Monday, February 20, 2012

The Big Easy, Mint Juleps & Hurricanes

With Mardi Gras starting tomorrow, I am reliving my Christmas vacation with my favorite people in New Orleans this past year.  Usually around the holidays, we find ourselves hankering for a beach vacation laying under the sun and getting away from the cold of the Northeast.  Unfortunately, it seems that most of the US had the same thoughts.  So our plans for a siesta in Mexico was panned for this year and we turned our sights on cities that were less coveted around this time of the year.

A few places were thrown around, but we all agreed wholeheartedly on New Orleans.  It was somewhat warm (so we thought) and lots of nightlife and great food. For most of us, it had been our first trip to New Orleans so we had no idea what to expect. We discovered it was the land of food porn. Yes, that's right. You heard porn!  From charbroiled oysters to po' boys to gumbo and $0.25 martinis at the stately Commander's Palace....the Big Easy is a great city to head to if you love food.  We definitely came away from our trip about 10 lbs heavier, but man did we enjoy ourselves!

The slower pace of life took a bit of getting used to coming from the Northeast.  There is a reason why it is nicknamed the Big Easy after all.  Once we did though we were really able to enjoy ourselves and see the tidbits of what makes New Orleans and its inhabitants so special. A combination of genteel Cajun French charm, voodoo superstitions, ghostly traditions and a joie de vivre that trickled down to every aspect of their lives from music, arts, architecture into their cuisine, New Orlean-eans embrace their colorful history. Creole cuisine is literally an amalgamation of everything good that Cajuns took from the various influences that touched their part of the world. 
My liquor of choice these past few months is anything bourbon based. With the resurgence of old school and innovative cocktails popping up at various bars in New York like Employees Only, PDT or Death & Co it has been really easy to find some really fantastic drinks using it and, my other new-found love, bitters.  To me, bourbon is featured best in the mint julep.  This old fashioned drink is nothing more than muddled mint, sugar and simple syrup served with good bourbon in a chilled glass of crushed ice topped with a sprig of fresh mint. While traditionally, a mint julep is associated with Kentucky and the Kentucky Derby, the origins are actually unknown; though it definitely surfaced in the South during the 18th century. 

Bar Tonique
My first (and last!) hurricane.
You will see mint juleps abound in various bars and restaurants in New Orleans.  Though some say Pat O'Brien's (home of the original hurricane) has the best in town, I found myself sipping an amazing glass at Bar Tonique on a quiet residential street close to the edge of the French Quarters. 

A few blocks away from Bourbon Street, it is a haven away from the general rowdy tackiness of Bourbon Street.  While we did enjoy ourselves a few (bad!) hurricanes on Bourbon Street and found ourselves in a "club" dancing and drinking at 6pm, sometimes you just need a nice place to park ourselves and just enjoy a well-made cocktail. With pages of finely honed cocktails, Bar Tonique definitely offers that to their discerning customers. 

In the summer, there is nothing better than a glass of strong mint julep to while away a lazy, muggy afternoon hiding away in your air-conditioned home.  Though it is definitely winter here in NYC, I found myself this weekend with a craving for some mint julep to bring back those hedonistic memories of New Orleans. The smoky honey flavor from the bourbon mixed in with the refreshing mint juices makes for one of the most perfect drinks. There is a certain Southern charm in drinking a mint julep the proper way, straight from a silver pewter cup.  Unfortunately, after checking my neighborhood Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma and failing to find what I wanted, a friendly employee guided me towards a tall tumbler in replacement. 
While there was no silver cup, my mint julep was the perfect way to end the weekend and console myself with working on President's Day. In the words of one smart Cajun Frenchman, "Laissez les bon temps rouler!" ("Let the good times roll!")

Makes 1

1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 oz simple syrup *
12 fresh mint leaves
2 oz bourbon
Crushed ice

1. In a tall tumbler, add sugar, simple syrup and mint leaves.  Using a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon, muddle everything until natural juices are released.
2.  Add ice and bourbon. Top with a sprig of mint and serve immediately. Using a swizzle stick, gently mix it together. 

See below for my photo montage of all things good in New Orleans and a mini-index of some of the places we found ourselves in a few short days.

Turtle Soup and $0.25 martinis at the legendary Commander's Palace.
Scenes from the French Quarters and Bourbon Street. 
Cracklin' duck confit at Cochon.
Pan fried rabbit at K Paul's. 

Fluffy beignets at the legendary Café du Monde.

Amazing charbroiled Louisiana shrimp at August
Cruisin' down the Bayou.
One of the unusual, new solar homes being built in the Ninth Ward post-Katrina.

301 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 299-9777

Café du Monde 
800 Decatur Street,
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 525-4544

930 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 588-2123

Commander's Palace
1403 Washington Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 899-8221

Felix's Restaurant & Oyster Bar 
739 Iberville Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 522-4440

K Paul's Louisiana Kitchen
416 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 596-2530

Willie Mae's Scotch House
2401 St Ann St New Orleans, LA 70119
(504) 822-9503

Bar Tonique
820 North Rampart Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 324-6045

623 Frenchmen Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
(206) 337-3273


  1. I randomly visited your blog today after so long...I'm going to try my hand at your mint julep recipe this weekend, given our conversation about how I've never had one and my penchant for bourbon drinks. Will let you know how it turns out!

  2. I randomly visited your blog today after so long...I'm going to try my hand at your mint julep recipe this weekend, given our conversation about how I've never had one and my penchant for bourbon drinks. Will let you know how it turns out!