Some friends of Bill and Cindy’s came by so we got off to a late start after trading lies and telling stories. Lil Dizzy’s for lunch. So far, the best meals we’ve had have been neighborhood lunch places. I’ve come to love the restaurants tucked into residential street, not all corner stores, like Lil Dizzy’s, but in the middle of the street, we’ll pass by a place that Bill or Cindy will immediately identify as a great place to eat.
Lil Dizzy’s buffet—fried chicken, little crawfish pies in tiny throwaway pie tins, macaroni and cheese, sautéed vegetables, shrimp Creole, crab and crawfish gumbo, and bread pudding—again accompanied by giant iced teas, sweetened this time—was all that and more. Don’t know why the giant sodas in movie theaters, etc. piss me off so and the giant teas seem quite fitting here, especially on the second refill.
People who seem to think “to die for” is a good expression for food always annoy me. “Freedom is to die for; good fried chicken is not,” but I’d commit a little mayhem to get back to Lil Dizzy’s fried chicken. Nice crust, juicy, not greasy at all, I’d’ve had more if the crawfish pie and gumbo weren’t so good. I never understood why the gumbo recipes have you cook the crab pieces for the entire hour of simmer time and then add the shrimp at the last minute, but I finally got it. The meat fell out of the crab bodies and the flavor was crab, dark roux and fish broth. Cindy thought she spotted Errol Laborde and his wife Carol, publisher of several New Orleans magazines and moderator of Lost Restaurants of New Orleans respectively at the next table so it wasn’t just this easily impressed Yankee.
The Ninth Ward, as potholed as any Northampton street, was hard hit by Katrina. Blocks where there were once rows of houses are now empty lots or mostly so, and the new buildings are built high up on stilts, often in some strange Dr. Caligari interpretation of shotgun houses (Brad Pitt, album of pics, overview, more Brad Pitt houses). You’re never far from Katrina, it seems, anywhere you go, it turns up to put something in context or as one of the X’s spray painted on a house.
We drove home along the river. Looking up to see the top half of a large ship over the levee, you realize that you’re 10 feet below the river on the street. We crossed into the Quarter, which is everything I hate about tourist streets—unbridled commercial crap, hordes of jaywalking people with belly packs and unconscious grins,bad stupid traffic and locals of one sort of another feasting on their prey. For many of the people I told about this trip, the French Quarter is what they know of New Orleans, as though Commercial Street in Provincetown was all there was of the Cape, or, well, you can fill in the blanks with your favorite trap. Frenchman Street, in the Marigny, is full of clubs, street people, crowds of party-goers, so far without the manufactured “Old Nawlins” crap, but it seems to be coming.
We stopped for Creole Cheesecake Ice Cream at The Creole Creamery to take the bad taste of the Quarter out of our mouths and it did. Creole cream cheese has a tartness a little like frozen yogurt, but tastes of buttermilk and cream cheese and makes a great ice cream.
Dinner at Patois. Another restaurant tucked into a residential neighborhood, it used to be a college bar (Normie’s I think) where LSU and Tulane students drank after football games. The losers would push the winners in wheelbarrows around the neighborhood. It was the set for Jeanette’s first restaurant in Treme and one of the high end restaurants on Bill’s list. A little noisy, but our waitress was perfect—friendly without being intrusive, though it didn’t hurt that Bill had pictures of his painting of their brioche on his website. The food is polished and seasonal and shot through with local touches.
We made a meal of five appetizers and one entrée—Shrimp with pimento-cheese grits fries in a garlic and cherry tomato sauce, a duck confit salad with some black-eyed peas and edamame and gnocci with crabmeat for our first set and grilled octopus with fried eggplant, pork belly over ramps with a tatziki sauce, and a Mississippi rabbit, wrapped in chicken skin, over sautéed kale and Steen’s Cane Syrup sweetened sweet potatoes. Dessert was Ponchatoula Strawberry Budino and an Almond Financier, an almond cake with “naked” ice cream (not sweetened) and Meyer lemon curd drops, looking like six egg yolks on the plate and as comfortingly lemony as you could ask for.