Guest post by Mechelle Martz-Mayfield. Read part one here.
On the way from Tennessee to Louisiana, we drove through the corner of Mississippi, the most fun US state to spell in my opinion. If you happen to find yourself in Jackson, I recommend stopping at Brent’s Drugs.
This classic diner and soda fountain from 1946 is the perfect road trip stop. I ordered a classic cherry limeade, and my husband ordered a fountain cherry coke to go along with our tasty burgers and fries. But the fun part is seeing all the soda shoppe history stored along the walls.
Louisiana is a beautifully green state to drive through. We enjoyed the scenery, driving over the water in many places and just overall getting to see the state as we crossed over into New Orleans.
We stayed in a very nice AirBnB owned by one of the local brewers (funny enough – the wife was from Colorado and was visiting her Colorado family while we were there. I might also mention that we met a lot of Coloradans on our trip.)
The duplex house was just a stone’s throw away from Anne Rice’s (famous author of Interview with a Vampire) former mansion.
The Garden District of New Orleans boasts the historic and decorative houses that popped up during the pandemic hiatus of Mardi Gras festivities. Some houses have kept up their decorations and it is fun to walk or drive around and see what unique creations are there. Checking out the historical and famous houses is worth a casual stroll around the Garden District.
We decided to take it a bit easy in New Orleans. The weather was not in our favor at 102 degrees and 92-98% humidity. Summers in New Orleans are hot and humid, but this was hotter than normal. We sadly ended up cancelling many of the outdoor activities we had planned because of the heat. However, that didn’t stop us from having a bit of fun and enjoying New Orleans hospitality.
The first night there was our anniversary and we wanted something nice, but casual. We settled on a cute neighborhood restaurant called Atchafalaya. This unassuming house in the Irish Channel is adorably elegant. Don’t worry, you don’t have to dress up here, but it almost feels like you should. I had picked this place on a whim as it wasn’t too far of a drive, but as luck would have it, Anthony Bourdain said this place had the best shrimp and grits he’s ever had. Score!
The drinks here are curated by creative mixologists and the food is melt in your mouth delicious. The dinner menu is simple, but they do it well. My husband ordered the gumbo and shrimp and grits, and I had a pan roasted gulf fish. Everything was on point. We finished with a peach cobbler that was tart and sweet, as it should be. I couldn’t have asked for a better anniversary dinner.
We decided to stop at Port Orleans Brewing Co. for some evening refreshment as it was still a bit light out and we didn’t quite want the night to end. This is a great hang out spot with outdoor seating and games as well as indoor seating that includes a restaurant, Avo Taco, and an ice cream vendor. Even though we are avid taco eaters, we did not partake in the tacos (sorry Heidi), but the craft beer here is excellent.
Note from the Mayor, Heidi: I am going to need Mechelle & Caleb to go back to New Orleans and make a report on the tacos.
A fun note, you can get a New Orleans Pub Pass that is a really good deal if you’re interested in hitting up multiple breweries in the area. For $25 you’ll get a free beer at each of the 25 participating locations and with the prices that we saw, that could add up to a significant savings. Hitting up 3 to 4 breweries pays for the pass.
The next day, we started off at La Boulangerie for a quick breakfast of refreshing iced coffees and buttery croissants. That afternoon we decided to hit up Bourbon Street, my husband had never been and the last time I had visited was 2000, pre Hurricane Katrina.
It honestly looked quite different than I remembered and I noticed a plethora of commercial type fast food pizza and taco spots between the local bars and shops that line this famous party location.
For my 23rd birthday, I lived it up for a night and went walking through the bars with a 64 ounce plastic cup of Jack and Coke and a frozen Hurricane, but in my 40’s that was much less appealing. Even my husband wasn’t impressed, but he understands that it is meant for those who want to imbibe and party in a drunken state. I did see The Cat’s Meow and Pat O’Brien’s was still there and fondly remembered my tipsy birthday escapades.
We walked around some of the French Quarter shops, managed to find our way to a voodoo store, and listened to a street musician playing on top of a van in front of the Hard Rock Cafe.
During our visit, we decided because of the heat to take the French Quarter Ghosts & Legends Tour. Honestly, if you want to get to know more about any town, history tours of any type are recommended (we like them a bit on the creepy side), You’ll learn a lot from the tour guides, and they will also recommend some of the best places to shop and eat.
There are plenty of choices for tours in New Orleans and every single one has good reviews. You’ll pass many other tour groups during your 2 hour walk, and the tour guides are all respectful to each other.
We learned about the darker history of New Orleans including the German Coast Uprising of 1811, the famous voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, and socialite and serial killer Madame LaLaurie. But it was more excruciating to hear about the gruesome murder-suicide case that happened in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina.
On our last day in New Orleans, we toured one of the many above ground cemeteries. There are tours you can take for around $20, but most you can visit on your own. LaFayette Cemetery 1 is temporarily closed to repair many of the tombs. We visited St. Joseph and the LaFayette Cemetery No. 2 as they are right next to each other. Coming from Colorado, where above ground tombs are rare, we enjoyed seeing the hauntingly beautiful tombs, ornate sculptures and the history that is contained in the stone walls.
We hit up The Rum House for a lunch of Cuban style tacos with fried plantains before walking around the Garden District and Magazine Street to check out some of the unique stores.
My favorite was H Rault Locksmith where you can find a variety of unique old locks and keys for purchase and see a bit of New Orleans lock and key history on the shelves up front. There’s also Peaches Records, a good place to sift through some great vinyl LPs and maybe find a deal on a hard-to-find classic.
We then headed over to Emeril Lagasse’s Meril Restaurant, because you can’t leave New Orleans without a little “Bam!” from the famous creole chef. This is one of his more casual eateries as his main restaurant has been closed over the past year. Meril’s was a delight!
We were seated close to the open kitchen, and I curiously watched as the chefs prepared many of the evening meals while I sipped on my Honeysuckle French 75 cocktail and smelled the roasting deliciousness wafting our way. We ordered the Pineapple Upside Down Cornbread for a starter and enjoyed dessert first as it was a sweet start to a deliciously decadent meal.
I don’t think you’ll find anything bad on the menu and they do daily specials with items they’ve picked up fresh from local markets. As a special treat that evening, they were making cotton candy and serving it up to the few birthday parties that were being celebrated that evening, but as they were getting close to closing time, they had some extra and we were gifted a free cotton candy at our table.
The beauty of New Orleans dominated our conversation that evening, and we wished we had been able to enjoy more of tours and sights. We’ve decided the city may become a Halloween destination for us as the cooler temperatures in October would allow us to see and do more. The atmosphere in New Orleans is that of a hauntingly good time.
Off to Texas the next morning we had to stop for gas at the now Texas truck stop staple that is known as Buc-ees. I would not normally talk about a truck stop in any blog, but this is a must see on a level that is difficult to explain unless you have been to one.
Buc-ees mascot is a red ball cap wearing beaver with a toothy grin. Somehow, we managed to hit the largest of all Buc-ees right off Hwy 35 in New Braunfels, TX as we were heading to Austin. It is literally a 66,000 square feet shopping center, not just a truck stop, and the kicker is most everything is Buc-ees branded. From the food court to the home decor and clothing options, everything was Buc-ees.
There is even a Buc-ees swimsuit for sale. The first thing that popped into my mind was Kevin Smith’s Mooby’s with the golden calf from his Jay & Silent Bob films, but this is much bigger in scale. If you make the drive, I say stop for the cheap gas, but go in for the shock and awe.
Note from the Mayor, Heidi: A Buc-ees is slated to be built in Northern Colorado off of Interstate 25 sometime in 2023-2024.
We decided upon The Austin Motel for our short stay in Texas and this small, but delightful LGTBQ+ friendly motel was a kick! The colorful classic room decor was perfect and made the most of the small space in this 1930s era retro motor inn. The outdoor pool made for a welcomed cool down on our travel. Sitting next to the clear blue water with some drinks from the bar made it finally feel like a relaxing vacation.
Food places surrounded the hotel, and we checked out Joann’s Fine Foods next door for a quick dinner of good tacos and a decent margarita before walking around to see the sights. We found Gelato Paradiso tucked away in a little side alley and grabbed some late-night creamy treats to beat the heat while we went to find the Willie for President and Won’t You Be My Neighbor walls.
After enjoying a morning poolside, we set off to find some lunch at Lucy’s Fried Chicken for some mouthwatering, crispy fried chicken and a smoked potato salad that I now must try to make at home.
We ended up spending a few hours at Lazarus Brewing Co. to beat the heat of the afternoon until the bats of Austin were supposed to fly at the Congress Avenue Bridge.
The flying of the bats is something to see – although we overheard that July isn’t the best time as many of the bats are caring for young and won’t fly out. The more impressive flights are in late August and September. I was hoping for a bigger flight as I had seen the sky turn black with waves of more bats than you can imagine in August 2000, and I wanted my husband to have a similar experience. We did see quite a few bats, but nothing like the waves of black I had seen before. It was fun nonetheless, but if you want a show, time your visit for later in the season.
Terry Black’s BBQ had been recommended to us by a friend that shall not be named, but honestly our experience wasn’t his fault. I think this restaurant had better days and we’ve since heard the brothers who owned it had a falling out causing issues with the food quality.
I don’t believe they smoke anything on site. It’s a meat market style service; however, the meat is kept in warmers behind the counters and the flavor on everything was lacking. I wish I could say there was a shining light here, but mostly I’d say avoid this place and find somewhere else.
They’re busy, but mainly I think because the name is known and perhaps mild, bland BBQ is more palatable for kids and families? Not sure, but I wouldn’t recommend it. We sadly wished we had chosen a different spot.
We hopped on over to see the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue lit up in the center of Towne Lake Metropolitan Park. If you’ve never heard Stevie Ray play guitar, you’re missing out. He’s one of the all-time greats and since he’s Austin born and bred they honored him upon his death with a fancy sculpture of him in his famed poncho and custom Plateau hat.
After stopping for the second time at Jo’s Coffee – try the Belgian Bomber it’s delicious – we walked around downtown Austin the next day to take in the Capitol city. TacoDeli is a great fast taco spot for lunch – try the Dona Sauce. Its quirky art is representative of the area’s Tex Mex styles with bright colors, Day of the Dead skulls and interesting creatures. We hit up some of the art shops and bought a few skulls and stickers to commemorate our trip.
Austin is one of the beta test areas that now has robot delivery systems and we saw one out in the wild driving into town and saw another “in training” as we were out and about. It was something I’d never seen before, but Austin has been at the forefront of the self-driving car implementation and similar technology so I shouldn’t have been surprised.
We hit the “Before I Die” wall before we left Austin and felt we had a wonderful experience overall. With Austin off our list, we headed towards the Family Business Beer Company. Why? If you’re a fan of the show Supernatural then you know.
“The driver picks the station, and the passenger shuts his pie hole,” is the road trip anthem for fans of the show. We had to go but be you should be aware that its location is a drive. A long drive. We thought we were just driving through some rich neighborhoods when we finally come up to a sign that indicated we were on the right path. Phew.
After a brief stop for a beer and souvenirs we were on our way to Lubbock, Texas, home of famed musician Buddy Holly. They have converted the old rail station into a museum about his music and life. They even transported his boyhood home to the front of the museum. Right next door to the Buddy Holly Center is a cute diner called the Cast Iron Grill. Serving up delightful breakfast classics, it’s a perfect stop before you head out of town.
We headed out of Lubbock early so we could enjoy some of the drive on our way home. We made a short detour on Route 66 to see Cadillac Ranch. A series of Caddies lined up buried face down in the dirt, this tourist attraction once discouraged graffiti, but now owns its colorful painted heritage.
They now sell spray paint at the entrance and for guests to graffiti up the already drippy, paint coated classics. Just be sure to snap a selfie of your art or message right after its creation as it will likely get covered by the next painter in line. Obviously, there’s something about spray painting cars that brings out love as that was the most common message colorfully dripping off of many of the cars.
As we continued northward, our last and final stop before getting home to our state of Colorado was Dumas, TX. As we passed the Toppled Turtle Brewery while driving through we absolutely had to stop knowing our beloved Mayor of HeidiTown had also been there. To our delight and surprise they had a beer named Heidi!
After a quick stop in Pueblo for dinner, we happily ended our drive back home near Denver, Colorado, tired, road weary, and ready for our own bed. It was quite the trip. We ate, we drank, we were merry, and most of all we saw new parts of the country that we had never seen before.
The best things about road trips include the discoveries, people, and stories collected along the way. Thank you, America, for reminding us that searches for the perfect road trip candy will eventually be rewarded (I only found 2 gas stations that sold Spree candy), that good food and hospitality will make up for nasty gas station bathrooms, and that inside jokes and new stories will be amassed driving the long stretches between cities.
Cheers to the road trippers, the daytime food slingers and drink bringers, the nighttime story tellers and the beauty that makes up the United States.