New Orleans is absolutely loaded with coffee houses and breakfast restaurants, and somehow I’ve always ended up missing the Who Dat Coffee Cafe. I had never managed to drive past it, and somehow, when I saw it in lists of restaurants, I suppose I always thought it was just a coffee house with maybe a few sandwiches. This time, I read the Yelp reviews, and came to realize that the Who Dat Coffee Cafe serves full breakfasts, and tremendous full breakfasts at that. And like all of the Crescent City’s better breakfast places, it has the charming interior decor, and the sidewalk seating as well. Of course the coffee is first-rate as well, and there are salads and lunch options too. Be sure to pay Who Dat Coffee Cafe a visit on your next trip to New Orleans.
Sunday nights at the Blue Nile have been a long-running regular set for the To Be Continued Brass Band (also known as the TBC Brass Band), who are one of New Orleans’ premiere brass bands. 2014 has been a stellar year for the band so far, as they just recently performed with the legendary Wailers tag the House of Blues, and at Jazz Fest. Even more impressive is the fact that, unlike many New Orleans brass bands these days, the TBC never uses the expedient of replacing the snare and bass drums with a set drummer, or of adding electric bass or guitar to the band when indoors. The combination of authenticity and youthful street swagger is what makes the TBC Band unique. Unfortunately, with Sunday evening being a holiday evening, the Blue Nile was filled far beyond the usual crowd level on a Sunday, and there was heavy drinking going on. Although the band was great as always, I soon found myself being bumped, then pushed, then showered with liquor from people around me trying to dance or second-line while they had cups in their hands. Working my way back from the stage didn’t work, because the place was filled far beyond capacity, so reluctantly I cut my losses and left.
After dinner, I faced something of a dilemma, as the Treme Brass Band was playing at Kermit Ruffin’s Mother-In-Law Lounge on Claiborne, but the 21st Century Brass Band was playing at a club on St. Bernard Avenue that WWOZ listed as Cocktails. Since I am more of a contemporary brass band fan than a traditional one (although I appreciate both styles), I opted for the 21st Century gig, which, as it turned out, did not start at 6 PM. I knew of the 21st Century Brass Band only through YouTube clips, and this was my first time seeing them live. The woman that was managing the club explained to me that they were all students at Xavier University, and that their gigs helped with the expenses of going to school. She also explained that the club had a long tradition of brass band gigs, having once been called Sharon’s, featuring Dirty Dozen and Rebirth gigs, and more recently had been called Nola’s Finest Bar & Grill (which was still on the sign out front). The 21st Century played two rousing sets divided by a brief intermission.
As I was driving into New Orleans on Saturday night, I noticed a restaurant on Lakeshore Drive that I had not noticed before, a place called Brisbi’s on the Lake that clearly has a waterfront view. There really have been few dining options on Lake Pontchartrain since Hurricane Katrina, which wiped out all of the classic seafood restaurants at West End Park. Part of it was due to delays in the issuing of new flood maps to see where building would be permitted, and part of it was also due to a considerable amount of red tape in building on the waterfront. Fortunately, both Brisbi’s and the Blue Crab opened late last summer, joining the Landry’s franchise in the former Joe’s Crab Shack location. Brisbi’s proved to be a delightful experience. Downstairs is a covered yet outdoor bar, with a deck alongside the water and brightly-colored picnic tables, and a band playing on an outdoor stage. Upstairs is a restaurant with a beautiful view of the harbor from both indoors and from the outdoor deck. While New Orleans is known for seafood, it’s almost always the fried variety, which I have always found surprising. By contrast, Brisbi’s has a menu that more resembles the restaurants in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Biloxi that I grew up eating at, with Redfish Meuniere or Almondine, and Fish Pontchartrain. I had the almondine redfish, and was amazed at how good it was. Of course there are po-boys and burgers for those who want something a little less formal, but Brisbi’s seems to have the best (non-fried) seafood in New Orleans. It’s definitely worth a visit, and for the food as well as the view.
As I was walking down Bourbon Street near the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, I finally came upon what I had been looking for all afternoon, a brass band, although it wasn’t one I had heard of, but rather a new band called the Legacy Brass Band. One of the signs that New Orleans’ brass band scene is healthy is the constant appearance of new brass bands in the city, and the relative youth of the members. The Legacy proved to be a good-sounding band with good arrangements, and the ability to attract a crowd. I was impressed with the slogan on the back of their shirts, “Music Is Not A Crime”, a reference to the city’s recent crackdowns on live music that have made brass band appearances rarer outside of night clubs or second-line parades. Far sadder was a handwritten eulogy on the bass drummer’s drumhead, in memory of someone named Big Whoop who presumably was killed, an all-too-often occurrence in New Orleans. The good news is that brass bands and the opportunity to become musicians are significant lures to young men and significant deterrents to crime and violence.
With no second-line, I spent the afternoon browsing in the French Market, and walking around the French Quarter. I was vaguely hoping to run into a brass band somewhere, but the city government has been discouraging that of late. A band had been playing in Jackson Square, but they had taken a break and left their instruments piled up on a park bench while they relaxed on the steps of the Cabildo nearby. The other spot where brass bands used to be common was at the corner of Bourbon Street and Canal next to the Foot Locker, which had been a sort of proving ground for new young bands, but the city has fenced the whole area off, on the pretext that bricks have been falling from the nearby building, so bands can no longer play there. In reality, the city had suppressed the brass bands there before the area was fenced off. So I did some shopping at a couple of book stores, and then started walking back east toward where I had parked my car on elysian Fields.
Since the last time I had been in New Orleans, the great Louisiana Music Factory record store had moved from their longtime location on Decatur Street to new digs on the ground level of the building where Offbeat Magazine is headquartered at the foot of Frenchmen Street. While the new location is smaller (there’s no upstairs), there’s still plenty of selection. I can usually expect to spend about $100 in this store, and this trip was no exception. While vinyl and CD’s are the main attractions, don’t overlook the amazing book department, which is for the most part restricted to books about music or books about New Orleans (I’m especially partial to books that are about both). There’s also a fairly decent selection of DVD’s (mostly about Louisiana), some T-shirts, and an assortment of concert poster replicas. Don’t miss it.
Originally, the Money Wasters Social Aid and Pleasure Club was to have had a second-line on Sunday, May 25th, and when I planned my trip to New Orleans, I had planned to go on it. The previous year, they had rolled with my homeboys in the To Be Continued Brass Band, and it had been a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately, this year, something had happened, and the second-line was being reported as cancelled by WWOZ Radio. So, despite the beautiful weather, there was no second-line, so I parked on Elysian Fields and walked down Frenchmen Street toward the new location of Louisiana Music Factory record store. Frenchmen Street is a hotbed of night entertainment, and the best place to go for live music in New Orleans, but it is also attractive and colorful during the day as well.
Almost anyone who has been to the French Quarter has seen Buffa’s Lounge. After all, it’s been there since 1939, and it’s on Esplanade, which is one of the major thoroughfares leading into the Vieux Carre. I had passed it any number of times over the years, but of course New Orleans is a city full of food choices, and so it just never occurred to me to try Buffa’s until I read somewhere a couple of years ago that they stayed open 24 hours a day and had a decent burger and decent breakfast. They also started booking live music a few years ago, and feature live traditional jazz at brunch on Sundays. So I decided that this was the year I would try Buffa’s, and I am glad I did. Parking was somewhat difficult, as it always is in the Faubourg Marigny, but the weather was beautiful and I didn’t mind walking a couple of blocks. The restaurant is in the back behind the bar, and there was literally only one table left when I walked in. Soon there was a small crowd waiting outside the door for tables, while a jazz band called Some Like It Hot was playing on stage. Breakfast was the reason I had come, and I had a delightful bacon, cheese and mushroom omelette with homemade biscuits and coffee. Omelettes are huge, taking up half the plate, and the only thing better than a breakfast in New Orleans is a breakfast in New Orleans with live jazz going on. Brunch at Buffa’s is an experience not to be missed.
After 2 AM, parts of the French Quarter become calmer, more romantic and perhaps more mysterious. An odd note of music or distant laughter floats on the air. Bums are out and about, but so are lovers embracing, or tourists stumbling to their hotels, or locals walking home. Although night tours promote the idea of ghosts or voodoo, the French Quarter night seems anything but sinister.