Day Tripping - Dec 2017/Jan 2018
- by Lisa Monti
Roaming around New Orleans on a crisp, sunny day is a treat for anyone who loves the city and never gets tired of tooling around its interesting neighborhoods and shops, admiring the distinct architectural styles and, of course, enjoying a delicious meal.
How lucky for those of us who live on the coast that the city is just an hour’s drive, making day trips an easy outing. Next time you visit, try parking the car in a lot or garage and climbing aboard one of New Orleans’ iconic streetcars to get around.
The streetcar lines are very affordable (as little as 40 cents for seniors) and convenient, with streetcars rolling up every few minutes. Service is available 24 hours, though there’s less frequent service during the evening and early morning.
New Orleanians have been riding streetcars since 1835. Today, the Regional Transit Authority operates the city bus and ferry service along with four streetcar lines: the Canal Street line from Canal to City Park, the Rampart to St. Claude line, the St. Charles line and the Riverfront Streetcar. All of the routes run along or intersect Canal Street between the French Quarter and the Central Business District.
The St. Charles line, with 10 stops, is the most popular in the city, transporting riders from downtown to Carrollton, the Garden District and the campuses of Tulane and Loyola. Most riders are actually residents, so don’t be surprised if the passenger sitting next to you asks where you’re from. Riders are used to sharing their route with visitors.
The St. Charles line operates the historic green streetcars built in the 1920s by the Perley Thomas Car Works of North Carolina. Each one is a National Historic Landmark, according to RTA, and the slight rocking motion of the cars gives riders a feel for this old-time method of travel.
The line goes from Canal Street at Carondelet to South Carrollton at South Claiborne daily and is a favorite for its views of Garden District opulence, university campuses, Audubon Park and Zoo and trees with branches laden with Mardi Gras beads.
Other line highlights include the National World War II Museum, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the Contemporary Arts Center. Restaurants along the way include the fabled Commander’s Palace on Washington Avenue, a couple blocks off St. Charles, and Vincent’s Italian restaurant on St. Charles.
At the Riverbend area, home to some fine-dining restaurants as well as casual spots, the line curves onto shade-filled South Carrollton and ends at Palmer Park, 6 grassy acres and shade trees that is home of an impressive monthly arts market.
It takes about 40 minutes to ride the St. Charles line one way end to end, and with all the sights to take in, the time seems much shorter. We opted to ride the entire line and then return to our starting point on St. Charles near Gallier Hall and Lafayette Square to have lunch at Herbsaint Bar & Restaurant, one of the best in the city.
The parking lot just beyond the restaurant was full when we arrived so we moved a block over to Carondelet and found a space in a GoPark lot for $15 for three hours. Parking usually shouldn’t be a problem with minimal planning and some patience.
Do a little mapping before you drive over to get familiar with the location of the lots to make finding a spot stress-free. The majors are GoPark, Premium Parking and SP+ Parking. Parking Panda is an online site where you can see all the lots in the Central Business District and even reserve in advance. Of course, there's an app.
Open since 2000, it’s the flagship of chef Donald Link’s restaurant group that includes Cochon, Peche Seafood Grill, Calcasieu, Cochon Butcher and La Boulangerie bakery and cafe. The menu is seasonal Southern dishes with French and Italian touches. An added bonus for day trip diners is that Herbsaint is open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. so you can fit in a meal all day.
We chose an inside window table with a view of the St. Charles streetcars and settled into deciding what to order. It’s always a nice problem when there are too many good choices on the menu, plus daily specials all sounding better than the next. A basket of the amazingly delicious French bread made at LaBoulangerie got us through the decision-making.
For our late lunch, we picked two of the daily specials, the seared chicken rillette cake and the cornmeal fried catfish. The chicken with mustard dream was flavorful and the catfish was fried to crispy perfection, reminiscent of fried chicken. The hearty cornmeal coating kept the catfish hot inside and the crunch came through in every bite. Both were both delicious enough for a “you’ve got to taste this” exchange across the table.
Dessert (ordered in the line of duty) was a double-crusted banana brown butter tart with caramel, a popular selection so rich and delicious that I Googled the recipe when I got home. It was that good.
Herbsaint has built a solid reputation for consistently fine food, a good wine list and a helpful, professional wait staff.
701 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70130
Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Saturday 5:30-10 p.m.
The streetcars run seven days a week and they arrive every 8 to 15 minutes. You can pay as you board but you need exact change: 40 cents for seniors with an ID or $1.25. You can also buy a $3 day pass to ride RTA streetcars and buses. Get them from the bus or streetcar operator, from ticket vending machines and retail vendors all over the city including all Walgreen’s. And you can pay with your smartphone by buying a pass online with the RTA GoMobile app.
Go towww.norta.com for line schedules and maps, to download the app and to find fare and pass vendors.