New Orleans Right Now
New Orleans is open for business, but what's it really like for tourists in the rebounding city? Do visitors feel like they're helping, or like they're only getting in the way?
Where to eat
New Orleans's appetite has returned, too. Everything you remember from previous visits is being served again--blackened beef tenders in debris sauce at Paul Prudhomme's restaurant, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen; fried chicken at Fiorella's; smoky seafood gumbo at Liuzza's by the Tracks; oyster po' boys from Domilese's; muffulettas (giant Italian meat and cheese sandwiches laced with green olive spread) from Central Market; and barbecue ribs from the Verti Marte. Acclaimed local chef Susan Spicer is working overtime at the helm of her wonderful restaurants Bayona and Herbsaint, churning out creations like cashew butter, pepper jelly, and duck sandwiches, and the city's most famous old-school restaurant, Galatoire's, is now taking orders. Its sibling, Brennan's, will reopen at the end of the month, and Commander's Palace starts taking reservations in late June. Today, the mayor's office estimates there are some 10,000 available restaurant jobs, which means when it comes to dining out, some patience is required. Lines can be long and service is slow, but when was it not?
Where to volunteer
To be fair, New Orleans still needs a lot help in a lot of areas, especially with trash clean-up. If you want to get involved, contact Katrina Krewe, founded last fall by local women who got tired of waiting for short-staffed city officials to take care of things. Volunteers meet Wednesday and Saturday mornings at 9 A.M. to rake and bag debris. Check the website (cleanno.org) for details. You can also lend a hand with Habitat for Humanity, which has gutted and cleaned out more than 1,000 homes in the wake of the storm. Although the organization recently announced that it has enough volunteers for the construction of 81 new homes slated for Musicians' Village, a project conceived by Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis to provide housing for the city's newly homeless jazz, blues, and Dixieland musicians, there are new initiatives on deck (habitat-nola.org). Of course, you could also give your time to any one of the many individuals or families who are busy working on their homes. Just knock.
The success of New Orleans's recovery is also now measured in occupancy rates, ticket sales, and po' boy wrappers. Booking a room at Le Richelieu, sipping a Pimm's Cup at Napoleon House, and shopping on Magazine Street are the very best things we can do for the city. So go--swing a hammer, play for a weekend, or both.
Let the tourists come marching in.