Pilgrimage to New Orleans
Going home for Mardi Gras
Laura and David Favaloro grew up in New Orleans, one street apart. They’ve lived in Houston since Laura passed the Texas bar and David finished his MBA at Tulane, but David made one thing clear when they moved here permanently. He wanted their yet-to-be-born children to love their hometown.
Which is how the annual family pilgrimage to Mardi Gras began.
“We’ve always taken our kids to Mardi Gras,” Laura says of daughters Allison, who is a freshman at TCU, and Courtney, a recent TCU graduate. “People think of it as so wild and crazy, but there’s a big family part which is people together with their kids watching parades.”
David loves Mardi Gras so much – “more than Christmas,” Laura says – that he makes arrangements for Houston friends to gather every year in New Orleans. Last year, the multi-generational group topped out at 78 revelers. (They stayed in a block of rooms at Loews New Orleans Hotel.)
The Favaloros like to schedule a leisurely Friday brunch at Commander’s Palace to kick off the festivities, but other than that, “we don’t try to go to nice restaurants that weekend because there’s so much going on,” Laura says. “We do a lot of going to parades and grabbing po-boys and standing in line [to eat] at Mother’s [Restaurant].”
But their favorite po-boy isn’t really a po-boy – it’s the oyster loaf at Casamento’s on Magazine Street. “You can get po-boys a lot of places, but this is different because these are served on really thick loaf bread that they’re famous for, not the French bread,” Laura says. “And it’s a really neat old restaurant. It’s all tiled, and the kitchen, which you walk through to go to the bathroom, still has sawdust on the floor so they can move around well. It’s like stepping back in time.” Note that Casamento’s closes for the summer.
Not necessarily during Mardi Gras, the Favaloros like to send friends to Antoine’s restaurant in the French Quarter. They especially advise ordering the baked Alaska for dessert, and asking for a tour of the Rex Room, named for NOLA’s prestigious krewe (one of the groups that puts on Mardi Gras each year). “If you make a reservation, you’ll sit in the front room, but if you ask to sit in the back, that’s where the New Orleanians sit. It’s a whole different restaurant.”
The Rex Room is full of Mardi Gras royalty and parade memorabilia in purple, green and gold. There also is a secret entrance where, during Prohibition, people would come in to drink. “When we lived there, my dad would entertain [at Antoine’s] all the time, and we went in a separate back entrance so we didn’t have to go through where all the tourists were,” Laura says. “You had a password to get in.”
Galatoire’s – another Favaloro favorite, a classic French Quarter restaurant with a celebratory feel – is similarly quirky. Make a reservation, and you’ll sit upstairs. “But if you want to be in the fun part, you’re downstairs,” Laura says. Which means a wait in line (some die-hards have hired “line guys” to brave the often two-hour wait, then call when a table is available). Galatoire’s downstairs is the place where, literally, lunch turns into dinner because guests stay put all afternoon. Laura says, “It’s a party all the time.”
Jacques-Imo’s (“a funky Uptown restaurant with great food and a Cajun cottage feel”) and Ruby Slipper (“most delicious breakfast in the city … a fabulous Bloody Mary”) are two more Favaloro choice picks.
Although it’s hard to fit all the great New Orleans restaurants into a few days, there is more to do than eat. The Favaloros recommend a walking tour of the French Quarter, saying, “Every time we’ve done it, we learn something different about the Quarter and the history.” There are several companies to book with; Laura says they have all been good. “The other one we haven’t done, but everyone says is great, is the cemetery tours. There are so many famous people and all these stories about their families.”
Also on the list: Preservation Hall for jazz; Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World to see the famous floats in production; drinks at the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone and the Hot Tin rooftop bar at The Pontchartrain Hotel; shopping on Magazine Street and at Adler’s on Canal Street (“In addition to beautiful jewelry, they have many gifts with a New Orleans connection.”). Beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde are the final must – the Favaloros say not to be intimidated by the line. “It moves fast and is so worth it!”
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