Stepping out the door of our hotel, Le Richelieu, on to Rue de Chartres is like stepping into another, earlier time. in some respects, the French Quarter is always going to be “another” time for there is little that can be done, or anybody wants done for that matter, to change the narrow streets, or the narrow uneven sidewalks or, even less, the two-story and three-story buildings fronted by identical porches on each floor often extending out over the sidewalks. I got the impression as Sherry and I walked along that these old, painted buildings (in various stages of upgrade), were leaning in over us not in a threatening way but in a friendly way, wanting us to celebrate with them the past’s enriching presence.
Soon, Sherry found the French bakery she had been looking for. The “Croissant d’ Or” was consistent with its locale, the white-tiled floor and the larger white-tiled walls, sufficiently cracked with wear, adding an old-world ambience. The pastry display, under glass, was varied and plentiful but the spinach quiches won out for both of us’ and with fresh hot coffee made for a sound start to the day . More walking and we were soon at the second stop on Sherry’s list, “Goorin Bros. Hat Makers since 1895.” What fun that was, trying on hats, some with Mardi Gras motifs. “Fat Tuesday” is a big deal around here. and a lot of other parades, some 30 I’m told, all of them colorful and lively, have sprung up preceding the Mama of them all. Sherry, ever generous, purchased a charcoal gray wool hat for me and a perky black hat with a narrow rim for herself. Before long we again were walking this time in our new headwear (my Ohio State baseball cap now hidden from view), delighted and surprised to come upon what appeared to be hastily-organized jazz bands, five or six musicians gathering on a corner here and there, breaking into popular renditions which invited us to stop and dance. After exploring a few more stores, we arrived at the third destination on Sherry’s list, “Napoleon House”. Our stomachs drew us to this famous landmark but there’s no question about the intrigue that prompted the restaurant’s name. “Napoleon House” it appears, was built as a home for Napoleon Bonaparte once he was rescued from exile. The rescue attempt never happened however, because Napoleon died first. We settled for a lunch of Bruschetta and Pimm’s Cups, two items the restaurant is noted for. Pimm’s Cup, by the way, consists mainly of a gin liqueur and lemonade and a few other subtle ingredients.
The first day’s experience was topped with a visit to Buffa’s, a bar and grill on the Esplanade for supper and music. To help walk us there, we met up with two of Sherry’s New Orleans’ friends, Vickie and Andy.. There is nothing special about Buffa’s – it looks like what most neighborhood bars look like, informal, small, dark and welcoming. -but the food and music they offer is something else or at least it was this night. Tom McDermitt, a friend of Karl’s and Sherry’s, is a piano player of some note and a local favorite. He is known to enjoy Fats Waller and his playing reminds me, in part, of Fat’s piano style but there’s other stuff going as sell, almost a classical edge to it. To round out the exceptional music, there was Aurora, a talented young woman who plays clarinet ad saxophone, sings, and on one occasion during their set played the piano with Tom. Tom and Aurora compliment each other so thoroughly it almost becomes like a separate, unique kind of music, so in sync are they.. The other wonderful thing about Buffa’s was the quality of the food. My blackened red fish was delicious, the simmered zuchini a perfect pairing. Likewise, Sherry’s shrimp dish, simple but excellent fare. We got a lot more than I expected. It made for a perfect beginning to my short stay in New Orleans.