Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Crescent to New Orleans

A portion of Amtrak's national route map, showing my route on the Crescent service from Washington DC to New Orleans highlighted in blue.Welcome to this instalment of what I have somewhat ambitiously called Another Grand Adventure, part of my occasional Travel Spot series. It follows my second long-distance American train trip, which saw me travelling from Boston, in New England, to Phoenix, in the south west, by train. Well, almost.

I actually went from Providence to Tucson by train, driving the first and last legs. If I’d had the courage of my convictions, I’d have carried on from Tucson to Los Angeles so that I could have completed my second coast-to-coast train journey. However, given that I actually had to be in Phoenix for work, this would have required me to turn around and come straight back again once I got to LA. That would have been rather extreme, even for me.

The trip started with my flight to Boston, while the second instalment covers the series of short journeys I took along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from Providence to Manassas, south of Washington DC. This instalment takes us from Manassas to New Orleans, travelling on Amtrak’s Crescent Service, while the remaining two instalments will cover the leg from New Orleans to Tucson on the Sunset Limited and my flight back from Phoenix.

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Pax Treme

A single-origin Colombian espresso, roasted by Onyx, from Arkansas, and served, in a classic blue cup, by Pax Treme in New Orleans.Following hot on the heels of yesterday’s Coffee Spot, Spitfire Coffee, comes Spitfire’s new big sister, Pax Treme, which I visited last Sunday. I’d not heard anything of Pax before I arrived in New Orleans, but that’s probably because it only opened the Monday before my visit. Talk about good timing!

I’m indebted to Marissa, the barista at Spitfire, who gave me the heads-up about Pax. It has perhaps the most (initially) unpromising location for a coffee shop, almost directly under an elevated section of the I-10 freeway which thunders through the heart of New Orleans Tremé neighbourhood, north of the French Quarter. About 10 times the size of Spitfire, and that’s not counting the balcony, it’s a handy getaway from the hustle of the French Quarter and just a short walk away across Louis Armstrong Park.

Like Spitfire, Pax is a multi-roaster, with a single-origin on espresso and three more available either as espresso (ground using the Mahlkönig EK-43) or pour-over through V60 or Chemex (with plans to add Kalita Wave and maybe Aeropress, plus bulk-brew) There’s also a kitchen at the back, so Pax has a small (for now) breakfast/lunch menu, plus cakes, all baked on-site.

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Spitfire Coffee

Watching espresso extract from my seat by the counter at Spitfire Coffee in New Orleans.My first speciality coffee in New Orleans came courtesy of Spitfire Coffee. A tiny spot in the heart of the French Quarter, it’s the number one option when you need decent coffee during a hard day’s sight-seeing. Given its size/location, Spitfire could be forgiven for serving a middle-of-the-road espresso blend and a big flask of drip coffee to go. But no, Spitfire is cut from a different cloth.

The coffee comes from a cast of five roasters, with a different option on espresso every day, coupled with multiple options on pour-over using V60 or Chemex. There’s also cold-brew, a decent selection of tea and some signature drinks (Las Tres Flores and a Cuban Cortado). You can also have an iced espresso or latte should that take your fancy and, refreshingly, there’s no batch-brew on offer. If you’re hungry, there’s a choice of two cakes, baked at Spitfire’s sister location, Pax.

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Sólo Espresso

The recessed wooden double doors of Sólo Espresso in New Orleans.Doing my research before my short trip to New Orleans, not many names came up when I asked about speciality coffee. However, of those that did, the most prevalent was Sólo Espresso, which was also highly recommended on the ground. The first thing to say is that if you stick to the usual tourist areas, you’re not going to come across Sólo. It’s east of the French Quarter, on the border between Bywater and St. Claude, and across the canal from the Lower Ninth Ward.

However, as I always say, good coffee’s worth travelling for. In this case, you have several options, including a fairly pleasant 50-minute stroll through Crescent Park on the north bank of the Mississippi. There’s also a couple of buses or a 10-minute taxi ride, depending on traffic.

Whichever route you take, you won’t be disappointed. Occupying the ground floor of a long, low building, there’s something of the basement about Sólo. The coffee, meanwhile, comes from old friends, Miami’s Panther Coffee, with the East Coast blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest single-origin, plus decaf. There’s also bulk-brew, cold-brew or pour-over using the Chemex. If you’re hungry, there’s a breakfast/lunch menu, plus cake.

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