Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thursday Thirteen Edition Two

My Thirteen Favorite New Orleans Restaurants
by bint alshamsa

1. Pampy's Creole Kitchen
I have visited some of the swankiest spots in the city but this place is still my absolute favorite restaurant. Fortunately for us locals, it's located outside of the tourist trap that the Vieux Carre is turning into. If you go there, you'll still see plenty of out-of-towners but I think that most of them are folks who are in-the-know instead of random half-drunken folks wandering in from the French Quarter ready to eat at the first place they saw. Their Raspberry-Walnut Vinaigrette is so wonderful that I wish I could just get a permanent IV flow of the stuff directly into my veins. Unfortunately, poor Austin Leslie died a month after the hurricane. It's hard to imagine the restaurant ever re-opening without him as the head chef. The last time I visited Pampy's he sat down at the table with us and told us stories about life in New Orleans when he was a young man. I keep wondering if all of those old stories went with him when he died. Unfortunately, Pampy's got over three feet of water during the hurricane and will have to be rebuilt completely. Still, I can't help but talk about the restaurant as if it is still there. I just can't imagine going down North Broad and not seeing that restaurant still sitting on the corner.

2. Mulate's
We went here for my dad and his twin's last birthday. My uncle and I both ordered the stuffed crab and my dad and The German each had steaks. What can I say? The stuffed crab was crisp on the outside, moist on the inside and perfectly seasoned all throughout.

3. Dicky Brennan's Steak House
The first time I visited, the occasion was my ex-boyfriend's graduation from Xavier University. I fell in love with their Tuna Steak. I don't normally try Shrimp Remoulade when I see it on a menu because I've had some bad experiences with it but I'm glad that I took a chance and ordered it because it was excellent, not too vinegary as a lot of places mistakenly make it.

4. Deanie's Seafood
The only reason I ever make it out to Bucktown is to visit this restaurant. Well, I should take that back now because one of my pregnant cousins and her husband moved from a nice apartment right next to the governor's mansion out in Baton Rouge into a tiny flat in a beat down complex that's right down the street from Deanie's. None of us can understand why the heck they moved out to a fishing community and away from the city near several really good hospitals where she could have her baby but maybe she just wanted to be closer to the source of all the local seafood. And believe me, you will get the authentic Bucktown experience (all-pervasive seafood smell included free of charge) if you visit the neighborhood surrounding Deanie's. It's not a bad place but it just lacks all of the fancy-schmancy architecture and je ne sais quoi of New Orleans. The shrimpers are really proud folks, though, and they have good reason to be because without them there would be no New Orleans since they are the ones that harvest the catfish, shrimp, crawfish, and crabs that make up practically every signature Creole dish we eat. If there is a community hub in that area (outside of the much-loved churches), I'd say that it's Deanie's. You can't go wrong with anything on their menu. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be their Barbeque Shrimp. They serve it with french bread to sop up all of that heavenly seasoned melted butter. I should warn you though, if you are squeamish about seeing your food in it's natural form, you might want to get the Barbeque Shrimp pasta because if you just order the Barbeque Shrimp, you'll see that it comes with the head and tail still attached to them ready for you to peel off. I can't eat them, but my brother is crazy about their raw oysters. I don't think that people in other parts of the country eat that but it's pretty dern popular here. They scoop out the insides of the oyster and clean it up really good and then put them back on the half shell. You put a dash of Tabasco sauce on it and swallow it down whole.

5. Cafe Maspero
When I'm in the French Quarter and I just have to have a good sandwich, this is where I go. Evidently, I'm not the only one who feels like this because if you come during the day, be ready to stand in line. And by line, I'm not just talking about a cute little one inside of the restaurant. You will have to stand there with everyone else in a line that goes outside and in front of the building. You might think that's crazy but I've stood in that line plenty of times and I'll do it again if the Lord says the same and the tide don't rise. My personal favorite is the Hot Roast Beef sandwich with gravy. This is wonderful "poor man's food". I'll be a monkey's uncle if I haven't gone in there with just ten dollars in my pocket and come out with a full belly and leftovers for the next day.

6. Bennachin Restaurant
After the first big break-up that CaliGuy and I had, I started spending a lot of time with one of my childhood friends and her male roommate, Diallo. He was a sensitive guy with shoulder-length dreadlocks who was pursuing his master's degree as a graduate student over at Xavier University. We used have these little love-in sleepovers where Diallo and I would read our poetry and my childhood friend would perform bits and pieces from the operas she starred in. It was an extremely eclectic mix of rationalists and existentialists, an atheist sculptor who paid his bills working as an auto mechanic, a couple of poets like me and Diallo (he was really liberal and I was conservative), two opera singers (one was a very religious Catholic girl who only dated married men and the other was a former Jehovah's Witness), a couple of toddlers (VanGoghGirl included) and occasional curious interlopers. The great thing was that the entire group of us were people of color which made it a wonderful safe space to discuss what it was like being privileged, artistic and brown in a city like New Orleans. After the sleepovers we'd go out as a group to have lunch the next day at this wonderful African restaurant over on Royal Street. It's really tiny and if you're looking for a posh setting you won't find it here but they have the best West African cuisine you can get in this city. Their Red Beans with Garlic Sauce over Coconut Rice is magnificent. The sticky-sweet Fried Plantains make for a great dessert that's worth making room for even after lunch. They also offer a lot of vegetarian dishes which is very rare down here in the south where almost every dish comes with a slab of flesh in it somewhere. It's a great place to go if you don't want your vegetarian friends to have to settle for a salad while everyone else has lots of dishes to choose from.

7. Juan's Flying Burrito
They do have two locations but I've only been to the one on Magazine Street. I think it's the only one open post-Katrina but I'm not sure. When I want a real burrito and not the Tex-Mex garbage that's supposed to be "authentic", then this is where I go. As a freshman, me and my friends would make a quick lunch run to Juan's between classes. Back then, the Chicken Burritos full of steaming hot rice and wrapped in a Spinach Tortilla was my favorite because I could take it to-go and eat it in the car so we'd make it back in time for class but now I think the Quesadillas are my first choice. The nice thing is that they are made with Creole-seasoned chicken which makes for an interesting twist.

8. We Never Close Seafood
Look, I'm not going to lie to you, this place can be rather dirty. Sometimes we jokingly refer to the place as "We Never Clean". They really don't seem to care just how dusty and strewn with straw wrappers the floor gets. If you are the kind of person who needs to believe that your food has never been in a less-than-sterile environment before touching your lips, then you might want to go somewhere else. However, if you want the most to-die-for Shrimp Po-Boys, then you have to go here. For those who don't know what a "po-boy" is, it's a sandwich piled high (no skimping allowed) with fried catfish, shrimp, oysters, or hot roast beef topped with shredded lettuce, and tomato slices and served between two halves of crusty french bread that has been slathered with a thin layer of butter (or mayonnaise). You can sit there and eat but most folks take their food to go. That might be because it is in a pretty bad spot. I've known two different people who've been shot within a block of that restaurant. If you go through the drive-in, on the side of the building you'll see some pock marks in the brick. You guessed it. Those are bullet holes. The German was at work when one of his co-workers had to leave because his brother was the guy who happened to be in the car that those bullets were aiming for in an attempted robbery. If you don't mind playing Russian Roulette with our life, then you can go and have one hell of a meal. My daughter is crazy about their hamburgers but that's only because her crazy bio-dad lives down the street from the restaurant and when she was a little kid and he had her over for the weekends, he'd bring her down there to get lunch for the both of them instead of just taking the time to cook the girl something himself, so she was practically raised on the stuff. Anyway, the good thing is that it's sort of a market too and you can also buy some Hubig's pies while you're there. If you've never had a Hubig's pie, then you might as well curl up and die right now because your life isn't worth continuing.

9. Trolley Stop Cafe
This is the definitive place to go to when I'm craving breakfast for dinner. Because it's open twenty-four hours a day, it's one of my favorite after-party haunts. I'm telling you, there are few things I enjoy more than coming from a late-night Jazz shindig at the Spotted Cat or the Funky Butt and then heading out to the Trolley Stop to get a giant omelet full of ham and cheese and green onions at two o'clock in the morning. You can scarf down half of it there and then take the rest with you to eat at noon the next day when you wake up.

10. Chinese Kitchen
This is another one of those hole in the wall joints where you won't find any tourists. The food isn't exactly Chinese. In fact, it's like the Asian equivalent of Tex-Mex food but as far as such meals go it's the best of what I like to call "Asian-Cajun cuisine". The Sweet and Sour Chicken is worth the lunch-time wait which really isn't all that bad if you have fifteen to twenty minutes to spare.

11. Mona's Cafe
I remember when Mona's opened up a new location on the edge of the French Quarter. I was pleased as punch and tried to convince everyone I know to go there with me. I also remember when, post September 11th, some hateful bastard(s) burned their Banks Street location down to the ground. This restaurant epitomized the sort of success that a lot of other Palestinians who come here hope to obtain. I felt this burning anger inside of me when we woke up that morning and heard about what happened. We got in the car and drove past the restaurant hoping that the damage wasn't as bad as some were saying. For all of the problems we have here--and there are quite a few--it's still the most tolerant and accepting place I've ever lived. The folks who own and work at Mona's are New Orleanians; They aren't just people who moved here and set up shop. They became a part of the city. That's why we weren't the only ones who took it really personal when Mona's suffered that setback. Lots of people don't know it but we have a thriving Lebanese and Palestinian community in this city. They don't all tend to live in a particular area like the Vietnamese do (Incidentally, I've spent most of my life living in or next to the two main ones in the city which also feature their own cafes and restaurants), so you might not notice it. When I first started learning Arabic, I got so much encouragement from the folks over at Mona's every time I stopped by. They were unfailingly patient with me as I attempted to speak and order my food in Arabic. Their Hummus is great; It's not too lemony or dry but it isn't runny either. The Chicken Shish Kebobs are tender and spicy and the feta cheese in the Greek salads is top-notch. The fact that I can eat all of that while listening to Amr Diab CDs playing in the background makes for a very enjoyable experience.

12. Port Of Call
They have what has got to be the best hamburgers on the planet. Okay, so I haven't eaten at every restaurant on the planet but I've eaten at quite a few and this is still my favorite local hamburger source. I'm not referring to that semi-edible plasticine-looking stuff you get from the chain stores. I mean this is a REAL hamburger. Do you want to know what their burgers are like? Hey, if I could grab an angel out of the sky, grind him up and cook him on a grill, I imagine that this is what he'd taste like. ;o) Oh yeah, I can't fail to mention the Hurricanes. No, I'm not talking about that so-and-so Katrina that came through and destroyed most of my city. These Hurricanes are the famed daiquiris that have sparked many a sin-laden night in this city. The one time in my entire life that I have ever seen my good Christian mother tipsy was the time when she drank one of these.

13. Ralph & Kacoo's
I've eaten here more times than I can name. Their French Quarter location was the preferred spot for celebrating minor special events in my family. My favorite combo from there is the Popcorn Shrimp for starters followed by the Stuffed Shrimp as my main entree. One of the things that I like about their Stuffed Shrimp is that it's wrapped in some sort of bacon or panchetta before it's cooked and that gives it a different twist from the versions that I've tasted at other restaurants.

Well folks, that's my list. It took me all day to finally decide which restaurants I wanted to include. For every one that I named, there are literally dozens of others where I'd gladly gorge my gullet on any day of the week. The wonderful thing about New Orleans is that you can eat here your entire life and never feel like you have to resort to engaging in culinary-sacrilege (i.e. eating at some national chain or--Heaven Forbid--a fast food joint).

A few years ago, The German and I had this little project where we planned to visit as many restaurants as possible in the span of one summer. The problem is, you can never win a game like that living in New Orleans because there are just too many places that you want to go back to after visiting once. The politicians may all be crooked and the whole place smells like mold but, it's like I still enjoy telling people:

I'm American by birth and Southern by the grace of God.

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Anonymous said...

Why you lyin? You ain't from New Orleans!!!

brownfemipower said...



bint--yummy yummy--maybe some day I'll make it down there and we can go out to eat together...

Bint Alshamsa said...

Girl, don't worry about "anonymous"! That's just The German. Sometimes he comes on here and leaves all sorts of silly messages just to let me know that he still reads my blog.

If you ever make it down here, I promise, we'll have so much fun that you'll never want to go back home!

belledame222 said...

omg, barbecue shrimp (slobber).

did you ever read or hear of a short story by Poppy Z. Brite, "O Death, Where is Thy Spatula?" I think you might appreciate it...