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New Orleans Explored: Discovering All That Jazz

Take a shopping break at St. Vincent's Guest House & Tea Room (1507 Magazine St.; 504/523-3411; lunch for two $25), a 136-year-old former orphanage known for its crawfish étouffée and afternoon tea. For a quick buzz, grab biscotti and an espresso at the dark and arty Rue de la Course (1500 Magazine St.; 504/529-1455).

Later this year, black-velvet-wearing vampire novelist and real estate dilettante Anne Rice will open Café Lestat at 2015 Magazine Street, where the old Happy Hour Theater once stood. In a city filled with voodoo legends and aboveground tombs, the macabre is often good for business.

The Déjà Vu Artist

From goofy placards that read chien méchant (the French version of beware of dog) to huge street scenes, painter Simon Hardeveld's work draws you in like the biggest, brightest lollipop in the candy store. A bunch of it is on display at his Lower Garden District shed (at Bush Antiques; 2109-11 Magazine St.; 504/581-3518).

This kooky French ex-cook also accepts commissions. "You bring me a picture of your dog," he says, "I paint it." Hardeveld warns it may take time. "I have so much business. Everybody wants my stuff." It may also take an open mind: One gentleman requested a portrait of a woman named Lola with whom he had become smitten at a French Quarter bistro; Hardeveld obliged him with a whimsical picture of her striding topless down Bourbon Street.

Whatever you do, don't call him a folk artist. "I am a déjà vu artist," he says. "I paint things you've seen before." Tell that to Lola.

Who Do Voodoo?

Voodoo in New Orleans is like the rum in a daiquiri: you know it's there, but you can't really see it. Sure you've got your hokey amulet-hawking French Quarter boutiques and a bevy of tarot-flipping psychics in Jackson Square. But the real deal is harder to discern.

In the 17th century, west African slaves brought their religious beliefs across the Atlantic to Haiti. There, the various tribes' traditions mixed with Catholicism, and voodoo began to take shape. Haitian blacks—both slaves and free people—brought it to New Orleans in the 1700's.

Start your quest with the exhibition "Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou," which is on display through April 11 at the New Orleans Museum of Art (1 Collins Diboll Circle; 504/488-2631). There are more than 500 pieces of artwork, including bead-covered bottles, drapo vodou (sequined flags), and a re-created temple with three altars.

Across town at the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St.; 504/523-1216), check out "Mystery and Mastery: Art of Haiti," also on view until April 11. Showcasing photography and works influenced by Haiti's political situation, the show gives a social and secular context to the religious art.

The best place to find out about New Orleans-style voodoo is at the Historic Voodoo Museum (724 Dumaine St.; 504/523-7685), where you can arrange a cemetery tour, buy magic trinkets, and hear tales of Marie Laveau, who bore 15 children and allegedly performed ecstatic dances with her snake, Zombi.

Zealots can shop for paraphernalia at F&F Botanical (801 N. Broad St.; 504/482-9142). It's not in the most picturesque neighborhood, but it does offer the genuine article: gris-gris bags to keep the law away, prosperity aerosol spray, and all manner of lotions, bath salts, and oils for attracting love. Just be sure to say the hexes correctly, or you might end up attracting the law and avoiding the love.

Richest Po' Boys

Buying a po'boy sandwich in New Orleans is harder than it might seem. First you need to know how to order one. Never say "poor boy"—it's a dead giveaway that you're clueless. Generally speaking, they come three ways: "dressed," with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayonnaise (pronounced "my-nez"); "dressed dry," with no mayo; and "plain," with nothing but the meat and fish.

Now, you need to know where to go. We asked local food critics about their favorite haunts:

John DeMers, New Orleans magazine: Fried shrimp-and-oyster po'boy at Acme Oyster House (724 Iberville St.; 504/522-5973; dinner for two $28). "It's a compromise made in heaven. I like to order mine dressed, and accompanied by a Dixie Beer."

Craig LaBan, the Times-Picayune: Soft-shell-crab po'boy at Uglesich's Restaurant & Bar (1238 Baronne St.; 504/523-8571; lunch for two $22; no credit cards). "You walk out of there smelling like garlic and fried stuff. But it's worth it." LaBan also likes the blackened shrimp po'boy at the Rendon Inn (4501 Eve St.; 504/822-9858; dinner for two $20) because it's not fried but still packs the flavor.

Lisa LeBlanc-Berry, Gambit News Weekly: The Ferdi at Mother's (401 Poydras St.; 504/523-9656; dinner for two $40; no credit cards), which substitutes cabbage for lettuce to complement a mountain of ham and roast beef. She also recommends Parasol's (2533 Constance St.; 504/899-2054; lunch for two $20; no credit cards) for its run-down atmosphere and its meatball po'boy, which she claims is the best in the city: "It's sloppy and doused in a definitive marinara."

(Bonus points for remembering, when ordering, to call the marinara "red gravy," another New Orleans-ism.)

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