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A Gulf of Mexico display at SoFAB talks about its rich fisheries history.

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Ask any tourists why they are visiting New Orleans and the likely answers are for the jazz and for the food.

It’s easy to understand how two of the newest attractions, the New Orleans Jazz Market and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum’s new permanent gallery, are becoming magnets for Big Easy visitors. Just as our food and music resonate with visitors, so do the two neighboring facilities at a prominent Central City intersection, just minutes from the French Quarter and a few blocks from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line.

SoFAB is not new to New Orleans—it was previously housed in the Riverwalk Marketplace in the Central Business District. The new location with expansive exhibit space provides more displays on the history and evolution of food and drink, plus an adjacent and fully stocked demonstration kitchen and on-site restaurant.

The Jazz Market next door is a buffet of jazz enlightenment featuring a 300-seat state-of-the-art venue, multimedia kiosks telling the history and evolution of jazz and even a contemporary jazz lounge for the nightlife enthusiast.

Both the Market and the Museum pleasantly caught me a little off guard. I expected to find mostly Louisiana content at the Museum considering its host city and the state’s culinary heritage. I definitely found plenty of local food and drink lore—particularly on New Orleans’ role in the origins of the American cocktail—but the entire South is well represented on the museum’s exhibit floor. The layout has stations for each Southern state and the District of Columbia, plus others reflecting shared themes such as the Gulf of Mexico seafood exhibit or Southern barbecue.

As a guy who makes his own barbecue sauce, I was drawn to the latter, and this spread alone is worth the museum’s admission price to me. Each state’s take on this Southern delicacy is presented in easy-to-understand narratives, with artifacts ranging from classic cookers and smokers to vintage advertising. Historic photos line a reproduction of the hardwood patio deck at one of the region’s most heralded barbecue dives, The Shed in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

I found similar surprises at the Jazz Market. Its patriarch, acclaimed jazz trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, is an advocate of the story of jazz beyond the stages, and this is evident the minute you walk in. My tour started with what appeared to be a group of college students enjoying a lecture on jazz history. The halls accessing the performance room were my favorite area—they are lined with images of 20th-century jazz icons on stage, shot by noted jazz photographer Herman Leonard. It is among the best black-and-white photography from both a subject and compositional standpoint I have ever seen

I’d recommend a Monday visit to SOFAB, because the museum’s kitchen hosts demonstrations where pupils are taught a Louisiana signature dish by a local chef. In turn, curators at the Jazz Museum said they are tailoring their Monday programming to piggyback the food demonstrations next door.

Author: Jeff Richard
Posted: Fri, 08/14/2015