Manolito’s


Banana Daquiri
Feeling the effects already
Ropa Vieja Arepas
Coconut flan

I had been to New Orleans a few times before I ever moved here. During one of my travels, I stumbled across a cute little Cuban sandwich shop. The name is escaping me but I want to say it was El Libre, but don’t hold me to it. When I came back to New Orleans June 2018, this time to live, I was on a quest to find said sandwich shop. I didn’t remember the exact location but I knew the vicinity and was sure I would recognize it once I saw it again. I was with my friend, Lyric, at the time and he and I searched all the side streets until I found the place. Only it wasn’t quite the same place. It had recently changed owners and was now called Manolito’s.

Besides changes to the Menu, I was pleased to find the new owners, Nick Detrich and Chris Hannah, had made changes to the seating arrangements. Upstairs, where there was once a long bar type table with chairs stretched across the bannister, there are now several tables and chairs that can seat multiple guests. This is a wonderful benefit, especially if you desire to actually look at your dining partner during the meal. There is also a small bistro table sitting outside and a few seating options as you first walk in, near the bar/kitchen. 

The establishment is small but inviting. I discovered Manolito is modeled after a bar in Havana named El Floridita, where famed Ernest Hemingway used to sit and sip cocktails.  Manuel Carbajo Aguiar, also known as Manolito, spent 20 years working behind the bar at El Floridita. Manolito mentored Chris and Nick after they met in Cuba. The pair asked for and received permission from Manuel’s family to use the name Manolito for the new restaurant in New Orleans, to pay tribute to him. According to Josephine, an effervescent staple of the establishment and waitress extraordinaire, all staff members must travel to Cuba and learn how to make drinks in the appropriate Cuban style, from the Masters themselves. I won’t go into much detail about the story behind Manolito’s. There has been several stories already written about them in such a short period of time. You can simply google them to learn more. Instead, I encourage you to pay a visit in person and engage any of the staff in conversation. 

My first time there, Chris was serving meals by himself and took time to talk to Lyric and myself about the new establishment. It was that type of welcoming atmosphere that pulls people in and keeps them coming back. Well, along with the great food and drinks too.  

Since then, I have been back two more times and both times it was Josephine who welcomed me back, remembering me from months before. I mentioned before, the place was small and most of the seating is upstairs. Josephine is developing legs of steel, traversing up and down the staircase hundreds of times a day. This past visit I overheard her proudly tell a customer as she delivered their drink, which was filled to capacity “Lily likes to fill the drinks full and watch me go up the stairs. But she’s no match for me, I went to finishing school!” Josephine is a rare breed of person who makes you feel welcomed and missed at the same time.  She can easily jump from topic to topic ranging from the menu, history of Manolito, New Orleans, and Cuba, and then some. She makes you feel as if you are her most important customer when speaking with you, yet never neglects anyone else around her. 

Their menu is small but offers a variety of deliciousness. My favorite dish is Ropa Vieja Arepas. It is a national dish in Cuba, consisting of marinated shredded beef topped with vegetables in a light vinaigrette, balancing out the two flavors. Both are piled on two arepas, which is a cornmeal pancake with cheese inside. I also enjoy their shrimp ceviche, which is served with little Cuban crackers. Their dairy free coconut flan, made with coconut milk, is an excellent way to finish a meal.

I am not a big drinker and tend to stick with fruity drinks so I cannot comment on all the different varieties offered on the menu as to the taste of them. What I can speak about is their banana daiquiri and their house cocktail, the Hotel Nacional. Both are delicious and both times I didn’t make it halfway down before I started feeling the effects! Some would say I was a lightweight, but I have heard on good authority, their drinks are no slouch. 

If you find yourself in the Big Easy, wandering around the French Quarter, I beseech you to walk into Manolito’s and slip away to a little bit of heaven, aka Cuba. 

I’m not Spicy

If you have made it this far in my blog and are still reading, then you know by now I love good food. But what you don’t know about me yet is I don’t love spicy food. I am working on raising my level of tolerance but it is a slow going process and to be honest, I don’t think it will ever reach Titanic proportions. To give you an idea of my spice level tolerance, I am finally able to each Popeye’s Spicy chicken without breathing fire. Fun story that wasn’t so fun at the time: years ago, I was driving back to CT from NY and was eating some Brown Stew Chicken from a local Jamaican restaurant. I managed to get through about half my meal when all of a sudden, after a particular bite, the left side of my tongue became numb. Totally numb! Shortly thereafter the numbing feeling spread to the left side of my lips and eventually the entire left side of my face. My left eye started watering uncontrollably and my nose started profusely running. I thought my hair was going to catch fire. The pain was so intense! It felt like my face was sliding off. I had to pull over to the side of the road because my vision was blurry through the stream of tears running down my face. All I had to drink was Ting. For those of you not familiar with this delicacy, it is a grapefruit flavored soda. Not helpful in this situation…. at all! I had some coco bread, thankfully, and was chewing it slowly, trying to allow the bread morsels to soak up the fire that was currently engulfing my mouth.  A scotch bonnet pepper must have found its way into my food, and I found the tiny sliver and bit into it during that delectable bite. The fire raged for what felt like hours. I had devoured the bread and the fire raged on! I suffered for an indeterminate amount of time before I was finally able to pull back on the road and limp the rest of the way home. To this day, I do NOT understand how anyone can ever get used to spicy food! EVER! Yet, people do. I can assure you, this Lady will not never…. 

Why do I mention this story? Well I have been able to avoid super spicy food for decades. I got blindsided again a couple of years ago at a Thai restaurant in San Antonio. The menu had a cute little rating of peppers 1-5 on their scale. I asked the waiter how spicy it really was and he said it was very mild. To be on the safe side, I ordered my Chicken Tikka Masala as a 1 on the hotness scale. Took it home and started eating. WHAT THE HECK!  The 1 was barely tolerably for me. I never would have survived a 2, much less a 3. And a 5?!?!?! At that level, can you even TASTE THE FOOD?  What kind of crazy do you have to be?

But I digress, back to the story….

There is a wonderful African Restaurant in NOLA called Bennachin. I stumbled across it one day while wandering around the city. Didn’t even realize it was a restaurant because of its unassuming exterior, until I spotted a couple looking in the window. I was curious so I googled the name on the sign above the door and discovered this little hidden gem. I was hungry so I decided to walk in and the smells set my stomach to rumbling. The décor is simple. A very low key place to eat. My favorite item on the menu is their Black Eyed Pea fritter called Akara. The staff swears it is made with black eyed peas but the inside is white as clean snow and I do not taste a single black eye pea in the mix. That being said, it is, however simply delicious! Tender and soft and not hard or crunchy like something that has been over fried. It is the size of a hush puppy but quintessentially better! I thought perhaps it was a fluke… like maybe I arrived on a good day and the stars aligned up just right so I went back a second time with friends and it was JUST as good as the first time.  I ordered their Sisay Singho which is baked chicken leg and thigh, sautéed spinach, sweet plantains, and coconut rice. The portions were so large I had enough left over for dinner the next day. Fast forward a few weeks later, while at work, I was discussing restaurants with some co-workers. A fellow nurse mentioned she likes this African restaurant and I asked “is it Bennachin?” to which she gasped YES! We couldn’t stop raving about it for a good 15 minutes so another nurse googled the menu and we made plans to get together the following week for a girls night out. We got together and it was still amazing! We ordered Akara again and Doh Doh, which is fried ripe plantains as appetizers. Ndole, which is beef, spinach, ground fresh peanuts in ginger and garlic sauce served with fried ripe plantains and coconut rice, and Cope ni Cone, which is boneless chicken, broccoli, ginger, and garlic sauce served over rice and the Sisay Singho again. Everyone was delighted with their order and what can I say, we were not disappointed. I thought I took pictures but think I deleted them off my phone. Sorry… next time! 

Now, not everything is perfect! I went back alone a third time and ordered their Sorso Nessing, which is lentil soup and Sorso Wolengho Ni Mano, which is red beans and beef sausage slices served with rice. The first three bites of the lentil soup was so delicious, I shed a tear of happiness. THEN, the spicy hit me head on! At first I just started having violent hiccups associated with the hotness. So silly me thought I should just drain out the liquid and eat the lentils… because of course only the liquid part of the soup is hot, right? Made sense at the time. I attempted to eat two more bites of just the lentils and the hiccups became so intense, it felt like my diaphragm was trying to launch my stomach out of my body. I could not take another bite if I wanted to keep my dignity intact for fear of hurling. How can something taste so heavenly and so spicy at the same time? I ask again, how can anyone survive spicy food? As far as the red beans and beef sausage, I was disappointed. The red beans and rice were tasty, but not memorable. And the sliced beef sausage tasted like a plain hot dog. Nothing to write home about. 

Still, there are many other menu options so don’t let this one disappointing dish sway you. Please go and dine and Bennachin’s. You will not be disappointed. 

Magazine Street

Today I was wandering down my favorite street, Magazine Street, looking at the different shops and houses and a thought struck me like a lightning bolt. One of the things I really enjoy about New Orleans is there is nothing cookie cutter about it. For example, as I stroll down the street, I see on one side is an old Victorian style house sporting a wide porch with an intricate wooden railing decorating both the upstairs and downstairs porches. On one end is a large round sitting area where I imagine family and friends shooting the breeze on a hot day, sipping a cool drink while watching the world pass by. Directly across the street the house has a completely different look. I have no clue what style it is, but it looks, to me, like it has been transplanted from another time and place. Tall, and stately appearing with wrought iron railing, surrounded by hedges and palm trees which enclose it in privacy. This privacy extends to the side yard and garden. All I can see is a glimpse of an orange outdoor umbrella peeking between the openings in the hedge. As I continue wandering, I see such an eclectic array of buildings, homes and businesses. A little ways down the road is a house that is getting into the Mardi Gras spirit early. With the various decorations springing up everywhere, it is obvious to me New Orleans is getting into full swing party mode. I totally missed it the first time, but as I walked back to my car, I pass by a small lot and see a small, shed size building with a sign out front that reads @PLMIRRORHOUSE #reflectyourself.  

As I am strolling along, I see trees that have been here for so long, the sidewalk is being pushed up by the strength of the roots. The trees in some places look like they are in competition with the people of New Orleans for residency.  What I appreciate is instead of cutting the trees down, people simple adjust the sidewalk, or adjust their stride to accommodate the lumbersome tree roots asserting their dominancy. In some areas around New Orleans, the trees are so large and unyielding, that you can imagine what life would look like if there were no more humans. One sidewalk, I forget where I saw it, appears to be a fine line between humanity and the jungle, and the trees are winning!

What I like best about Magazine Street is it is truly one stop shopping. You can start at one end and have coffee, get your pets vaccinated, treated or groomed, buy musical instruments, or grab a bite to eat. There is a plethora of options for your dining pleasure. 1- you will not starve here and 2- there are enough options that even your pickiest eater can find something they will enjoy. There is a dentist, architect, and the most adorable Spanish colonial building that is a wedding venue (Il Mercato). The buildings have balconies on the second floor that overlook the street. 

For the clothing enthusiasts, Magazine street does not disappoint. For the gentlemen, there is Aiden Gil for Men (a barbershop and personal grooming store), a place to get a hand tailored suit, and a hat store established in 1895 named Goorin. Speaking of Goorin, the staff inside is so friendly there; I met a man, totally blocking on his name but I know his astrological sign is Leo like me, who is both friendly, funny and knowledgeable. And I met Serena Ray Black, who is an aspiring singer so go and ask her to sing you a bar or two… her voice will have you hearing angels. She is shy so she might need encouragement. There are several other clothing stores for men as well. For the ladies, there are several clothing stores, lingerie stores, and a shop Miette, which has an upstairs section for empowering women and embracing your sexuality. You can also get a beautiful headpiece at Goorin’s too. Along the route there are several children’s clothing stores and your mix of fun to wear and vintage clothing stores too.

When you are finished dining and have your complete outfit all picked out, there are several furniture stores for your perusal. I don’t mean name brand like what is advertised on TV. No, these are more like smaller, personal type. I guess what I am trying to say is the area isn’t commercialized like a Mall. 

Gentlemen (or Ladies), while your partner is receiving a spa treatment, and getting their hair styled, you can wait for them while drinking some beer at the Craft Beer Cellar. And after you have filled your bellies, added to your wardrobe, sporting the new fedora, and found the perfect end table for your digs, you can stop by the local artist warehouse/shop and decorate your abode.  If I remember correctly, is open Thursdays through Mondays, but don’t quote me on that…. I forgot now and didn’t write it down. Inside you will find several artists with their wares on display. There are also other shops sprinkled throughout Magazine Street with handmade tiles, artwork, and other artistic options for your viewing and buying pleasure. If you are craving new ink, there is a tattoo parlor on Magazine too. And a gym! 

Magazine Street can be confusing. Whichever end you begin on, as you walk or drive, you will wind up in suburbia. Don’t think the trip is over! Keep going, another section opens up so you can continue the shopping journey! The bottom line is there is so much to see and do on Magazine street. You will not be disappointed, I promise you that! 

Beginnings

I am a foodie! But not fanatical to where I over analyze the ingredients or just HAVE to learn how to cook the dish I am eating. I simply love good food. I love all types of food. And, I recently moved to New Orleans…the town synonymous with good food, good music, the arts and the Saints. What better place to live and eat! Though I am not sure if I will retire here, I know I am here for at least a few years so I am going to make the best of it. I’ve decided to start blogging about my experiences, and write about the places I have seen and the food I have eaten. I welcome you to share your experiences with me or ask me questions about what I have seen. Feel free to suggest places to visit and restaurants to enjoy. I’ll make sure to write about it.  

One of the things I love about NOLA is the vibe. I like to say you can be anything you want here, dress any way you desire, and walk down the street wearing a tutu, or a three piece suit, and no one will bat an eye. There is no awkward gawking or judging of you for just being You. Point in case, I was eating dinner one night and the restaurant was full. In the back, there was a man who was wearing the most fashion disaster of an outfit, well at least in my eyes, one could imagine. I mean to tell you, the shirt was a loud obnoxious print of some sort and the pants were a batik type print. It looked like he was wearing a cross between pajamas and a suit. The colors couldn’t have clashed any brighter if a two year old picked them out. He was leaving the restaurant, saying good bye to the staff and as he passed by tables filled with people eating, not a single person looked up or gave a sideways glance as he passed by. You know the look I am talking about. The glance people give after someone walks past them, oogling behind their back in disbelief. That moment is when I knew I was going to like living here.

I have eaten at several restaurants already, before I decided to start this blog, so I will just mention a few and what I enjoyed about them. I will make sure I revisit them in the future and give a proper review.

1-      Bear Cat Café is an excellent little place who has given breakfast new meaning for me. They offer two sides to their menu for a dining experience that will satisfy even the pickiest of diners. The “good cat” side is vegan fare, while the “bad cat” side is for carnivores. They offer paleo options as well. Their Bison sausage is flavorful. It has ruined “regular” sausage for me. I am not sure how they cook their potatoes, but the taste is wonderful enough, I do not dare use ketchup. Their grits will make a believer out of those who turn their nose up at them. I have not had a bad meal off the menu yet. They offer a lunch menu also, with delicious sounding options, but I cannot attest to the flavor because I stick with breakfast.

2-      The Company Burger has a simple menu with different varieties of burgers. My favorite so far has been the lamb burger. So juicy and delicious!

3-      Gris-Gris Restaurant offers several dining options: the upstairs outdoor patio with a view of the street, inside either at a table or at the upstairs bar, or downstairs at a bar type seating arrangement where you can watch the chefs prepare the food. That is my favorite spot to sit. I confess to going more than once and every time, the staff is friendly and helpful. Always willing to answer questions about the food they are preparing while you watch. The first time I went, the owner was also preparing food and came around and struck up a conversation. I learned the inside scoop to why he has a BBT (Bacon, Basil and Tomato) sandwich on the menu. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you…. Instead, go learn for yourself! 

Thank you for taking time to read my blog. If you enjoyed it, please share with others. Let me know your favorite places to visit when you are here. I will be posting another one this coming week so make sure you come back for more!

Lisa