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Arts & Culture

Mid City Musings: A Special New Orleans Neighborhood

NOMA
The New Orleans Museum of Art (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

While the French Quarter and Uptown certainly have their charms, there’s another swamp-chic neighborhood in New Orleans that’s not-to-be-missed. Mid City is cultured and refined by the beautiful New Orleans Museum of Art and European cafes and has plenty of local flavor, sitting along Bayou St. John. As you’ll hear in this episode of GoNOLA Radio, why should you travel anywhere else, when you’re “already here.”

GoNOLA RadioHosts Mikko, Lorin Gaudin and George Ingmire sit down with Communications and Marketing Director of NOMA, Grace Wilson, to talk about the unique neighborhood and art museum where she works. Besides NOMA, which celebrated its centennial anniversary last year and houses over 40,000 pieces of fine art from around the world, there is so much to experience in that area of the city. Old favorites like Café Degas, Lola’s and Angelo Brocato as well as bright newcomer Toups’ Meatery are standout restaurants in Mid City. In addition to incredible food, there are three music and arts festivals that all have something unique and special to offer – New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Voodoo Music Experience and Bayou Boogaloo.

Get to know Mid City a little bit better with this podcast episode and see it up close and personal on your next trip to New Orleans!

GoNOLA Radio is a free New Orleans podcast hosted by Sunpie Barnes, Lorin Gaudin, George Ingmire and Mikko about the food, music and culture of the Crescent City. Subscribe to GoNOLA Radio on iTunes or download to your mobile device on Stitcher. GoNOLA Radio features music by Cale Pellick.

Podcast Transcript:

Sunpie: Welcome to GoNOLA Radio. My name is Sunpie Barnes; will be your
host of hosts as we explore New Orleans, to learn about the
city’s rich cultural heritage, food, and music. We bring you
experts, the real deal experts, who will talk with you about the
people who make New Orleans such a wonderful place to live and
visit. It is GoNOLA Radio.

Mikko: As calm and as tranquil as the only bayou surrounded by the
city of New Orleans, Bayou St. John. We are going to talk about
that neighborhood. We are George Ingmire, Lauren Gaudin, myself,
Mikko, and our special guest today, Grace Wilson. Welcome,
Grace.

Grace: Thank you for having me, guys.

Lauren: Hello, guys, and Grace.

Mikko: Grace is the New Orleans Museum of Art Director of
Communications and Marketing, so she spends a lot of time
crossing Bayou St. John. Bayou St. John is a very interesting
body of water, just in terms of the history of the city; it was
really the only way into the city. The reason New Orleans is
where it is, is because they could not find the Mississippi
river in that old swamp in the days before radar, back in the
sailing ship days. They would come in through the lakes around
through Lake Pontchartrain.

Lauren: They being who?

Mikko: Pardon me?

Lauren: Who are they?

Mikko: The French, the Spanish, or the English, anybody who wanted to
come here, but the French mostly. They would come in Lake
Pontchartrain, find the bayou and it used to go all the way to
where Basin Street is, today. Basin Street, in fact, got its
name because that’s where the boats would turn around in a
turning basin.

Lauren: Hello. Basin.

Mikko: Later on, of course, all the sailors would be getting off of
work, which is why Storyville formed right there, but that is
another story, for another time. Bayou St. John, was named Saint
Jean after the saint by the French, who were Catholics, of
course. They had a fort up there. Fort St. John, which today, to
this day, the foundation stones are still there, they call it
the old Spanish fort. There are few very interesting, historic
things there. My favorite is the Pitot House, and there are
other things there, but the most stunning thing on the Bayou, of
course, is the New Orleans Museum of Art, and we have our expert
here today. Grace, welcome again. Tell us about the museum, your
feelings on the Bayou, and anything else you want to talk about.

Grace: We definitely, certainly think that the New Orleans Museum of
Art is one of the cultural gems of the city and also Midcity. We
got the Besthoff Sculpture Garden also, right there. We are in
the heart of City Park. I live downtown, and so many people
always say, ‘I have done New Orleans. I know the city,’ and I
think maybe they are talking about those 13 blocks, and it is so
often that people miss all the treasures that Midcity has to
allow.

The New Orleans Museum of Art has been an anchor in City Park
for 100 years now; we celebrated our centennial last year.
Ground broke in 1910 and the doors were open in 1911. There were
9 works of art when we opened the doors, and today we have
almost 40,000 objects in our collection. I do not think people
really realize, I think exhibitions pull people in, those
blockbuster shows, but we have, every day, on the walls, Warhols
and Picassos, the lovely Marie Antoinette portrait that we got
for our 75th anniversary.

Lauren: Amazing.

Grace: Degas painted just a few miles from the museum.

Lauren: Yes, the Degas’ are gorgeous.

Lauren: How about New Orleans silver? Is there not, there was a
collection at one point in time of that, as well. There is so
much.

Grace: Absolutely. The Shelton’s have their silver collection there.

Mikko: And do not forget the eggs.

Grace: The Faberge eggs, Absolutely.

Mikko: I think we have almost as many as Liz Taylor has.

Grace: I think so. There is always a reason to visit the museum. I
think a lot of times people may wait for that special
exhibition, but the permanent collection is really bar none. I
tell people all the time, ‘These are your works of art. Enjoy
those Picassos, Degas, Monets, and Renoirs, they belong to us.’

Lauren: It is beautiful.

Grace: Yeah, definitely.

Lauren: The grounds are so magnificent, too. I love Big Lake, which I
think is spectacular.

Grace: Which someone told me is in the shape of Lake Pontchartrain. I
did not realize.

Lauren: I did not know that. That is really neat.

Grace: I just learned that this week.

Lauren: By the way, if you are a walker, it is a ¾ of a mile track
around Big Lake. I know because I do it all the time.

Grace: If you are a boater or a paddler, they got those great boats
that you can rent on the weekend.

Lauren: There is a giant gondola, or gondola, as we say here in New
Orleans.

Grace: The guy, Roberto, he actually brought it from Venice, from what
I understand, That is another thing about that area is that you
can really have this European experience. You can have a
Venetian gondola ride, eat Spanish cuisine at Lola, have a
French meal at Café Degas, and see European paintings at the
museum, so you do not have to go across the Atlantic, you can
definitely just head right to Midcity. Do it all.

Lauren: For the European experience.

Grace: Cannolis from Burcados. If you think about all of the things
that you can do.

Mikko: Like the uptown lady once said, they asked her if she traveled
and she said, ‘Why should I travel? I am already here.’

Lauren: What a beautiful thing to say.

Grace: So true.

Mikko: Lauren, since Grace has gracefully brought us into food, there
is a couple of new places up there toom I have noticed.

Lauren: There is. While we were talking about the museum, I want to
mention Café NOMA, which is a Ralph Brennan property, and it is
really sweet. As far as, you think of museums and museum food,
and that makes you think of those automated things and you are
pulling. Now more often, you will see in museums a little bit
higher-brow, a little bit better quality of food. I think of the
Contemporary Art Museum, in Chicago, and the Art Institute, more
specifically. You go to Café NOMA, at the New Orleans Museum of
Art, and you have a lovely experience there. Gorgeous little
sliders and things made there, there is nothing fried because,
clearly, you cannot do a whole lot of major cooking inside of a
beautiful building with gorgeous exhibitions and art going on.

It is definitely a little bit pared down, but it is thoughtful
and beautiful, and it is a great place to grab a quick snack and
terrific, like I said, little sandwiches, Panini’s, and salad,
beautiful stuff. If you ask me about what else is going on in
that neighborhood, and there are a bunch of new things mixed in
with the old, which is really emblematic of what is going on in
our restaurant culture at the moment.

I think immediately of Toups’ Meatery. Isaac Toups, who’s from
Rayne, Louisiana, and the food at Toups’ Meatery, and it is
directly, you can see the museum from sitting out, it is on
Carrollton, right there. They have outdoor seating, indoor
seating, blonde wood, and the food is traditional Louisiana
cuisine, just ramped up every so slightly, because he is a fine
dining chef, he being, of course, Chef Isaac. There are
cocktails and the whole atmosphere is very convivial and you eat
beautiful things.

You can get cracklins, and they are not those hard ones that
break your teeth, they have a little bit of that fat so they
have that little softness to them, and the crunch. He does
rillons. Rillons, if you have not had them before, are candied
crackling, so there is the sweetness and the fattiness of that,
they are just spectacular. He house-makes the meats in the
restaurant. He does slow cooked, low, long, slow cooking of
comfit chicken thighs and white beans. There is simple things at
lunch, like there is a gorgeously presented shrimp po’ boy that
has a crackly, crumbly cornmeal crust on it and a beautiful loaf
of bread. The food is just gorgeous, and yet, it is very homey
and traditional. The price points are amazing, so Toups’
Meatery, I have to tell you, is just top of my list down in that
area.

Mikko: The great thing, and there are lots of other places, too.

Lauren: Lola’s

Mikko: A great thing about Toups’ and all these places is the city did
a great thing, right after the storm, is to extend the streetcar
line all the way up there. You can really just jump in from
Canal Street. Make sure you get on the right one, but the one
that ends at the museum and it goes right in front of all these
places, or at least a block away if you are going to Café Degas
or someplace.

Lauren: It is amazing because it is wonderful. You take that streetcar
up Carrollton, as you were just saying, incredible. You pass
right by Brocato’s, and if you do not step into Brocato’s you
have made a huge mistake, but you are right nearby, of course,
Venetia’s. There is Vietnamese food at Dosan’s. There is, a
block away from that Café Min. If you stay on Carrollton proper
. . .

Mikko: There is Fellini’s.

Lauren: Fellini’s. There is Wits Inn, for pizza.

Mikko: Pandora’s Snowballs.

Lauren: You mentioned Café Degas, which if you get off the streetcar,
you get off right at the end where NOMA is, and you walk a
couple blocks towards the river, actually, it is a crazy thing,
but you are walking toward the river, toward the French Quarter.
Café Degas is beautiful. They have outdoor seating that they
have. It is really classic French cuisine.

Mikko: Absolutely.

Lauren: It is just lovely.

Mikko: I get the cheese plate and a glass of wine, and I am good for
the week.

Lauren: The paté, all of that, it is perfect. I love, one of the
deserts they do there that is one of my absolute favorites, is
called ile flotant, and ile flotant is nothing but a big cloud
of Meringue sitting on crème Englaise. They just do an
incredible rendition.

Mikko: For our American listeners, ile is French for island, and not
the slimy animal that the British eat.

Lauren: That is right, I-L-E, ile flotant.

Mikko: The floating island.
Lauren: Thank you for the clarification. We do not want people thinking
we are eating eel at dessert. Although, I must say that there is
a place for that in my heart. I love Lola’s, also in that same
area. If you are a garlic fiend . . .

Mikko: That garlic shrimp pan. Oh, my God, that alone is worth it.

Lauren: Heaven, right? Beautiful place, again, to have that Spanish . .
. You can really have a very eclectic and very ethnic experience
within a very small radius. Whether you are having French food
at Degas or Spanish food over at Lola or Louisiana cuisine over
at Toups’, Italian treats and specialties at Brocato’s, Midcty
really is a one-stop shop. It is really fabulous.

Mikko: The Greekfest is up a little bit higher than that, up on the
Bayou, and they have the Bayou Boogaloo a little bit lower down
from Devil’s Elbow. I figured maybe you could chime in a little
bit on the musical offerings on the Bayou.

George: Absolutely. We can talk about the Greek festival, which is also
food.

Lauren: I love it.

George: Traditional Greek music.

Mikko: Opa.

George: Opa.

Lauren: Drink some Retsina and some Ouzo.

George: I actually like the Retsina.

Lauren: I love Retsona.

George: It is an acquired taste.

Lauren: I am with you, I like it.

George: Then you can go up the Bayou and enjoy Bayou Boogaloo, which
sometimes is actually on the same weekend. The Bayou Boogaloo is
a free festival with food, of course, and art and . . .

Lauren: Music.

George: . . . lots of great music, lots of local artists. The focus is
on local artists. It is the grassroots festival that is getting
a little bigger, but still has that charm.

Mikko: Great children’s tent.

George: OK.

Mikko: It is huge. My daughter performed there.

George: Right behind the museum we have been talking about, around
Halloween time, usually on the weekend of Halloween is the
Voodoo Music Experience, which is interesting, because it is a
mash-up between traditional music here in New Orleans and that
young, angry stuff that seems . . .

Mikko: Those kids.

George: I am looking at this one that is coming up in just a couple of
months: You got Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Green Day, Jack
White. Let me see. Dave Stewart, Bootsy Collins, Thomas Dolby.

Lauren: It is really a fun time.

George: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the New Orleans Bingo Show, so
they mix a little bit of New Orleans into it. What is nice about
that festival is young people are walking past traditional jazz
and they get pulled in and turned on to it, and then people that
are traditionalists, purists end up in a mosh pit, possibly.

Lauren: Right. Rocking out.

George: It mixes things up a little bit. Of course, the Jazzfest, New
Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, unrivaled in many ways;
great art, great music, great food. The music alone though, you
can just spend the whole day sitting in one place and enjoy
great music, but I like to mix it up and move around. The radio
station I am a part of actually broadcast, WWOZ, does a
broadcast from the festival.

Lauren: It is genius, by the way.

George: Yes, it is really nice.

Mikko: It is listened to around the world.

George: Around the world. You can listen to it if you cannot make it
here, but try to get here. Then, we also broadcast from the
Voodoo Music Experience [inaudible: 12:16].

Lauren: Speaking of events, because NOMA has lots of cool events.

Grace: We really do. Just talking about the music and the art, I just
love when those things coincide. One of my favorite parts about
Voodoofest and Jazzfest is going to see the art, and I would
hope that someone’s favorite part about coming to NOMA, perhaps
would be coming to listen to a bit of music. We do have live
music at the museum every Friday night. We are open until 9:00
p.m. I know too, that City Park, the Botanical Garden,
seasonally, has music every Thursday night.

Mikko: They have that Japanese Tea Garden in the Botanical Garden,
which is really great venue that I expect a lot of cool events.

Grace, you were speaking about the sculpture garden earlier, and
we had some kids do some Shakespeare in there this summer, this
spring, which I thought was really effective and really
beautiful. Are there other things planned?

Grace: Absolutely. Our new director, Susan Taylor, first thing she did
when she got to the museum a couple of years ago, was expand the
hours, so now NOMA is open Tuesday through Sunday, and the
sculpture garden is open now 7 days a week, and absolutely free
to the public on any given day. Another thing that Susan did was
really just sky rocket our programming, not only in the number
of events, but the quality of events that we have, and just
bringing in other aspects of the arts.

Now people are coming to NOMA for the performing arts. We do
have Shakespeare in the Garden, generally, every spring and
fall, there is a show, a series. We kicked it off in 2011 with
‘A Mid Summer Night’s Dream.’ We also did, ‘As You Like It,’ and
coming up will be ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ also ‘Romeo and
Juliette’ in the Great Hall. A lot of both performing art and
visual art at the museum have been really site-specific. If
anyone went to these Shakespeare plays, you all of the sudden
realized that the sculpture garden became a character within the
play. It plays a really . . .

Lauren: How wonderful.

Grace: Yes, it is really cool. You do not just sit there and enjoy,
you actually are part of the play. In several of the plays there
have been many occasions, 2 or 3 times, when the audience
actually moves with the actors. You start off in that beautiful
front pine grove and you go back into the oak grove across all
the bridges, footpaths, and whatnot.

Lauren: Neat. Are you still doing yoga in the garden, as well?

Grace: Yoga is every Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. We also have Tai
Chi every Monday evening, 6:00 p.m. in the art galleries. There
is just no shortage of things to do. If you are on a budget or
you are looking for something different to do in New Orleans, I
think City Park is really the way to go. $1.25 to catch that
streetcar down there, like you guys were saying. You really
cannot beat it.

Lauren: You really cannot. What about the movies that are coming up?
That sounds really cool to me, I loved it. It has that feeling
of drive-in, but also that whole thing that they used to do in
Ottoman Park where you would sit and you would have the
orchestra; the Philharmonic playing, and you could picnic, more
or less. Are you guys doing something fun like that?

Grace: It really does feel like you are in the drive-in now, all over
New Orleans. The New Orleans Film Society had a Kickstarter
campaign and they bought an outdoor film screen. The thing, I
think, is 20 feet tall or something like this.

Lauren: Amazing.

Grace: All over the city they are hosting screenings at the Mint and
on top of old grocery stores, but one of the most popular ones
is in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. We started the series last
year, and we have just now announced our fall series. They are
fun, classic films: ‘The Incredible Shrinking Woman,’ comes to
mind, or even ‘The Princess and the Frog.’ We tie them back to
our exhibitions; for instance, ‘Princes and the Frog’ was
inspired by Leah Chase, who we had an exhibition by. We have had
cooking demos this summer that have been so successful.

Lauren: Incredible.

Grace: ‘The Incredible Shrinking Woman’ is a tip to this exhibition,
‘Life Like,’ that we are going to have in the fall, which really
plays with scale, from a card table and chairs that a grown man
could walk under, to a 30-inch working elevator. It is really a
‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’ exhibition for the whole family to
enjoy.

Lauren: That is really cool, but you cannot bring food to, even though
it has got that picnic vibration to it, you cannot bring outside
food because you guys are going to have some people onsite,
right?

Grace: When we have our outdoor events or even when the doors are open
to the public generally, we do not allow picnicking, but thank
you for asking, Lauren. During the Shakespeare plays and the
films, we make sure that our many food trucks from around the
city are available to feed the masses, because we cannot do
anything in the city without food: Crates a la Carte, Woody’s
Tacos, or La Cocinita, no shortage of good food, for sure.

Lauren: All three of those are phenomenal.

Mikko: We are about to scoot on down in our little kayaks off the
Bayou, but I am going to shoot it out to all of you.

Lauren: Paddleboard.

Mikko: Each one of you, mention one thing you love to do at the Bayou.
I am going to say, I mentioned the Pitot House earlier, it is a
beautiful historic home. I think admission is nominal, if they
have one at all. It is an old plantation house; the only one in
the city and you can walk on the veranda and look at the water.

Lauren: Beautiful.

Mikko: Even crossing the bridge there. Sitting on the bridge with your
honey, or my honey. Whoever’s honey could meet.

Lauren: [inaudible: 17:13] my honey.

Mikko: George, what about you?

George: There is a Voodoo ceremony every summer at St. John’s Eve.

Lauren: Oh, yes.

George: On the footbridge that Sallie Ann Glassman puts on with her
house, [inaudible: 17:25], of which I am a member. It is a
ceremony for Marie Laveau, and it is a pretty amazing one. You
got your bringing food, it could be Creole food or hair
supplies, because she was a hair stylist. There is drumming,
dancing, singing, and head washing, or lave tet as they say in
Creole.

Lauren: How nice.

George: It is a pretty amazing experience.

Lauren: I have not done that. That sounds fabulous. For me,
unfortunately, I have a little a trio of things.

Mikko: I knew you would have more than one.

Lauren: Sorry, I do. I love the museum for the exhibits, I cannot help
it. I think they are just genius and I think it is beautiful. I
love walking Big Lake, I think that is gorgeous and there is an
orangerie, they have these citrus trees that are growing along
there and you smell the heaven scent of those incredible
blossoms; that is a big deal. Finally, I like, on the Bayou,
paddle boarding. I have noticed kids paddle boarding, and there
is the New Orleans Paddleboard Organization, and they do yoga on
the paddleboards.

Mikko: Finally, our lovely guest, Grace Wilson, thank you for being
with us. What is the one thing?

Grace: What a pleasure it has been. If you guys do not find me in the
sculpture garden, out in City Park, I am most assuredly under
that great oak tree by the walking path at Big Lake, with the
chimes.

Lauren: I love it.

Grace: I could sit under there every lunch hour and just escape to
another world, and feeding the ducks a rind of my sandwich
bread, it really is. I am just such a lucky girl, and it is an
honor to drive out to the New Orleans Museum of Art and work
every day.

Mikko: Lauren, George, Grace, thank you for being with us. I am Mikko.
We will see you next time around.

Lauren: Thank you, Mikko.

George: Thank you.

Mikko: Thank you.

Sunpie: GoNOLA Radio is a production of New Orleans Tourism and
Marketing Corporation, in conjunction with FSC Interactive.
Music by Cale Pellick. My name is Sunpie. Tune in next week by
subscribing to GoNOLA Radio on iTunes or GoNOLA.com.

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