Interloper Kevin Sessums polls a few well-known inhabitants of this implausibly humid, implacably happy place. And they're pleased as planter's punch to share the reasons they so love their hometown.
Franck W. Ockenfels 3

Lauren Hutton relives freshman year
"I got my education on Bourbon Street, not at Sophie Newcomb," says model and adventuress Lauren Hutton recalling her first year at the two best-known New Orleans finishing schools. "I lived on Bourbon, baby, in a great apartment across from the Court of Two Sisters restaurant. Had a big brass bed that cost me twenty-five dollars. I was eighteen and waiting tables at Al Hirt's place," she says, invoking the name of one of the city's most beloved jazz legends. "I'd work from seven p.m. till three-thirty a.m. I'd sleep four hours, hop on my Vespa, and head up to the Garden District for my classes at Newcomb. I loved working at Al's. Dizzy Gillespie made a pass at me there. Believe me, that's something a girl doesn't forget. Al's was the first to integrate Bourbon. I'd sit at the bar doing my homework. Field all the calls. And listen to the bomb threats we were getting."

"I went back recently for the first time in over twenty years and was appalled by what's happened to Bourbon Street. It was always trashy, but wonderful trashy; now it's devolved into the lowest of the low. The city government must be criminal to let that happen. All those damn T-shirt shops. It broke my heart. Don't they know what they've got?New Orleans is a national treasure. No, it's a world treasure. It's America's only European city. I know it must still have its charms, but I didn't find any. So I'm heading back to do some more exploring. I'm going to bag me some of that city's damn charm. I'm determined to. Determined."

Calm down, Miss Hutton. Calm down. And listen to that sultriest of siren calls: a New Orleans resident reeling off the reasons why "the weather don't matter and the neighbors don't mind."

Emeril kicks it up
There is no more pleasing sight in all of modern New Orleans than chef Emeril Lagasse walking toward you ready to shave a Périgord truffle atop a piece of wild sea bass he's seared especially for you. The bass is presented on truffle risotto amid a mushroom emulsion. Emeril has already plied you with beluga caviar and a bowl of oysters Rockefeller soup. "So good so far?" he asks with a devilish grin.

"Kick it up a notch," he's told.

A piece of wild boar, lolling on a sizzling brick, arrives just when the essence of truffles begins ever so slightly to subside. Perfection.

Emeril all too rarely soils his white tunic in the kitchen here at his home base. He now spends about 10 days a month in New York, taping his hit television show Emeril Live for the Food Network. And to maintain standards, he constantly visits his restaurants in Orlando and Las Vegas. Plus, he's written five best-selling cookbooks in the past seven years.

"I'm a carpetbagger," Emeril admits. "My dad's French-Canadian, my mom's Portuguese, and I grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts. But I've lived here eighteen years. New Orleans is home. I love the feel of this city. I tell people there are forty-nine states in America," he says, laughing at where he finds himself today—wildly successful, a celebrity, a Southerner. "And then there's Louisiana!"

Emeril's essential New Orleans
His own restaurants: Emeril's (800 Tchoupitoulas St.; 504/528-9393; dinner for two $70); Emeril's Delmonico (1300 St. Charles Ave.; 504/525-4937; dinner for two $80); and Nola (534 St. Louis St.; 504/522-6652; dinner for two $60).

Classics: Commander's Palace (1403 Washington Ave.; 504/899-8221; dinner for two $90); and, of course, Galatoire's (209 Bourbon St.; 504/525-2021; dinner for two $70).

For breakfast: Bluebird Café (3625 Prytania St.; 504/895-7166; huevos rancheros for two $8.50).

Quick dinner: La Crêpe Nanou (1410 Robert St.; 504/899-2670; crêpes for two $18). "Love the food, and the people who work there, too."

Late-night burger: Camellia Grill (626 S. Carrollton Ave.; 504/866-9573; burgers for two $6).

Crawfish pie: R & O (216 Hammond Hwy.; 504/831-1248; pies for two $8). "A down and funky Bucktown place."

Groceries: Sav-A-Center (2900 Veterans Memorial Blvd.; 504/834-4151). "Great fish, and a surprisingly good wine section."

Can man live by Satchmo alone?
The two native musical geniuses of New Orleans are Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson. It's only fitting, therefore, that the historic New Orleans Opera Association stages its productions in the Mahalia Jackson Theater in Louis Armstrong Park. Still paying attention, Miss Hutton?Then face it: you've got to love a city where Puccini is performed inside Mahalia.

Jazz was Armstrong's calling, but certainly not Miss Jackson's—in fact, she considered it gospel's no-count cousin and refused ever to sing a secular song. There was no need, for New Orleans, no matter how gloriously down-and-dirty its many bars and music dives, has always been a hotbed of gospel. How have two such diverse, yet rhythmically similar, musical traditions grown up side by side?"The short answer: African retention," says Times-Picayune columnist Lolis Eric Elie, who for years worked as road manager for the Wynton Marsalis Band. "There are all sorts of stories about Congo Square, in Armstrong Park, being the great gathering spot for slaves. It was a market as well as a social place where people would dance and play music. The French here in New Orleans had different conceptions about slavery than the English in the rest of the South—the French let the Africans keep their drums."

The drums at the uptown outpost of Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church are displayed behind Plexiglas, and each time the choir swoops into its Holy Ghosted rhythms, the Plexi shakes with the fervor of all the true believers prancing about the sanctuary. In the mural behind the baptismal font, Jesus is depicted, appropriately so, as a dark young man, preternaturally self-possessed. His robes are perfectly draped. His hair is pomaded into a beguiling pageboy. He is Nat King Cole as Mona Lisa.

If you prefer your musical stylings less elemental, a little more elegant, then keep on your Sunday best and book a table at Red Room. That's where the city's earthier version of Nat King Cole performs. Jazz balladeer Jeremy Davenport is, of all things, a trumpet-blowing white boy. He takes the stage here every Friday night, and can also be seen at the newest chic nightspot, Le Chat Noir. Davenport got his start playing with Harry Connick Jr., but missed New Orleans too much to spend months on the road. "When I land at the airport, I can literally smell the dampness and the mildew. Oh, man, anything can take root here," he says between Red Room sets. "I love to get right out in the moisture of this place."

Well, my goodness.

Go on home now. Change out of your moist Sunday best. And head over to the plaza in front of St. Louis Cathedral to listen to clarinetist Doreen Ketchens and her band, the Jackson Square All-Stars. "There are times I throw my head back and close my eyes and I see Louis Armstrong just lookin' at me and smilin'," she says, finding a bit of shade under a palmetto. Ketchens has played at clubs as far away as Portugal and Taiwan, thanks to connected tourists who have caught her act on the streets of the French Quarter. "It's all God's doin', cause I hated jazz," she says, alluding to her early days as a classical musician. "I grew up over in the Treme, where all those jazz bands played—the Dirty Dozen and the Chosen Few," she says. "And here I am now. Here I am."

Someone else here now (and still banging out his tunes) is Fats Domino, who so thrillingly performed the shotgun wedding between gospel and jazz up on Blueberry Hill. The freakishly beautiful progeny of such a union resembles rock and roll, but has rhythm and blues eyes. Though George W. Bush has cited as his favorite group the local Neville Brothers, a more cutting-edge act is singer Ricki Comeaux, a little Cajun gal from up around Lafayette. Her angst anthems have an enticing tinge of zydeco to them. Where does she go after a successful gig?"My friends whisk me off to Loa, the bar at the International House, or, occasionally, Rick's Cabaret, on Bourbon," she says, mentioning the upscale strip joint famous for its table dancing. "I've had several dances performed for me all in one night," she brags.

Jeremy Davenport's hangouts
Where he plays: Red Room (2040 St. Charles; 504/528-9759); Le Chat Noir (715 St. Charles; 504/581-5812); and Le Bon Temps Roulé (4801 Magazine St., 504/897-3448), "a divey uptown bar."

Favorite hotel and hotel bar: International House and its Loa bar (221 Camp St.; 504/553-9550; 800/633-5770; doubles $120-250).

Place to hear a brass band: Donna's (800 N. Rampart St.; 504/596-6914).

Barbershop: Aidan Gill for Men (2026 Magazine St.; 504/587-9090). "You can get a massage there, too."

Breakfast after being out all night: Poppy's Grill (717 St. Peter St.; 504/524-3287).

Doreen Ketchens's hit list
Best gospel music: Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church (2308 S. Liberty St.; 504/895-6800); First Pilgrim's Baptist Church (1325 Gov. Nicholls St.; 504/522-1740); and St. Augustine Catholic Church (1210 Gov. Nicholls St.; 504/525-5934).

Jazz spots: Sweet Lorraine's (1931 St. Claude Ave.; 504/945-9654); Snug Harbor (626 Frenchman St.; 504/949-0308); and Siam Café (435 Esplanade; 504/949-1750).

A great jazz singer: Leah Chase, who performs on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Hotel Intercontinental (444 St. Charles Ave.; 504/525-5566).

Where to catch Ricki Comeaux
Mid-City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl (4133 S. Carrollton Ave.; 504/482-3133).

Howlin' Wolf (828 S. Peters St.; 504/529-2341).

Richard Ford's side of town
Favorite lunch spot: Rita's Olde French Quarter Restaurant (945 Chartres St.; 504/525-7543; lunch for two $20).

Most romantic place for dinner: The garden behind Marisol (437 Esplanade Ave.; 504/943-1912; dinner for two $70).

Favorite New Orleans writers: Walker Percy, Ellen Gilchrist, and James Lee Burke (the Dave Robicheaux novels).

Henri Schindler explains mardi gras
Carnival: Season beginning on Twelfth Night (January 6) and culminating with Mardi Gras, a masquerade bacchanal, always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Krewe: A Carnival organization that typically puts on parades and/or private balls.

Court: A krewe's royal personages, composed of a king, queen, dukes, maids, and pages, who reign at the balls.

Captain: The real power behind each krewe. This is an elected position, and tenures vary. The captain of Proteus, for example, just resigned after almost 25 years.

Parade: The city is filled with processions throughout Carnival. The Krewe d'État, the only satirical parade with its own floats, takes place the Friday before Mardi Gras. The Krewe of Orpheus parades Mardi Gras eve. And Rex, king of the carnival, parades Mardi Gras day. (These are my favorites, but I'm prejudiced—I design the floats for all three.) Napoleon Avenue is great for taking in parades because of the beautiful oaks—it's darker there, so the floats look better.

George Dureau tells it like it is
Best bars: Port of Call (838 Esplanade Ave.; 504/523-0120). "This is my local hangout. They serve a great hamburger." Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (941 Bourbon St.; 504/523-0066). "An atmospheric if touristy spot on the quiet end of Bourbon." Galatoire's (209 Bourbon St.; 504/525-2021). "The upstairs has just been redone, and the bar is gorgeous—as fine a bar as you'll find anywhere."

Favorite cemetery: Lafayette No. 1 (Washington Ave., across from Commander's Palace). "But I've told my friends to cremate me and mix my ashes in some paint, then brush me gently into one of my canvases. I think that's a sweet idea. But we've all got sweet ideas down here. We're infested with 'em."

The food ain't all that's rich
"Growing up in New Orleans, you learn to appreciate decaying grandeur," claims Walter Isaacson, the managing editor of Time magazine. Isaacson is the perfect example of the kind of meta-preppie that the city's upper-crust Garden District has produced over the years—smart as a whip, ambitious, taught early on how some day to suck in any sign of one's gut behind a wilting seersucker suit. Other examples: New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly writer Nicholas Lemann, best-selling author Michael Lewis, and most recently, NFL star Peyton Manning, the gentleman athlete who quarterbacked the Indianapolis Colts this year into the playoffs. Indeed, on a Sunday morning, when you're standing in line for silver-dollar pancakes at the Bluebird Café on Prytania, and overhear two proud fathers discussing a "well-thrown ball," you can never be certain if they're talking about the football game won by Isidore Newman, the tony prep school where Manning got his start, or a party worthy of one of their debutante daughters.

Though the Garden District has expanded its membership rolls—in the real estate sense—to include such landholders as goth guru Anne Rice and the brilliant decibel-defying rocker Trent Reznor, it is still the bastion of a certain sort of dyed-in-the-linen New Orleanian. Jewish, Episcopalian, Catholic: it doesn't so much matter anymore, though it once did. What will always matter, however, is wealth, or the memory of it, and the ability to knock back gin and know the first names of your dinner partner's parents. In fact, Walter Isaacson's parents still live uptown in the house on Napoleon Avenue where he was raised. "New Orleans is just a magical place full of easygoing folks," Isaacson continues, a bit of his raspy Crescent City drawl still present when someone is kind enough to ask about his hometown. "Ever read A Confederacy of Dunces? That book captures a particular quality about the city. Though I guess you have to grow up eating Lucky Dogs to really get it," he concludes, chuckling at the very thought of the frankfurters one can chance purchasing from street vendors on the town's busiest corners.

On the busy corner of Royal and Common, you can also catch the St. Charles streetcar for a lovely ride uptown into the Garden District. Though many of the nicer mansions are on adjacent streets, you can still see the grand old houses of St. Charles from the streetcar windows. Stay on until you reach the side-by-side campuses of Tulane and Loyola, and you'll come to Audubon Park. There's no better place for a pastoral stroll.

"I missed the sound of that streetcar. It's like when one is raised next to the sea," says Susie Hoskins, an owner of Design Cuisine, among the premier caterers of Washington, D.C. She grew up on St. Charles Avenue and has now returned here, dividing her time each week between the avenue and Arlington, Virginia. Hoskins made her social debut in '59 and correspondingly had 59 parties thrown in her honor, the most of any deb that year.

Hoskins's current favorite pastime is antiquing in the upper-3000-block area of Magazine Street. "Magazine is really undergoing a renaissance. There's something here in every price range; there are even Beanie Babies," she remarks with that Southern combination of sweetness and disdain. Hoskins enters Lucullus, the well-known shop specializing in French culinary antiques. "Look at this piece!" she exclaims, inspecting a gloriously dilapidated cupboard labeled GARDE-MANGER, CIRCA 1840, FROM THE PYRENEES REGION. Next, she raises a rather squat piece of glassware, attempting to peer through it to the chandelier above. "Too clunky for my taste," she remarks, careful not to tip the silver strainer poised on the absinthe glass's sturdy lip.

Susie Hoskins's shopping list . . . PLUS
New Orleans Auction Galleries (801 Magazine St.; 504/566-1849). "If formal's your style, this is your place."

Jim Smiley Fine Vintage Clothing (2001 Magazine St.; 504/528-9449). "Wonderful little black dresses."

Cole Pratt Gallery (3800 Magazine St.; 504/891-6789). "Local contemporary artists."

Mignon Faget Jewelry Design (3801 Magazine St.; 504/891-2005). "I love Faget's vermeil banana-leaf pin."

Uptowner Antiques (3828 Magazine St.; 504/891-7700). "Beautiful French country things. Check out its neighbor Wirthmore Antiques for more of the same."

Lucullus (3922 Magazine St.; 504/894-0500).

Anne Pratt Designs (3937 Magazine St.; 504/891-6532). "Spectacular large jewelry in silver."

Neal Auction Co. (4038 Magazine St.; 504/899-5329). "One of my sources for estate art and jewelry."

Favorite hotel: "The Ritz-Carlton is opening this summer in the incredible Maison Blanche building. It'll give the Windsor Court some competition. But I always suggest the Soniat House [1133 Chartres St.; 800/544-8808 or 504/522-0570; doubles from $175]; it's charming, cozy, and has the flakiest biscuits."

Best rice and beans: "They have to be smoky and creamy. Try Mandina's [3800 Canal St.; 504/482-9179]."

Epiphany isn't just a drag queen's name
New Orleanians twiddle their thumbs all through Christmas, their minds racing forward a dozen days to Twelfth Night, when Carnival can officially begin. No one throws a better Twelfth Night party than Henri Schindler, the Carnival historian who has written the most essential of the town's coffee-table tomes, Mardi Gras New Orleans. He also designed the Mardi Gras floats that adorn the floor of Harrah's new casino on Canal Street, and has a book coming out soon about the elaborate invitations of past Carnivals. Schindler rents out the ballrooms above the bar and restaurant, the Napoleon House—built in 1814 by Nicholas Girod and offered in 1821 to Emperor Napoleon as an alternative to his exile on Elba—and fills them with an assortment of revelers. It's hard to tell the uptown socialites from the denizens of the Vieux Carré, for anyone not masked or costumed is barred from entering.

"The night of Epiphany is for those of us truly serious about Carnival," says Schindler, using the term that Catholics, in this most Catholic of American cities, prefer for Twelfth Night. Schindler himself is dressed as a Chinese mandarin. His authentic persimmon-colored robes are elaborately brocaded, and a peacock feather bobs from behind his broad-brimmed hat. A feral little half-mask sits atop his delighted face. The jazz combo he has hired cranks out a peppy rendition of "St. Louis Blues." Booze is downed. The tempo is upped. Couples are actually doing the Charleston. Décolleté costumes are loudly admired. Two males break into a tango. Jim Smiley, owner of his namesake vintage clothing store on Magazine, is wearing floor-length vestments used in an Order of Odd Fellows initiation at the turn of the last century. "Fun, it would seem, is serious business," he dryly remarks, his voice muffled behind his long-nosed mask.

Draped in a club chair in the ballroom's vestibule is a girl wearing a slightly frayed ball gown to its very best advantage. Her mask is made from the same beige silk and shimmering beads as the rest of her ensemble. When told how lovely she looks, she says with the sweetest of slurs, "This was my great-grandmother's Epiphany costume. It's my first time to wear it. Family tradition. I turned eighteen last year. They made me put it on. I'm just—I don't know—a little overwhelmed. I waltzed earlier uptown with a masked man who wouldn't tell me his name. The men all insist on disguising their voices. I could have been dancing with my daddy for all I know." She lifts her mask to wipe away a tear. She lights her own cigarette. She sighs. "It's all so silly and wonderful and too, too much."

Richard Ford welcomes a gentleman caller
It has been raining all Sunday afternoon in the French Quarter and finally the clouds begin to part, allowing the remaining light to lap at this hue-addled part of town. It is a gentle light, tender, really—too tender, in fact, to test the hangover-subsiding determination of those emerging from their walled gardens to set off on their weekly strolls toward the top of Bourbon. They're all headed for yet another early Sunday supper at Galatoire's, which is one of this city's more preciously held traditions, along with "making" one's uptown groceries at Langenstein's, and suffering through another New Orleans Saints season.

Just a few blocks down from Galatoire's, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford graciously receives a visitor in the parlor of his 1840's town house. Tourists—a covey of warbling Germans—flutter by outside as Ford settles into a blood-red taffeta sofa situated perfectly between the parlor's lavishly sashed front windows. Above him is a silk screen of an old Paris Review cover. Books, of course, are all about, including an opened edition of Middlemarch, his current reading, left atop a sturdy little writing desk just big enough for a man's laboring elbows. On the walls are several original WPA-sponsored photographs by Eudora Welty, who has named Ford the executor of her estate.

"I hear the tourists walking down Bourbon all the time," he says. "I'll be sitting here reading, and one of them will say, 'Oh, I wish I knew what it looked like in there.' If I ever hear that, I go right out and bring 'em inside and say, 'You want to see what it looks like?Come on in and look!' I assume they all think there's a room in here full of pictures of popes, and the ashes of a Pekingese dog on the mantel. When, in fact, it's just me, reading and watching a football game on TV. Not anything exotic. It's certainly not George Dureau's place," he says, citing the city's most infamous artist and photographer.

"The important thing to me about New Orleans is not all the gingerbread on the houses and how everybody has that accent that makes them sound as if they live in Brooklyn," Ford continues in his own slightly nasal, no-nonsense voice. "What's important to me is how New Orleans is like any other big city, except nicer. It's a more graceful city, a more slowly paced one." He pauses. "When I used to hang out down here in the seventies, they were into the life that I think people expect New Orleanians to be into: slightly decadent perhaps, slightly grubby. It felt like 'live and let live,' as Kristina would describe it," he says, mentioning his wife of 32 years, who was until recently the executive director of the city's planning commission. "It all felt . . . boozy. But I think the big drinking in a societal way has finally gone out of vogue. Eating is much more of a vice in this town," he insists, noting that his current project is the introduction to a history of Galatoire's.

"Walker Percy warned writers to be careful about living in the Quarter," Ford is reminded. "He said that 'the occupational hazard of the writer in New Orleans is a variety of the French flu, which also may be called Vieux Carré syndrome. One is apt to turn fey, potter about a patio. . . .' "

"When I came here in the seventies, I'd stay at the Olivier House on Toulouse—a place I still love—and I'd call up Walker. I was looking for a place to buy or rent. And Walker would always say: 'Richard, don't buy in the French Quarter. You'll be preoccupied with taking a stroll every morning, and going off to get coffee, and chattin' with your friends at the Napoleon House.' It was specifically because of Walker Percy that I have not let that happen," he says, twisting about atop his red silk taffeta.

Bohemian on the bayou
George Dureau is in a tizzy. There are two minutes left before the year 2000 commences, his guests have gathered on the balcony of his 6,000-square-foot loft to view an imminent display of fireworks, and he still hasn't decided which music should accompany the close of the century. At the stroke of midnight, the fireworks burst above the city. Suddenly from his little boom box blare the opening chords of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." "This is the sound of the twentieth century! This!" Dureau happily proclaims as he joins his guests on his rickety terrace and leads them all in song, the Beatles' British voices blending with the baritones that even the women seem to employ down here.

Hovering inside, another display of New Orleans characters bears silent witness to the watershed revel. Dureau's giant charcoal renderings of naked men grouped in rather innocent romps are hung haphazardly all about the loft's walls, as is a portrait of Kristina Ford posed as Diana the huntress. His photographs of more starkly rendered male nudes—godlike African-Americans, amiable dwarfs, and precisely posed amputees—are scattered on all available surfaces. Dureau served as early inspiration to both Robert Mapplethorpe and Joel Peter Witkin, who eventually developed an appreciation for the beauty to be found in the macabre. For Dureau, born 69 years ago over in New Orleans's Bayou St. John neighborhood, such an appreciation is as indigenous as his craving a bit of chicory in his morning cup of coffee.

"Who is that handsome woman over there in the corner?" he is asked when the fireworks have subsided.

"The Honorable Ginger Berrigan," says Dureau. "All Southern women are honorable, of course, but that one's more honorable than most. She's a federal judge, honey. Before that, she was the head of the local chapter of the ACLU. I've had a soft spot for the ACLU ever since they saved me from jail back in '63 for havin' Negroes on my porch. The word got out that I was gonna have an integrated soirée, and the paddy wagons were lined up all the way down Esplanade. They arrested seventy-two people that night. I was thrown down the stairs three times." Dureau indignantly smooths his chignon and fiddles with the braid he has somehow devised at the bottom of his beard so that it tightly frames his jawline in a kind of follicular face-lift. "It was so scary," he insists, recalling the legendary night that people still talk about down here. Nothing explains New Orleans better—a turning point in its local civil rights struggle was a rowdy party.

A few days later, Dureau leads a lone guest on a tour of his loft. A tattered old World War I American flag has been slung atop the bed. The surface of his Saarinen dining table is as pocked with paint as a discarded Pollock. A giant wooden Pegasus has landed at the far end of the room; it wears a leather Mardi Gras mask and evidence of its original gold paint. "B.J. the Legless took off all the gold for me," says Dureau, rubbing a flank, then a wing, his mind obviously wandering toward thoughts of B.J., who has posed for many of the photographs still scattered about the loft.

"Why such a fascination with amputees, George?"

"Sugar, New Orleans has always had amputees galore," he says, a bit perturbed by such a question. "Two reasons. We had one billion miles of streetcar tracks runnin' through the city when I was a child. We had streetcars like you've never seen! And also the regular train tracks were everywhere 'cause property was hard for the railroad to buy, so they bought bits of property all over the city just to find a way outta here. People lost their legs like crazy around here from, you know, passin' out on all those tracks. . . ."

Dureau's voice trails off on a track all its own. Taking his hand from the Pegasus, he runs his fingers along the one table in the whole place free of any debris. "You notice anything different about this table?" he asks. "When I cleaned off all the food and wine from the other night, it just looked too white to my eyes. So I took some day-old chicory coffee and brushed it on there. Gives it a nice patina, huh?Smell it," he commands. He is, of course, obeyed, and it appears that Dureau has captured New Orleans with just a few of his deft and effortless strokes: even the furniture is aromatic in this damn town.

T&L Web Exclusive:
Walter Isaacson's hometown favorites

Best po'boy: The oyster loaf at Casamento's (4300 Magazine St.; 504/895-9761; lunch for two $20; closed June 1 through September 15 every yearãwhen oysters are out of season).

Seafood: Uglesich's Restaurant (1238 Baronne St.; 504/523-8571; lunch for two $25).

Place to talk politics: The Napoleon House bar (500 Chartres St.; 504/524-9752). "We all hung out here when we were young reporters."

Most memorable meal: "Eating oysters Mosca at Mosca's [4137 Hwy. 90, Waggaman; 504/436-9942; dinner for two $35] on my first date with my wife."

Peyton Manning's places
Jogging route: On the grass next to the streetcar tracks on St. Charles Avenue.

Sports bar: Kabby's in the New Orleans Hilton Riverside Hotel (2 Poydras St.; 504/584-3880).

Pizza: Figaro's (7900 Maple St.; 504/837-5816) and Reginelli's (741 State St.; 504/899-1414; and 874 Harrison Ave.; 504/488-0133). "Reginelli's is an Italian restaurant/art gallery, owned by my old high school football coach's son, Darryl Reginelli."

Gin and tonic: Bruno's (7601 Maple St.; 504/861-7615).

Lolis Eric Elie's report
Amazing fried catfish and potato salad: Barrow's (2714 Mistletoe St.; 504/482-9427; lunch for two $30)

Best fried chicken: Willie Mae's (2402 St. Ann St.; 504/822-9503; dinner for two $12)

Uptown expense account meal: Upperline (1413 Upperline St.; 504/891-9919; dinner for two $100)