NOLA

You know, you’d think writing a brief article about your hometown would be easy.  It’s not.  I’ve lived in New Orleans for 22 years and I still don’t really know if I understand the city.  It’s in the deep south, but also weirdly liberal.  It’s urban, but feels like a small town - everyone seems to know each other and once you’ve lived here for a little bit, running into friends in every part of the city is basically inevitable.  It’s constantly evolving and changing, and honestly it’s pretty hard to keep up with.  There’s no perfect way to describe the typical New Orleans neighborhood, so I’ll try my best to give y’all some insight to what you can find in different areas of the city! When discussing our food, though, it’s been pretty straight forward and unchanging for quite a while.  On Mondays you can expect to see restaurants offering red beans and rice, a New Orleans staple.  It’s literally cooked red beans, usually smothered with ham hock, sausage, and onion.  It’s creamy and delicious, served over a bed of rice and often accompanied by Crystal hot sauce.

On Fridays, expect to find fried catfish and shrimp on offer.  The city’s huge Catholic population has made consuming seafood on Fridays a pretty strong tradition.  Honestly, though, we are a huge seafood town so you can pretty much find seafood every day of the week.

Other foods you can expect to find and should absolutely try are jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish étouffée, and po’ boys.  Jambalaya is basically a seasoned rice dish filled with meats and the “holy trinity,” a New Orleans culinary staple consisting of celery, onion, and green bell peppers.  Gumbo is a seafood stew (but way better than any seafood stew you’ve had), though sometimes you’ll find it made with chicken and andouille sausage, a local spicy pork sausage.  Crawfish étouffée is a seafood dish consisting of crawfish and a few vegetables smothered in a butter sauce and served over rice.  It’s super decadent and will probably give you cardiac arrest if you eat it too quickly but it’s totes worth it.  Po’ boys, or “poor boys,” are sandwiches served on French bread, typically containing fried seafood or other favorites such as warm roast beef (ask for extra gravy, or debris as we call it, if you want a bad ass sandwich that’ll leave you covered in delicious beef drippings), hot sausage, or ham. Look I’m not saying New Orleanians eat these foods on a daily basis, but they are our culinary pride and joy and you should totally try them while you’re here!

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Now onto the different neighborhoods you can expect to visit! I live in the Bywater, a residential area about five minutes outside of downtown.  It has recently undergone a huge transformation as young gentrifiers from the northeast and west coast have come in, changing the landscape in a pretty dramatic way.  I’m not here to discuss the positives and negatives of gentrification, though, just here to tell ya like it is.  What used to be a culturally rich neighborhood filled with middle class people of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds is now the hippest, youngest neighborhood in the city.  The best way to think of it is like a little Brooklyn.  You’ll see lots of skinny jeans, overgrown beards, “craft” anything and everything, and maybe some face tattoos.  The recent changes have brought in new art galleries, restaurants, and people who like to do things like urban farming.  It’s interesting, and is actually a pretty fun place to live.

Not far from the Bywater is the French Quarter.  You’ve probably heard of it if you’ve ever looked into going to New Orleans / have a TV.  It’s the most tourist - heavy part of the city, with good reason.  The architecture is damn beautiful, with French and Spanish influences coming together to make the streets look like a scene from some cheesy Western European romance novel.  It’s real cute.  Oh, just don’t make a big deal out of going to Bourbon Street.  Honestly, it’s something you should do (like, just take a walk down the street) but don’t make a night out of it.  It’s obviously a big aspect of New Orleans but it literally is just there to take your money in return for cheap thrills and even cheaper liquor.  Locals are judging you if you’re on Bourbon Street drunk and holding a hand grenade.  Instead, spend an afternoon on Royal Street popping in and out of art and clothing stores and check out Jackson Square which is where the Cathedral is located.  Take some time to relax in the gorgeous courtyards and outside patios of the city, as well as eat at some of the restaurants I’ve listed below.

If you’re in the mood to see some gorgeous old homes and spend a day shopping at cute as shit boutiques, head to Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District.  While you’re there, check out Funky Monkey for vintage costumes and clothing, and hit up District Doughnuts for some craft doughnuts (!!!).

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Looking for a place to take your kids?  Head to the Audubon Insectarium and Aquarium if you’re downtown, or the Audubon Zoo if you’re uptown.  They’re huge and beautiful, making it a fun way to spend an afternoon.

OK OK OK, I’ve also broken down the city into neighborhoods to find the best food, drinks, & entertainment.  I’ll include a little description of neighborhoods that I didn’t mention above!

Bywater

Eat:

  • Sneaky Pickle if you’re looking for insanely cheap locally sourced vegan and vegetarian food. Order the bowl of food and the vegan Reuben and then shoot me an email telling me this recommendation changed your life.  
  • Oxalis if you want to go a meatier route and get a burger TOPPED WITH BONE MARROW. Oh and also, they have $5 old fashioneds, so, duh.  
  • Pizza Delicious for literally the best pizza in the city. They’ll deliver to your Airbnb if you’ve got cash. Otherwise, go in for a whole pie or just a few slices.

Drink:  

  • The Branch.  Located in the back of Oxalis, The Branch offers a dark patio setting with craft cocktails.  Wanting to get pumped up and not drunk?
  • Check out Solo Espresso for awesome espresso and drip coffee.  This place is a renovated little house that is so effing cute and there are pop-ups every Saturday featuring everything from baked goods to Burmese food.

Do:

  • Baccanal for live music. It’s basically a wine shop with a massive patio.  A live band plays from like 6 to 11 every night, so grab a bottle and head to the back to hear some music.  There’s also a walk-up kitchen that offers some great snacks and entrees. Go anytime on weekdays but on weekends I’d recommend getting there before 6 p.m. to make sure you can get a table!  
  • Also, go check out the brand new Crescent Park.  It’s right along the river and is an awesome place to have some snacks and watch the steam boats go by.

Late Night:  

  • Saturn Bar on St. Claude Ave. for wild Saturday night dance parties.  Don’t get there before 11 p.m. though, play it cool and show up around midnight – that’s when shit gets real.

Marigny

The Marigny acts as a barrier between the super touristy French Quarter and the more residential Bywater.  If you’re staying in the Quarter, take a short walk over to the slightly quieter Marigny for a meal or some late night live music.

Eat: Paladar 511 for pizza and Italian food. It’s located in the architecturally stunning 511 Marigny building, just go for a glass of wine and relaxation if you aren’t looking for food!  Check out Dat Dog for inventive hot dogs and cheap drinks during happy hour. Oh but if you’re already drunk (#me) and in search of munchies?  Hit up 13 for goodies such as tater tachos and a bomb Bloody Mary because yolo Bloody Marys are basically a meal, right?.  Butttt, if you’re looking for global fare and a more formal setting, Three Muses has you covered.  It’s just a few steps from all of the music and bars, making it a convenient location for a civilized dinner.

Drink:  Faubourg Wines for Wednesday Night wine tastings (6 – 8 p.m.) and daily $5 glasses of wine.  It’s a wine store with a lounge and a great atmosphere. Plus they have cheese and usually some bread from Bellegarde Bakery so really it’s a win-win.

Drink/ Do / Late Night:  Frenchman Street for tons of live music and bars lining the few blocks stretching from the river to Royal Street.  Just spend the night popping in and out of places.  On weekend nights it can get pretty crazy though, you’ve been warned.  Go a little off the beaten path to Kajun’s for drunk karaoke. This place used to be kind of a secret but those days are far gone so I don’t mind telling you about it!  Karaoke stops at around 3 a.m. so try to hit it up before then!  Also, once you’re down on St. Claude there are like three awesome bars within a block or two of Kajun’s.  Check out Siberia for an ”eclectic” mix of live music (read: everything from punk screamo to bounce)  and some great Russian food from the back kitchen.  Go to Allways Lounge for impressively grungy hipster drag shows or swing by Hi-Ho for some funky beats spun by DJ Soul Sista every Saturday.

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Chicago Blog Smak Travel New Orleans-1

The French Quarter

Eat: Sylvain for incredible Southern / French fusion and a super sweet staff or Bennachin for some awesome pan-African food that is served in portions larger than anyone could actually conquer.  Head to Meauxbar to watch Chef Kristen Essig pump out some totally innovative food that makes Willy Wonka look #basic.  Go to St. Lawrence for some super late night grub featuring massive plates of fried chicken, fish and chips, and omg poutine (thanks, Canada!).  Oh, and everyone goes to Café du Monde for beignets because it’s obviously super historic and world famous and delicious and yada yada.  Do it at least once, but here’s the thing: do. not. go. on. a. weekend. morning. Just don’t do it.  You will waste half of your day in line for some awesome-but-not-worth-the-wait fried dough squares.  Instead, go on a weekday morning, midday on the weekends, or for a late night treat. Matt and I drive by all the time on Sunday morning and just shake our heads at the 100-person long line.  Don’t be those people!

Drink: Cane & Table for some kick ass craft tikki drinks and a great staff or Molly’s on the Market if you’re seeking a dive bar.  It’s not too touristy and they have an incredible frozen Irish coffee that will def get you turnt.

Super Late Night:  Oz Night Club.  Yes, it’s technically a “gay bar” but it’s also the best dance club in the city.  You’ll find it filled with people from all walks of life dancing to ridiculous pop music and being obnoxious (in a fun way).

Warehouse District

This is kind of a weird part of town in the heart of the central business district that has become residential very recently.  It’s super busy during the day and dead at night but that’s changing as more apartment complexes and condominiums are being erected.

Eat: Johnny Sanchez for some awesome Latin / Modern American food by Chefs John Besh and Aaron Sanchez.  Make it over to Root for some gastronomy stuff that’s kind of pretentious but still really effing good.  I’d recommend ordering the cigar box smoked scallops because duh.

Drink: Bellocq is the place to go for some craft cocktails and sexy lighting.  For the local dive bar, hit up Lucy’s.

Lower Garden District

Eat: Mais Arepas for modern Cuban dining.  Nile for Ethiopian.  District for craft doughnuts (!!!).

Drink: Barrel Proof for a damn good cocktail and some of the friendliest bar tenders in this city.  French Truck Coffee for some bomb locally roasted coffee.

Do:  Shopping on Magazine Street.  Spend an afternoon going between shops and boutiques and make sure to check out some of the more off-the-wall spots such as Funky Monkey, a vintage costume store.

So there you have it, that’s New Orleans in a tiny nut shell.  This list doesn’t cover all the neighborhoods in the city, but most of the other parts of town are more residential and there’s not too much stuff to do in terms of tourism.  If you find yourself wanting to know more about New Orleans or need help planning a trip, I’d love to assist you!  Just shoot me an email.

 beau.

Spotlight: Beau Ciolino

Today, Friday, April 24, 2015 marks the beginning of Smak Spotlight, a new addition to the Smak brand.  This project is something that I have been wanting to start for quite some time. Let's face it, I spend a lot of time on social media. Instagram is my spirit animal. I read blogs (food, fashion, lifestyle) like they are 'choose your own adventure books.' I (attempt to) use Twitter like it's my job. And I secretly want to be friends with all of these incredible bloggers, Instagrammers, and foodies. I am so inspired by the passion with which they live life. I want to be able to share some of these incredible experiences with them. Smak Spotlight provides a platform where my readers can learn about someone that inspires me on a daily basis. Whether it is a fellow blogger, a local chef, or an all around badass person, I am thrilled to be putting these men and women in the Spotlight. Ultimately, I hope that through Spotlight, these individuals are able to inspire even more people.

Enter Beau Ciolino.

I've stumbled upon Beau's blog, Probably Baking, a few times on Instagram (I may or may not lay in bed at night browsing food photography on Instagram, whatever, it's how I fall asleep. However, it wasn't until Probably Baking was featured on one of my favorite fashion/lifestyle blogs, Yummertime, that I really started reading the website. A quick thank you to Chris and Brock for getting me actually start reading Probably Baking rather than just liking pictures on Instagram. Beau's writing is smart, funny and honest. It can be rather easy to pick out a writer who is writing what they think the readers want to hear, rather than being genuine. Beau is the latter. Please do yourself a solid and start reading his website, it is awesome.

I reached out to Beau a few weeks ago with the idea of writing an article for Smak. Specifically, a travel-oriented article on New Orleans. To my luck he agreed and the rest is history.

Today we learn a little bit more about this 22-year old from New Orleans, Louisiana. Monday, Beau talks the reins and talks NOLA.

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| BEAU CIOLINO | Age: 22

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What is your favorite part about living in New Orleans?

My favorite thing about New Orleans is its laid back atmosphere.  This city moves at a snail’s pace, pausing for parties and parades, often putting play before work.  It can be annoying at times - it takes forever to get anything done here - but once you take a step back, it becomes apparent that maybe this is the way life is supposed to be lived… not stressing, enjoying good company and appreciating the beauty in slow living.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received is something my mom used to say.  She’d always tell me “Don’t sweat the small stuff… and it’s all small stuff.”  I have always been an anxious person, trying to accomplish a lot and getting nervous when I don’t feel like I’m doing enough.  Whenever I get too stressed out about school, or my future, or a project I’m working on, this saying comes into mind.  It’s all small stuff.

What’s your biggest goal for 2015?

My biggest goal of 2015 is to be my most authentic self.  I want to live the life that I want, without outside pressures or constraints.  I know it sounds so cheesy, but it’s true.

You’re just about to graduate college, what’s next?

Once I finish college in a few weeks I will be doing some travelling and hopefully finding a job.  I’ve applied to a few food publications and sites, but so far nothing has been contractual. We’ll see! Worst case scenario I’ll just continue working in the service industry and blogging, which has actually been pretty fun for me as I get to be surrounded by food and the people who love it!

If you could cook dinner with anyone, who would it be?

If I could cook dinner with anyone it would be my late grandmother on my mom’s side.  She died when I was just a child, but she apparently was an awesome cook.  My aunt even made a cookbook about her, documenting all of her recipes.  She lived in New Orleans too, and most of her food reflects her southern upbringing.  It appears she was also pretty crude with her language, which I can of course appreciate.

What’s your definition of the perfect day?  

My definition of the perfect day would be sleeping in until 10 and then going to a fancy brunch where there would be bottomless mimosas and good company.  I would have an afternoon nap and then I would go swimming in a perfectly warm pool with my boyfriend and a few of our friends. The weather would be sunny, about 80 degrees.  At five o’ clock we would all go to Bacchanal, my local wine store, for a few glasses of wine and some cheese. We’d watch the sunset and hang out until 10, listening to the live music and talking and drinking too much wine.  From there we would go to the Country Club, a swimming bar near my house, for some late night swimming and maybe a few cocktails.  Sounds kind of hedonistic, and it totally is, but sometimes hedonism is just what the heart needs.

You’re given a plane ticket to anywhere in the world. Where are you going?

If I could go anywhere in the world it would be Copenhagen.  Or Ghana. Or back to Vietnam, where I lived for a few months.  Or Brazil. Or – shit – Morocco?!  Yeah I basically have no clue.  NEXT!

Why did you start Probably Baking?

In all honesty, Probably Baking was more or less pressured onto me by my good friend, Cameron, and my boyfriend, Matt.  I have always been a cook and a baker, but have never known what to do with those interests.  I didn’t want to work in a restaurant kitchen, and I didn’t want to go to culinary school right after finishing undergrad… so I was kind of lost as to what to do with my culinary interests.  Matt and Cameron suggested I start a blog. I resisted it for a while.  Then, one day, kind of out of the blue, I made a gluten free bourbon spice layer cake and took photos of it. And then I wrote about it. And all of a sudden, Probably Baking way born.  Of course, lots of work went into getting it to where it is today, but it had a pretty organic beginning.

Favorite post you’ve written?

My favorite post I’ve written so far is my strawberry and basil focaccia post.  The photos came out exactly how I had hoped and I got to get real personal with my job hunt and real life, which is always fun to do.  My goal with Probably Baking is to have original and unique recipes, but also a window into the individual (me) behind them.  When I read other cooking blogs, the most interesting thing for me isn’t always the food, but the stories of the person behind the food.  I’m not saying it has to always be serious or even pertain to the recipe at hand, but just some insight into the personality of the person creating the food is always nice.  I try to keep that in mind when writing my own posts and I feel that the focaccia post is a good example of that.

How do you go about scheduling content for your blog? Do you always work ahead or do you tend to post in real-time?

Ugh I WISH I worked ahead.  It would make life so much easier. But no, everything you read or see on my site was produced within a day or two of being posted.  Keep in mind, a lot of the recipes on the blog are ones I’m developing myself.  Most people don’t realize the amount of testing that can go into a recipe before I post it.  Sometimes I make two, three, or four versions of something before it goes on the blog.  This can make developing an arsenal of recipes and posts ahead of time extremely time consuming.  I will try to work ahead once school is out and I’ve got a little more time to plan.

If you could work with anyone, fellow blogger, celebrity chef, etc, on a post, who would it be?

If I could work with anyone it would be Ina Garten only because I grew up wanting to be invited to one of her garden parties but never was.  ☹

What are your go-to blogs to read?

BLOGZ?! Jeez, you’re asking for quite a list and I am going to give you one.  I’m not including Smak Eats in this list because obvi I love it and visit it often!  For baking and stunning photography:  A Brown Table, My Name is Yes, Hummingbird High, Le Juse D’Orange, Glazed and Confused, and Top with Cinnamon.  For amazing writing:  Chocolate & Marrow, Fig & Bleu, and Local Milk.  For all around fun content and original recipes:  Fix/Feast/Flair, Kale & Caramel, Southern Fatty, and Displaced Housewife.  For lifestyle and fashion ideas: Yummertime and The Kentucky Gent. I’m always looking for more fun bloggers to follow, so this list is always growing!

What would you say to someone looking to start a blog?

Starting a blog is easy, but making it interesting is the hard part.  Let your true personality shine through and DO NOT be afraid to be a little out there, it’s what will set you apart from the masses.  Honestly, when I started writing my blog I was so afraid that I would curse too much or be too strange for people to like but it’s all worked out!  I’ve ended up meeting a ton of awesome people by just being myself!  As with everything you do, including blogging - quit trying to be someone you are not, life is too short!

Most thankful for?

I am most thankful for having such a beautiful family and close group of friends. I’ve never felt like I was on my own.  My parents, siblings, wonderful boyfriend, and friends make me feel at home no matter where I am.  It is because of them that I am able to focus on what I care about.