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.

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