An Epic 5-Day NOLA Culinary Adventure

New Orleans remains one of my all-time favorite destinations. I’ve been returning regularly for over 20 years. Spring seems to be one of the most pleasant times to visit in terms of weather, and my long-time friend Sena Mourad-Friedman and I visited during French Quarter Fest in April.

This festival has charmed New Orleanians since it first began in 1984, designed to remind locals how fabulous and fun the French Quarter can be. Stages are set up throughout the French Quarter, food from the city’s finest restaurants fills booths in Jackson Square and all along the river in Woldenberg Riverfront Park. It was a secret for a while, rewarding tourists who happened to be in town anyway the second weekend in April. Now this grand fete has evolved into something everyone adores – visitors and locals alike.

Bring your appetite to the festival’s signature event, the “world’s largest jazz brunch” in Woldenberg Riverfront Park, Jackson Square and nearby — a tantalizing spread of beverages and specialty items from some of the best known restaurants in the Crescent City. Sample Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes, Barbecue Oysters from Red Fish Grill, Prime Rib Po-boy from the Rib Room, Baked Alaska from Antoine’s, Shrimp Remoulade from Galatoire’s and Oysters Rockefeller from Desire Oyster Bar. You can’t try all the restaurants individually during one trip to New Orleans, but you can try a lot of them during this weekend. There’s jambalaya, blackened catfish po-boys, crawfish étouffée, Cajun meat pies, deep fried cupcakes, white chocolate bread pudding and more. More than 60 food and beverage booths are scattered throughout the historic French Quarter and the riverfront. All dishes are priced to sample and savor. Where else can you order Baked Alaska with chocolate sauce at an outdoor food stand?

2018 marks the 35th anniversary of the festival, and the 300th anniversary of the city. To celebrate, there were nearly two dozen stages rocking the French Quarter and surrounding areas throughout the four-day weekend, starting early in the day and going on through the night. Unfortunately, the festival was rained out on Saturday as we were awakened to tornado warnings followed by torrential downpours resulting in flash flooding. New Orleans is shaped like a bowl and since it’s below sea level, when the rains come, the bowl fills up with water.

The 2018 French Quarter Festival featured stages on nearly every corner highlighting 300 Louisiana acts throughout the weekend. The festival is the largest showcase of Louisiana music in the world and boasts samplings of some of the world’s finest and most unique culinary creations.

Speaking of food, our time in the Crescent City was limited and our restaurant goals ambitious. We managed to visit some of the very best offerings in this culinary Mecca: Café Amelie, Irene’s, Antoine’s, Broussard’s, Palace Café, Galatoire’s and the crown jewel, Commander’s Palace.

We arrived on Friday the 13th, which my late friend Mary Lou always considered lucky. “LuLu,” as she was affectionately known, loved to spend time playing the Blazing 7’s slot machines at Harrah’s New Orleans so we tried our luck on the supposedly lucky day in her honor but the house prevailed. It costs a lot of money to build casinos.

Friday the 13th may not have proven lucky for gambling, but we were blessed with a glorious 80-degree breezy day full of sunshine. We strolled from the JW Marriott, our home away from home, to Café Amelie, all the while taking in the glorious art galleries and antique shops along Rue Royal, my favorite street in the French Quarter, as street musicians offered a vibrant soundtrack.

Founded in 2005, Café Amelie was named for Amelie Miltonberger, the mother of Princess Alice, the first American Princess of Monaco, who lived in an accompanying townhouse in the mid-1800s. Nestled in the historic 150-year-old Princess of Monaco Courtyard and Carriage House on Royal Street in the French Quarter, Café Amelie is a rare combination of superb Louisiana fare served in a lush, enchanting New Orleans courtyard setting.

Café Amelie quickly became a favorite of New Orleans locals and tourists alike, who faithfully flock to the café for its delicious food and refreshing cocktails. Café Amelie is known for having one of the most beautiful and romantic courtyards in the Quarter, where patrons can dine al fresco or inside the lovely air-conditioned dining rooms within the historic Carriage House. We enjoyed cochon de lait and ahi tuna in the fresh air on this magnificently cheerful day and overheard the sounds of live musicians from the street outside the entrance floating through the air like the rays of sunshine filtering through the porous clouds.

We took a respite from our stroll through the Quarter at the Orleans Grapevine, which is managed by the lovely Carrie Ann—a Toledo transplant and long-time friend. Carrie visited with us for about an hour as we quenched our thirst with San Pellegrino and people watched from the sidewalk tables.

Another long-time favorite of locals and tourists alike is Irene’s. I’ve being going to Irene’s for over 20 years. In fact, it was at Irene’s that I dined the night Princess Diana died. Our waiter was from Wales and announced to our table in a fine British accent, “The Princess is dead.” We stopped eating and ordered a bottle of champagne to toast her legacy.

Once the French Quarter’s underground secret, Irene’s Cuisine has emerged over the years as one of the area’s most desired and endearing dining spots. At first, people spoke of it in whispers, as though it was just “our little secret” but then passers-by couldn’t miss the crowds waiting out in the street for tables, and certainly not the garlic and rosemary aromas wafting out into the street from the kitchen’s fans.

Since its opening in 1993, Irene’s has remained one of the hottest tickets in town. How owner Irene DiPietro, a baby boomer from a little town in southern Sicily, came to dazzle the palates of the French Quarter’s jaded souls and create an enticing, enchanting setting that is both intimate and homey, is certainly fodder for dining out fanatics.

Irene’s recently relocated from its long-time home at the corner of St. Philip and Chartres to a new location at 529 Bienville. The move was prompted when the Louisiana State Museum, which owns the building rented by Irene’s, decided not to renew the lease claiming the rent was below market rate and the museum couldn’t risk its precious archives stored above the open flames of a restaurant kitchen.

I was pleasantly receptive to the new location of Irene’s. Sometimes in life, something good comes apart in order for something even better to emerge. The food was just as superb as it has always been and the intimacy of the front dining room at the original location has been replicated in a series of three small dining rooms at the new location. Our dining room featured red walls with mirrors and a fireplace with an antique marble clock on the mantle. In the back is a large lounge area with the original piano. The owner’s son and executive chef hand carved the massive wooden bar which is a masterpiece of craftsmanship.

Our waitress, Denise, was both charming and entertaining. After dinner, she took us on a grand tour of the new and improved Irene’s, which featured an altar to St. Joseph in a private back room that was recently blessed by local clergy who dined al fresco in full regalia with pomp and circumstance in the courtyard that isn’t yet open to the public.

We began with the house tomato garlic bread. Sena ordered escargots and I enjoyed the paneed oysters with grilled shrimp, and we shared a melt-in-your-mouth Bibb lettuce salad accented with a walnut-vinaigrette. Sena broke her meat-free diet to savor the lamb chops.

When Denise described the grouper special that was pan seared, topped with jumbo lump crab, hollandaise sauce and asparagus, I commented, “That sounds scrumptious.” She quipped, “Just like you.” It’s this kind of harmless flirtation that makes New Orleans so charming and enchanting. You can’t help but fall in love.

Thankfully we walked over 11 miles just in the first couple of days, which helped offset the caloric intake. The lack of guilt led us to Antoine’s for lunch. They are known for their three-course lunch offered for the same price as the year—$20.18. Some patrons also enjoy the 25-cent cocktail of the day (there’s a limit of three per person).

Antoine’s Restaurant has a 176 year-old legacy as the longest-running family owned restaurant in America. The restaurant is still owned and operated by fifth generation relatives of the original founder, Antoine Alciatore.

The world-renowned French-Creole cuisine, impeccable service and unique atmosphere have combined to create an unmatched dining experience in New Orleans since 1840. Antoine’s 14 dining rooms each have a unique history and charm, and historical photos featuring the balls of past Mardi Gras Krewes offer a glimpse into the rich history of this magnificent city beneath the sea.

Veteran, seasoned and professional waiter Chuck made recommendations and served us a delightful lunch. My shrimp and crawfish over grits was mouthwatering, and Sena raved about her vegetarian special consisting of a variety of vegetables in a creole tomato sauce served with rice. I cheated on my carb-free diet as we split an order of Pommes de Terre Soufflées, the classic Antoine’s fried puffed potatoes served with a side of sauce Bernaise for dipping. “Y’all can use your fingers for the potatoes,” Chuck reassured us.

In between sessions for the International Fundraising Conference that Sena and I were attending at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center—a monstrous concrete complex along the Mississippi—we managed to squeeze in Sunday Jazz Brunch at the Palace Café, part of the Brennan family of restaurants. This classic New Orleans restaurant, located at the foot of the French Quarter, serves contemporary Creole food in an upbeat and lively grand café. As bearers of the torch keeping Creole cuisine alive and vital, Dickie Brennan and Palace Café’s culinary team are constantly evolving traditional Creole dishes and creating a few new favorites.

The restaurant, housed in the historic Werlein’s music building, has won a number of local and national awards since it opened in 1991 including Best New Restaurant from Esquire Magazine and USA Today, the prestigious Ivy Award from Restaurants and Institutions Magazine, and Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.

Featuring live music, the Sunday Jazz Brunch offers an intriguing and appealing bounty of a la carte choices, like the Café Eggs Benedict— composed of pork debris, poached eggs, cheddar biscuits, tasso, and hollandaise. Sena had hers with shrimp. We enjoyed the strolling musicians who added to the ambience of the bustling brunch crowd.

We were the guests of long-time friends and Toledo transplants Ron and Laura Blackburn at Broussard’s for a meaningful Sunday dinner comprised of laughing, reminiscing and catching up. You can tell we’re all grown up for in the old days it would have been smoking, drinking and carrying on. I’ve known Ron and Laura for over 20 years and have spent holidays with their families. It’s like the song, “You Can’t Make Old Friends.”

Broussard’s first opened its doors in 1920, after an eminent local chef named Joseph Broussard married Rosalie, of the prominent Borrello bloodline. The couple moved into the early 19th century Borrello Mansion on Conti Street, where the restaurant now stands. At his restaurant, Joseph Broussard combined the excitement of local Creole cuisine with classic culinary dishes inspired by his formal Parisian culinary training. The result was a dynamic menu set to the highest of standards.

Because of the restaurant’s unique imperial décor, fantastic food and incomparable ambiance, Broussard’s has served as a vibrant cultural assembly place, where many famous guests have gathered and an array of exciting events have taken place. Hollywood celebrities, politicians, dignitaries, Mardi Gras Royalty and literary figures such as Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner have all played a role in the history of Broussard’s. They have an exquisite courtyard that was reserved for a private party the night of our visit.

We all enjoyed the Rockefeller Salad, composed of crispy oysters, baby spinach, herbsaint dressing, chopped egg, and shaved red onion. Sena and I both had Pompano, one almandine style and one Pontchartrain style with a Creole tomato glaze and grilled shrimp. The shrimp in New Orleans have such a unique flavor due to the mix of fresh water from the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain with the saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico. Ron enjoyed the drum fish Bonaparte style with shrimp and crawfish dressing. Laura savored the filet. Everything was scrumptious. Ron and I indulged in Banana’s Foster, flambeed table-side.

The crown jewel of New Orleans’ restaurant legacy is arguably the world-renowned Commander’s Palace. Commander’s Palace, nestled in the middle of the tree-lined Garden District, has been a New Orleans landmark since 1893.

Known for the award-winning quality of its food and its convivial atmosphere, the history of this famous restaurant offers a glimpse into New Orleans’ storied past and has been the go-to destination for Haute Creole cuisine and whimsical Louisiana charm. The winner of six James Beard Foundation Awards, Commander’s Palace has evolved into a culinary legend.

When Ella, Dottie, Dick and John Brennan took over personal supervision of the restaurant in 1974, they began to give the splendid old landmark a new look both inside and out including painting the outside the iconic “Commander’s Blue.” Now under the watchful eye of co-proprietors Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan, the Brennan family’s dedication to perfection has never wavered.

A steady parade of renowned chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, Jamie Shannon, and now Tory McPhail have made Commander’s Palace the world-class restaurant that it is today and its leading-edge Haute Creole cuisine reflects the best of the city.

Sena, Laura and I were joined by Jim and Barbara Poure, who divide their time between Toledo and Naples, for a scrumptious dinner at Commander’s. Barbara was also in town for the International Fundraising Conference, and she is one of only 111 Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executives in the world. As a matter of fact, Toledo has more ACFRE’s than any other city in the world—five.

We had various appetizers, including an heirloom tomato salad, soup du jour, Caesar salad, and my favorite—buttermilk gnocchi topped with crawfish and peas swimming in a cream sauce. The cream sauce carried over to the cream corn that decorated the plate under the sheepshead fish that was topped with crab and savory pecans, which I devoured. Laura enjoyed the filet, while Sena had a special vegetarian offering that featured eggplant. Barbara and Jim had the sea bass topped with crawfish and accompanied by haricot verts. A fruit plate, berries with fresh whipped cream and pecan pie rounded out the lovely evening filled with laughter. Laura drove Sena and I back to the hotel and left Barbara and Jim off to disappear into the night at the Maison Bourbon on Bourbon Street—one of the few remaining establishments to offer nightly traditional New Orleans jazz musicians—master craftsmen—performing live.

Our last supper was actually a lunch, which we enjoyed immensely with another Toledo transplant, Lisa Lynn at Galatoire’s—a legend that is a long-remaining staple of the NOLA social and political scene. Lisa Lynn first moved to New Orleans in 1995 to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of New Orleans. That year, for Thanksgiving, a few of us made a road trip from Toledo to New Orleans to visit Lisa Lynn. That was my first ever journey to The Big Easy, and I’ve been returning regularly ever since.

Lisa Lynn is now something of a French Quarter legend, serving as bar matron at Harry’s Corner and performing the occasional singing gig in the Quarter. A talented songstress, she has recorded several CD’s and can be found on iTunes. She is a past performer at the French Quarter Fest.

Founded in 1905 by Jean Galatoire, this infamous address distinguished itself on Bourbon St. from its humble beginning. From the small village of Pardies, France, Jean Galatoire brought recipes and traditions inspired by the familial dining style of his homeland to create the menu and ambiance of the internationally-renowned restaurant.

In its fifth generation, it is the Galatoire family and descendants who have carried the tradition of New Orleans’ fine dining restaurants and influenced its evolution. The restaurant’s culinary customs and reservation statutes have been preserved with little change throughout the decades. Consistency has been the greatest asset that Galatoire’s has displayed for more than a century.

Laura and I once took my tiny teacup Yorkie LuLu to lunch at Galatoire’s on a Friday, which is the most popular day for locals to lunch. As LuLu sat propped on a pillow at the table, eating salad, fellow patrons sang Happy Birthday to a 90 year old at a nearby table while everyone else around the place was carrying on as if each table was a microcosm. Combined, the noise can be a bit overwhelming but the energy is both eclectic and electric. Think pearls, hats and seersucker. A boozy mix of eccentricities.

On this particular lunch visit, a waiter brought the loud dining room to a hush when he clinked a spoon against a water glass and proceeded to request everyone to sing “Happy Birthday” to a patron named Daniel. We all obliged and paused from lunch to join in the festive chorus. Sena remarked, “I want to come back here to celebrate my birthday!” This is true N’awlins culture, which is big on celebration. I am convinced they have a parade every time someone sneezes.

After an appetizer platter composed of Oysters en Brouchette, crabmeat maison, shrimp Remoulade, and crawfish maison, we anxiously awaited the arrival of our entrees as we savored the last crumbs of French baguette. Because New Orleans is below sea level, certain adjustments need to be made to the bread recipes, and the result is some of the most magnificent bread in the world both in texture and taste. Lisa Lynn enjoyed the crabmeat Yvonne while I relished the shrimp Clemenceau with garlic, mushrooms, peas and cubed potatoes. Sena savored a Creole vegetarian dish featuring zucchini and green beans over rice.

Thankfully I walked over 30 miles during the time I was in NOLA, which helped to burn off all the calories. It’s nearly impossible not to indulge in all of the great restaurants as well as the more simple pleasures like po-boys, Zapp’s potato chips, muffuletta sandwiches from Central Grocery, Jackson Square chocolates and pralines from Southern Candymakers and New Orleans Ice Cream Company ice cream—bananas foster is my favorite flavor, with Creole cream cheese coming in a close second.

The best memories in life are centered around travel and food combined with the people and places we love. New Orleans celebrates the joys of life—food, fun, and laughter. It’s a timeless international destination—truly a world class city—rich in both culture and cultural diversity like no other. New Orleans is second only to Philadelphia in terms of American cities with the most French influence—in the food, architecture, and culture. If Europe isn’t in your budget, consider a trip to New Orleans. It’s the closest thing America has to Europe. It’s also the perfect setting to enjoy with old friends and to make new acquaintances. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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Hawaii is Always a Good Idea

Since Hawaii has become my favorite destination and virtually my second home, you’ll accept why it’s the topic of many of my travel blogs. It was an extraordinary month spent on Oahu that began in mid-December just before the holiday break with sketchy weather and record-breaking rainfall that culminated in a live concert by Diana Ross and eventually concluded with a ballistic missile threat.

Needless to say, it was not a dull adventure. We should have anticipated this given the first dose of excitement we received on our flight from LA to Honolulu. Academy Award winning actress, Geena Davis was on our flight. The “Thelma & Louise” and “A League of Their Own” star flashed her recognizable smile as she passed by and stopped to pet our Yorkies, LuLu and Spike.

As many of you will recall from previous blogs, my handsome and entertaining partner, Sam Yoder and his beautiful and endearing Mom, Geri, have a house in Mililani and we have a wonderful and charming ohana (family) of aunties, uncles and cousins on the island known as “The Gathering Place.” This is a blessing that none of us takes for granted. Life is, after all, short, and no one is promised tomorrow. Spending time with loved ones is the best gift you can give to them and to yourself.

Understandably, I was filled with anticipation about the excitement of spending the Christmas season with our relatives there and how much fun we would have together. I was not disappointed. Our cousins Tricia and Darren kicked off the holidays with a festive party at their home that included a gift exchange game that had us in tears with laughter. Another game consisted of guessing how many candies were in a container. We all had a guffaw over the faux pas I made by eating the chocolates instead of guessing how many there were!

A highlight was Christmas Eve spent with our engaging and uplifting friend, Keri Hall and her delightful daughter, Hannah—California transplants from Ohio. We joined Keri’s parents at d.k. Steakhouse at the Marriott Waikiki for a scrumptious meal of steaks and seafood. Unfortunately the restaurant ran out of their famous Mud Pie dessert, which takes a few days to concoct, but on the bright side, it spared us some unnecessary calories.

Keri’s nephew is stationed in Guam in the US military. His wife has been temporarily relocated to Oahu in anticipation of the birth of their twins—a boy and a girl. Keri’s Mom, Penny, who is retired, has the good fortune to be with her granddaughter-in-law on the island to support her through the pregnancy and birth.

We had many hiking and beaching adventures with Keri and Hannah, including the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail where we climbed around a fence that was blocking the path to the lighthouse and made the trek all the way to the white beacon with red roof, ignoring the warning signs to “keep out.” Makapu’u remains my favorite vista on the island, combining both mountains and beaches with the smaller Rabbit and Turtle islands in the distance—so many beautiful shades of green, turquoise and blue.

We saw paragliders taking off right before our very eyes from the treacherous cliffs at Makapu’u! We also had the blessing to witness a double rainbow and something I had never seen before—the sublime formation of a rainbow underneath the clouds extending down from the sky to the ocean. We also watched adventurous tourists and locals plunge from the tops of the cliffs at Spitting Caves down into the swirling waters of the Pacific.

On Christmas Day, Sam and I, along with his cousin, Anna and her daughter Kaylin, visited Lanikai Beach where we enjoyed an afternoon in the sun. Many others had the same idea which made for a crowd with challenging parking but we enjoyed looking at the snowmen made of sand. We laughed as we got photo-bombed by a Golden Retriever. After the beach, we returned to have dinner with the rest of the family in Kaneohe, including Uncle Lionel and Auntie Bobbi, Auntie Dorothy, cousins Keana and Braddah and Tricia and Darren and Rysie and Mike as well as Anna’s husband Darryl, cousin Brandi, cousins Brittney and Shane and their son, Kaeo as well as Kaylin’s boyfriend, Elliott. Brittney made my day when I gave her the Shaka sign and she said I looked just like a Kanaka (native). The Shaka sign, sometimes known as “hang loose” by outsiders, is a gesture of friendly intent often associated with Hawaii and surf culture.

We over-indulged in a Christmas dinner combination of Honey Baked ham and turkey, along with Japanese and Portuguese delicacies—both savory and sweet, including butter mochi (a sweet rice dessert). Counting calories is never an option in Hawaii. The food is too good to resist. We devoured all of my favorites, including many local features from Zippy’s, which is a chain restaurant/bakery. I particularly love their island Mac salad, Somen salad (with Japanese noodles) and the lilikoi (passion fruit) cream cheese squares. Sam swears by the Korean fried chicken. Our neighbor, Auntie June, once again made lumpia, which is a Filipino take on the Chinese egg roll—longer and stuffed with beef, garlic, been sprouts, cabbage and carrots. I peeled the lumpia wrappers; Sam stuffed and rolled them; and Auntie June fried them. We had our own efficient system and joked that we could make 500 a week and sell them at the Swap Meet. Geri made Spam fried rice; Sam fried us Portuguese sausage; and I made breakfast frittata. The chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies from the Cookie Corner are irresistible as is the Choco Mochi manufactured by Island Princess. Choco Mochi is a salty, savory, sweet and crunchy combination. The special rich milk chocolate covers crunchy Japanese rice crackers that are also known as Arare or Kaki Mochi crackers. My colleagues at work requested that I bring plenty back to them to satiate their cravings. The stuff is that addictive.

In addition to eating, hiking and beaching, we also did some shopping at Macy’s and the outlets at Waikele and worked around the house, especially during the first week which was demonstrative of the rainy season. We lined the trim of the house and landscape with multi-colored Christmas lights and made Reese’s Temptation cookies as well as toffee candy. The day after Christmas, it rained non-stop all day and night, breaking records for the amount of rainfall. Honolulu recorded a new daily rainfall record — 2.7 inches — beating the previous record of 2.09 inches on the same day in 1992, according to the National Weather Service. Even the Honolulu Zoo had to close.

While visiting with Geri’s brother, Gary, and his wife, LaDawn, we FaceTimed with my family in Ohio. My Dad and Geri shared holiday greetings and joked back and forth essentially planting the seed for their trip to paradise. The next morning I awoke to text messages and emails from my Dad saying they had searched for airline tickets. We called them, and a few hours later their trip was booked.

Two days later, my enthusiastic and highly energetic parents, Mickey and Carol, arrived from Ohio with their sense of humor and zest for adventure intact, hoping to escape the arctic chill and snowfall. To our delight, they enjoyed terrific weather for most of their 12-night visit. After greeting them at the airport with leis, we took them to the Royal Hawaiian, my favorite hotel on Waikiki Beach. We gobbled over-stuffed burgers and onion rings al fresco and watched the sun set to the sound of live music and a hula dancer. The shops in the arcade at the Royal Hawaiian are delightful and feature unique items, many in pink colors because the hotel is known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific—apparently a palace fit for a movie star because Geena Davis was a guest. We ran into her kids in one of the shops. The Christmas decorations were also all in pink to match the façade of the iconic landmark. It was surreal to experience Christmas in the land where palm trees sway. Mele Kalikimaka, indeed!

It was both a dream come true and an answer to prayers to have my parents spend quality time and bond with Sam and Geri. It was a perpetual laugh fest combined with over-eating, and we didn’t let any grass grow under our feet as we covered practically every speck of sand on the island from the North Shore to Waianae; from Honolulu and Waikiki to Sandy Beach and Halona; from Waimea to Pearl Harbor. We saw dolphins, whales and turtles. Sam took my parents to the Swap Meet at the Aloha Stadium where they bargained for treasures of sandals, koa wood souvenirs and T-shirts. We hiked Diamond Head and Manoa Falls and voted unanimously that our favorite shave ice is at Dave’s Ice Cream in Waimanalo. I am particularly fond of having the shave ice atop of a scoop of the pineapple ice cream with chunks of fresh pineapple. Sam and my Dad discovered the custom of pouring sweetened condensed milk overtop of the shave ice to make it more of an ice cream consistency. My Dad’s favorite delicacy must have been the malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery. These Portuguese doughnuts are served warm and filled with custard, chocolate, or haupia. He loved them so much he endangered the lives of my Mom and Geri by doing a U-Turn in the middle of a busy boulevard to turn around and buy some more.

We ate in many great restaurants, including the Haleiwa Beach House where we savored Kalua Pork grilled cheese sandwiches and Kua Aina Sandwhich Shop for burgers. We scarfed down Pineapple Whip at the Dole Plantation. Sam and I like ours sprinkled with li hing mui, a powder of salty dried plum—a sweet and salty combination that complements the pineapple. Not to be missed, of course, is Duke’s Waikiki at the Outrigger Hotel. Their Hula Pie dessert is world famous.

Hula Pie is made with macadamia nut ice cream piled high on a chocolate cookie crust and topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and more macadamia nuts. It is sized for sharing, but rarely goes unfinished! We ordered a slice, just as Sam left to use the restroom. The instructions recommend turning the dessert on its side before devouring. By the time he returned to the table, there was only one bite left. The four of us practically stabbed each other with our giant metal sporks assembling the perfect bite of chocolate crust, ice cream, fudge, whipped cream and a little of the chocolate sauce and chopped macadamia nuts garnishing the plate.

Another irresistible discovery this trip was chocolate macadamia nut ice cream made by Roselani. In 1932 at the Maui Soda & Ice Works plant in Wailuku, Maui, Manuel Nobriga began making ice cream from scratch for local ice cream parlors. Everyone loved the velvety smooth texture and the richness of his flavors and the business grew to eventually include half-gallon cartons that folks could enjoy at home. Four decades later in 1970, Manuel’s son, David “Buddy” Nobriga, gave ice cream a fitting Maui name — Roselani. Today, third generation ice cream maker Cathy Nobriga Kim continues the family tradition, adding innovative island flavors to old-time favorites.

The name Roselani is always of interest, especially to folks outside of Maui. It is the Americanization of the Hawaiian word Lokelani, which means “heavenly rose” and is Maui’s official flower. The red blossom is proudly displayed on Roselani Ice Cream cartons, which are a available throughout the Aloha State.

“It honors my grandfather’s and my father’s identity. A rose is the queen of perfection,” says Cathy—just like the ice cream which bears its name. When I return for my next visit, Auntie June and I plan to make our own version of Hula Pie at home using the Roselani chocolate macadamia nut ice cream, which is available on Oahu at Times Supermarket.

On New Year’s Eve, to the dismay of LuLu and Spike, the island erupts with fireworks and becomes enveloped in smog. While the dogs were hiding and trembling from terror, we stood on the back lanai of the house in Mililani looking down over Waikiki, Honolulu, Pearl City and Ewa Beach with our jaws open in amazement over the ongoing display of fireworks that seemed to go on for hours non-stop. I’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve in many places, including Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, but I’ve never witnessed a display of this magnitude and duration.

After Mom and Dad made their way back to the frozen Midwest tundra, we had some more time to relax, including some much-needed beach time spent floating in the lagoons at Ko’Olina Resort on the island’s leeward side, despite jelly fish warnings. Did you know that Hawaiian legend predicts jelly fish will arrive at the beach ten days after a full moon?

On the Friday night of my last weekend on the island, Sam and Geri and I, along with cousins Anna and Tricia, as well as Auntie Bobbi, enjoyed dinner at Moku Kitchen. Named after the Hawaiian word for “island,” Moku is a chef-driven concept that brings Hawaii’s rich upcountry farming and ranching heritage to downtown Honolulu’s urban lifestyle. The upcountry way of life echoes a simpler time where food was locally-sourced and cooked over an open fire on the ranch.

As we chuckled in the car on the way to dinner, Auntie Bobbi said, “This evening is going to be anything but dull.” She was spot on with her forecast. Following dinner, we made our way to the Neil Blaisdell Center for a special, sold-out, one-night-only performance by Motown legend and international super star, Diana Ross.

The 73-year-old entertainer did not disappoint. Her enormous hair and outrageous costumes delighted the audience, whose enthusiasm resulted in an unprecedented third encore during which the diva gave an impromptu performance of “Endless Love” after taking questions from the audience. The Detroit native sang all of her famous hit songs, from her early days with The Supremes through her movies and onto disco and pop favorites. Her voice is still perfection.

On the Saturday morning following the concert, we all received emergency messages on our phones alerting us to an inbound ballistic missile threat and warning us to take cover. While this sent many tourists and locals into a frenzy of panic, I simply rolled over in bed, pulled the covers over my head and thanked God that I could die happily in paradise and never have to return to the depressing winter conditions of Ohio. No such luck, as it was a false alarm. The incident made international news and corrective measures have been instituted to avoid future similar occurrences. Nevertheless, it sent terrified tourists running into the streets of Waikiki and some folks even lowered their children into sewer drains in an effort to protect them.

After the mayhem subsided, it gave me time to reflect on the significance of this momentous experience. Melding our families together through love and making memories is what life is all about and is reflective of the Aloha Spirit that is the essence of the magic that is Hawaii. Indulging in exceptional foods and laughing until your cheeks hurt is a magnificent and nurturing component of the human experience. To do all of this in a place that is Heaven on Earth is a blessing I will never forget. Mahalo to everyone who made this adventure possible.

We were so busy that I failed to accomplish a few items on my list: eating at the original Roy’s in Hawaii Kai, hiking Koko Head, zip lining and making a visit to the outer islands. Hopefully next time. As my late best friend Mary Lou Barber used to say, “It’s important to always have something to look forward to.” I’m anticipating making many more memories with loved ones in the Paradise of the Pacific.

Chicago: A Diamond in the Rough

For 25 years, at the end of the week after Labor Day, the John Marshall Law School, located in downtown Chicago’s Loop, presents a training on fair housing that I try to attend for work. This is an excellent opportunity to gather with colleagues from around the country to talk about our critical work in advancing the fair housing agenda and expanding opportunities for all Americans. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act—one week to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination—yet our country remains largely segregated. In fact, Chicago tops the list of America’s most segregated cities.

Chicago is a simple, one-hour flight from Toledo, and you arrive at the same time you left, given that you gain an hour with the time change. On this visit to the Windy City, I stayed at the Palmer House. Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel in the Loop, is the oldest hotel in Chicago and considered the oldest continuously operating hotel in the USA. It has 1,639 sleeping rooms and so many legendary entertainers have performed here. Their black and white portraits frame the corridors of the guest wings.

In 1870, Potter Palmer gave his bride the Palmer House as an incredible wedding gift. Conveniently situated in downtown Chicago, the Palmer House has coincidentally hosted 9,000 weddings. Guests are greeted in opulence in the Grand Lobby, which features a ceiling of 21 Greek mythological panels.

Ralph Lauren Bar and Grill, along the Magnificent Mile, is a must-visit for me every time I go to Chicago. The service and food is always extraordinary. The only disappointment is that in all of the times I’ve dined there—even al fresco—I’ve never seen Ralph or Oprah. Supposedly, it’s Ms. O’s fave. It’s mine, too. I opted for my usual veal Milanese, which is a veal chop pounded thin, breaded and pan fried. It comes with a refreshing arugula salad on the side and half a lemon to add extra zip. It’s to die for. Unfortunately, RL no longer offers my go-to dessert—a rich but heavenly chocolate ganache torte to which I add a scoop of vanilla gelato. This time I had the decadent homemade walnut brownie, served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and chocolate garnish. The waiter bathes the sundae in hot fudge table side. Eat here and diet home.

I scored a front row center orchestra seat for the Friday evening performance of the touring production of Broadways’ Aladdin. Disney’s blockbuster Broadway musical is heading out on its first ever national tour, and what better venue to kick it off than Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre! Based on the classic animated movie from 1992, the story follows the lovable street urchin Aladdin, who must defeat the evil sorcerer Jafar, while trying to win the heart of the Princess Jasmine. As everyone’s child knows, he’s helped along the way by the larger than life Genie.

Aladdin premiered at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle in 2011. After several regional and international productions in 2012, the musical was given a Toronto tryout in 2013. It opened on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre on March 20, 2014, to mostly warm reviews and was nominated for five Tony Awards. The show continues to dominate the weekly Broadway box office grosses. The Chicago production features the original Broadway lead, Adam Jacobs.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is the creative force behind the Broadway sensation Hamilton, which is also playing in Chicago, San Francisco, and London. The national tour begins next year. I took in the Saturday matinee. This was my second time seeing this revolutionary show. The first time was back in February when I won a $10 box seat through the ticket lottery, which you can enter online through the web site or “there’s an app for that,” of course.

The musical is about Alexander Hamilton, the scrappy young immigrant who forever changed America. In 2016, Hamilton received a record-setting 16 Tony nominations, winning 11, including Best Musical, and was also the recipient of the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Notably incorporating hip-hop, rhythm and blues, pop music, traditional-style show tunes, and color-conscious casting of non-white actors as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures, the musical achieved both critical acclaim and box office success.

Hamilton’s themes, particularly highlighted by one of the songs, “Immigrants (we get the job done)” seem eerily timely given the current political climate of our country and the Trump administration’s recent attack on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is an American immigration policy established by the Obama administration in June 2012. DACA allows certain illegal immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. Hamilton reminds us that our country was founded on the work ethics of immigrants, like scrappy young Hamilton.

Near the Palmer House is the Italian Restaurant Vapiano. Pasta, pizzas, antipasti and salads are ordered directly from the chefs at the individual stations in the middle of Vapiano.  The chefs prepare all of the dishes to order in front of the guests.  Everyone can have his meal prepared to his own personal preference. I also enjoyed the Hawaii-based chain Freshii, located at the Palmer House, offering healthy food at affordable prices.

Before flying out on Saturday night, I stopped at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago for some retail therapy. Fashion Outlets of Chicago is conveniently located just five minutes from O’Hare International Airport and about 15 miles from downtown Chicago in Rosemont, Illinois. It is the area’s only two-level indoor outlet shopping experience featuring over 130 designer outlets offering great savings. Fashion Outlets of Chicago boasts some impressive names, including my favorites, Gucci, Burberry, David Yurman, Armani, and UGG. There’s also Barney’s New York, Saks, Bloomies, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom outlets.

Don’t forget your Garrett’s popcorn on the way out. A Chicago tradition since 1949, be sure to try the Garrett Mix, which combines sweet CaramelCrisp with savory CheeseCorn. There’s a location at the airport, which makes it convenient to purchase some for gifts and some for snacks on the flight home.

While Chicago is a world class tourist destination on Lake Michigan that offers a plethora of cultural amenities, like shopping, dining, theatre and museums, the city is not without its share of challenges. Much like the lead characters in Aladdin and Hamilton, Chicago is a diamond in the rough. As we learned during our training, affordable housing units are being demolished and removed. They are being replaced with expensive, luxury options that result in many working class, poor and minority individuals and families being displaced. There’s also a homelessness problem, like many urban areas of our country. Chicago is also a notorious crime capital. It will take all facets of the market—corporate, non-profit and government—to create viable solutions to these challenges in order for the Windy City to be one of America’s sustainable and equitable urban meccas.

Las Vegas & Hoover Dam

Las Vegas, in Nevada’s Mojave Desert, is a resort city famed for its vibrant nightlife, centered around 24-hour casinos and other entertainment options. Its main street and focal point is the Strip, just over four miles long. This boulevard is home to themed hotels with elaborate displays such as fountains synchronized to music as well as replicas of an Egyptian pyramid, the Venetian Grand Canal, and the Eiffel Tower. One can literally journey around the world in an evening even taking in New York, NY and feeling hot, hot, hot by purchasing havaianas, the world’s most famous flip flop brand from Rio de Janeiro. 

Some 42.9 million people visited Southern Nevada last year, spending $35.5 billion — 16.3 percent more than in 2015 when they left behind $30.5 billion. Per person, Las Vegas visitors spent an average of $827, up from $721 in 2015.

I feel sorry for the many foreign tourists whose first, and perhaps only, point of entry into the United States is Las Vegas. They are exposed to a microcosm of decadent American culture. Vegas isn’t called Sin City for nothing. All vices are well-represented, including sex, drugs, and rock and roll plus gambling, shopping and over indulgence in calories. And smoking, which seems to have all but disappeared everywhere but here–Vegas smells like a giant ash tray.

One cannot help but acknowledge the juxtaposition of seedy and sensational. In addition to the debauchery, there are a plethora of fantastic shows, limitless luxury shopping and endless fine dining options.  The Bellagio Fountains are captivating and don’t miss the horticultural display off the lobby with its stunning Chihuly installation on the ceiling.  


I hadn’t been to Vegas in about 12 years. I used to go once or twice a year as the guest of my late best friend Mary Lou Barber, who was a high roller. We usually stayed in a comped penthouse suite at New York New York Hotel and Casino. This time I was invited by my partner, Sam Yoder, who got us a “free” suite at Caesar’s Palace. As much as the comps and so-called freebies seem enjoyable, it all adds up when you are losing big at the slots and tables. Vegas didn’t earn the nickname “Lost Wages” by accident.  



While there I took advantage of two headliners: Cher and Celine. Cher arrived fashionably late and changed outfits every song or two, from her wig to her shoes.

“Classic Cher” takes you on a non-stop feast for the senses for 1.5 hours. The show is a journey of the 70-years-young diva’s half century career of hits with movie clips and other footage displayed on giant screens. Even the late Sony Bono makes an appearance to duet on the iconic “I Got You Babe.”

 “Classic Cher” is a sensational Vegas extravaganza with elaborate sets, dancers and Bob Mackie-designed wardrobe. Cher even rides a mechanical elephant at one point. Cher. On an elephant. In Vegas.  



Celine Dione has been the headliner at Caesar’s Colosseum since the theater was built for her in 2003. The Canadian songstress still fills the seats with “Celine at The Colosseum,” a glamorous show directed by legendary Grammy Awards producer Ken Ehrlich and presented jointly by AEG Live and Caesars Entertainment. 

Celine’s updated Las Vegas show includes her biggest hits mixed with timeless classics by iconic artists that celebrate all generations and genres of music ranging from Elvis to the Bee Gees, Queen, Tina Turner and Prince. The show features a full orchestra and band and is set to a visually stunning presentation designed exclusively for the 4,300-seat state-of-the-art venue. Celine also returns to The Colosseum with a new stage wardrobe composed of exclusive designs developed by her stylist in collaboration with Atelier Versace, Schiaparelli, Elie Saab and Mugler. The show is sensational, especially Celine’s voice, which hasn’t lost any of its luster. Gone, though, are the dance troupe and Franco Dragone’s Cirque du Soleil influences of the earlier days, which was disappointing. This is Vegas after all.  

It’s hard to believe it’s the 20th anniversary of “Titanic,” which featured the diva’s blockbuster hit “My Heart will go On.” At this rate it seems Celine’s Vegas run will go on and on (and on). She even joked about making sure the audience returns 30-years from now impersonating her future self.  



In addition to the entertainment, we enjoyed Italian food at Giordano’s, a Chicago-outpost offering their famous deep-dish pizza. We met up with Sam’s cousins from Hawaii who were also there on vacation (Keana and Braddah Aina and Darryl and Anna Iseri). There are so many transplants and visitors from Hawaii that Vegas is referred to as the “Ninth Island.” We enjoyed Sam’s cousin Anna’s birthday dinner at Lawry’s The Prime Rib. 

Lawry’s The Prime Rib invites you to a lavish dinner experience found nowhere else on or off the strip. Enjoy the beautiful Art Deco design, exceptional service and unique menu featuring famous Roasted Prime Ribs of Beef carved tableside from gleaming silver carts. At Lawry’s in Vegas, rich traditions, warm hospitality and award-winning food make for a sure bet.


The Vegas outpost of LA’s Mr. Chow is at Caesar’s Palace. I opted for the social hour, which offers specially priced Bar Bites and half-off drinks. The lounge overlooks the swimming pool. The glazed shrimp was scrumptious.


Also at Caesar’s is Gordon Ramsay’s Pub. Sam said the English ale onion soup and wedge salad were the best he’d ever had. Tracey Itts, my dining companion and childhood friend who lives in Vegas, raved about the fish and chips paired with what the waiter claimed to be the “best tartar sauce in the world,”‘with a hint of dill.  


There’s also a great Gelateria at The Forum Shops. I opted for the VIP with three flavors (Oreo, bananas foster cheesecake, and chocolate truffle mousse) with whipped cream on top. 


On previous visits I’ve enjoyed dining at Smith & Wollensky, Gallagher’s Steakhouse at New York New York, La Cirque and Olives (both at Bellagio) and The Eiffel Tower Restaurant inside Paris. Starbucks is now happily featured throughout the strip, with one conveniently located at the bottom of our elevator at Caesars, making the morning commute short and sweet.

We took a day and drove out to Hoover Dam. Hoover Dam, originally known as Boulder Dam from 1933 to 1947, when it was officially renamed Hoover Dam by a joint resolution of Congress, is a concretearch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between Nevada and Arizona. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depressionand was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its construction was the result of a massive effort involving thousands of workers, and cost over one hundred lives. The dam was named after President Herbert Hoover. The dam impounds Lake Mead, contains flooding and produces hydroelectric power.  


We stopped at the Sunset Casino on the way back to try our luck off the strip. I was the only one in our group of four who came out a little ahead.  

Overall, Vegas is like an adult Disney World on steroids. I’ve not witnessed so many intoxicated “adults” with questionable behavior in quite some time. As they say, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Lost Wages definitely requires stamina but if you play your cards right, you can find harmony in the balance of deviance and relaxation. If you win a little money gambling, treat yourself to the spa or rent a cabana at the pool–feeling pampered always makes for a fulfilling vacation.  

Broadway Bound

With a 24-hour layover in New York on my way to Icleand, I made the most of my short time in the city that never sleeps by taking in two shows, a meal and walking an impressive portion of the island.  My flight was delayed, which precluded my Friday evening dinner reservation at Sardi’s, but I made up for it with a pre-theatre lunch on Saturday.  

In the heart of New York’s Theater District, Sardi’s has been the toast of Broadway for 90 years. Located at 234 West 44th Street the restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Late supper is served from Tuesday through Saturday.  I enjoy both the food and the vibe here, as well as the celebrity caricatures.  My personal favorite is of the late comedienne extraordinaire, Joan Rivers, with her tiny Yorkie, Spike, after whom my dog is named.  


Planning months in advance, I scored a ticket to see the one-and-only Bette Midler headline in “Hello, Dolly!” during the show’s previews.  I was in the front row of the mezzanine taking in the electric atmosphere, and the New York crowd was raucous, applauding practically every line and nuance Bette delivered.  Indeed, the Divine Miss M brought the house down without so much as even uttering a single note–making her entrance by lowering a newspaper she was holding to conceal her face while riding on a horse-drawn stage coach.  



Midler stormed back to Broadway, returning for the first time since her sold-out run as superagent Sue Mengers in “I’ll Eat You Last,” back in 2013. This time she has a bit more company, heading up the fourth revival of Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s “Hello, Dolly!” (following the original, which ran from January 1964 through December, 1970).  This is Midler’s first turn at headlining a Broadway musical, having made her debut in a supporting role of the original cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1964.

The Jerry Zaks-helmed show, co-starring David Hyde Pierce of Frasier fame, opened with a record $40 million in advance ticket sales, and posted sales of $1.4 million for five previews at the Shubert Theatre last week.  The show opens April 20.

I joined the eager crowd of theatre patrons in Shubert Alley waiting for the singer-songwriter-actress-comedian to appear post-performance.  Prior to the diva’s exit from the stage door to her chauffeured sedan, the show’s company, including Hyde-Pierce and Kate Baldwin (who plays Irene Molloy), stopped to sign Playbills while Midler’s husband, artist Martin von Haselberg, opened the car door for his 71-years-young wife before they were whisked away into the night, making their way to their luxurious mansion-apartment overlooking Central Park.


On Saturday morning, I walked from 10th Avenue to 5th Avenue, stopping at the mother-ship–the Cartier Mansion to ooh and ahh.  I made my way past Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral as well as the famed Plaza Hotel.  I strolled through Central Park while snowflakes started to fall, eventually making my way back to the theatre district to catch a strictly limited engagement of “Sunset Boulevard” starring Glenn Close. 


Close returns to Broadway in the tour de force performance that earned her the Tony Award back in 1995 for Best Actress – and a place in Broadway history.  Featuring a 40-piece orchestra, the largest in Broadway history, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning masterwork of dreams and desire in the land called Hollywood reigns at the Palace Theatre for 16 weeks only following a sold out run in London’s West End.  The show ends June 25.

While I wished I had more time, I will gladly take Manhattan and make the most of any amount of time in the city that is the center of the universe.  I have loved this metropolis since my first visit at the age of seven.  Everything’s as if we never said goodbye.