at an iconic New Orleans restaurant—the Acme Oyster House—with Dick and Karen Allsing before heading off for an unusual tour of the city. And, at 4:30 p.m., a line had already formed.
“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…building. The Café was re-established as Acme Oyster House around the corner at 724 Iberville, where it still operates today.
“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…After many decades of success, business had slowed for Acme and many other French Quarter businesses in the early 1980’s. For a while, Acme closed at 4:00 and had only one waitress on staff. This prompted Acme to make the now famous
‘Waitress available sometimes’ neon sign…
“Despite the lack of business, and staff, native New Orleanian Mike Rodrigue recognized the potential. He bought Acme Oyster House in 1985 and revived the charming New Orleans’ institution without having to make too many changes” (acmeoyster.com).
In their wisdom, the early French settlers chose to build on the highest point along the river which is now the French Quarter. While the Quarter escaped the worst of the damage from the post-Katrina levee failure, “the Quarter's oldest oyster bar needed a $2-million renovation to recover…, but it looks pretty much as it always did, just spiffier (new floor, new tiling, new bathrooms, and best of all, an expanded kitchen). This joint is always loud, often crowded, and the kind of place where you're likely to run into obnoxious fellow travelers. But if you need an oyster fix or you've never tried oyster shooting (taking a raw oyster, possibly doused in sauce, and letting it slide right down your throat), come here” (frommers.com).
Our names were finally called, and we were led through the crowded and noisy front dining room where the master oyster shuckers reign supreme, past the oyster char-grilling station, and into the back dining room. We have never been lucky enough to sit in the front room, which seems to be the hub of the action, but the quieter back room was more conducive to conversation.
Dick began by ordering a dozen plump oysters on the half shell, which came with lemon wedges and a horseradishy cocktail sauce. Kitty Humbug had read the disclaimer on the menu “There is a risk associated with consuming raw oysters” and took a pass, but given the speed with which Dick consumed these, he wasn’t worried. (See how beautifully the neon lights reflect off the oysters.)
I chose the combo with half poor boy and cup of soup or gumbo and selected the oyster poor boy and the oyster Rockefeller soup. The latter was garnished with a large fried oyster and contained spinach, parmesan cheese, and Herbsaint (a New Orleans anise-flavored liquor). This thick and rich soup was the perfect complement to the poor boy. Fried oysters offer the textural contrast that I so enjoy in food. You bite through the crisp coating, which in Louisiana typically contains corn meal for extra crunch, and then encounter the soft juicy mollusk within. Put the oysters on a French bread with a crispy crust and then dress the whole with juicy tomatoes, fresh lettuce, tart dill pickles, and creamy mayo and you are in sandwich paradise.
Chuck chose his perennial poor boy favorite—the whole crawfish—and added a side of fries. As you can see, his sandwich was overflowing with these freshwater crustaceans. And it is not easy to fry these little morsels so that the coating is completely cooked without the crawfish becoming overcooked. But they managed. And his sandwich was further enhanced by a hot sauce flavored mayo.
Karen ordered the half shrimp poor boy with a side of red beans and rice. And Dick followed his oysters with a half oyster poor boy also with a side of red beans and rice. Don’t see any photos here? Chuck chose to be polite and let them eat their meals in peace.
The Acme Oyster House is one of our “must stops” when in New Orleans. Last year we thought the food had declined in quality from past visits and we only awarded it 4.0 Addies. This time they seem to have regained their footing (or had a different cook in the kitchen) and moved into a 5.0 Addie position.