“If you hang his arm a-loose, you can rest it there.”
Antoinette K-Doe is helping to pose the statue of her late husband, Ernie K-Doe, at a table at Galatoire’s, but the statue’s arm bumps into the side of the table. A friend unbuttons Ernie’s red shirt, reaches in, then pops the arm out of socket. After that, she adjusts it until it rests there naturally. The friend and Antoinette tug at the sleeve of Ernie’s white suit until it hides the out-of-joint shoulder, and his shirtsleeve is pulled until it hides the joint at his wrist.
This is not the first visit for Antoinette and K-Doe’s statue to Galatoire’s. In Galatoire’s: Biography of a Bistro, authors Marda Burton and Kenneth Holditch tell the story of Valerie Cahill’s 40th birthday party a few years ago. “Cahill’s friends,” they write, “along with musician Ernie K-Doe’s widow, Antoinette, brought his wax likeness — colorfully and spectacularly attired and bejeweled — to sit at Donald Lambert, Sr.’s usual Friday table, which was extended to accommodate the large party. As the evening progressed, Cahill’s celebratory group left Galatoire’s and returned to K-Doe’s big white limousine driven by his personal chauffeur for the trip to the Mother-in-Law Lounge (made famous by K-Doe’s hit song “Mother-in-Law”) where some 200 guests waited to continue the party.”
New Orleans may quietly respect class distinctions more than we’d like to admit, but the two things here that break down such barriers are our loves of food and music. It’s no surprise that food and music are the two pillars on which Jazz Fest’s fame rests most solidly. In fact, food is so central that Jazz Fest that in his autobiography Myself Among Others, one of George Wein’s strongest memories of the first Jazz Fest is having to invite nearby schoolkids to come to the festival free and eat the leftover ice cream, which was melting.
We joke that New Orleans is the only city where you talk about what you’re going to have for lunch while we’re having dinner, but it’s true, and it’s as true for musicians as it is for anybody else. We asked a number of local musicians about their favorite restaurants, and it’s no surprise that like most of us, few of them could name just one.
Empress of the Universe
Favorite Restaurant: the Parkway Bakery
Though she’s been too busy renovating the destroyed Mother-in-Law Lounge — with the help of many loving locals and the Hands On volunteer network — to visit the Parkway Bakery (532 Hagan Ave.) since the flood, Antoinette K-Doe cites the newly re-opened Bayou St. John restaurant as her favorite in the city. “Their shrimp po-boy tastes like real New Orleans” she claims, with her broad smile revealing her gold tooth engraved with a star. “They don’t use frozen shrimp, so the batter doesn’t leave the shrimp. They also have the best root beer drinks!”
Miss A. also gives honorable mention to 72-year-old Ye Olde College Inn on Carrollton Avenue. “I love the shrimp remoulade salad, and the avocado salad,” she says. “Those are just appetizers, but I don’t even have to have dinner after that, it’s such a big portion.” It must be said, however, that Miss A. has been deeply in cahoots with Ye Olde since the Blancher family — of Rock ’N’ Bowl fame — bought the joint in 2003. Miss Antoinette could often be seen entering Ye Olde with bags of ingredients with which to improve the restaurant’s gumbo recipe, or with Quintron in tow, lugging large vats of red beans. But though her special flavor can still be tasted in many Ye Olde dishes, she asserts, “The red beans were my grandmother’s recipe; I ain’t givin’ that recipe to nobody. Only other person knows that recipe is Ernie K-Doe,” she says, pointing to her husband’s famous wax stand-in, one of the few pieces of K-Doe memorabilia to survive the flood. “If he decides to tell you [the recipe], you can have it.”
Singer and cover model for Feel Me
Favorite Restaurant: Tommy’s Cuisine
“I think cooking may be the highest art form,” Leslie Smith says. “The last dinner I had was at Tommy’s on Tchoupitoulas Street (746 Tchoupitoulas St.). I had paneed oysters and grilled shrimp. I had the vine-ripened tomatoes with mozzarella cheese and olive oil, which was wonderful. I had the creme brulee and two cappuccinos. I am a true New Orleanian in that I take my coffee extremely seriously. My dad [photographer Michael P. Smith] used to go down to the docks when I was a kid and when they were unloading the bags of coffee beans, if one was broken open they’d throw it to the side. He would take the beans home, roast them, then grind them himself with a hand grinder.”
Smith was on her second cup of coffee at Morning Call when reached for this story. “I patronize all the coffee shops,” she said. “Mojo on Magazine, what used to be Rue de la Course at Magazine and Race, they have a lovely high speed Internet connection. When I drive across town, I pick my routes based on cafes that have high-speed connections.
“I am a voracious eater,” she says. “I love food tremendously, but I haven’t had a chance to eat out much recently because I’ve been so busy getting out my CD Feel Me, running around like crazy working 12 jobs at once. What’s magic about New Orleans is the music, of course, but the food as well, and the culture it comes from. It’s a friendly, open kitchen kind of thing. A lot of relationships are based around eating together. I want Jason Anixter to come back and reopen Maximo’s. That was such a musician-friendly place. I would beg Mr. Anthony to reopen Uglesich’s. We need our fried green tomatoes.”
Keyboard player for the Radiators and Spiritual Guru to Fishheads Everywhere
Favorite Restaurant: Bayona
Ed Volker has one night in between Jazz Fest weekends when his responsibilities as a member of the Radiators don’t interfere with the prospects of enjoying a good meal. He chooses one of his favorite restaurants, Bayona (430 Dauphine St.), where he sits down at a table right next to Marcia Ball. The two engage in a lively conversation before the food arrives, and presently chef Susan Spicer comes out and sits in the empty chair at Ball’s table. “With Crescent City Steak House and Maximo’s gone, this is the only game in town,” Volker says before tucking into the succulent goat cheese crouton smothered with mushrooms in madeira cream, one of the house specialty appetizers. “Well, it’s not the only game in town,” he adds. “There are some other great places. I really love Brightsen’s, but it’s all the way Uptown and it’s difficult for me to get there.”
Talk at the table turns to various duck recipes around town. Brightsen’s and Irene’s are mentioned and all four diners order the grilled duck breast with pepper jelly sauce and wild rice. Several bottles of red wine from Spain and France make their way across the table. “I really like the wine list here,” Volker notes. “They have a variety of interesting wines that aren’t too expensive.”
Piano Player and Traditional Jazz Adventurer
Favorite Restaurant: Lola’s
Pianist Tom McDermott has been dashing all over town playing music from his most recent album, Choro de Norte, but he still finds time to stop in for a meal at Lola’s (3312 Esplanade Ave.).
“After 14 years with all the New Orleans seafood I could eat, I became vegetarian around 2000,” he says. “Most good restaurants serve at least one vegetarian dish, or will make up one when necessary, so the strategy for some vegetarians is to eat 30 good veggie meals in 30 different restaurants.
“I, on the other hand, am not a gourmand. In fact, I’m pretty lazy about finding new taste sensations. I’ve come to fall back on Lola’s, which has three or four vegetarian options — I gorge on the paella — as well as numerous garlic-based dishes, and Mona’s — falafel and hummus, mostly.
“For special events I like Bayona and NOLA. They’re always good about bringing out a vegetarian plate, even if there’s not one on the menu. I think you could do well in this town just eating at places ending with ‘A.’
“As a social thing, I miss Michael’s Mid-City Grill. I didn’t eat there much, but I liked to go in and talk to the bartenders.”
Mysterious Bassist for Rock City Morgue
Favorite Restaurant: Lilette
Rock City Morgue’s sound and image may be evolving — less like the Cramps these days, more akin to Nick Cave — but neither influence nor Sean Yseult’s stark white hair fits the profile of those you might expect to find in New Orleans’ fanciest restaurants. Nonetheless, the one-time bassist for White Zombie has a hard time choosing from among Uptown’s finest before settling on Lilette (3637 Magazine St.) for the simplest reason.
“There are so many things on the menu that I crave,” she says. “I love so many dishes and the presentation and everything about them.” She singles out the crab claws with orange butter and the roasted beet salad, a dish she learned to appreciate when lunch at Lilette was a regular thing for her and the late Kelly Keller, long-time manager of the Circle Bar.
Yseult also singles out Crepe Nanou “because it feels like home,” she says. “It’s like family there, and great food too.”
B3 Wizard and Leader of Papa Grows Funk
Favorite Restaurant: Parenton’s Grocery
“I’ve always been partial to the po-boy,” said John Gros of Papa Grows Funk. “It’s a delicacy you can’t get anywhere else but in New Orleans. Sure, they have their subs and hoagies in other cities, but you can only get po-boys here. When I’ve been out of town for a long time and I want to get my feet muddy, I dive into a po-boy.
“Every neighborhood in town has a good one. Right around the corner from my house is Parenton’s Grocery (4304 Ellen St. in Jefferson); they’ve got a good roast beef po-boy, good shrimp, good meatball. I also like Southern Po-boys on Jefferson Highway. They have a lunch counter where you can get a lunch plate or a po-boy. Most of the real good po-boy shops are only open until 3 o’ clock.
“Thousand Dollar Car, a band I’ve played with, has a song called ‘Big Fat Po-boy,’ which was inspired by Domilise’s fried trout with roast beef gravy po-boy. That’s a good one. Parasol’s has a great roast beef po-boy. They have the right amount of garlic in their roast beef. One thing about a roast beef po-boy — if you don’t need half a box of napkins to eat it, you got cheated.
“I like Crabby Jack’s for the shrimp po-boy. It used to be the Louisiana Seafood Exchange, but now it’s run by the people who own Jacques-Imo’s They have the classic shrimp po-boy with the shrimp overflowing the bread.
“When I’m down in the Quarter, I like to go to Johnny’s Po-boys on St. Louis. Usually on the Monday after Jazz Fest I play at the Louisiana Music Factory, and either before or after I go to Johnny’s and have the meatball with mozzarella smothered in red gravy. Man, I’m getting hungry right now thinking about it.”
New Orleans’ Favorite non-Cajun Singer and Violinist
Favorite Restaurant: Fire
When she’s not cooking lentil soup at home, Theresa Andersson prefers to keep her food simple and her portions small. “I love cooking, and I have a nice herb garden going on,” Andersson says. “But there are just times you don’t feel like cooking and you want to go out.”
The perfect place for that, Andersson says, is Fire — a new restaurant built into a 100-year-old firehouse in the Garden District. Named as much for its location as its spicy cuisine, Fire (1337 Annunciation St.), serves light appetizers right up Andersson’s alley; her favorite is pita bread and veggie sticks with a choice of dips like caramelized onion, sun-dried tomato, olive, lime hummus, and roasted tomato orange salsa. For an entrée,
Andersson suggests the shrimp, of which Fire has several dishes of varying spiciness.
“It’s my kind of eating,” she says. “I don’t like meals that are too big, too heavy, and they’re just extremely flavorful.”
Another favorite of Andersson’s is the Algiers Point café Tout de Suite, which serves light breakfast and lunch fare, prepared by former Uglesich’s chef Miss Zee (Zina Cooper). “I had a spinach soup the other day that just blew my mind,” Andersson says. “I just love a place that has good, fresh produce, salads and stuff like that.”
New New Orleanian by way of California
Favorite Restaurant: Surrey’s Juice Bar
Robert Walter’s tired. It’s the Monday after Jazz Fest and he’s worn out from playing d.b.a. until late the night before, then rendezvous-ing around 6:30 a.m. at the Maple Leaf with Ivan Neville, Eric Krasno and a number of other musicians who played on Sunday night. After a set at Louisiana Music Factory, he’s ready to crash.
He’s also ready to talk about food, which is where Walter’s California background kicks in. “I get greased out,” he says, thinking about New Orleans’ love affair with fried foods. Instead, he often chooses a salad and juice from Surrey’s Juice Bar (1418 Magazine St.).
“I love eating po-boys and fried oysters and stuff, but it gets exhausting to me, coming from the West Coast,” Walter says. “Surrey’s is for when you’re feeling you’ve been overdoing it. It’s a good relief from everything else.” Walter also favors the huevos rancheros at Surrey’s, and, showing his California colors — the granola.
Because he lived near it, he misses Pho Tau Bay in Mid-City — the West Bank location recently reopened — and like many New Orleanians, Walter mourns the closure of Angelo Brocato’s bakery on N. Carrollton Avenue — which fed Walter’s ice cream and espresso addiction — and he hopes for its speedy return.
The Loveliest Neville in Town
Favorite Restaurant: Bywater BBQ
Charmaine Neville is ecstatic. She has been living without a piano since Hurricane Katrina, but she recently received a new one and can’t stop talking about it.
Until the conversation turns to cake.
Charmaine Neville loves the chocolate cake at Bywater BBQ (3162 Dauphine St.) — “I like to eat dessert first,” she says — then moves on to crab cakes. On other days, she wakes up for pancakes from Betsy’s Pancake House on Canal Street. Because many of her old stand-bys including Mandina’s on Canal Street have remained shuttered since Katrina, Neville was thrilled when Betsy’s reopened at the end of March. “When I drove down the street and saw them open, I think I almost caused an accident trying to pull over, park and get in there,” Neville says. “I’m always in there for breakfast.”
Between Monday night gigs at Snug Harbor and a bustling post-Jazz Fest schedule, Neville has been working up a healthy appetite for New Orleans cuisine. She has an awful time narrowing down her gastronomic preferences, finally settling on a trio of favorites. “You can’t live in New Orleans and not have more than one favorite restaurant,” Neville says.
And because no list of New Orleans food staples would be complete without soul food, Neville also raves about the hidden CBD enclave, Two Sisters. “You go in there, you eat, and you’re stuffed for eight days.”
Brother to the Blues
Favorite Restaurant: A-Bear’s Restaurant
Tab Benoit’s Lagniappe Music Café in downtown Houma initially survived Hurricane Katrina, but it was forced to close after when his distributors in New Orleans didn’t. He does most of his cooking at home but sometimes, Benoit says, the boiled crawfish and real Cajun food at A-Bear’s Restaurant (809 Bayou Black Dr., Houma) is too much to resist.
“It’s a little wooden shack right off of Bayou Black, and they still do it like they’re cookin’ at home,” Benoit says. “Most places, they’ll keep their seafood fairly mild for the average person, but over here, he boils it like we do it at home, spices it up.” Benoit says the owner has connections, so he gets the best and biggest crawfish in Terrebonne Parish. They change the water for every batch of crawfish they boil, so they’re consistently spicy. “It makes a big difference,” Benoit says.
Benoit just cut a record with Louisiana’s LeRoux, Brother to the Blues, a collaboration that came out of a festival LeRoux played in Houma. “We had a record planned out, and the storms changed everything. We had to change our plans,” Benoit says. “Le Roux was already playing a festival in Houma, so I asked them what they were doing, and they were free. The next day we were in the studio.” Benoit’s summer is packed with tour dates around the country, culminating with his Voice of the Wetlands Festival in Houma in mid-October.