Monday, February 28, 2011

Line Standing

“There it is,” I exclaimed, “and there’s parking, too. This is our lucky day!”

We had found Parkway Bakery on one of our few driving days into New Orleans. Finding plenty of space to park was a real bonus. Walking to the entrance, I wondered, “If Parkway has one of the best po’ boys in the city, why was it so easy to find a space to park?”

Reality began to set in when we reached the door to the restaurant. The crowd spilling into the street indicated that there was already a significant line. We squeezed our way in the front door with several “Excuse me’s,” realizing that this was merely the line for service at the dozen small tables in the bar. [This photo (above) was taken 90 minutes later on our way out.]

Seeing another line outside, we made our way past the bar to that line. When we reached the line, we realized we were at its mid-point. A turn to the right led us to end of the line—which it turned out was a few feet past the entrance to the bar. Five minutes to go what amounted to a few feet—and who knows how many people joined the line ahead of us during that time.

So, after a “high” of “They’re not busy,” we experienced the “low” of “The line is that long?”

Standing at the starting point for lunch, we counted a number of people with green “Rock and Roll Marathon” t-shirts. (We later learned that about 20,000 runners had entered the marathon earlier that morning. Estimating that each runner had 1.75 friends and/or family members with them, we calculated that an additional 35,000 people were looking for lunch that afternoon. Parkway seemed to have been the destination of choice for many of them.)

“A block or so off Bayou St. John, some enterprising folks (Jay Nix and his sister Eileen) with a good sense of history resurrected a long-boarded-up and once much-beloved po' boy shop and bakery, founded in 1922. It elicits flashbacks from old customers (though the lovingly renovated and spick-and-span interior bears no relation to the grungy last days of its old incarnation) and deep pleasure in just about everyone” (

The line moved slowly—along the street, past the outdoor dining area...,

Bfgoly, pick up” came the call from the kitchen indicating someone’s order was ready.” We looked at each other, wondering who Bfgoly was.

up the stairs to the second floor. We were getting close; from the stairway, we could see into the window to the order counter. We could smell that wonderful smell that only Cajun deep frying produces—crispness without greasiness.

Mavphelw, pick up.” Who?

We made it into the area to order (40 minutes and counting). Just a few more feet. Then we made it to the Woolworth’s Luncheon-ette sign (from the Canal Street store) that seemed oddly at home.

Finally, “We’ll have a catfish po’boy, a shrimp po’ boy, an order of fries, and an order of banana pudding.”

“Your name?”

This was a time for my “nom de diner,” i.e., the name that I use in small eateries like Parkway when placing orders at a counter. “Ozzie,” I answered, thinking that this uncommon name would be pronounced more carefully and, thus, would be easy to understand when called to pick up our order.

“Great!” came the response from the cashier. “I’ll make it ‘Ozzie and Harriet’.”

I took my place in the waiting room, making sure to note who was just ahead of me so that I could anticipate my name being called after they picked up their order.

Jawugp, pick up.” The folks ahead of us stepped forward.

“Great,” I thought, “we’re next.”

Moments later came—loudly and clearly, “Ozzie and Harriet, pick up.”

Heads turned, “Hi, Ozzie,” came from more that one of the others in the waiting room as I walked to the pick-up window.

This must have been heard by several others waiting to place their orders, because over the next three to five minutes we heard calls for “John Wayne, pick up,” “Roy Rogers, pick up,” and “Spiderman, pick up.”

(Kate) Well, Ozzie returned to our table and handed me my shrimp po’ boy. The minute I lifted the sandwich, I knew that I was in trouble. And po’ boys don’t travel and reheat well. And how would Parkway Bakery fare in our version of Food Wars? (Parkway had lost to Domilese’s in the Travel Channel’s “Battle of the Shrimp Po’Boys.”)

Both of our sandwiches came on toasted rolls that gave the top crust a delightful crunch. (Score One for Parkway. Domilese’s roll was not toasted.) Both of our sandwiches were stuffed--make that over stuffed--with catfish or shrimp. (But so were Domilese’s. Make that a draw.) And both were dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles. (But where was the wonderful catsup and hot sauce mixture from Domilese’s. Score one for Domilese’s.)

It bears repeating. No one fries food like people in the South. Chuck’s sandwich contained large chunks (not an appetizing term, but the one that best describes the pieces of catfish) of fish that had been coated in a light mixture of flour and cornmeal. And the fish was moist and sweet—nary a strong fishy-tasting morsel in that sandwich.

My sandwich contained equally-perfect coated and fried shrimp. And these weren’t tiny baby shrimp. They were large shrimp tossed in the same cornmeal and flour combina-tion. I finished my first half with no trouble. Halfway through the second half I hit the proverbial wall. So I opened up the sandwich and proceeded to eat the shrimp. In that final quarter sandwich, I counted seven large shrimp. Do you know how many the whole must have contained?

The fries were excellent. Hand-cut and twice-cooked, they are what a great fry should be.
And here we have to score one for Parkway. Sides at Domilese’s are limited to your choice of Zapp’s Potato Chip flavors. At Parkway, you can order regular fries, sweet potato fries, potato salad, gumbo, or chili.

The banana pudding? That came home with us and became my dinner that evening. Chuck didn’t want to even hear me mention food. But remember, he ate both sides of his roll. A meal worth a 5.0 Addie rating.

As we were leaving, we heard, “Sean Connery, pick up” and “Popeye, pick up.”

Real trendsetters, eh?

Parkway is a first-name place, with a large loyal following, but it became even more of an institution on August 29, 2010, when President Barack Obama and his family made an unscheduled stop to taste its po’ boys.

Like most of its Mid-City neighbors, it had taken on six feet of water after the levees failed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but it was back in business 88 days after the storm, providing a much needed service to its neighborhood. This determined re-opening alone would have made it an appropriate stop for President Obama, who was in New Orleans to make a speech on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Apparently he had been told about Parkway po-boys, but instead of ordering the renowned “home-cooked hot roast beef with gravy,” the President ordered a shrimp po’ boy.

Another reason for his trip was to help the Gulf Coast seafood industry recover from the BP oil spill. So, according to the pool reporter with the President, the President went to the counter, posed for a picture with several customers, apologized for cutting in line and ordered a shrimp po-boy. Seeing the president eat shrimp might help convince people around the nation that Gulf seafood was safe to eat.

Before his sandwich was ready, the President worked the Parkway crowd, shaking hands, hugging, and chatting. Finally, the restaurant loudspeaker announced: “Barack, pickup.”

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Blues (and Other Colors) in Neon

Continuing our walk down Bourbon Street which we began two days ago.

Soon after sunset, barricades are put in place that turn the famous New Orleans street into a pedestrian walkway. Vehicles can travel on the French Quarter's north-south streets, but cannot turn onto Bourbon.

It was early enough in the evening that the restaurants had not yet begun to fill. Walking at a leisurely pace provided the opportunity to look into their dining rooms and catch a glimpse of one of their menu offerings displayed at a table setting by the door.

In 1859 the city was known as the "Opera Capital of North America". The original French Opera House burned down in 1919. These days there is no opera here, but over the years, the Old Opera House has been the home of many famous New Orleans performing artists.

It was early enough in the evening that the pace and the noise level were on the low-key end of the nightlife continuum.

Rick's sports bar/gentle-man's club is one of the newest additions to the street.

Seeming to hover over Rick's and all of Bourbon Street are these two domes. They are actually several blocks (maybe 8-10) to the west.

I wasn't thinking about it at the time, but I don't believe that we saw one business that was closed or one storefront that was dark.

It seemed that for every three bars, there was one restaurant, one voodoo/t-shirt/souvenir shop, and one hotel.

Billing itself as the "Home of the Hand Grenade," the Tropical Isle Bayou Club was born out of the New Orleans World’s Fair of 1984.

There was just enough available light to photograph these street scenes without having to use a tripod.

Although supposedly featuring the blues, Bourbon Street Blues Company is not limited to that.

A normal night could have R&B in the early evening then rock and roll into the wee hours at Fat Catz.

Seeing these beautiful signs beckoning people to come in just didn't seem to fit the mood of the blues.

Nightlife for us was limited to this focus on neon and street scenes, but there was still a bit more to see.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

You Take the Canal Street Streetcar . . .

making sure that you are on one of the cars going to the Museum of Art and not City Park (a mistake we made that required some backtracking) and get off at Carrollton and Bienville. Walk four blocks down Bienville, past a row of shotgun houses (more on these later).

There, on the corner, you’ll find another of New Orleans' beloved neighbor-hood joints--Liuzza’s (known locally as Liuzza’s on Bienville to differentiate it from Luizza’s by the Track).

“If Norman Rockwell were a Southerner, he would have immortalized a place like this. College kids, families, batches of friends, couples of all ages, two of New Orleans’ Finest, and a few single gentlemen are enjoying their suppers at the fifteen wooden tables covered with thick green plastic tablecloths. The wood-backed, green-cushioned chairs make a piercing screech on the polished brown and white tile floor when you move them to sit down. The whole place has a sepia tone that has the aura of a mid-twentieth century rural American cultural artifact.

“Liuzza's is the kind of place that defines New Orleans in particular and Louisiana in general. There are scores, perhaps hundreds, of bars, restaurants, and juke joints like this in every neighborhood in every section of the city, from Treme to the Garden District, Mid-City, Esplanade Ridge, Lakeview, Gentilly, the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, Central Business District, and Warehouse District. I would love to live long enough to get inside as many of them as I can” (

You enter through the bar which is furnished with about eight stools, three tables, and a “gaming” area set behind a glass block divider. Just past the bar is the first of two dining rooms, where we were seated for a recent lunch. Liuzza’s primary attempt at décor was a series of old posters for Tipitina’s (a legendary New Orleans music venue) promoting perfor-mances by Bonnie Raitt, the Neville Brothers, Carl Perkins, and Muddy Waters with, as a special attraction, The Cold Cats.

The menu at Liuzza’s was fusion before fusion was cool. In this case, Louisiana standards join forces with Italian classics. For appetizers, you could have oysters remoulade, fried dill pickles, fresh spinach Lougia (sautéed with garlic in olive oil with chicken stock), or Italian stuffed artichokes. Entrees include meatballs or Italian sausage with pasta, eggplant or chicken parmesan, crawfish Telemachus (crawfish cream sauce over pasta), or red beans and rice.

With so many choices, it was hard making a decision. But decide we did. For me, it would be the fried green tomato po’ boy topped with shrimp remoulade. For Chuck, it was a side of the red beans and rice with the restaurant’s most famous offering—the Frenchuletta. And we would share an order of fries.

The red beans and rice was an excellent version of this Louisiana staple. Creamy with just enough bean cooking liquid, lightly smoky from sausage, and tasty from bay, thyme, and red pepper.

The fries, on the other hand, were not good at all. Yes, they were hand cut in house. No, they weren’t twice-fried. And they were presented in a very dark, almost burned, color. At first I thought that this excess browning had only happened with our order. Then I saw an identical plate being served to a man at the next table. Remind me to never order fries here again.

My po’ boy was interesting—and very messy. The bottom half of the loaf had been covered with green tomatoes that had been dusted with cornmeal and fried. Then the decadance began. A layer of small shrimp was spooned over the fried tomatoes, which, in turn, were dressed by a very good remoulade sauce. (Recipes for remoulade vary, but most contain mayo, Creole mustard, lemon juice, and catsup or paprika to provide color.) Then a layer of chopped lettuce and tomato was added. Put this on a warm crusty loaf of Italian bread and you have almost found sandwich heaven.

I say almost because the Frenchuletta is indeed sandwich heaven. This is Liuzza’s take on the mufuletta, but is served on a long loaf of Italian bread rather than the standard round loaf. Layers of ham, salami, and mortadella are piled onto the bread, a layer of cheese is added, then comes a mound of olive salad, and then magic happens. This is heated—not warmed like those served at Napoleon House—but heated so that the oils and flavors from the meats, cheese, and olives all merge into an orgy of deliciousness.

And the olive salad here is, in our opinion, the best in New Orleans. Better than Napoleon House’s, better than Central Grocery’s (home of the mufuletta), and better than the departed Progress Grocery’s sandwich. The salad has a slightly sharper and more Italian taste, which balances the richness of the meats and cheese.

Now we faced a dilemma. Should we finish Chuck’s five piece giant sandwich? Should we take two pieces home to be reheated for supper? Should we order dessert? We provided affirmative responses to questions two and three and ordered a slice of triple chocolate cake to share.

The cake was built on a chocolate wafer crumb base, the middle layer was a light mousse-like concoction, and the third layer was dark chocolate cake. And all of this was covered in a dark chocolate icing that contained little dark chocolate bits. Wow!!

This wasn’t our first visit to Liuzza’s. We have been there in trips past. In fact, I first tried fried dill pickles at Liuzza’s. And, were it not for the awful fries, this would have been another 5.0 Addie stop. But the fries were unforgivable and lowered the score to 4.0 Addies.

Now sated, we moved at a slower pace on our return to the streetcar stop. On this trip, we noticed this group of shotgun homes. A much loved style in New Orleans housing stock, the shotgun house is a narrow rectangular domestic residence, usually no more than 12 feet wide, with doors at each end.

"The name is often thought to come from the placement of rooms in a straight line. In a true shotgun the doors are also in alignment; so, the story goes, one could shoot a gun into the front door and the bullet would pass through every room in the house and exit the back door without hitting anything. That definition has been expanded to include other houses without hallways and one room in width" (goneworleans.

The rooms of a shotgun house are lined up one behind the other, typically a living room is first, then one or two bedrooms, and finally a kitchen in back. Early shotgun houses were not built with bathrooms, but in later years a bathroom with a small hall was built before the last room of the house, or a side addition was built off the kitchen. Some shotguns may have as few as two rooms.

Shotgun houses have many standard features in common. The house is almost always close to the street, sometimes with no front yard or a very short one.

A sign of its New Orleans heritage, the house is usually raised two to three feet off the ground. There is a single door and window in the front of the house, and often a side door leading into the back room, which is slightly wider than the rest of the house. The front door and window often were originally covered by decorative shutters.