Writers Picks June 2014
Best local organization: New Orleans Catholic Churches
Having spent my formative years learning the traditions and lore of the Catholic church up in Yankee country, I was pleasantly surprised at how that church has so adapted itself to the New Orleans mind set and lifestyle. What other religious group has a saint whose invocation is “please help us immediately”? Or, a patron saint of nervous breakdowns? But, those things aside. what other church has combined (so well) religion, adult beverages and our New Orleans passion for food?
During Carnival you can buy a drink on the steps of Catholic churches; during lent they hold Friday night fish fries and sell beer (as well as other liquids)and wine to wash down those hush puppies, fries, catfish and coleslaw.
Nowhere else have I witnessed the Saint Josephs Altars or even known about them until I was transplanted here. I mean, who would have thought in the northern tundra to celebrate this saint’s day with an altar, lavish and loaded with food, food, food! And then on the day of…… feed any and everyone who comes by. They even have little goodie bags that the give out with cookies, a fava bean (for luck and money) and a slice of French bread that you throw out your window when a hurricane approaches to make the storm veer away from you. This happens at churches as well as people’s homes!
Sure, all Catholic churches celebrate their masses with bread and wine; but in New Orleans, literally, our cups (and plates) runneth over.
The best fried shrimp po boy: The Orange Store
I am not going out on a limb when I say this. Okay, here’s what you find at virtually all the places that you might purchase a fried shrimp po boy: you’ll get so-so French bread that’s generally hard to get your teeth through, them little baby shrimps- that everyone is using- that come in a frozen block and are thawed under running water and if you’re lucky, sparsely dressed with lettuce, some tomato and a quick swipe of mayonnaise. What’s more, there’s usually more French bread than any other component.
At the Orange Store (sometimes called the Orange House)- a small convenience store run by what appears to be a tribe of Vietnamese workers- first of all, they use Banh Mi bread (about twelve inches in length) that they heat up in the oven! Then, there’s the shrimp which are fresh and big; I believe that they must have a fisherman connection of sorts because these shrimp are simply deliciously fresh; by the way, they put at least ten shrimp on the po boy. Okay, you have your oven warmed beautiful bread; you have your wonderfully battered fresh shrimp, then what? Well, they put mayonnaise on both sides of the bread and then they lay down a carpet of shredded lettuce, a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes and they’ll ask you (if you don’t tell them) if you want hot sauce. BAM!
Another plus is the bank of adult beverage coolers. The drawback is that it’s a takeaway joint, no eating in. And for reading this far, I give you the specifics: Rampart Food Store, 1700 N. Rampart St. 7:30 A.M-8:00 P.M. (Oh, also try their scrumptious chicken Ya Ka Mein $3.99 a quart)
Best local boozer’s book: ”French Quarter Drinking Companion”
On the final Sunday of this year’s Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival, I saw in my program a panel entitled “Spirited Tipplers in New Orleans”; naturally for me, the sound of that subject resonates with my inner imbiber. How could I resist; me who has spent the better part of his misspent youth preparing for a misspent adulthood? It was as lively an audience and panel as I have ever been to.
On the panel there were three: Allison Alsup, Elizabeth Pearce and Richard Read, at first glance, an unlikely looking alliance; until the meat of the matter was revealed. To wit: this trio went out to French Quarter bars and put together a guide book; now, why didn’t I think about doing that?
In the French Quarter, (in approximately one square mile) they pointed out, there are over two hundred “watering holes” and that’s not counting delis, grocery or convenience stores; unfortunately the Terrific Trio only made it to half. That seems to be sufficient for most of us; I, on the other hand have been to too many of the ones in the book and I’m looking forward to (hopefully) their next book: Volume Two.
The format of the book is brilliant. They give you names, addresses, phone numbers, average price range and advise to as to what you’ll be wearing, hearing, swilling ; what kind of tattoos you’ll see, best features and who your drinking companions will be. And then, there’s an entertaining little story about each place. A must read, a book that’s useful, informative, intelligent and witty. I LOVE these guys!