Think about the restaurants that make you happiest. They might not necessarily be the biggest places with the most acclaim. But I bet they’re places steeped in the pleasure of great cooking and the fellowship of people who share it. I bet some of them are hole in the wall joints.
These places are intimate, personal and, sad to say, perhaps also more vulnerable because of it.
I got a reminder of this late last year when a little downtown deli called Louisiana Products finally closed. I got a refresher course after fire wiped out Roosevelt’s Black Pearl in the Treme.
Louisiana Products was on Julia Street, and part of a revival for downtown in the early 1980s. By the time I found it, Louisiana Products was a cluttered feast for the senses. The Owen sisters at the counter, David and Ellie over the stove – they fed you red beans, oven baked catfish, smothered pork chops, tiny pralines call pralinettes and they put a smile on your face.
Roosevelt’s Black Pearl served soul food on North Claiborne Avenue going back about 50 years. In recent years it had no sign out front, and basically ran on bootleg status, part of the informal food world of this city.
But still, there was 86-year-old Roosevelt Hargett who walks with a cane and cooks with a purpose, serving chitlins and smothered okra, stuffed peppers and turkey necks. And there was a flow of locals who knew his restaurant as part of neighborhood life.
In the modern era when it seems every last speck has been mapped by apps, Yelped, listed, ranked, aggregated and what not, isn’t it something that New Orleans can still surprise us?
Will Roosevelt’s Black Pearl come back? Will anything be quite like Louisiana Products? I don’t know, but I do know that gems and joints like this should not just be in our memories. They should be in our lunch plans too.