Meet SoBou, one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans. At SoBou, expect riffs on old favorites. Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez’s menu is playful, tongue in cheek. No boundaries — or at least not many of them.
With good food at every turn in the Big Easy, what does a restaurant have to do to make an impression?
Tough question, isn’t it?
I grew up in NOLA and regularly make it back to visit, to take photographs, and to eat — it’s one of my favorite things to do in this wonderful city. In my mind, there are three things a restaurant must do to make my list:
Be consistently outstanding
SoBou knocks the ball out of the park along all of these lines.
I first visited SoBou on a road trip through New Orleans in May 2017. It had good reviews, the menu caught my eye, AND it was one of the Brennan’s family restaurants I’d never tried.
My meal was an early supper, and I had a great table with a view out onto Chartres Street. I chose Geaux Fish, fun faux-Cajun wordplay on the children’s card game. Great name for a dish that changes based on fresh fish and the inventiveness of the chef. The night I had it, the fish was black drum served with crawfish tails, spinach, and gnocchi that had been cooked in the crawfish liquid. Very enjoyable!
When you dine at SoBou, what will the dish be like? I don’t know — Geaux Fish! 🙂
I’d say that SoBou doesn’t take itself too seriously. Except of course, they do, in terms of the quality of their food and the experience. What I mean by this, is this is no “stuck up” restaurant. It truly has a free spirit.
It’s wonderful that there are many restaurants in NOLA that adhere to the classics in a tried and true way. We need that. Otherwise, you risk losing the traditional recipes/traditional methods. But cuisine in New Orleans is also a living, breathing thing and should be allowed to grow and change — otherwise it’s as stuck as a dead body in a mausoleum.
At SoBou, expect riffs on old favorites. Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez’s menu is playful, tongue in cheek. No boundaries — or at least not many of them.
In October, on a driving trip to Florida, I stayed a couple of nights at the Monteleone, and made a point of dining with SoBou again.
Since there were two of us, I had the opportunity to try a wider variety of dishes. I love being able to taste many things without committing to a huge portion; small plates are big favorites.
I tried two of their current cocktails, one of which was the Pisco Punch (pisco, pineapple, tea, angostura, lime, fino sherry, violet). Pisco is brandy from Chile or Argentina. This was a delightful, light cocktail, with the tea and sherry preventing the pineapple and lime from being too acidic. The hint of violet was very subtle.
During dessert, lead bartender Laura Bellucci brought a seasonal version of milk punch for me to try; lovely take on this cocktail — sweet, but not overly so, certainly inventive version of a traditional favorite.
Smoky Oysters en Escabeche: Cold smoked oysters on the half shell presented atop bed of seaweed, and garnished with a frozen rosé (called “F’rosé” at SoBou), with a scallions. I loved this dish. Such a different take on raw oysters – a delicate smokiness complemented by the delicate ice chips of rosé.
Red Beans & Rice Smoky red bean purée. Dirty rice wontons Truly inventive fusion between the beloved New Orleans red beans and Mexican refried. Crispy, delicious wonton filled with dirty rice — perfect with a dollop of creamy red beans.
Chicken on the Bone Four drumettes of fried chicken confit. Creole seasonal salad, guava jelly. I’m a big fan of duck confit, and this version with chicken did not disappoint!
Cherries Jubilee & White Chocolate Bread Pudding with house made vanilla bean ice cream. Anyone who has been to Commander’s Palace is familiar with their fantastic bread pudding soufflé . Since SoBou is a member of the Commander’s Palace/Brennan’s family — it has its own version of this dessert. Light, airy — a nice tartness from the cherries to offset the white chocolate. This is possibly the best dessert I’ve ever eaten. Be aware: if you want this lovely, it takes 25 minutes to make — so tell your waitperson that you want it when you order dinner.
Jazz Brunch and Bella Blue
My third meal at SoBou was a spur of the moment decision. I’d arrived in New Orleans in the late morning, and my group of friends wouldn’t make it in until 7:00 or so in the evening.
I looked at my watch. Hum . . . what to do?
No reservations, but I set off to see if I could squeeze in to the Jazz brunch at SoBou.
One seat left at the bar! So lucky! While the bar menu is much smaller than the regular brunch menu, there was plenty to like.
The Jazz Brunch at SoBou is so much fun! Burlesque entertainment was a big part of the French Quarter scene from the 1940’s until the burlesque clubs were shut down in the 1960’s. Happily, it’s enjoying a renaissance in the Big Easy. Bella Blue‘s fan dancing is beautiful; a tasteful nod to erotic burlesque entertainment that is tame enough to keep most people comfortable 🙂 .
I chose the Legs and Eggs: poached eggs, apple cider braised pork osso bucco, with bourbon & bacon braised collard greens. The meaty, smoky pork combine well with perfectly poached eggs. There is a little heat from the Tabasco in the hollandaise, but it’s not overdone. I particularly liked their take on collard greens.
There is only one thing wrong with this dish — it’s SO filling! I loved it, but it’s impossible to eat anything following it. My recommendation: share it!
I leave you with a taste of a little jazz and fan dancing . . . signing off from a lovely Sunday afternoon in NOLA.
Each month of 2018, I’ll publish a calendar wallpaper for readers’ computers. For January 2018, one of my photographs from New Orleans in winter fog. Happy New Year, everyone!
Note: On my MacBook Pro, I saved the Wallpaper onto my desktop, and then dragged it into my Photos. From the System Preferences on my Mac, I went to “Desktop and Screensaver,” then selected the wallpaper image from my Photos. Choose the option “Fit to Screen.”
This is the first in my new series of Photo Gallery posts. I love taking pictures, and inevitably, I have far more photographs than I can really use in a single blog article, so it was time to make a home for them. Please enjoy, but respect that I retain full rights on my images. Do not use them without written permission from me — thanks!
I grew up in New Orleans, and any chance I get, I go back for a visit — so here is a series shot in the spring.
Getting down with a little Coltrane as the sun sets in the French Quarter. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Street musicians are one of my favorite parts of strolling in the Quarter.
A look down St. Ann’s street from the intersection at Chartres Street. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Yep! Love the beignets. And while plenty of places sell them in the Quarter, it’s worth waiting in line at Cafe Du Monde.
I grew up along the banks of the Mississippi. Every time I visit New Orleans, I have to get to the river.
Always a pretty picture!
This man was amazing!
Love listening to Charmain Neville.
Sadly, there isn’t as much jazz on Bourbon Street proper as there used to be.
Spring in New Orleans! Those are George Tabor azaleas, a variety that grows very well here.
Camellia Grill. Where generations of New Orleanians in the Uptown area have gone to satisfy their burger cravings.
Iconic, and happily there are more streetcars in New Orleans than when I was growing up.
Swaying along the tracks down St. Charles Avenue.
Shot from the streetcar.
City of the dead.
Grace. Love the many sculptures in the cemeteries here — always beautiful and melancholy.
Young man playing classical music on Sunday afternoon in Jackson Square.
If you want cheap, mass produced Mardi Gras masks or just another t-shirt, walk one block down Bourbon Street in either direction, and you’ll be set. On the other hand, if you are looking for the best souvenirs in New Orleans – you want something truly special to remember your visit, here are some things that will make you think about the Crescent City every time you see them.[…]
If you want cheap, mass produced Mardi Gras masks or just another t-shirt, walk one block down Bourbon Street in either direction, and you’ll be set.
New Orleans is a unique city, so it just follows that you’ll want something special to remember your visit. Here are souvenirs that will make you think about the Crescent City every time you see them.
Faulkner House Books
This is one of my favorite small bookstores in the whole country. It’s tucked next to the St. Louis Cathedral on Pirate’s Alley, in the house where William Faulkner lived during his time in New Orleans.
The thing that makes this bookstore special is a curated selection of books, often in particularly nice editions.
What do I mean when I say this? Any of the classics — works by Faulkner, Austen, Hemingway, Cather, Dickens — pick your author — are available in multiple editions. Too often these great novels are available in the cheapest editions: nasty paper, poorly printed, with almost no white space — you know what I’m talking about. Inexpensive books — so that at least a student can afford to read them for a class. But these are NOT the editions I want in my personal library.
Faulkner House does a great job of finding and stocking classics in editions that are such a pleasure to hold, to read. They have both new books and collectible used books. I also always find they have a wonderful selection of new fiction, as well as poetry, and essays. Of course the store keeps a full selection of Faulkner’s work, in both new editions and valuable first editions.
Excerpt from Sketches of New Orleans by William Faulkner:
The Tourist -NEW ORLEANS.
A courtesan, not old and yet no longer young, who shuns the sunlight that the illusion of her former glory be preserved. The mirrors in her house are dim and the frames are tarnished; all her house is dim and beautiful with age. She reclines gracefully upon a dull brocaded chaise-longue, there is the scent of incense about her, and her draperies are arranged in formal folds. She lives in an atmosphere of a bygone and more gracious age.
And those whom she receives are few in number, and they come to her through an eternal twilight. She does not talk much herself, yet she seems to dominate the conversation, which is low-toned but never dull, artificial but not brilliant. And those who are not of the elect must stand forever without her portals.
New Orleans . . . a courtesan whose hold is strong upon the mature, to whose charm the young must respond. And all who leave her, seeking the virgin’s un-brown, ungold hair and her blanched and icy breast where no lover has died, return to her when she smiles across her languid fan . . . New Orleans.
Jose Balli Jewelry
I love this jewelry collection!
Jeweler Jose Balli uses the lost wax method to create his intricate pieces – inventive designs inspired by themes unique to New Orleans and southern Louisiana. This is lovely work in sterling silver at fair prices.
You’ll find little crabs in a variety of forms, alligators that loop themselves over sterling silver chains, and pendants of stylized Spanish moss. It was difficult to pick just one piece. I finally chose the Oyster Heart pearl necklace — the thing that first caught my eye when I was walking along Chartres Street.
Initially, Balli “worked in a metal fabrication shop just out of high school, shaping and welding custom equipment for the oil industry. One day, while waiting for a machine to cut through an enormous pipe, he passed time by carving a tiny alligator from a scrap of soapstone. Coworkers encouraged him to take up art seriously and, thus, began Jose’s 27-year career creating Bayou State designs with a naturalistic appeal.”
When we were in New Orleans the last time with good friends from Houston — all of us came away with jewelry from Balli.
I’ll definitely return to his shop at 621 Chartres Street the next time I’m in NOLA.
I’ve shopped at Hové for years. Readers who have followed my blog may remember my story of Clint Bolton, the old journalist who lived in the Quarter (To Miss New Orleans). Clint took me into the Hové shop in 1979 — to buy his wife’s favorite perfume — Tea Olive. I can still see Pat Bolton anytime I smell the fragrance.
Mrs. Alvin Hovey-King started Hové in 1931. She learned the craft of making perfume from her French Creole mother, and as the wife of a Navy Commander, she traveled the world. Her travels afforded her the opportunity to study perfumes in different countries, and her knowledge of making perfume grew.
What started as a hobby grew into a small business, and when the Crash of 1929 ruined the retired Commander’s business, Mrs. Hovey-King opened Hové at 529 Royal Street. The family lived in the apartment over the shop. While Hové has moved several times, it is still owned by the family. It is now located at 434 Chartres.
Hové continues to make all of their classic fragrances, including Tea Olive and Vetivert, but they’ve added many new fragrances in the last twenty years that have greater appeal to modern sensibilities.
Jan Fenner and Thomas Laird have created a collection of jewelry inspired by things unique to New Orleans, such as church murals, the cast iron fence surrounding Jackson Square, and architectural details of buildings in both the Quarter and business district.
The silver pendant to the left is a great example of Fenner’s work. I brought home a pair of earrings of the same design, and have loved wearing them. I also purchased fleur de lis earrings for my sister and my daughter, each different. I think there are more variations of the fleur de lis in this jewelry collection than I’ve seen anywhere.
Fenner and Laird lived in Nepal for a long time, and Jan worked with women there to use their native textiles to create products for sale. Jan talked at length about how much difference it makes when women are able to take control of their finances because they are generating income.
In addition to the jewelry, you will find textiles from Nepal and hand-printed cards on beautifully textured paper. It’s a treat to visit Fleur d’Orleans just to visit with Jan Fenner, so much so that I went back to the shop twice.
They have two locations, one at 3701A Magazine Street, New Orleans, and then the French Quarter store, which is on the corner of Chartres and Madison Street — half a block from Jackson Square.
Ronda Rose has been weaving rugs in the French Quarter since 1997.
Her narrow store on Chartres Street holds three looms, six cats, and the loveliest rag rugs I’ve seen.
Traditionally, rag rugs were made from worn clothes and sheets, and were a way to get additional use out of fabric. Ronda uses only new material – cotton and cotton blend fabrics, and all of her rugs are made on the premises in her French Quarter shop.
She has many colors and sizes of rug available for immediate purchase, but most of her business is making custom rugs. Send Ronda paint chips, photographs, or fabric swatches and she will work with you to create a rug uniquely suited to your room and decor.
It takes approximately ten to twelve weeks for a custom rug order. Louisiana Loom Works is located at 616 Chartres Street. Hours of operation: 11am- 6pm (Closed Wednesday), Phone: (504) 566-7788
Stating the obvious here: if you are allergic to cats, you should avoid this shop since the kitties rule the roost :-).
Freret Street Market
If you are lucky enough to be in NOLA on the first Saturday of the month, consider checking out the truly local Freret Street Market. It’s a combination of great music, food booths, booths selling local art and crafts, and flea market offerings. Definitely a place to find the some of the coolest New Orleans souvenirs. Depending on the day, there may also be a local restaurant sharing their food.
Okay, you French speakers out there . . . leave your high-class accent at home. Locals pronounce the word Freret like this: FUR-ette.
Don’t you be sayin’ it like Frere-ay. Ain’t no one gonna know WHAT you talkin’ ’bout.
The Freret Street Market does NOT happen during the steamy summer months of June, July, and August. Any New Orleanian called tell you why. ‘Cause it’s too darn hot! What, are you crazy, baby? Get inside in dat air-conditionin.’
Freret Street Finds: The Cat Nap Company — Purses made from an old albums — front side is the album cover, and the back side is the vinyl LP. No worries — no viable vinyl was killed in the making of this product. Only scratched albums are used.
So, it’s not the first Saturday of the month and you want to find the Cat Nap Company? Go to the Cat Nap Company Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org to place an order.
My favorite find at the market was artist Nurhan Gokturk — I fell in love with his watercolor, pen and ink work of the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone Hotel. It is a special New Orleans landmark, and his delicate rendition has great movement. You can find Gokturk’s work at Pop City at 3118 Magazine street anytime, or visit the Gokturk web site.
So, there you have it. Some ideas for must-have souvenirs from New Orleans that you can also feel good about — created by local people, and not mass-marketed junk from Bourbon Street. And dat’s a good thing :-).
This article was originally published in April 2016 – this newest version has been updated with three more shops and ideas for folks traveling to New Orleans in 2017.
Thank you for visiting!
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Along the edge of my consciousness, there is an eddy line.
Whenever I cross this mark,
The current hits the bow, turning me downstream.
Water spills off the paddle in steady trickles as the canoe shoots forward.
I am a quiet cut on the surface,
Moving through a fog interrupted by moss trailing over cypress that pass by
And are gone.
For Mickey Landry, who taught Outdoor Ed when I was in high school.
Writing, copyright 1987 and 2016, Ann Cavitt Fisher, all rights reserved. The first version of this poem was typed on the 1967 electric Smith Corona . . . that my Mom typed my Dad’s thesis on when I was two :-). It was the typewriter I had in college . . . and oh, god, does it make me appreciate my Mac.
Last year, right as the entire Carnival season was swingin’ into action, I was “relaxing” at the the Touro following the surgical amputation of my right leg.
Article by Clint Bolton for a Vieux Carre paper, from Mardi Gras, 1979.
Through the windows I could hear the music, the sounds of a couple of uptown Carnival parades. Herself was sitting bedside and I grinned at her and said, “Well, darlin’, I guess we can kinda ace ourselves on the whole Carnival bit from here on. After all, the days do dwindle down to a precious few and even if I didn’t have my right gam sawed off, I think we could do the Joan and Darby bit, stay at home snug and comfy and catch the Carnival action on the tube.”
That ole Carnival caper fever hits us all . . . regardless of age. Physically I may not get much personal action this Mardi Gras season. But I don’t have to. Y’see, I can reach into my memory bank Movieola and run all that fine stuff through and frame freeze this or that shot. Then I’m back in the Sixties, the Fifties again. Don’t remember the exact year.
Embed from Getty Images
I’m at Pat O’Brien’s. Time: about 9 p.m., the Sunday night before Mardi Gras. The block of St. Peter between Royal and Bourbon is solid with people. Some of the local constabulary are mounted and doin’ a fair job of crowd control. Everything is goin’ fine . . . when all of a sudden all hell breaks loose. To this day you’ll get a debate among us survivors of that era. Did the brawl break out on the street? The entrance of the carriageway? Take yer cherce. Any version will do.
Whatever may have triggered the donneybrook, it soon spread. The Mounties gallop into the mob; plain-clothes fuzz and blue coats on foot take a vigorous piece of the action.
Clubs swing, fists fly, there’s some nifty footwork as one and all, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief (and a fair majority of the latter two were on hand) get scufflin’. Things were tight, hairy dicey, you call it. Things were gettin’ a might out of control when . . . BLAM! Some lawman lets loose with the tear gas. Not a bad idea. Couple more tear gas rounds. Quite a bit on the street. Most in the carriageway of O’Brien’s and adjacent bars. Crowd cools down in a hurry. Some arrests were made. Enough air motion on the block to dissipate most of the street tear gas. Lots of it lingered on within the excellent pub. Enough to make for some swimmy eyes and very sniffy noses. But the commotion was over and the beat went on.
Just about this point, a now deceased but then very well-know Quarter tosspot, who shall remain nameless because of his wife and kids, awoke. He’d gotten himself a fair load and had been somewhere on the nod in the corner of the main bar. The whole rowdy-dow had breezed right by him. But now he comes to blearily, sniffily awake, with that somewhat annoyed, almost paranoid mood of the lush who has nodded off only to come to knowing something has happened . . . but not exactly what. He gazes about the all but deserted bar, sees the bartenders comin’ up for air and business as usual, takes one big sniff, and says . . . “Goddam! That’s the biggest fart I ever smelled in my life!”
Certainly more genteel is the joyous memory of parade nights spent on Bob Greenwood’s gallery over the A&P at St. Pete and Royal. Back then Bob used to invite a bunch of friends to each of the parades that came down Royal. It was one of the best vantage points in the whole Quarter . . . and you sure as hell got your share of beads, trinkets, and doubloons tossed from the floats. But there always hadda be the usual street bumpkins who’d try to shinny up the iron supports and crash the happy scene. For a couple of years, Bob and various other stalwarts in the entourage had a fair amount of fun leanin’ over and boppin’ tatterdemalion hobbledehoys on the noggin as they pulled level with the gallery.
Then, one year, ole Bob ended all that. He greased all those shinny-poles from halfway up to the gallery level. When one of us yelled, “prepare to repel boarders” he grinned and said, “Not to worry. Watch.” When the would-be gate-crashers hit the grease line, it was whoosh, and mucho fun. We would man the rails, beam down like cruise passengers tossin’ coins and, chant, “Slide, Slide, Slide!” It saved us a fair amount of hooch, too, I reckon, for as Jack Cooley so sagely remarked, “Why’n hell should we pour perfectly good booze on a bunch of greaseballs?”
Yes, we all go some kind of wacky on Mardi Gras, it truly is “anything goes” time. But mostly I’ve been ready to find some hole to sack out in just about the time the bells of old St. Louis toll out midnight . . . . And almost always I’ve recited to myself a
few lines from Kipling’s Recessional: “The tumult and the shouting dies, The Captains and the Kings depart. Still stands thine ancient sacrifice . . . An humble and a contrite heart.”
This is the third of three posts concerning Clint Bolton. He was a journalist who lived in New Orleans from the early 1950’s until his death in April of 1980. He was born James Clinton Bolton in New Jersey in 1908. He lived a full and interesting life: acting in summerstock plays with Humphrey Bogart, running away from Princeton to work on a tramp steamer to India, cutting his journalism chops in India to become an writer for the Associated Press, interviewing Gandhi during one of his early hunger strikes, working in New York as a journalist, serving in the Coast Guard in World War II. And finally, taking me under his wing in his last year.
I have kept this article of Clint’s, along with two letters, for 37 years now. As I fight cancer, and wonder sometimes that it may not be that long before I see him again, I feel honor bound to write about him. Since his writing is not on the internet, and there are precious few links to it in print . . . it is important to me that he not disappear.
In such a time, and in such a place, there was this man. He was witness to significant events in the 20th century. His name was Clint Bolton. He lived hard. He wrote on a manual typewriter with two fingers at a speed that awed. Black musicians loved him. Mafia capos treated him with deference. And I was fortunate to meet and spend long hours with him listening to jazz and to his stories.