The Big Easy: Beignets. Bourbon Street. Bananas Foster.

It's New Orleans vacation time! To me, vacations are all about trying new foods, and New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz and the home of Mardi Gras, is also the quintessential destination for culinary indulgence. Prior to my departure to the Big Easy, a quick Facebook post to friends soliciting recommendations for not-to-be-missed restaurants garnered a list of no fewer than 46 suggested eateries. Perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew?

Ask about availability at the WorldMark New Orleans, my New Orleans vacation timeshare rental

First Stop of my New Orleans vacation: Jacques Imo's

After checking in at my New Orleans vacation rental (Ask about availability), I sauntered over to Jacques Imo's (8324 Oak St., 504-861-0886). Though guests make reservations a month in advance and the restaurant is dark on Sundays, as luck would have it, I arrived during JazzFest and one of only two Sunday evenings of the year that the restaurant remains open.

I squeezed through the crowded and lively bar and I was led directly through the restaurant's kitchen flanked by ebullient faces greeting me on the left and salads awaiting delivery on the right. How the entire restaurant is served from the tiny kitchen remains a mystery. I was surrounded by quirky decor including mismatched light fixtures and a ceiling painted to resemble a swamp, while an eclectic mix of music lay beneath the loud chatter of happy diners. Plastic tablecloths and cafeteria utensils set the expectations for a darn good Southern meal. What a great way to begin my New Orleans vacation.

Cornbread fritters immediately appeared, followed by an appetizer of stuffed shrimp. Mmmm... comfort food. Always open to staff recommendations, I selected the divine Carpet Bagger steak, a butterflied filet mignon stuffed with oysters. The Seafood Bouillabaisse also came highly recommended and was filled with treasures from the Gulf: mussels, shrimp, oysters and fish. Portions are huge, a gentleman seated nearby dove into a rack of lamb fit for Fred Flintstone. Rarely one to pass on dessert, I was simply too full to indulge.

Rise and Shine

I'd been told there's no better way to begin a day while on one's New Orleans vacation than with beignets and cafe au lait. Or, breakfast at Brennan's. Or, Bloody Mary's at Mother's. It had quickly become apparent that as a less than swift decision maker, I was going to have to step up to the plate.

As a slave to my morning coffee, I followed the good advice of a friend who lived in New Orleans for a decade and worked for Emeril "BAM!" Lagasse (who, by the way, has three restaurants there) and rose early to catch the St. Charles streetcar in front of the resort and head downtown before the French Quarter awoke.

No matter the time of day, Cafe Du Monde (800 Decatur St., 504-525-4544) is bustling. Now with seven locations, the original Cafe Du Monde was established in the French Market in 1862. And while the line may appear long, it moves quickly and the staff is efficient without making guests feel rushed. The cafe is open 24 hours a day, year round, with the exception of Christmas Day. A take away window is perfect for those who want to eat on the run.

Getting Around by Streetcar on your New Orleans vacation

Listed on the national historic register, New Orleans streetcars are a convenient and affordable way to see the city while on your New Orleans vacation. Though there is no published schedule for the streetcars, the St. Charles streetcar stops right in front of WorldMark Avenue Plaza and is quite affordable. Exact change of $1.25 is required for each trip, yet a pass can be purchased at the market just steps from the resort in increments of one day ($5), three days ($12) or five days ($20). Ask guest services for an estimated schedule of stops.

The delightful cafe au lait was the perfect start to my morning and helped me adjust to my new time zone. The coffee, strong with a deep chicory flavor, is mixed half and half with steamed milk. Pure caffeinated goodness! Of course, the accompanying beignets are a must! Beneath a monstrous mound of powdered sugar were three fresh golden French doughnuts. Though I anticipated a more sophisticated pastry than the actual deep fried dough squares, I delightfully finished all three as nourishment in preparation of a long day. Truly a "can't miss" spot for any fried-dough lover.

Since the cafe is located in the French Quarter, a trip to the French Market (located between Decatur Street and North Peters Street) couldn't be missed. Shops lining Decatur Street are filled with Cajun and Creole spices, coffee, beignet mix and ever-popular pralines, so I had little excuse for not indulging my loved ones back home with a bit of New Orleans goodness. I hoped to inspire them to take their own New Orleans vacations soon!

Established as a Native American trading post in 1791, the French Market sits just steps from the Mississippi River and is the oldest public market in the country. A long and storied history filled with building expansions and natural disasters precedes the current market buildings, which feature fresh produce and seafood, antiques, art, jewelry and stalls overflowing with Mardi Gras masks and beads. I picked up some locally grown produce to snack on back at the resort and couldn't resist trying the $3 Alligator-On-A-Stick. (And no, it didn't taste like chicken.)

This Ain't Your Mother's Kitchen

Next stop on my New Orleans vacation: Mother's Restaurant (401 Poydras, 504-523-9656). Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, Mother's serves an expansive menu with the most popular dish being Po' Boys. After a short wait outside I joined the cafeteria-style line inside the restaurant with just enough time to decide what to order. Po' Boys come filled with ham, turkey, roast beef, chicken, sausage, fried shrimp, fried crab, fried oysters, or any combination one can design. Feeling a bit guilty for not trying a more extravagant concoction, I happily enjoyed my roast beef version while admiring the crowd of tourists, businessmen and women as well as other locals that filled the joint.

If a Po' Boy isn't your style, perhaps try a muffaletta at Central Grocery (923 Decatur St., 504-523-1620). The line at this hole-in-the-wall grocery went quickly as it wound through the shop. I was intrigued by the floor-to-ceiling shelves of spices, mixes, sauces and other treasures and once ordered, my sandwich was ready in about 10 seconds flat. Curiously satisfying, the muffaletta is round Italian bread cut in half or quarters, filled with salami, ham, provolone and an interesting chopped olive salad. The sandwich was cheap and goes great with some Zapp's chips and a root beer, but be forewarned -- select the large and you'll likely have leftovers to take with you.

Going Bananas

What not to miss on your New Orleans vacation:

Shaved Ice SnoBalls
Plum Street Snoball Stand 1300 Burdette St., corner of Plum and Burdette

Turtle Soup, BBQ Shrimp or Fried Oysters
Mr. B's
201 Royal St.

Emeril's Delmonico
1300 St. Charles Ave.
walking distance from the resort

Port of Call
838 Esplanade Ave.

Clover Grill
900 Bourbon St.


My favorite restaurant of my New Orleans vacation was Palace Cafe (605 Canal St., 504-523-1661). The food was scrumptious and my server, Chuck, was the key to my exceptional experience. A former restaurant owner, Chuck occasionally serves as a personal chef to a pro golfer on tour, but where he truly excels is delivering a memorable dining experience. And he's in the right place to do so.

After a brief conversation, Chuck realized the reason for my visit. He quickly swept my menu away and told me my meal was in good hands. He also mentioned this would be a marathon, not a sprint.

Not a fan of tomatoes in general, I began by tasting fabulous fried green tomatoes with a spicy crust topped with shrimp. Next, a seafood gumbo with a few drops of Crystal hot sauce did not disappoint. As the food kept coming, I tasted an andouille sausage crusted fish that was absolutely delicious. Before I knew it, Chuck presented me with the recipes for the restaurant's most popular dishes. He neglected, however, to wish me the much needed good luck in my attempts to duplicate the fabulous creations.

Without asking if I'd saved room for dessert, (who can't find room for dessert?), I was soon overwhelmed by the presentation of three, yes three, desserts. The white chocolate bread pudding was divine, rich with white chocolate ganache and sprinkles. The strawberry shortcake was over the top; the most delicious shortcake I've ever tasted, topped with locally sourced strawberries sweet to the core. Palace Cafe uses only local ingredients and you really can taste the difference.

Finally, the creme de la creme: Bananas Foster. Though I've tasted some great versions of this dish before, none compare to the masterpiece Chuck created tableside. He expertly sauteed bananas in brown sugar and cinnamon, then flambeed them with banana liqueur and rum. Topped with vanilla bean ice cream, I simply couldn't get enough. Created in the 1950s in New Orleans, Bananas Foster was crafted to promote bananas as they were imported in mass from Central and South America. The dessert remains popular today.

The next evening I visited the casual and authentic Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peters St., 504-525-1486) for what the locals claim to be the best gumbo. I was quite pleased with my shrimp Creole jambalaya and crawfish etouffe but I still couldn't get those fabulous Palace Cafe desserts off my mind. Also visit the delicious Luke Brasserie (333 St. Charles Ave., 504-378-2840) or try the signature Shrimp Arnaud at historic Arnaud's (813 Rue Bienville, 866-230-8895).

Feeling Stuffed and Satisfied on my New Orleans vacation

It was a whirlwind dining extravaganza and I hardly made a dent in the 46 suggested restaurants on my New Orleans vacation list. The culture, history and music are definite reasons to visit New Orleans, but you can't go wrong sampling the delicious and spicy offerings the city has to offer. Just be sure to ask for Chuck, and leave some room so you can have your Bananas Foster, and eat it too.

What to do on your New Orleans vacation...between meals

Music Live music is everywhere. Cafes, restaurants, street corners and bars day and night. Plan a visit during JazzFest in late April/early May for the best of the best.

City & Katrina Tour Garden District, French Quarter, Cemeteries, Lower 9th Ward and post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. (twice daily pickup from Avenue Plaza, reserve with Guest Services)

National World War II Museum (945 Magazine St., 504-528-1944) Don't miss "Beyond All Boundaries," a 4-D movie shown on a 120-foot wide screen. ($10 adults, $8 seniors/ children)

New Orleans City Park 1,300 acres of sports, recreation and activities for all ages and the New Orleans Museum of Art. (1 Palm Drive, 504-482-4888)

Magazine Street Shopping 60 city blocks of antiques, collectibles, clothing, jewelry, art and more.

This article was based on an article about one owner's New Orleans vacation that appeared in our timeshare owners' magazine.

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