A Tale of Two Seafood Restaurants

April 8, 2006

Sid-Mars of Bucktown and Deanie’s Seafood — two legendary Bucktown seafood restaurants, only a few hundred yards away from each other. Both behind one side of the 17th Street Canal levee, but one one higher ground than the other. On August 31, 2005, one restaurant (and the neighborhood it was in) was destroyed by a massive rush of water from storm surge and the other was left completely unharmed.

In May of 2005 my wife Rachel and I visited Sid-Mars restaurant, which was a very large structure that stood for over 38 years. It had a wonderful view in the back of Lake Pontchartrain, where you would wait for your table and have a couple of cocktails, and maybe make a couple of new friends.

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The back porch area overlooking the lake at Sid-Mars restaurant (May 2005)

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Looking out onto the lake.

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Sid-Mars outside dining room.

Two months after our visit, Hurricane Katrina hit the city. As a result of the storm surge and insufficient structural reinforcement and engineering problems, the levee flood wall behind Sid-Mars adjoining New Orleans broke, letting in millions of tons of water into New Orleans and flooding the surrounding neighborhoods. Sid-Mars, which was close to the other side of the levee, was wiped out by the overflow of storm surge, and didn’t even have a chance.

This is what the site of Sid Mars looks like today. Its surrounded by a wire fence, so I was unable to photograph it from an identical vantage point. But it should give you an idea.

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The demolitions/construction site. Its not likely another restaurant will be built here.

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The view is still phenomenal, however.

I felt Sid-Mars was a better drinking spot than a restaurant, so I was relieved that Deanie’s escaped the destruction. Deanie’s is probably one of the best seafood joints in the entire city — if you’re looking for a shrimp or crawfish boil, or some barbecued shrimp, or some jumbo fried seafood platters, Deanie’s is your place.

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Shrimp Boil Appetizer at Deanie’s.

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Crawfish is ordered by the pound.

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Barbecue shrimp

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HALF seafood platter (May 2005 — see eG Forums thread)

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The very happy and lively dining crowds at Deanies.


St. Bernard Parish and Chalmette

April 7, 2006

Apparently, a number of you are concerned I've been spending way too much time stuffing my bulging, obese form with Creole and Cajun food from the city's best restaurants and have been callously avoiding the human tragedy of the city. I should be ashamed of myself, and well, I'm a bad person.

Well, locals (including the Mayor himself) have been telling me that they are more than happy to let me spend my hard earned dollars and my yearly vacation time in their wonderful city so it can help bring back what was once a thriving tourist and restaurant industry, and that while that everbody who comes here should see the devastation, they really don't want the affected portions of the city to be a tourist attraction. People live here and are trying to survive, and bring back some semblance of normality.

That being said, Rachel and I rented a car today and headed towards some of the worst hit parts of the area, St. Bernard Parish and the town of Chalmette. I've made an album on Flickr for those of you who really want to see this stuff, but here's some just to let you know I am quite aware of the reality of the situation.

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Now if some of you holier-than-thou assholes don't mind, I'm going to get back to the food.


New Orleans Dining: Herbsaint

April 5, 2006

Herbsaint, in the New Orleans central business/downtown district on St. Charles Avenue, was one of the first fine dining restaurants to re-open after Katrina. Chef/Owner Donald Link is preparing some of the finest cuisine in the city, blending traditional French and Italian influences with modern Louisiana ingredients. We had dinner at Herbsaint with a local friend last night, and it has been one of our best experinces in the city so far.

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The outdoor lighting of the restaurant and the large windows reveal a very modern and inviting space inside.

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A view at the pass.

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Main Dining Room

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Herbsaint’s menu.

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The Herbsaint Champagne Cocktail.

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Amuse Bouche of Green Beans and Quail Egg.

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Fresh French bread hot from the oven.

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Shrimp and Tomato Bisque

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Shrimp and Okra Gumbo

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Housemade Spaghetti with Pancetta and Fried-Poached Farm Egg. Everyone loved this one.

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Shrimp and Green Chile Grits Cakes with Tasso Cream Sauce. I thought this was stylistically similar to Upperline’s Cane River Shrimp appetizer, but in an even richer and creamier sauce. Not necessarily better, but certainly a great dish.

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Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms and Basil. Of the three pasta appetizers we sampled, this one was the least interesting, but it was still very good.

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This was a special off-menu appetizer, a beet ravioli with julienne green apple slaw that was by far considered the best of the pasta dishes.

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Fish of the day, sauteed Redfish with mashed potatoes, butter beans and turnips. I liked this one a lot, the butter beans were a great compliment to the dish.

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Duck Confit with Dirty Rice. Rachel really liked this one.

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Herbed Hangar Steak with Pomme Frites and Pimenton Sauce, which was kind of like a red pepper aioli. I enjoyed this a lot.

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Caramel Ice Cream with Chocolate Chips

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Louisiana Strawberry Sorbet. This was a knockout.

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Chocolate Beignet with brandied cherries.

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Inside of Chocolate Beignet.

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Fresh Louisiana Strawberries.

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After eating so much food we needed the walk back to our hotel. We passed by Gallier Hall at 545 St. Charles, a massive three story high Greek Revival structure which served as the City Hall for over a hundred years. You can book it for weddings too. This building is so big I had to go to the other side of the street over a hundred feet away just to get it in frame. The doors are probably close to 20 feet high.


Friday Night at Casamento’s

April 1, 2006

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.

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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:

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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.

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

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A plate of freshly shucked oysters on the half shell.

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Shuckin' oysters for a busy crowd.

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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.

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A view of the main dining room.

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Fried crab fingers.

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Okra gumbo, with crab meat and shrimp.

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Oyster Loaf on Pan Bread. The main event.

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Fried shrimp

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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.

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

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

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Mmmmm. Crispy and Juicy.

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A view down Magazine Street.

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The ghost of Mardi Gras past?


Sci-Fi Team Personality Test / ‘Po Boys a ‘Comin

February 24, 2006

Its Sci-Fi Friday again, fellow freaks and geeks! What characters and SF shows we most identify with can reveal a lot about a person, I think. I found this really cool Sci-Fi Profile Test that rates your personality based on which SF show “team” you’d best fit in with. I dunno, but it makes a lot more sense to me than telling someone you’re an ENTJ or an INTP or something cryptic like that using Myers-Briggs typology. I’m happy to say I’m a Moya with strong “Milennium Falcon” tendencies, although having never watched the show, probably tells me I need to pick up a few Farscape DVDs soon.

In unrelated but even more exciting news, Rachel and I decided to spend our April vacation in New Orleans. Say what? Well, we figured that we were going to go someplace warm, but with few exceptions (like, everything but the few decent crab places and Little Havana) the food in Florida sucks, and when we aren’t cooling off in a swimming pool, we’re going out to eat. Sure, New Orleans is recovering, but its still probably one of the best food cities in the world.

In Late May and early June of 2005, only 2 months before Katrina hit, we spent a week in New Orleans eating our way through the city. I couldn’t wait to go back. Some of the places we visited were destroyed by Katrina, including Pampy’s Creole Kitchen, who’s highly talented Austin Leslie passed away shortly after being evacuated. Countless others were lost, but many are rebuilding, like Willie Mae’s Scotch House and Dooky Chase and Angelo Brocato’s.

As a sneak preview of our April 2006 Eating New Orleans II tour, here’s a picture of one of the best ‘Po Boys in the city — the “Un-Fergi” from Crabby Jack’s:

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New Orleans Dining: Hansen’s Sno-Bliz

May 31, 2005

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz
4801 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans, LA
(504) 891-9788

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz. No other Snoball stand attracts such a loyal and dedicated following. It’s my understanding that when the store is in full swing during the summer months, the line goes down the block.

Rachel and I had the privilege of being at Hansen’s on its opening day of the season in May 2005, only a few months before Hurricane Katrina hit the city. Honorable Judge Gerry Hansen, the son of Ernest Hansen, the inventor of the patented Sno Bliz machine, which makes shaved ice like no other machine in any other SnoBall store, was there to serve us Snoballs himself.

The Hansen’s Sno-Bliz storefront, open for business, first day of the season, at around 5:30PM, with nobody lined up in front of the store — an EXTREMELY rare occurance.

The Honorable Judge Gerry Hansen and Friends.

Hon. Judge Gerry Hansen demonstrating the unique physical qualities of Sno-Bliz Snow.

One of the two unique Sno-Bliz machines, which were invented and patented in the early 1930’s. The design was never licensed out, and it is my understanding that the blades have never been sharpened.

The Sno-Bliz flavor list. Sno-Bliz flavors are formulated by the Hansen family, and are a closely guarded secret.

A Sno-Bliz cup being filled. Hansen’s typically produces a new Sno-Bliz cup every year to commemorate its many years of continuous operations. The 2005 cup had not yet been produced, due to the severity of Mr. Ernest’s and Mrs. Mary’s current health situation at the time (Editors Note: Ernest and Mary passed away in 2006) . Hansen’s opened very late that year — typically, the store opens in March.

Nector Cream and Cream of Chocolate combo, one of Hon. Judge Gerry’s favorites. I have to say that this was the best Sno Ball I had all week — the Hansen’s special flavors really do make a difference.

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