Friday Night at Casamento’s


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.

leahchase
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:

IMG_2448.JPG
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.

IMG_2456.JPG

One of the highly skilled oyster shuckers at Casamento's.

IMG_2460.JPG
A plate of freshly shucked oysters on the half shell.

IMG_2467.JPG

Shuckin' oysters for a busy crowd.

IMG_2474.JPG

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.

IMG_2476.JPG

A view of the main dining room.

IMG_2480.JPG

Fried crab fingers.

IMG_2492.JPG

Okra gumbo, with crab meat and shrimp.

IMG_2501.JPG

Oyster Loaf on Pan Bread. The main event.

IMG_2506.JPG
Fried shrimp

IMG_2507.JPG

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.

IMG_2510.JPG

Where the deep fried magic happens. No fryulators here, just big 'ol cast iron pots filled with peanut oil.

IMG_2512.JPG

Chef CJ (the grandson of the restaurant's founder) giving a soft shell crab his final dip before he enters my stomach.

IMG_2525.JPG

Mmmmm. Crispy and Juicy.

IMG_2526.JPG

A view down Magazine Street.

IMG_2530.JPG

The ghost of Mardi Gras past?

9 Responses to Friday Night at Casamento’s

  1. Danno says:

    Wow, what a great post Jason. I can’t believe you ran into Leah Chase, I would have to pick myself up from the floor, she is so amazing. I can’t wait for more of these posts!

  2. Mike Weidinger says:

    Jason,

    Lookin at this at 8:30 am and it made my mouth water. Thats real good eatin’ there. Have fun

  3. Bux says:

    Good fried seafood is one of the world’s great culinary joys. I should add that less than great fried seafood is a sin and crime against humanity that should call for corporal punishment, not that I haven’t enjoyed second rate fried food if that’s the best I can get. I’m probably a heretic in that I’d rate New Orleans a little lower than most people, as a food town, but one thing I can say honestly about the city is that the level of deep frying seems universally high throuout the city. Personally, I’ll take my fried ersters with slaw on the side, on a plate–hold the bread.

    And personally, I prefer gulf oysters fried rather than on the half shell as I prefer North Atlantic or Pacific oysters, but what I want to know is how you can eat them bass ackwards. I have to trust the shucker to serve them in the deeper shell. After that, they go straight in my mouth after a queeze of lemon and some freshly ground black pepper. I don’t see any room for adjustment in the order. What am I missing? Did you slurp them from the hinge end? Generally, I’ll also disagree about the need, or value, of saucing with more than a few drops of lemon.

  4. patti says:

    What’d you do to eat the oysters bass ackwards? Inquiring minds want to know.

  5. Tootsie says:

    As a “local”, I will say you’ve done a fantastic job spotlighting Casemeto’s. It’s one of my favorite places, and I think not only one of the best in the city, but one of the best anywhere in the US! It is truly one of a kind.

  6. […] Here are a series of blog posts on Jason’s site that document his and his wife’s visit to New Orleans, seven months in the aftermath of Katrina.  Of particular interest is Jason and Rachel’s visit to Casamento’s where they ran into Leah Chase, the grand doyenne of Creole cuisine in New Orleans. Mrs. Chase is the chef and owner of Dooky Chase Restaurant, one of New Orleans’ famed eateries, right up there with institutions such as Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace. Mrs. Chase is also mentioned in this poignant article in the NYTimes Dining In/Dining Out section. […]

  7. […] A plate of raws on the half shell. These were pristine quality and for the most part free from sand and grit. The shuckers are doing an excellent job here. Unlike Casamento’s, the sauce is pre-prepared, so you won’t look like a Yankee doofus trying to mix your own. […]

  8. jeudi says:

    Just discovered your post and it brought tears to my eyes, Jason.

    As a frequent visitor to New Orleans pre-Katrina, it was such a relief to see a familiar place back in operation.

    Now I know what it means to miss New Orleans.

  9. James says:

    Jason, only rubes put cocktail sauce on raw oysters. I’m disappointed in you.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: