New Orleans: The Beignet Battle

Michael and I were very much looking forward to visiting New Orleans, Louisiana and since the beginning of the trip I had been bugging him to visit this city! I had heard lots of fun and exciting things about this city, and I was ready to take it on with my side-kick hand-in-hand.

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We booked two nights, 10/30 & 10/31 at Hotel New Orleans Downtown, which was undergoing a $29 million renovation to become Le Meridien. The architects and construction was very much limited to one section so we did not feel bothered at all by this. This hotel was so nicely decorated and had that nice, refreshing hotel scent as soon as you walked into the lobby. Since this hotel only offered valet parking for about $45/night, we opted to park at Harrah’s Hotel & Casino, right across the street for $30/night. This saved us $30 for parking in total for the two nights. We did not want to gamble, but if we signed up for a Total Rewards Card and gambled for 30 minutes, we would have received one free night of parking. We’re not big on gambling anyways, so it was not worth the risk to us.

View from hotel room

One of the main reasons we selected this hotel was the fact that it was right in the French Quarter, but it wasn’t too close to the main “party” area in city. It was just close enough to walk to and from, so we were happy with the location.

The first afternoon we checked in, we decided to walk down the Riverwalk all the way down the Mississippi River to Jackson Square to do a cache and also grab some famous beignets at Cafe du Monde. Along our stroll we saw so many painters, musicians, artists, performers, and homeless people wandering the streets. New Orleans has a very European atmosphere to it, and the buildings have such lovely balconies and architecture. Because it was the day before Halloween, it seemed as though everyone was gearing up for the occasion. It was neat to explore Jackson Square and stumble upon Pirates Alley where we did our cache. We were also instantly able to find a magnet with an over abundance of gift shops in this area, all along Decatur Street. We also got a chance to walk along Bourbon Street to be in the thick of things.

We stayed around the area until the Krewe of Boo Halloween Parade, which started at 6:30pm, securing a standing spot along the street across from the H&M. Crowds gathered in the area so we knew this was going to be a fun one. There were so many different people, groups, dancers, musicians, performers, speakers, trucks, tractors, and floats that went by. Some were throwing out freebies and we got some samples of some New Orleans Chewy Pralines from Aunt Sally’s, some ground coffee from PJ’s, a few different beads, plastic cups, a magnifying glass, assorted candies, and snacks.

For dinner, I was anticipating, craving and hoping there would be some spicy, cajun, and creole crawfish. Unfortunately, we soon realized they were not in season. They are, however, available in the wintertime, through February. I did manage to find some places with some crawfish in a few dishes. We decided to check out Huck Finn’s Cafe on Decatur Street for some southern grub. I ordered the Taste of New Orleans (Crawfish Etouffee, Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice) and Michael got the Shrimp BBQ Po-Boy. Our entrees were both delicious and very flavorful!

It was Halloween the next morning, and we kicked off the day with a trip¬†to the fitness center, which was on the fourth floor of the hotel. We had to walk passed the outdoor pool to get to the area. It was a nice gym filled with all sorts of weight and cardio equipment, so we took advantage of everything there, and we sure are still feeling the pain of our workout now. It was about 1pm when we got ready to go out for some brunch, and we actually decided on some sushi because we hadn’t had it since Michael’s parents took us out before we left. It was so yummy and definitely hit the spot.

We made our way to the French Market, which is home to many vendors. There were a decent amount of people shopping around and there was so much going on. I made Michael get me a “faux” diamond ring, since mine was getting rhodium-dipped in preparation for the wedding, and we figured since we were in the French Market, we might as well go with the with the theme:)¬†I also had their version of a snow cone, which was some of the best shaved ice ever!

Because NOLA is known for its beignets, we knew that we could not just limit our tasting to the really popular one in town. So…we made our way to two more cafes famed for these scrumptious donuts. Our first stop was New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee, where there were barely any people=no crowds whatsoever! ¬†We were a bit hesitant, but we were going for it! As soon as the order came out we knew we were in for a treat. These beignets were a lot thinner than the ones we had at Cafe du Monde. They were piping hot, and oh sooo flaky! These really reminded both of us of a pastry sheet. There was just enough powdered sugar on these mamas, and they were so delicious that we were really happy to get to try these. The coffee on the other hand was blah. Price: $3 for 3 beignets

Next on the list was Cafe Beignet. I mean it has Beignet in its name! We were surprised to see this place had the widest assortment of food and beverages compared to the other two, which was so not reflective and indicative in its name. Michael placed the order at the counter, and we had a seat. These beignets were the most expensive at just over $4 for 3. They also definitely seemed to take the longest to prepare. When they came out, the gentleman had three other plates of food for other guests, and he had them stacked right on top of our order…so it left some imprints on the¬†powdered sugar. These resembled the ones we tried at the first place, because they were much thicker than the ones at New Orleans Famous. Michael and I agreed that these were actually way better than the first place as well!

So who took the lead in this challenge? Well, I know Michael was really a big fan of New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee, as was I. But, I was really torn on whether or not I enjoyed the larger ones at Cafe Beignet. Because there is so much hype with Cafe du Monde’s beignets, we were both really surprised these were the most difficult to eat and chew. These were really dense, and more consolidated/doughy compared to the other two. The thinner ones at Famous were really flavorful but overly oily. Yes, we really enjoyed the Famous ones, but I would vote Cafe Beignet as a close second.

After the beignets, we decided to head back to the hotel to freshen up for the parade and dinner. That evening, we were really not impressed with the parade. It was much shorter and the participants of this parade did not seem too enthusiastic about it, even though everyone was dressed up.

One huge revelation occurred when we were eating dinner on Halloween evening at New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Co. was that mayonnaise typically does not need to be refrigerated!!! WHAAAT?? My first thought was “EW!” I saw the squeezable mayo bottle (pictured below) with a strong focus on “NO REFRIGERATION NEEDED”. I was aware that if the bottle was newly opened, it does not need to get refrigerated, but once the seal gets opened, I assumed it was necessary. I guess not. Well that was news to me. Apparently Michael had known this all along, but failed to mention that to me. I wanted to confirm this notion, and sure enough…it’s true! Even after knowing this, I will still most likely keep it in the fridge…it just creeps me out for some reason.

Overall, The Big Easy really had a lot to offer, and the best part of it all were its beignets: I mean how can you go wrong with fried dough sprinkled generously with powdered sugar?

Little Rock, Arkansas

On Monday, October 27th, we made the 5 hour drive from Dallas, TX to the capital city of Little Rock, Arkansas. Of course we defaulted by using Hotwire to book out hotel in downtown area and ended up landing La Quinta Inn & Suites. We were pleased that this place offered a fitness center, free breakfast, and complimentary parking too. There was minimal traffic on our drive, but as soon as we hit the downtown exits, we noticed a significant amount of cars. Luckily our hotel was on the edge of the downtown traffic, so we bypassed all of the stopped cars along the way, and it only took us a few minutes to arrive and check in. We noticed an entrance through the parking garage, but we had to check in to grab the room key to swipe to enter the parking garage.

After reading the Lonely Planet Travel USA guide, we were ready to take on this city. One thing we like about this book is that it gives you highlights of each of the major cities and places of interest in the U.S. It is just big enough with some small maps of downtown streets and just small enough to not be too much of a hassle to lug around during our road trip.

Our hotel is pretty close to the River Market district. We decided to walk there, but the hotel also offers a free shuttle to the market. It was around 5pm when we left the hotel to search for a place to go for dinner. We enjoyed our stroll to the riverside. Autumn was peering its way through to us as we felt the wind blow through our hair and clothes. Along the way we accomplished finding and placing our mini Frisbee placement in a nearby cache.

After that quick find, I was craving buffalo wings, so we decided (since we loved it so much in Texas) to check out The Flying Saucer. Trying some local Arkansas beer was definitely a plus too! The Queso Fondue looked pleasing to us and because the waitress informed us of the larger portion of this appetizer, we decided to just get the buffalo wings in addition rather than getting individual dinner entrees. I’m glad we definitely went that route, because we were really full, and we did not even finish those dishes. One thing we noticed was there was also a Flying Fish next/near the Flying Saucer we went to, similar to when we were in Dallas. I just came across this article, in the Memphis Business Journal, which confirms our initial idea that they are in fact owned by the same company!

After dinner we walked along the water and noticed some sculptured scattered throughout the area. We took some photos of the artwork and some neat touristy signs. There were a few running electric trolleys in transit and many people in restaurants on their laptops and electronic devices. The streets were really clean and the atmosphere was really nice.

The Farmer’s Market in the downtown area only opens on Tuesdays (May-August) and Saturdays (May-October). It’s just too bad we missed it already, although it was still romantic and run¬†to see the area as the sun set and the moon came out on a quiet Monday evening. There is just so much to see in Little Rock, and we were surprised there are so many historical sites to visit. On our walk back to our hotel, we passed the Capital Hotel, the Marriott, and the Doubletree Inn by Hilton and down Broadway to reach our hotel.

The next morning we decided to stay in, skip breakfast, and get a nice workout in the morning at the fitness center. It was a small but functional room, and we really worked up some sweat in there. On to our next state: Tennessee, where we will be exploring Memphis!

Oklahoma City

We are happy to report that we found a city, Oklahoma City, with it’s downtown area¬†actually in the state of Oklahoma! After some research we noticed the hip area in town was the downtown Bricktown area, that’s where went after checking into our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Oklahoma City Southeast I-35. It seemed like a newer construction hotel, so we were really happy that.

It only took us 5 minutes to drive to KD’s Southern Cuisine, which was right next to Toby Keith’s: I Love this Bar and Grill. ¬†We read some Yelp reviews about both restaurants, and decided to go with the southern comfort food. For some reason we had no knowledge this restaurant is actually owned by the basketball player, Kevin Durant! It was decorated with sports memorabilia, and the restaurant itself had such a high-end metropolitan feel to it. One small detail was the menus that lit up when you opened them. Lighting was dark to set the mood, so lit menus were a uniquely modern yet practical way to read the text.

Food was served quickly, as we started with the skillet cornbread and ending with the banana cream pie in a petite mason jar. For our main courses, we did something never done in the Ho-Falcon Relationship: order the same meal! Yes, we went through with it, as it was bound to happen. Honey chicken it was! Of course, I had to give him my pitch before we both went for it: I wanted to split the Jambalaya and the chicken, but he was not feeling it there we have it. The meal was so delicious! We had to be a bit different, as I got the green beans and mashed potatoes and he got the mac & cheese instead of the green beans as his sides.

After dinner, we packed up my leftovers and headed to the car to place them in Tupperware containers in the large cooler we keep in the bed of the truck. Surprisingly there is a cache located right in the parking lot about 300 ft from where we had parked. With a Mini Frisbee and pen in hand we were ready to dodge any muggers and get to our goal. This was a relatively easy one!

Waterways served as an artistic divider between streets of shops and restaurants. We followed the water, which led alongside the back outdoor patio of KD’s and were happy to snap a few photos along the way. One of the first things we noticed was the relatively large building which just so happens to be Sonic’s headquarters! As you may or may not know, Michael is obsessed with Sonic, ever since his Florida days where it was right around the corner to driving to either Peabody or Connecticut to get his munch on. Nowadays we regularly come across them!

Around the other side of the building there is an actual Sonic dine-in restaurant. This was odd, we thought. The only Sonics we had ever seen had “America’s Favorite Drive-In”. There were no cars parked in this setting. Rather people filled the indoor and outdoor seating that was provided. Oh and they have $0.99 corn dogs on Halloween! (No, they did not endorse us to say that). We just think it’s a good deal.

Along our casual stroll, we noticed a couple of ducks that were on a date, and we captured their romantic stroll.

 

There were smaller shops and restaurants, and we stopped in a few gift shops. On the way back to our truck, we passed the baseball field, which featured notables such as Mickey Mantle. We noticed a few photographers capturing smaller details of the pathway, and we wanted to share some of the pictures along our stroll:

Before our departure from the downtown area we had to make a stop at Bass Pro Shops! Michael perused through fishing equipment while I looked at the Christmas display items towards the front of the shop. He ended up purchasing his very first foldable fishing net for his future fishing finds.

This concludes our brief, yet satisfying stay in Oklahoma City, OK. We are off to the big state of Texas!!!

Oregon

Michael and I kicked off Leg 4 of our journey driving down to Portland, OR for the day. It was a beautiful Tuesday morning when we arrived to Tom McCall Waterfront Park where we found public parking across the street.  It was after 11am, and the lot had a special rate for parking after 11am until 7am the next morning. We knew we were not going to be there for that long, but we decided we were going to be exploring that area so why not have a nice parking spot.

We took a nice stroll along the waterfront, and decided to find our cache at that time. Unfortunately after searching for a half an hour we had no luck finding the XS cache that was hidden along the water. We decided it was about that time to get some grub in the downtown area, and we knew just the spot. The Lonely Planet we got specifically mentions a myriad of food cart offerings along different intersections close to Pioneer Courthouse Square.  Of course this is still Starbucks town, so we did notice one right in the square, as well as one on 10th and SW Alder Street where the food carts permanently sell their food during the week. We stopped in to use the Wi-Fi and grab coffees.

The Target on the corner offered restrooms upstairs, but we had to punch in a code we got from the store associate.  It was clean, and it was a great place for us to wash our hands before we got some food. We took a quick walk around to see what was there, and it was very international. The popular place seemed to be the grilled cheese place. However Michael really wanted some pierogies, so we got Polish food. I selected the beef goulash, and both of our meals were quite tasty!

The cache I wanted to do was a bit of a different one because it was at the Central Library…yes, inside! It was a very different type of search for us this time around, but it was fun to do. We read a few of the hints and comments, but did not want to get help from the librarians, so we did it on our own. We were successful, left our mini Frisbee, and then walked out of the library feeling very satisfied.

On our way back to the car, it started to rain while it was very sunny outside. Apparently Portland residents are prone to rain sporadically because as we were walking in the rain, everyone had on some sort of rain jacket or were prepared with umbrellas. There was no rain in the forecast, but we did remember reading in the Lonely Planet guide this city tends to allow Gore-Tex in fancy restaurants.

We got the full weather experience in Portland! ¬†We drove down the Oregon coast, and we are planning on heading down Route 101 and connect to Route 1 all the way down the California coast, which is our next stop…finally: Sunny California…we are looking forward to this part of the trip:)

Montana

Michael and I crossed the Montana border while we were still in Yellowstone National Park, and upon exiting we came across a small town with a gas station so we filled up there before we made our way towards Missoula. We had booked a night at the Red Lion Inn & Suites through Hotwire, and we ended up getting a pretty good deal.

We had never heard of the Red Lion chain hotels, but it wasn’t too bad. Once we arrived, we parked our truck at the hotel parking lot and walked downtown to check out some stores and to grab some brunch. There was this one place, Shack Cafe, that really caught our eye as we were strolling the streets because there must have been 10 people waiting outside to get seated. Later we discovered this was the place to eat breakfast in Missoula! We eventually made our way back here and ate lunch after a long geocaching adventure.

Apparently people in Missoula, MT are really avid Geocachers…It was tough to find these little tiny caches in the city. Michael and I spent the majority of our time exploring the city by viewing these public art displays on the sides of these electric boxes at various intersections throughout the city. ¬†It was really difficult because there would be a number of different cars swishing past you and stopping at red lights while we looked like¬†mischievous individuals who were wandering in circles on the street corners looking for these little caches. Michael and I attempted to search for a total of three, but only found one successfully. Unfortunately, this cache was way too small to hide our mini Frisbee. It was the size of a bullet, literally! So we cut our losses and moved on to bigger and better things: lunch:)

Because there was a college in town, we decided to check out the campus of the University of Montana equipped with our tennis supplies after checking into our hotel and relaxing for a bit. It¬†was a Sunday (9/14), so we knew it was unlikely there was a game going on. After walking around the campus a bit, we came across the entrance to the courts. ¬†We did not have a chance to play tennis until Missoula, so we were happy to have found beautiful courts that were not occupied by many students. We secured a court and played for about 2 hours just before¬†the sun set. The weather was slightly better, as it hit the upper 70’s. It was also really neat to see the mountains overlooking the campus with the big “M” cemented into the side of it. In the distance we saw groups of people making the hike up and back down. It looked like a perfect day to do that.

After tennis,¬†we continued our¬†search for a nearby cache to hide¬†our mini Frisbee at a cache located just outside the downtown area of the city. We figured that it would be easier and more discrete to hide our trinket in these types of caches. Surely enough we were right! We found one on a bridge and it was the perfecting hiding place. We were really happy to have found a cache that was suitable for our needs, and we realized that we spent the majority of time in Montana finding the appropriate spot for our mini Frisbee…it was a challenge!

The next morning we had their included continental breakfast which included an assortment of hot and cold items: bacon, hash, eggs, breakfast burritos, muffins, sliced bread, bananas, apples, yogurt, boiled eggs, coffee, tea, juices, and a make-your-own Belgian waffle station with strawberries and whipped cream. We were pleasantly surprised at all these offerings. We fueled up before running a few errands in the morning, and continued our drive to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho!