A new refreshing take on the julep by swapping out the mint for basil. Perfect for your Derby party or anytime this spring and summer, relax and sip on a Basil Julep.
Happy Friday you guys. There were so many options for this Friday’s Happy Hour drink between Cinco de Mayo and the Derby tomorrow but I already gave you a margarita this week, no need to repeat that all over again.
Plus I wanted something that was Southern, a nice cooling drink to tie into the food lovers recap of New Orleans you are about receive. First you get the drink, mix it up and then sit back to relax and read on. Take a little trip down memory lane with me while I revisit some of the best restaurants we dined at in NOLA, plus where to stay and a lot of photos (a lot, there were just too many to choose from)!
This julep though, you need it in your life. It’s herby and cooling and if you love bourbon this is your drink. The only difference from a mint julep is that swap of mint for basil. I love both equally but I really love basil in cocktails, especially with bourbon. It’s a nice change up and something a little unexpected. Perfect for when your basil plant starts to get out of control over the summer and you are sick of making pesto.
Cocktails are always the answer.
Now that your cocktail is in hand, let’s chat New Orleans a mecca for fine dining, music and city that just wants to have fun.
This was my first time visiting, Braden’s second but his first time around was to play Jazz and he didn’t get to see much of the city. We had 5 days to see the sights and eat our hearts out. Eating was accomplished but I wish we had spent just a little more time outside the French Quarter. There’s a lot of hustle and bustle within the few small blocks that’s the quarter (okay small to me, maybe not to everyone else) and it can be overwhelming at times with the crowds.
After two days spent strictly in the Quarter we were ready for a break and headed out to explore. The city is beautiful and rich in history and you can get away with using public transportation. Take the St. Charles Street Car all the way to the end – it’s a long slow ride but worth it to view the gorgeous homes lining the street. As you look out the window, depending on the time of year, you’ll notice the trees, street lights and houses are decked out with mardi gras beads. We learned from a local that these are the beads that get stuck from the parade on mardi gras and stay there until hurricane season. They get shaken off naturally!
Along the ride on St. Charles Street, hop off to take a walk on lower Magazine Street (one avenue over) to hit some local shops and restaurants, we sadly didn’t do this but saw the view when we took the Magazine Street bus back one afternoon. If you keep going you can make your way to the Zoo – which I highly recommend for a break from the city and a walk through Audubon Park. It’s peaceful and relaxing, the perfect place to picnic after picking up some muffaletta’s or po-boys! Keep going though on that street car, the real gem is at the end.
I didn’t research many activities on this trip, what I researched was where to eat. This is a city that’s proud of it’s food culture. One restaurant popped up a few times during my research and was recommend from friends and locals – Jacques Imo’s. It’s at the end of that Street Car ride. From there you end up on a little block with a few shops and restaurants and Jacques Imo’s. It’s worth the trip and the wait. This is real soul food, the menu is huge and everything looked amazing. They make a crawfish cheesecake people!
Visiting the Zoo and Audubon Park is a great, walkable trip without leaving city limits but for a real treat I suggest a swamp and bayou tour. There are a lot of tour companies around, some with the big airboats and others where you get on the larger pontoons to glide through the bayou. We opted for the pontoon tour – which was perfect and gorgeous. The bayou is lined with cypress trees dripping in Spanish moss, it’s just a picture perfect setting. Our guide grew up in the bayou and was a wealth of information about the area. Once we reached the swamp lands, he sang a little love song to get those gators to visit the boat.
Of course you can’t visit New Orleans without jazz – Frenchman Street is the place to go. Music plays all throughout the city, in practically every restaurant and every street corner but this is the cream of the crop. Many places don’t charge a cover and even if they do the band is front and center for a little preview before you decide to pay. You’ll find everything from big brass bands to the blues and straight up jazz. Walk the street and find what suits you best at each club – what I loved was just listening for 15-20 minutes and then moving on to the next band.
You want to stay all night but New Orleans is a tiring city, there is a lot of walking on those cobblestone streets, so be sure to find a good hotel to rest up at to start again the next day. We stayed at the beautiful Omni Royal Orleans – which was probably one of the most relaxing and luxurious hotels I’ve ever been in. You walk in to a gorgeous grand lobby and immediately notice the historic nature of the hotel, from the original woodwork in the hallways to the classic look of the elevators. We were so comfortable there (and tired) that we ended up just spending time in our room on our last morning. Sometimes you just need to relax and do nothing on vacation!
My last bit of information is to tell you to make reservations when you visit the city! This is a town of people who love to eat and while there are plenty of restaurants they get crowded quickly! Even a quick stop into some places for happy hour and a snack left us with no-where to sit.
Do your research ahead of time and plan it all out. Your stomach will thank you.
With that in mind, I leave you with links of some of our favorite restaurants on this trip and photos of some of the delicious eats!
p.s. Go to Cafe du Monde daily. I’m serious, everyone told us to do it, I didn’t think we would and then we did. Also don’t wait on line, just grab a dirty table the server will clean it off. 🙂
Hotel accommodations: Omni Royal Orleans
- Serio’s Po-Boys & Deli (amazing Muffaleta’s, he beat Bobby Flay)
- Central Grocery for more Muffaleta
- Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar – giant oysters, great seafood – not fancy and no reservations
- Cafe Amelie – little secret hidden garden, takes reservations
- Dat Dog – perfect for a quick bite or late night snack, multiple locations
- Jacques – Imo’s Cafe – a little off the beaten path but worth it
- Johnny Sanchez – collaboration between John Besh and Aaron Sanchez
- Cafe du Monde – beignets! All the beignets!
- Brennan’s – amazing breakfast, make a reservation or try for a bar seat
- French Market – stroll along, we managed to grab a crawfish boil in the market.
- BMC Jazz Club – great place for brass bands
- D.B.A. – We didn’t go but the bands sounded great, you’ll pay a cover here.
- Three Muses – low-key, serves food, we had amazing dessert here.
Disclosure: I was compensated for one evening at the Omni Royal Orleans, plus a media rate for additional nights. As always, all opinions are my own.