orleans: even the hole-in-the-wall fried chicken joints are delicious. We enjoyed everything, except for the unfortunate sweet biscuit. I don’t know about you, but when I see a biscuit next to my fried chicken and fries, I think I’m in for a savory, buttery treat. Unfortunately, this was apparently some sort of fucked up dessert biscuit, which did not go particularly well with the rest of the meal.

Hunger satiated, we decided to grab one more drink before heading back to the hotel. We picked up a hand grenade, which is very melon-y, and very strong.

This being New Orleans, we walked our drinks back to the hotel. While Kathleen found the bed to her liking and quickly fell asleep, I opened the plantation shutters and enjoyed finishing my drink (and hers) while reveling in the beautiful warm night air and the feeling that, happily, this was only the beginning to an amazing trip.

Up next in day 2: wherein we do a whole lot of walking.


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