By Phil LaMancusa
Let’s get serious here for a minute. The ozone layer, homeless and jobless rates, the stock market, the energy crisis, pattern baldness and who the heck should honestly be our president (can you use those two words in the same sentence?) doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when mid morning comes, now does it?
The question really, as Douglas Adams put it in his sequel to Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, is, basically, “where shall we have lunch?”
I think of that, as the weather turns warmer and I wander from room to room, considering that empty feeling, that ‘hunger not of the soul’, picking up stray socks and blaming the mess around here alternately on the dog and/or the cat. Pondering, playing and toying with and on the eternal predicament: ‘where shall I eat? What do I feel like having? And, how far am I willing to go to get it?’
Running down the mid day meal is an experience and an adventure; I know, I do it an average of eight times a week. The criteria being that I should be able to begin my quest with an eleven-dollar bill and finish with a full belly and a fresh pack of squares (make mine Luckys, please).
Sanely enough, in the French Quarter, you can walk toward your destination, change your mind half a dozen times about where to stop, and wind up eating somewhere completely different than all of them.
All places, from Annie’s Chicken Shack to Vat O’ Gumbo have things that I consider great and only with trepidation, and a great deal of faith, do I stray from requesting (I never ’order”) any other offerings. For example: Fiorella’s, on Thursdays, has a butterbean special that can’t be beat; but if you want their ‘famous’ fried chicken, you’ll have cramps (and maybe die) from hunger by the time it gets to you. Ergo: I go there on Thursdays AND I have butterbeans. In the same vein; if I recommend to someone the fried oyster po-boy at Mr. Johnny’s, I don’t want them to come cryote-ing to me because they didn’t like their red beans!
Go where you will for red beans, I say; those of us that ate Buster Holmes’ beans can’t eat them anywhere else, and he’s long gone just like a turkey through the corn. Opinionated? Me? You bet your blue plate!
Also, lunch requires some ‘splaining. For example, if I tell you that the most beautiful cook works at The Royal Street Gro. and the best sandwich maker works the counter at the Quarter Gro. That doesn’t mean to say that she doesn’t make a dynamite six-inch alligator (she sure does!) or that he’s anything that you’d kick to the curb (his club sandwich! Yes, yes!), it’s just my view; and if you don’t like the news (or views), as they say, feel free to make some of your own.
Speaking of Grocery stores. They are where most of us Quarter Rats excel in culinary savvy. They are where the true heartbeat of local cuisine (we like to call it ‘cookin’, thank you) is found. Ask anyone that’s had the crawfish pasta that is the Friday special at C&C, or the well thought out specials at Matassa’s, the roast beef po-boy at Peoples, the mac and cheese at Verde Mart, the chili cheese fries at the Nellie Deli, the alligator po-boy at The Royal Street (did I mention that cook, or their gumbo?), or the ‘pot cookin’ at J.C.’s
Is the muffelatta better at Progress or Central? Do you opt for the service (?) at Napoleon House? Who’s been to Frank’s lately and why? Ever wonder what natives discuss over coffee? Guess no more, we talk food and the discussions are as passionate as great foreplay, and it’s even sanctioned in groups (God, you give great menu!!!).
Speaking of menus. Have you tried Jaeger’s Back Kitchen? It is probably the best new place to open in a long while, maybe years. The ‘pot cookin’ is second to none, the prices are good and the service friendly. It’ll make you want to throw rocks at the Old Dog, just up the alley, but that’s another story.
If you’ve guessed by now that I have a lot to say on this subject, probably so much to say that I just will not have room for little things like addresses, phone numbers, business hours or the names behind the faces, BINGO! You win the Cuisinart! You’d be amazed how fast a thousand words go by. I’ll just leave it up to you to find out where these gems are; hint: they’re all in the Quarter.
Speaking of the Quarter; this is not to say that I don’t enjoy lunch beyond it’s boundaries. Like the Pho at Nine Happiness, the Pad Thai at Singha, a Menage a Trois at the whorehouse (The Sporting House), or the gumbo at Dubon’s. That’s just not so. Like I said, I just don’t have room to write it ALL.
Mena’s, Oh My Lord, Mena’s; have you ever had a better ham hock with cabbage, boiled potato and cornbread? And it’s just across the alley from Country Flame. What to choose? What to choose? And where to go to go to choose it. How do you choose it? I stand outside 1212 Royal St. for half an hour, rubbernecking the menus of Midnight Express and Mona Lisa’s, like a sailor in a red light district, trying to decide where I’ll get my kicks. They both get my vote for great food and they treat you like family.
The Gumbo Shop, twenty five years ago , had a banner inside the dining room that proclaimed in big letters: “Ici On Mange Bien” that is, “Here One Eats Well”. That’s still true of the Gumbo Shop and, for that matter, my French Quarter. If I had room for another thousand words… I would go on and on and on. But, I don’t.
Next Month: How the President saved the day by moving the French Quarter over there to solve The Mid East Crisis. (“betcha I can tell ya where you got that towel… on yo head! hahahahahahahaha