Saturday, February 12, 2011

Welcome to New Orleans

Welcome to the home of Commander’s Place, Brennan’s, and the myriad other restaurants owned by members of the Brennan family. Welcome to the home of Arnaud’s and Antoine’s. Welcome to the home of Emeril’s, Emeril’s Delmonico, and NOLA (Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant in the French Quarter).

We won’t be taking you to any of these. Rather, we’ll visit some neighborhood joints and smaller French Quarter legends—starting with the Acme Oyster House just off Bourbon Street on the western edge of the quarter.

“In 1910, before Satchmo had ever formed his first band, the Acme Café was opened on Royal Street in the French Quarter.... In 1924, a disastrous fire caused the collapse of the three-story Acme Saloon building. The Café was re-established as Acme Oyster House around the corner.... Acme has been shuckin’ ever since by serving food so good Prohibition wasn’t a problem at prices so low the Great Depression wasn’t all that depressing” (from the restaurant’s web site).

You may know the Acme Oyster House from the episode of Man v. Food on the Travel Channel when Adam Richman won an Acme t-shirt and cap for eating fifteen dozen oysters in under thirty minutes—one of the fastest times ever. This is a feat that over 150 have tried and only twenty-eight have accomplished.

We arrived shortly after noon on a week day and already Acme was almost full. Alas, we weren’t able to snag one of the coveted tables in the front of the house where one can watch the oyster shuckers at work. (This photo of the desired area was shot on our way out of Acme.)

Rather, we were ushered into the fairly nondescript back room which has four or five tables for two along one wall with the rest of the room filled with long tables for ten at which you may find yourself sharing lunch with another party or two.

The menu is as basic as the surroundings. You can start with a dozen or half dozen fresh iced oysters or chargrilled oysters or chose Boo Fries (with roast beef gravy and cheese), oyster remoulade, fried crab claws, craw puppies (hush puppies with crawfish bits), fried crawfish tails, or boiled seafood. Gumbos come as seafood gumbo, shrimp and crab with rice, chicken and andouille gumbo, or Gumbo Poopa (seafood or chicken andouille served in a French bread bowl). There is also an Oyster Rockefeller Soup made with oysters, spinach, parmesan cheese and Herbsaint (anise-flavored liquor).

Other New Orleans Specialties include red beans and rice with grilled smoked sausage, red beans and rice Poopa in a French bread bowl, jambalaya with smoked sausage and chicken, a New Orleans medley (sampling of gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice and grilled smoked sausage), and seafood étouffée. There is also a list of fried fish and seafood platters that come with fries and your choice of one side (cole slaw, hush puppies or potato salad).

And then there are the Po-boys, a Louisiana version of the submarine sandwich made on a crusty and chewy long roll. Po-boys can contain meat or seafood (usually fried) and are served “dressed” with tomato, lettuce, and mayo. Some restaurants include other condiments as part of the dressing and one (Mother’s) substitutes cabbage for the lettuce.

Acme’s po-boy selection included fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried catfish, fried crawfish, half shrimp and half catfish, shrimp or catfish with oysters, fried soft-shell crab, ham, turkey, hot sausage patty, etc. One option that looked intriguing was the Acme “10 Napkin Roast Beef” – slow cooked chuck roast with “debris.” Debris used to refer to the bits of meat that fell of the roast during the cooking process but has become such a popular element that roast is now purposely shredded and then added to the cooking juices.

I finally settled on the Fried Peace Maker Po-boy with fried oysters and shrimp fully dressed with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Chuck’s choice was the fried crawfish po-boy with only lettuce and tomato and added a side of red beans and rice. We shared an order of pretty ordinary fries that tasted as if they had sat under a heat lamp too long.

I must confess that the red beans and rice was extremely good—almost as good as mine. The whole tender beans were swimming in a creamy cooking liquid that was not too soupy. The beans and liquid which had been seasoned with bay and thyme soaked up the flavors of the smoky sausage.

The two sandwiches were good, but I do acknowledge that we have eaten better seafood po-boys at other New Orleans restaurants—one of which we will be taking you to later. Chuck thought his was a little dry and could have used the mayo that he omitted. I think that the corn meal-based coating was too thick and heavy for the small size of the crawfish tails.

My Peace Maker came with fried shrimp on one half and fried oysters on the other. I am convinced that there are two kinds of people in the world—those that love oysters and those that don’t. I am of the former variety, Chuck of the latter. The half with the shrimp was good; the half with the oysters was wonderful. Under their coating, the oysters were plump, juicy, and beautifully briny. Just what an oyster should be.

Our lunch was a good welcome to one of our favorite cities and merits a 4.0 Addie rating.

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