If you ever wanted to go on the weirdest vacation ever, get yourself to Chicago, rent a car, and drive down to New Orleans. Stop at strange wineries where the wine pourers forget to zip their pants, visit cities that are semi-cool but littered with great beverages, food, and occasional sites (like an arch where you can get into a pod and shoot up to the top – holla!), and without a doubt, grab some Rainbow Twizzlers to keep you going.
Make sure you have your “fat pants” with you though, because by the middle of the week, you’ll need them.
But first, see a great friend’s nuptials. Hang out with your old work buddies. And sit at the table of white folk that won the dance-off. Yeah, we did that. Felicia aka homeslice – congrats!
The next day, our visit to Chicago unfortunately very short, we had a quick brunch with Jennifer and took off. We were at least able to cram in a trip to Handlebar and Big Star, and I got to see my old boss’ new baby (so cute! maybe cause he was sleeping?!), but that was about it. Fortunately, we have big plans to head there for New Years – woot!
(L to R: stuffed french toast at Toast in Chicago, beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans,
Neely’s BBQ in Memphis, fried chicken at Nola in NO, Pappy’s BBQ in St. Louis, muffuletta in NO,
twizzlers on the road!, Chik Fil-A leaving Memphis, ribs at Rendezvous in Memphis)
We hopped onto I-55 and drove south until we landed in St. Louis. I had flashbacks of my first job as a genetic counselor and those long drives to Peoria and Springfield at the crack of dawn – highway 55 was a freeway I hadn’t really expected to be on again unless it meant I was coming to or from Midway Airport, but at least this time there was no work involved, and! I found twizzlers, so that made it pretty much ok in my book.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that St. Louis is a really pretty city. I honestly didn’t know much about it at all, other than knowing there was a big arch somewhere near the waterfront. And yes, it’s pretty touristy, but it’s actually kinda neat to learn about the reason for the arch and what it symbolizes. Although I’m not usually into history, (I’m getting a little better, and when I say a little, I mean a little) Chris made me watch a short movie before going into the arch about Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Apparently St. Louis was their starting point and because of that, the arch was eventually built to symbolize that journey. Makes much more sense now to know why St. Louis is called the “gateway to the west”. Duh.
As for the trip up the arch, that was kinda lame (just like the trip up the Space Needle). The coolest part was the little pods that you sat in to get up there; once you were there the windows were super tiny and the top area super small (although I’m not sure why I expected anything different – I was surprised enough to find that you could even go in the arch!).
Our B&B was really cute (and for sale!) and right in the middle of Lafayette Square, a quaint little neighborhood that had a park perfect for a morning run (my only one during vacation), as well as a brewery with really great maple stout – perfect combo, right?! Our friend Brad used to work out of St. Louis, so he gave us tons of recommendations of where to eat. As expected, he didn’t steer us wrong. He wasn’t the only one recommending Pappy’s, and now I know why – their BBQ is the stuff dreams are made of! Plus, lots of great people-watching and yummy local grape soda made it even better. Our favorite spot in St. Louis? Taste – their cocktails are the best I’ve ever seen, and fortunately I have a recipe for one that I’ll be sure to try at some point.
We’ve said this a thousand times over, but a trip is no trip without a winery thrown in. And while Missouri wine is no comparison to wines of some of the other states we’ve visited, it was really fun to visit a couple of them, even if one of them was practically in the middle of nowhere (think multiple gravel roads and no GPS signal). Plus, it made the drive down to Memphis seem a little shorter since we had a wine intermission ;).
As we made our way south, the weather continued to get a little bit warmer and the accents became more and more reminiscent of life in North Carolina as opposed to living in the Midwest. Memphis is a gritty town, but full of culture and history and as all of us should know, home to Elvis. Now, neither of us are big enough Elvis fans to justify the cost of admission to Graceland (what a money trap!), but we did drive by it and see the gates and the throngs of tour buses, and we did take a tour through Sun Studios where he and many other artists (Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins to name a few) hit it big.
We were lucky enough to be in Memphis on a Wednesday night, which means we got to see three blocks of Beale street covered in motorcycles (and scooters!) for their weekly Bike Night that runs through the summer months and into fall. We stayed at the Peabody hotel, which is where we saw the march of the Peabody ducks – so weird! And of course, there was plenty of great food consumed in Memphis – their dry rubbed BBQ with sweet, tangy sauce is outta this world – so much so that we made sure to visit two popular spots for it. Last but certainly not least, our favorite meal of the entire trip took place at a small house in Memphis – Restaurant August. We are huge fans of tasting menus and theirs was so reasonably priced with wine pairings for only $15! Great food representing the South and the chef’s training in New Orleans, which was perfect for us since we were headed straight there the following day.
Okay, maybe not straight there. We veered off the route so we could “knock Alabama off our list” and still managed to get to Hope’s house in Hattiesburg, Mississippi by 6 pm. Hope had some amazing chicken and sausage gumbo waiting for us and to make Chris even happier, she made grits and biscuits the next morning! Man, what a treat.
We hopped on the road and headed straight to New Orleans after breakfast and it wasn’t long after we got settled in at the hotel that we were wandering through the French Quarter. We found a great spot that one of Hope’s friends recommended and had the biggest sandwich I think I’ve ever seen – the muffuletta. Salami, ham, olive spread (but not too much), giardiniera, and cheese are tucked between the best tasting sesame bread that results in a sandwich so big and so thick that you have to split it between three people to finish it off. Okay, I probably could have eaten at least half of it on my own, but we also had a couple of po’ boys to finish!
The French Quarter is one of the nuttiest places I’ve visited (next to the Red Light District in Amsterdam – holy moly), but I’m definitely glad we had the chance to check it out, try a “hand grenade” and a Hurricane (not my favorite drink at all) and people-watch like crazy. We pushed our dinner reservations as late as possible, but after eating fried chicken and mashed sweet potatoes at Nola, I was glad we didn’t cancel them.
A full tummy? That’s nothing a few beignets can’t take care of. We finished our last day off right with a trip to Cafe du Monde, a nice meander through a couple of neighborhoods and an old cemetery, and lunch at Acme Oyster House. New Orleans might be crazy, but the food can’t be beat – that’s for damn sure.
The best part about the trip? Well yeah, the food was magnificent, but we also got to spend a short amount of time with some great friends. We reunited briefly with Jennifer & Jon, my old work crew, and last but certainly not least, Hope & James. It was a weird trip, but a great one at the same time. (For more pics, check out the flickr set.)
And! We crossed the following states off our list: Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. If that ain’t awesome, I’ll kiss your grits ;0). From the looks of my map, I’m due for a trip to the Northeast, the Dakotas, or Hawaii. Hmmm….
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