To really learn about a place, journey past the tourist attractions and venture into the neighborhoods where locals live. On the border of the Fauberg-Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods of New Orleans is Press Street, named for the Cotton Presses that once inhabited the local warehouses.
The railroad runs along Press Street, originally transporting railcars filled with cotton to the neighborhood for processing. It is the location of Supreme Court history, and today it is the home to The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and three partner projects. Press Street Station, Press Street Gardens and 5 Press Gallery are their partner projects.
I did not meet anyone famous here, but NOCCA is where many famous natives learned their trades and refined their talents. This is the breeding ground-where local musicians, artists and chefs pass on their crafts and culture to the next generation.
Supreme Court History- Plessy vs. Ferguson
In 1890, the state of Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act, requiring separate accommodations for blacks and whites on railroads. Prominent black, Creole, and white residents formed the Committee of Citizens, dedicated to repealing the law and fighting its effect. They persuaded Homer Plessy, a man of mixed race, born free, one-eighth black and seven-eighths of European descent, to purchase a first class ticket at the Press Street Depot. He then boarded the “whites only” car of the East Louisiana Railroad.
The railroad company had been informed of Plessy’s lineage and the intent of the committee to challenge the law. Plessy boarded the train, taking a seat in the white-only car. He was first asked to move to the black-only car. Plessy refused. He was arrested immediately and charged with violating the Separate Car Act. In 1896, the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected Plessy’s plea, upholding the Separate Car Act. It wasn’t until the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education that the doctrine of “separate but equal” was overturned.
In 2009 Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, descendants of participants on both sides of this historic case formed the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation for Education and Reconciliation. The foundation creates new ways to teach the history of civil rights through film, art and public programs. The programs are designed to create understanding of this historic case and its effect on the American conscience. A plaque sits at the corner of Press and Royal streets, commemorating the spot where Homer Plessy was arrested.
The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts is a regional, pre-professional arts training center offering high school students intense instruction. Their focus is culinary arts, dance, media arts, filmmaking, music, theatre, visual arts and creative writing. Jazz icons Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Grammy and Emmy winning Harry Connick, Jr., Soprano Mary Catherine Garrison and actors Wendall Pierce and Anthony Mackie are all graduates of NOCCA.
The culinary program is less than two years old, but with funding from the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and others, it is off to a great start. The restaurant and gardens are open to the public. Volunteer in the garden, eat a meal at the restaurant, or purchase items to take home as souvenirs, knowing they are truly made in New Orleans. All help support the educational efforts of NOCCA.
Press Street Gardens
Located at 7 Press Street, between Dauphine and Burgundy Streets, this urban farm and outdoor learning laboratory assists NOCCA faculty with incorporating the garden into arts, science, humanities and health education lessons. Urban sustainability is the future of the culinary world. Having the gardens connected with NOCCA allows students the opportunity to truly understand the meaning of farm to table dining.
The garden began in 2014 under the leadership of Marguerite Green, a local horticulturist. This unique urban green space is the location of many workshops, meetings and activities. The garden grows vegetables and flowers, and is the home to two goats and six chickens. It supplies its bounty to Press Street Station, and also sells its produce to local businesses and individuals through its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.
Looking for a unique volunteer vacation? Consider volunteering at Press Street Gardens. You might help with weeding, planting, harvesting or perhaps feeding the goats and chickens. If gardening is your thing, this could be a great opportunity to put some goodness back into the planet while on vacation, taking a respite from the hustle and bustle of sightseeing. Many of the activities are open to the public, so checking the website before a trip to the Big Easy might mean encountering a local adventure more unique than a typical tourist would expect.
Press Street Station
Open to the public every day but Wednesday, Press Street Station offers all things local.
The menu changes frequently, because that’s how it works with farm to table dining. You eat what is fresh. The menu incorporates boudin, beignets, oysters, shrimp, grits, fresh gulf fish, shrimp and sweet potatoes. In addition, Press Street Gardens provides fresh greens, eggplant, tomatoes, herbs and other produce.
Because the garden is just two years old and not at full maturity, the restaurant also procures items from other local farmers and producers. Chef Michael Doyle arrived at Press Street Station already established on the local restaurant scene. He brought many of his supplier relationships with him. Tables display garden flowers arranged by local artists. I thoroughly enjoyed by Vegetable Omelette, with slow-roasted creole tomatoes, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, and parmesan, served with field greens.
The menu, designed as a curriculum, gives culinary arts students a variety of kitchen skills they will need to work in a restaurant. On “Taco Tuesday” nights, the students take over the kitchen as part of their learning experience.
Jazz Brunch runs from 11 am-2 pm on Sundays. Beer, wine and cocktails are available during dinner and on weekends. Pay a corkage to BYOB.
5 Press Gallery
Connected to the restaurant, is 5 Press Gallery. The gallery displays the works of NOCCA students, faculty, alumni, and others associated with the institute. Under the direction of the Gallery Director Amanda Cassingham-Bardwell, the gallery is open Thursday-Sunday, 10 am – 3 pm. The one room display is a great place to wait for a table to be ready, or to visit after a meal. Exhibits change regularly.
The gallery also organizes Art Markets on a regular basis, showcasing the creations of the NOCCA community and offering items for sale. Purchase art from young artists associated with a program notable for successful students. You may be making a great long-term investment in the art market.
A trip to Press Street means enjoying the New Orleans culture, learning from the locals, eating well, and helping a few students earn their way in the world. When travel dollars double as charitable dollars, everyone wins!