Hurricane Katrina may have forced New Orleans’ famed kitchens to close their doors—if they were still hanging—but for most, it was only temporary.
Restaurants are a big attraction in a tourist town, especially if they boast a cuisine unlike any other. As much as tourists rely on the Big Easy’s Cajun and Creole creations, residents stake their livelihoods on the steady stream of famished Fat Tuesday partiers. Katrina destroyed the buildings that housed these restaurants and threatened to keep the tourists away. Employees scattered, many finding homes in kitchens across the country, and starting over seemed improbable. But pots and pans began clattering, within weeks in some cases, and gumbo and jambalaya filled bowls once again.
Several restaurants rushed to open, realizing that emergency workers, like the rest of us, had to eat. Sporting limited menus and foregoing typically expected service, many offered buffet-style meals that not only comforted weary volunteers but also hard-core locals who weren’t about to be chased off by a little wind and rain.
Several eateries had to move to new buildings. This presented an opportunity to reinvent themselves, as did new attention on investment possibilities in a city starting from scratch. An influx of new cuisines and ideas resulted, further diversifying the city’s changing identity. Perhaps the most interesting development was the arrival of taco trucks. After food-on-the-move was less needed, truck operators stayed and opened stationary kitchens.
New Orleans is a city with a unique history that extends to its restaurants. Many historic dining rooms were lost to floodwaters, but several have since found their footing. Staff was rounded up and walls rebuilt, and though they may not look the same, their memories and sentiments go deeper than brick and mortar.
A friend who recently visited New Orleans reported the most exciting tidbit: While mom-and-pop shops and old standbys have returned, many chains haven’t. Burger Kings stand empty and abandoned while independently owned businesses steam along. There is one exception, it seems—Popeyes Chicken. But it’s only right for them to come back home.
Here’s a small selection of comeback kids to drop in on next time you find yourself in the bayou.
813 Rue Bienville, (866) 230-8895
Open every evening, starting at 6 p.m.
1838 Napoleon, (504) 895-4877
Open Wednesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to "until"
3000 South Carrollto, (504) 866-3683
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.
Grilled oysters doused in blue cheese and lobster-cream sauce, and a po’boy that won’t disappoint
8132 Hampson, (504) 301-9057
Open Monday through Saturday, starting at 6 p.m.
Chef Scott Snodgrass gives seafood an upscale treatment.
2401 St. Anne, (504) 822-9503
Open Monday through Saturday. Lunch only.
Rumored to have the best damn fried chicken and butter beans in the country.
1) Clean shrimp and parboil for 5 minutes. Strain and reserve stock. 2) In an iron skillet, make a roux by heating oil on low heat and gradually adding flour, stirring constantly until well-browned like a paper sack. Add onions and cook slightly, then add tomato sauce and cook 15 minutes. Add a 1/2 cup of reserved shrimp stock if too thick, but the gravy should be on the thick side. 3) Add bell peppers, celery and garlic. Cook 15 minutes. Add spices (and hot pepper, if using). Add stock or water as needed. 4) Simmer about an hour. Add shrimp and simmer 15 more minutes. (If using frozen shrimp, cook 30 minutes.) Add chopped green onion tops and parsley a few minutes before serving. Serve on rice.
1) Melt butter over low heat, then add flour and brown until it looks like a paper sack. Add onions, green onions, garlic and sauté slowly. Add celery, green pepper and pimento, and cook for about 15 minutes more. 2) Lightly rinse shrimp in hot water. Add shrimp, Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt and black pepper. Cover and cook for 30 minutes on a slow fire. Add a little water if too thick. Serve on rice.