Friday, December 29, 2017

The Wonders of Willie Mae's in NOLA



Many visitors head to the French Quarter when they want to sample the famously flavorful New Orleans cuisine but I prefer to eat where the locals go. So I asked Zydeco star and foodie Sean Ardoin
for his recommendations and he insisted that Willie Mae's is the ultimate NOLA restaurant.


We rolled up to Willie Mae's restaurant in Treme and the long line of patient customers outside the spot demonstrated that Sean told no lies. We waited for about 35 minutes as a waitress came out to estimate how many tables could be filled every 20 minutes.



But once we were inside the historic restaurant that opened in 1957, we could see that the wait was worth it. There's a homey feel to Willie Mae's, like you're eating at your grandma's house. The food arrived quickly and the crunch and flavor of the fried chicken helped me understand why Sean called it the best in New Orleans. We shoveled in green beans, beans and rice and biscuits and my family, all of whom are rarely quiet, was really quiet as we concentrated on the feast.



Willie Mae's owner even won a prestigious James Beard Award for "America's Classic Restaurant for the Southern Region"  and the Travel Channel has declared the chicken as 'America's Best Fried Chicken." I didn't know all this before I visited  but it just goes to show you that it pays to go beyond the glitzy tourist hangouts to discover the real heart of a culture.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Soul of NOLA


For people unfamiliar with New Orleans history, the French Quarter and its myriad of bars and tourist traps is the focal point for their experiences in the city. But if you know a little history or like me, have roots in the city, you know that the heart of NOLA is in the historic Treme' neighborhood and the iconic Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park.


Treme' is the oldest African American neighborhood in the country, as well as the birthplace of jazz. It's where African American musicians developed the Mardi Gras Indian tradition of drumming, call and response mingled with brass bands. Of course, the essence of all these traditions started in Congo Square, the spot where enslaved Africans gathered on Sundays to drum, dance and celebrate their cultural traditions, which still informs every aspect of New Orleans culture. As soon as we landed, my family and I headed to Congo Square to go to the Treme' Gumbo Fest and hear the legendary Rebirth Brass Band. Standing on the spot where my ancestors connected with their spiritual heritage, I felt a surge of joy and pride. I felt like the soul of New Orleans was waving and singing right before my eyes.