Archives for July 2013

Read Beans On Monday: The Accidental City & The World That Made New Orleans


The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans

by Lawrence N. Powell


The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square

by Ned Sublette

New Orleans sells its history as much as its food and music, so when I decided to make this move I knew I wanted to learn more about that rich and layered story. Defiantly enduring near the mouth of one of the world’s greatest meandering rivers, New Orleans‘s story is a long and winding . . . and twisted and contradictory . . . as the river itself. The two books reviewed today provide comprehensive, in-depth portraits of this complicated city’s first few centuries (neither makes it into the 20th) and this is both their strength and weakness.

You will find these books innocently beckoning from the shelves of local bookstores enticing casual tourists to part with their money, but beware: While well-written and skillful texts, these are slow and challenging reads. Both would be better suited for upper classman history courses than curling up in a coffee shop, though they certainly appropriate for the latter if you are an avid amateur history buff. I am lumping them together because they tell the same story in the same painstaking detail from slightly different perspectives. Sublette is the more lyrical and engaging of the two writers, though neither has the brilliance for turning history into captivating adventure like [Read more…]

New Orleans Living: A Dark Passenger, Jedi Master, & Home For Wayward Boys


Jacques ImosThe problem with the 75 cent pork sliders and meat pies at the American Sector Restaurant is that when the adjoining National World War II Museum keeps you mesmerized through lunch until it closes at 5:00, ‘you’ll ruin your dinner’ as mother warned. And we had big dinner plans.

DSC02849I fell in love with New Orleans via Jazz Fest, but Jacques Imo’s may be the first local restaurant that stole my heart (though it could be Mother’s—memories are fuzzy). I remember the first time my oldest brother and I visited circa 1999. We were blown away by its upscale eclecticism and adventurous cuisine. We returned a couple of times, but my life changed directions and it’s been well over a decade since I’ve been back. I’ve become somewhat of a New Orleans foodie in the interim and, in the process, have discovered that Jacques Imo’s is perhaps the most divisive restaurant in the city. I mentioned a couple of posts ago how it is hip to deride any New Orleans restaurant that doesn’t fit your taste as a tourist trap, but nowhere does this battle rage so fierce as within the funky Jacques Imo’s bedecked with color folk art such as bright blue goes or “Be Nice Or Leave” plaques. It’s ridiculously off the beaten path, though, for a tourist trap, hiding on Oak Street on the complete opposite side of Uptown from the French Quarter so near the river bend that you could almost hit the Mississippi with one of their garlic cornbread muffins.

But you wouldn’t want to [Read more…]

New Orleans Attractions: The National World War II Museum


WWII Me at Ticket CounterAs a history buff that has read a good deal about World War II including several books by local legend Stephen Ambrose (you’ve probably heard of Band of Brothers), I have been anticipating a trip to The National World War II Museum since moving to New Orleans. July 4th weekend had me feeling patriotic so the following Monday a friend and I wandered over to the Central Business District (or ‘American Sector’ as it was known when Canal was a sharp diving line between Creoles and Americans) to visit what was recently recognized as the top New Orleans Tourist Attraction.

WWII Aimee TankTrip Advisor ranks The National World War II Museum as the #1 New Orleans Tourist Attraction and the #7 museum in the U.S. I’d have a tough time taking exception. The compound stretches over several building between Magazine and St. Charles just before the overpass at Calliope and plans are underway for it to continue to grow. Be sure to allow yourself a day if not two. I could easily spend a week in there and considering the American Sector Restaurant is run by legendary chef John Besh and boasts ‘The Best Happy Hour In New Orleans’ I would be well and affordably fed. I would also be well entertained—The Stage Door Canteen is a dinner theater that features thematic performances and every Sunday the museum hosts swing dances with free lesson.

WWII Museum SurrenderAdmission is [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: Interview With Gumbo Tales Author Sarah Roahen

Sarah Roahen at Hansen'sLast Monday I reviewed one of my favorite New Orleans books, Gumbo Tales. Last week author Sara Roahen was gracious enough to meet me at her beloved Hansen’s Sno-Bliz shop so I could pick her brain while we indulged our frozen cravings. (She had Rootbeer. I had Cream of Nectar and Cream of Ice Cream!)

One of the things I love about Gumbo Tales is that, although it’s about New Orleans food, you also talk a lot about its history and culture. When you started writing, what goals did you have in mind?

I wrote restaurant reviews for Gambit [Weekly] for about four years. That was really my first writing job. I was a line cook between college and then. It was a great way for me to get to know the city and learn how to eat here, but I was more interested in the historical and cultural stuff—the really quirky things about New Orleans that were so new to me and the unique relationship people have with food here. I was trying to figure out how to write more about that but wasn’t finding a way to in Gambit. That wasn’t Gambit’s fault. It was my fault for not being able to do two things at once. I’m actually a really slow writer and horrible at multi-tasking. It’s no way to make a living, but that’s just how my brain works.

So I decided to make it into a book and had an agent who was working with me who pushed me in that direction. A lot changed in the course of writing but the structure took form in my head while I was still writing for Gambit. I knew there were these things that I wanted to write about in a more in-depth, first person, ‘how cool is this’ kind of way. I had all these legal pads full of ideas like how weird a crawfish boil is.  Having a ‘Gumbo’ chapter, having a ‘Sno-ball’ chapter, that sort of filing system was in my head from early on.

Also, near the end of writing restaurant reviews for four years and living here for close to five, I started feeling

[Read more…]

French Quarter Living: Holiday Hanging & Restaurant Reviews


mandinasSince my visiting friend was proud of her Italian and Creole heritage, I headed immediately from the airport to Mandina’s, an 80-year-old Creole Italian institution on Canal in Mid-City. There is a huge Sicilian population in New Orleans (see St. Joseph’s Day) so Creole cooking has a heavy Italian influence along with its French (colonization) and African (exploitation) roots. Thus, it’s common to see red sauces—or ‘red gravy’—on the menu with fried seafood po-boys and gumbo, and the Muffuletta sandwich now ubiquitous locally was created by the Italian Central Market Grocery back when the French Market was an active and thriving Italian food and produce stand rather than the t-shirt and trinket bazaar of today.

Mandina'sI first tried Mandina’s right after Mardi Gras when I was sick and staying in the CBD. At the time I could barely breathe and couldn’t taste anything but the fried oyster po-boy I ordered there was the only thing I mildly enjoyed. Since their food tasted good when nothing did I couldn’t wait to try it in good health.

Mandina’s is an old open house with white table clothes on square tables and pictures on the wall—classic old style New Orleans. Our waitress had a thick ‘Yat’ accent (Brooklyn meets [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen


Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place At The New Orleans Table

by: Sara Roahen


I love this book. Period. If you have ever been or plan on going to New Orleans, buy it. Read it. Follow its recommendations. (Except for the duck fetus!) The end.


I suppose I should elaborate, though I think the above suffices, for Gumbo Tales is the best non-fiction book I’ve read about New Orleans thus far. (Confederacy of Dunces is my fiction jewel.) Sara Roahen is a former food critic for Gambit Weekly who weaves her expertise into a history of New Orleans cuisine and culture, revealing how they shaped not only her life but that of the city as a whole. Along the way she effortlessly paints a holistic picture that should leave more earnest histories ‘slowly simmering greens’ with envy.

By relating her experiences both eating and cooking various dishes or styles (each  gets its own chapter) Roahen illustrates how she fell so deeply in love with this city while simultaneously providing a history lesson and guide to the city’s rich and bizarre traditions. She’s well-versed in both written and oral history, yet Roahen is also an obsessive [Read more…]

Independence Day (& the 4th of July) In The French Quarter


7.3.22 Liuzza's BBQ Poboy

A Happy Ending, N’Awlins Style!

When I awoke Tuesday July 2nd, or Independence Day as I came to know it, Jake was already shuffling around nervously. “I fixed your bike this morning,” he said before confiding that Debra was on her way. He was genuinely distressed. “She’s one of my best friends, man,” he said, shaking his head. “But everything’s cool between you and me.” The writer in me was fascinated. He was absolving me of my sins, unaware that I may have a lingering gripe and mystified that Debra was turning on him.

I’m fairly certain (though I never got a reason) that Debra’s annoyance stemmed from Jake’s failure to acquire work and, as she said, “contribute.” To her. Even though I’d been pulled into this unwittingly, she later told me that what happened between the two of us was between the two of us . . . she was not our mother. That went over like a Led Zeppelin.

As I said before, Jake never struck me as malicious. He at times tried to be helpful and wanted to connect, complaining that he hated to eat alone and cooking that contraband breakfast before I left. He had met Debra consoling her after a bad break-up. From the start, though, he struck me as someone who never grew up and took responsibility—like an early teen who feels small acts of kindness (I took out the trash and called grandma in the hospital) are sufficient exchange for food and shelter. He arrived from three weeks in Africa helping his brother-in-law on a film project, allegedly falling ill and subsequently being abandoned. I’d always suspected he’d quickly outstayed his welcome, as he now had once again. I can’t know for sure, but like a good scientist I have a strong body of evidence with which to form a theory.


As he packed, Jake asked for a cup of coffee with the crestfallen look of Charlie Brown realizing he hadn’t got a single Valentine. I nodded. Holding grudges wouldn’t change anything. “You got any sugar?” I shook my head. “You somehow consumed an entire container while I was gone.” He waved nonchalantly. “No problem. I’ll [Read more…]

A Day In The (Quarter) Life


Getting betterI slept late that first Sunday back, having rolled in after 3 a.m., but awoke able to breathe. Perhaps the douse of bleach I gave my entire room before leaving had worked. Perhaps it had just been a weird seasonal allergy—something is always blooming in this city. Either way, it felt good to actually feel good.

Since the traces of ground coffee I’d left behind were gone, I walked down the block to my favorite French Quarter coffee shop, Café Envie, and ordered an omelet and coffee to nurse and refill all afternoon as I caught up on email and blogging. The food here is excellent for a coffee shop and the open air atmosphere rustic and quaint. You would think there’d be more coffee shops like this in the French Quarter, but most of the good ones are Uptown like favorite Krewe Du Brew.


The-Long-And-Winding-Road-A-Tribute-To-The-BeatlesIt was lunchtime when I arrived and nearly dinner before I heeded the weary stares of the baristas and headed home. Upstairs I ran into Jake for the first time since he’d taken off the night before. I calmly confronted him about my missing groceries, first bringing up the beer. “Man, it gets hot up here [as if water doesn’t work], and, besides, [Read more…]

The Last Known Survivor (Fan) Stalks His Prey In The (Humid N’Awlins) Night


DSC02791Now that I was back in New Orleans with renewed health and vigor, I set aside my annoyance at kitchen pillaging and headed out that first night to enjoy Frenchman Street with clear sinuses and renewed excitement. There was a steady crowd for a Saturday but, being off-season, no place was packed. No band grabbed my attention, so I found myself in the Spotted Cat clutching a beer so instantly drenched in condensation that it was almost warm before I took the first sip. The Jazz Vipers with Craig Klein of Bonerama on trombone were playing but I could barely hear from my perch at the. Besides, the singer seemed more intent on telling rambling stories than leading the band.

Survivor_-_Too_Hot_To_SleepThe humidity prodded me to skip the obligatory Abita and order a Corona. As I watched the condensation roll down the bottle on this sultry sub-tropic night I was reminded of a song lyric that had confounded me in my youth. Survivor was my favorite band in Jr. High and (being one of thirty people who purchased it) I loved Too Hot To Sleep, their final album. My strict Baptist upbringing, though, provided little vocabulary for drinking, and I was always puzzled by the title track that described the singer sitting alone at a tropical bar under a swirling ceiling fan watching a beautiful woman across the room and singing: “A cocharona and a twist of lime / Keeps me cool when I’m alone.” That was P.G.A. (Pre-Google Age), so I spent years wondering what a cocharona was. As I now [Read more…]

Back In The Saddle (But No Beer For My Horses)


Back to the FutureYesterday morning Debra showed up and escorted Jake, the friend she’s let crash here, to the door. She was in a grim mood but told me nothing about what happened. When I made a few timid inquiries the short replies implied it was none of my business, though I felt otherwise—few things being more intimate than where you lay your head. At least it’s made for a good story. And there’s a valuable lesson: If you rent to a writer beware of stirring up drama if you don’t want it going public!

Still, you may be wondering how we got to this point. As I recouped in Florida I had little to write about so was lax in posting, but my few days back in town have been quite eventful so suddenly I have a lot of catching up to do. So let’s jump in the DeLorean with Marty McFly and crank the dial back three weeks.


JustifiedI had always planned to return to Florida in mid-June to visit and retrieve some furniture once I had an idea of what I’d need in my new abode, but a week stretched into two and a half due to illness and preparing my condo for the market. I had been sick and then stressed out, so I left earlier than planned and spent a shameful amount of time in bed catching up on Netflix and DVR (Justified Season 4 was awesome and I am now addicted to American Horror Story!) and eating good (and healthier) food. I still managed to be productive, though, meeting with a real estate attorney and cleaning and rearranging my condo for showing.

Whatever Delta funk had infected me, though, took nearly three weeks to work out of my system (New Orleans biological voodoo is fierce—I’ve spent half my time here getting over something!) and my rattled confidence took just as long to recover. While this town is friendly and welcoming when you’re waving tourist $$$, I’ve found in moving here that it’s, under the welcoming veneer, a very closed southern town much like Charleston or Savannah. I didn’t expect to be an overnight success, but making personal and professional inroads has been more difficult than expected. Blogging about this disconnect prompted one reader to ask if I was giving up on New Orleans. Of course not! I’m in it at least until March 4, 2014 (next Mardi Gras, for those slow on the uptake.)  I just needed a break. This is supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime, after all, so I’m going to have fun even if it makes me miserable!

Back in the SaddleBesides, no place is perfect, and as my stay in Jacksonville dragged on it was soon clear it was time to move on. An appointment with a realtor pushed my departure back to last Friday and I decided to stay one more night to help a friend celebrate officially reclaiming her maiden name. Finally, Saturday morning, I loaded up the V-8 workhorse and headed west. As my verve and swagger revived those last few days I got on an Aerosmith kick, so to quote those bawdy Bostonians, now I’m Back In The Saddle Again!


When I went to start my truck that morning, though, my brand new battery was somehow completely dead. After getting it jumped, the skies opened up without warning as I carried my suitcase out. Sometimes I wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something!? Once on the road, though, the drive was uneventful—I’m getting a hang of the one stop journey—and it was still daylight when I pulled onto Decatur Street. Someone called my name and I looked up to see Jake waving from the balcony. I waved back and then he went inside and closed the door.

To avoid exposing myself to French Quarter pillaging, I always move stuff into the building first and then worry about getting it up the long and winding staircase later. Both the cab and bed of my truck was packed, and Jake never poked his head out to help with the furniture although I’d asked before leaving town. I was already drenched in sweat as I moved the first load up the stairs. When I arrived at the top landing, he was waiting for me: “Dude, I only ask one thing,” he said before I could even set anything down, “that you don’t write about me in the blog.”

It was an uncomfortable arrival. I figured Debra had been reading but doubted he would bother. I know the portrait I’ve painted hasn’t been flattering, but it has been honest and I had decided that, considering I’d asked for none of this and she knew going in I was here to write about my experiences, it was all fair game. Now, though, I felt a twinge of guilt.

maple_packageGranted, I had to ask repeatedly for him to quit eating my food, to clean up after himself when dishes would linger in the sink for days, to not smoke with the doors open and a breeze carrying through the place, etc. On the other hand, I’d made fun of his story of the 19-year-old girl he’d met before going to Africa, though the telling had been innocent enough. He did try to be friendly and, although I  worried I may return to find the guitar I left behind in a pawn shop, I never felt physically threatened. He’d even insisted on cooking me breakfast the morning I’d left for Florida, although he admitted to ‘lifting’ the bacon he went to the store for!

Thus I didn’t feel completely in the wrong, but I did feel guilty. I fumbled an explanation and apologized if I offended him, saying I’d avoid mentioning things as much as possible, though explained that the whole point of my being here was to write about it. He nodded and took off as I finished unpacking.


My guilt was short-lived. Once I had all but the heavy items  upstairs, I went to the refrigerator, drenched in sweat, for some water. The back of my neck instantly turned red. All the beer I’d left was gone.

I went through all the cabinets and boxes of cereal had been opened and nearly finished, a whole container of sugar had been drained  dry, snacks were gone, and a liter of Gatorade missing. As I walked downstairs I spied my laundry detergent tossed aside empty in the trash. Basically, anything that didn’t require cooking (because effort required was the only safeguard) had been finished or nearly so. My guilt turned to fury. I’d asked multiple times for him to ask before taking food, yet always felt bad and gave in when he asked. In my absence, though, it had all been fair game. Taking food when your hungry is somewhat forgiveable. Taking beer, hardly necessary to sustain life, just showed blatant disregard.

It’s hard to think clear when you’re upset, so I called a friend back in Jax and took some time to relax before finally taking an inventory of my room. If any possession were gone I was ready to pack up and drive away. Jake did seem to operate by some sort of moral code and left my ‘stuff’ alone, but it was an uncomfortable position to be in, having to have faith in where he may draw that line.


aerosmith-line-2My mind was now mulling over Jake’s request not to mention him. I didn’t want to escalate the situation, yet my experiences are mine to share and his pilfering of groceries had zapped my sympathy. Besides, it certainly is an interesting story. Every writer must figure out where to draw that line as to how much they share and live with the disapproval of those who don’t like the results.

It was all too much to figure out after a nine-hour drive and unpacking. I needed a drink. Since there was no beer in the refrigerator, I tossed on a fresh t-shirt, grabbed a ball cap, and headed out not caring how I looked or smelled. It was New Orleans, after all. Someone in the bar would surely be skuzzier!