We have arrived.
The full extent of the city's damage from Hurricane Katrina still hasn't completely registered with me yet. On the cab ride back from the airport, we could clearly see signs of serious wind damage, and the flooding evidence is clearly there, but surprisingly, from what I've seen so far, New Orleans is cleaning up well. Of course, we haven't seen anywhere near the worst of it, and I'm not sure I'm entirely prepared to see it. But today, as far as I was concerned, we just arrived, its still one of the best food cities in the world, its gonna be a hell of a week, and I needed some fried seafood. NOW.
Casamento's is a true New Orleans institution. Opened in 1919, it's probably the most famous oyster house in the entire city. A narrow passageway of a restaurant with only 12 tables, it still does everything the old fashioned way, using cast iron pots filled with pure peanut oil to fry its seafood. Casamento's recently lost its patron, Joe Casamento to Hurricane Katrina. But Casamento's is continuing on under the guidance of his nephew and neice, CJ and Linda Gerdes, and as a true testament of his legacy, the food is as fantastic as ever.
Casamento's is one of the places I had greatly anticipated going to with this trip, and I absolutely wanted to go there our first night. Something told me it would be special, and I was right. On the line going out the door to the restaurant, I came upon no other than Ms. Leah Chase, owner of the famed Dooky Chase restaurant, which was heavily damaged by the storm and is currently being rebuilt. Dooky Chase is of huge historical and cultural importance to New Orleans and to African-Americans, because it was a virtual headquarters of the the civil rights movement in the South during the 1950's and 1960's. I got to speak with Ms. Chase about food, her restaurant, and Casamento's, of which she is a huge fan.
Our podcasts are going to lag a bit behind our regular blog coverage this week, so you'll have to wait for my chat with Leah and the folks at Casamento's. But here's some yummy food porn to hold you over:
The front foyer area of Casamento's, leading into the main dining room. Its become a sanctuary for New Orleanians seeking traditional old-school fried seafood since Katrina hit, as several of the city's other seafood meccas have remained closed or have been destroyed by the storm.
One of the highly skilled oyster shuckers at Casamento's.
A plate of freshly shucked oysters on the half shell.
Shuckin' oysters for a busy crowd.
A half dozen I ate at the oyster bar waiting for our table. Apparently, I ate them the bass ackwards way. They were still damn good.
A view of the main dining room.
Fried crab fingers.
Okra gumbo, with crab meat and shrimp.
Oyster Loaf on Pan Bread. The main event.
A group of locals that instructed me on the proper saucing and eating technique of raw oysters. Thanks guys! Now I won't look like a dumb-ass anymore.
Where the deep fried magic happens. No fryulators here, just big 'ol cast iron pots filled with peanut oil.
Chef CJ (the grandson of the restaurant's founder) giving a soft shell crab his final dip before he enters my stomach.
Mmmmm. Crispy and Juicy.
A view down Magazine Street.
The ghost of Mardi Gras past?