Thursday, September 8, 2016

THE FRENCH QUARTER: New Orleans Remembered By Polly Guerin

St. Louis Cathedral-Basilica
This is the final report from Polly's recent Mississippi Riverboat cruise
New Orleans' Gallic charm, its enchanting historical rhetoric, Mardi Gras mania and Jazz Funerals light up the collective imagination with dreams of the 'good time' city that never ceases to amaze, entertain and renew itself over and over again.
      New Orleans has a strong vitality and has survived steadfast through the Civil War, World War I and II, the Great Depression, epidemics and storms, and even Katrina.
     I was drawn to the heart of Le Vieux Carre, the French Quarter at Franklin Square, the city's most historic area---its lacy balconies, elegant courtyards, unique boutiques and exceptional restaurants.
     At the heart of this ancient quarter is the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France, which stands as a testament to the city's French influence and culture. Founded in 1718 and established as a parish in 1720, it was not until 1964 that it was designated a basilica. Looking back to its original setting, the curved road, bordered with tress and green hedges was the passageway where fine horse-drawn carriages arrived in style with fashionably dressed French women and noble men in military attire.  It was Sunday at its best "en famille" with lavish dinner to follow the service and time for romantic encounters under chaperon protection.
     Louisiana was claimed for France in 1682 and La Nouvelle Orleans was named in honor of the Duke of Orleans, France's ruling regent until the young Louis XV could take the throne. Unlike the Protestant founders of most New World settlements the French were Catholic and early formalities did not share the strict view of life with the New England Puritans. Although the major influence was religious, the French Catholics were a different breed of settlers and enjoyed good food and sensual pleasure. Mardi Gras, the most famous festival, is a Catholic holiday after all and in French, Mardi Gras, means "Fat Tuesday," a time of happy indulgence and merry-making before the self-imposed austerity of Lent.
      In 1872 the Russian Grand Duke visited he city and the masquerading and partying reached epic proportions and New Orleans declared Mardi Gras an official holiday in the Duke's honor. Then they crowned their own king---Rex, the Lord of Misrule---who decreed that the event's official colors were purple (for justice), green (for faith) and gold (for power). The city-wide celebration's extravagant floats, outrageous costumes, and non-stop partying are reason enough to attract visitors worldwide to experience Mardi Gras madness. The Mardi Gras Museum located in the French Quarter is an eye-popping experience with the historical account of Mardi Gras, a treasure trove of  costumes on display and memorabilia, which remain key components of the party ever since. Next door to the Mardi Gras Museum is the Katrina Museum which chronicles Katrina with memorabilia, photographs and artifacts.
     Such a neophyte place as New Orleans needed some form of discipline and the formality of instruction, To this end, a coterie of Ursuline nuns were invited to establish a convent to provide the colony spiritual guidance and instruction. No one was left out of their orbit, the nuns included all races, enslaved and free, into Catholicism which solidified New Orleans' Catholic character. The Catholic girl's school they established in 1727, the oldest one in America is still operating and debutante's emerge the wiser.
      However, immigrants today continue to shape the French Quarter but the heart of the city holds fast to its French roots. Even during forty years of Spanish rule, New Orleans remained French, schools taught lessons in French, newspapers published in French and New Orleanians adapted French culture and fashions. Since then New Orleans has become an iconic American City, but its French heart is still beating. Nearby St. Louis Basilica is the Old Ursuline Convent Museum.
                                                          BREAKFAST AT BRENNANS
Brennan;s Dining Patio
      One special day I visited Brennan's restaurant to sample their famous Bananas Foster. a delicacy of honey fried bananas with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch drizzle and dined in the inner patio as a sweet summer breeze of summer wafted through the lush greenery.
    However, breakfast at Brennan's has much more to offer including an egg cuisine of particular note such as Eggs Sardou with crispy artichokes, Parmesan creamed spinach and choron (pork) sauce.
        As history would tell, when Owen Brennan, the proprietor of the old Absinthe House, was teased by Count Arnaud that an Irishman's culinary skills end with boiled potatoes, he was determined to prove him wrong. In 1946 he opened Owen Brennan's View Carre restaurant on Bourbon Street, where Bananas Foster and history were made in the process. After a successful decade the restaurant moved to its present quarters at 417 Royal Street, a new location with an illustrious past. 
Brennan's Pink Building
      Legend has it that the building was constructed in 1795 by the great grandfather of Edgar Degas, The famous pink building building and patio, one of the Vieux Carre's most interesting it was erected during the twilight of Spanish rule over Louisiana by Don Jose Faurie, a wealthy merchant.
       Later the building housed The Louisiana State Bank, first banking in the Louisiana territory. Later still, it served as a private residence frequented by President Andrew Jackson, and was home to eccentric world-famous master chess champion Paul Murphy, who lived there until his death in 1884.     
     Then it was bequeathed to Tulane University, leased and the sold to Brennan family in 1984 and in 2013 it was bought by partners Ralph Brennan and Terry White, who completed a major restoration and re-established the iconic restaurant in 2014.  Today, Brennan;s is both historic and contemporary proof that fine dining remains proudly relevant in New Orleans. I also visited Bubbles at Brennan's courtyard and Roost Bar, which makes Bubbly libations and snacks a "must treat" after an afternoon of sightseeing.   www.brennan'
Historical Postcard
     I'm an old-fashioned gal so when it came to dinner I went to Antoine's Restaurant at 713 Saint Louis Street. which has become as much a part of New Orleans as Jackson Square and Saint Louis Cathedral---a restaurant that have been operating continuously by the same family, since 1840.
     It all started when Antoine Alciatore arrived from Marseilles, France in 1840, and became immediately a culinary notable in New Orleans. He was eighteen years old, and young Antoine had been apprenticed, since the age of eight, to the Great French Chef, Collinet, of the Hotel de Noailles in Marseilles.. 
Oysters a la Rockefeller
        By the time he left France, Antoine had served Kings and royalty, and the aristocracy of that country. Before Antoine arrived here the meals served at public table were simple. Boiled or roasted meat, fowl, fish and sauces were mainly non-existent and haute cuisine preparations virtually unknown at that time Antoine changed all that. He was he first to serves visitors New Orleans culinary treasures such as Chicken Creole, Crayfish Etouffee, and Shrimp Remoulade. The names of his dishes tell a history of the great chefs of France.  His son Jules created such unique offerings as Oysters Bienville, Foch and Rockefeller Yes, Oysters a la Rockefeller was invented here; the recipe a sacred family secret.
     The Vieux Carre has so much more to offer but these were a few of my favorite things to share with you. The French Quarter possesses an old-world charm but there are other districts of equal interest, such as Upland where antebellum mansions proudly stand their place grounded in history, the Garden District, Botanical Gardens, Audubon Zoo, and others. Not to be missed is New Orleans Historic French Market, since 1862, the 24-hour meeting place for New Orleans most delicious coffee and BEIGNETS, a pastry delicacy that melts in your mouth.
     Ta Ta darlings, fan mail welcome please email Visit Polly's Blogs at and check the link in the left hand column to Blogs the resonate with your interest.

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