The Unsolved Murder Will Wait; First, Crawfish Bisque

Who killed John Sturgus?

Sturgus was the first police chief in Anchorage. He worked as a policeman in Montana and Washington before coming to Alaska in 1913 to search for gold. Like so many others before him, he didn’t find it.

In 1916, Anchorage already showed promise of becoming the city it now is when it was selected as the headquarters for construction of the Alaska Railroad. Sturgus made his way to what was then a tent city to find a job.

Thanks to his previous background in law enforcement, he was appointed a deputy U.S. marshal. On January 1, 1921, Anchorage became a home rule city and Sturgus became its first police chief. His tenure in office would last less than two months.

Anchorage had a sizable lawless element in those days. Organized crime controlled a section of what is now downtown. Though the city had voted to outlaw alcohol, bars operated openly. There was no attempt to hide the prostitution and gambling. Young girls who wandered through the area were often harassed and threatened.

Around nine o’clock on the evening of February 20th, Anchorage resident Oscar Anderson met Sturgus on the street. They exchanged greetings and each went his own way. Anderson was the last person to see Sturgus alive.

At 9:15 a shot was heard. Those arriving on the scene found Sturgus lying in a stairwell next to a drug store. He had been shot once. Though he was still breathing when he was found and was taken to a hospital, he died shortly before eleven o’clock. He died with speaking.

And that’s when the mystery began.

He was shot with his own gun. Though only one shot had been heard, there were two expended bullets in the gun.

While Sturgus was known to carry two hand guns, only one was found on him.

Most curious of all was the lack of any sign that anyone else had been on the scene. That was mysterious as the area was covered with snow.

It had been impossible to solve the murder in 1921. It was more so a hundred years later. It was even difficult to get to know exactly who Sturgus was. While he and his family were accepted by the young community’s socially elite, there was some evidence that he had a darker side.

He had recently been heard making light of the criminal elements in the town. He joked about being “…hot on the trail of the despised thief who steals milk from babies, groceries from the storeroom and laundry from the hallways.” There were also rumors that Sturgus frequented the gambling halls himself and had a fondness for faro, known in those days as “bucking the tiger.”

Sabine Parish Sheriff Jack Blake laid the story aside and sat thinking. As an experienced lawman himself, an unsolved crime was frustrating. Especially when it involved the killing of a fellow cop even if it occurred a century earlier.

He wasn’t going to solve the mystery this evening. Perhaps it was one he should pass on to his friend Trent Marshall. It was just the sort of adventure that would interest Trent.

But for now, he detected the deliciously delicate aroma of his wife’s crawfish bisque. The mystery of John Sturgus’ murder had remained unsolved for a century. It would wait until Blake had his fill of Jennifer’s crawfish bisque.

Sheriff Jack Blake’s Favorite Crawfish Bisque

1 cup peanut oil

1 cup flour

1/2 onion, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

1 roasted red pepper, chopped

1/4 cup white wine

1 pound crawfish tails

Sheriff Jack Blake’s Favorite Crawfish Bisque

2 green onions, chopped

salt & pepper to taste

water sufficient to cover

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

First, in a large stock pot, make a dark roux with the oil and flour.

Saute the onions, celery, and roasted red pepper in the roux until the vegetables have softened.

Deglaze the pot with the white wine.

Add the crawfish, green onions, and bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour in enough water to cover. Simmer for an hour.

Sprinkle chopped parsley over the bisque as garnish.

Crawfish Beignets on A Winter’s Day


It was December but you couldn’t tell it by the New Orleans weather. Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson sat on the gallery of their home on Governor Nicholls Street sipping peach martinis. Both were wearing short sleeved shirts and jeans. Trent had made crawfish beignets that awaited the call to dinner.

Crawfish Fritters

He had also talked to their friend retired Alaska State Trooper Colonel Robert Monk earlier in the day. Robert reported Alaska was far different. Very cold and a lot of snow in most of the state. It reminded Trent of the story Robert told him about when he and his parents first arrived in Alaska.

“It was a long time ago,” Trent told Darcey. “Robert was just a boy. He said that first winter was the most beautiful he ever saw. Relatively mild temperatures, lots of snow. Those huge, fluffy flakes that are so beautiful.

“His dad came home one day and said, ‘I’m told this is a most unusual winter.’

“Robert said the second winter was the worst he’s ever seen,” Trent continued, laughing. “Very cold. Hardly any snow. What snow fell was quickly blown away by the heavy winds leaving nothing but ice. Travel was miserable and dangerous.

“His dad came home one day and again said, ‘I’m told this is a most unusual winter.’

Trent took a dramatic sip of martini before continuing.

“When the third winter rolled around, Robert’s dad came home one day and said, ‘I’m not buying this unusual winter stuff any more.’ “

Darcey laughed. Trent flashed his biggest smile.

“Let’s go have some crawfish,” he said.

Trent Marshall’s Crawfish Fritters

peanut oil

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

salt to taste

1 cup buttermilk

3 eggs

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1/4 cup tarragon, chopped

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1 cup corn kernels cut fresh from the cob

2 tablespoons mild green chilis (cans can be found in the Hispanic foods section of most grocery stores)

1 pound cooked crawfish tails

Mix dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry. Don’t overmix. The batter should be slightly lumpy.

Drop balls of batter into hot peanut oil and fry. They should cook in about four minutes. When done, set the fritters on a plate covered with paper towels to allow them to drain.

As Trent would say, “Bon Temps!”

An Assassin in Alaska; a Cop Left Behind; and Breakfast for Dinner

New Orleans Homicide Detective Jordan Baron tossed the new book, A Shooting at Auke Bay, aside. The book was a good read. A great read! But he wasn’t happy. He called Darcey Anderson.

“You need help, Darcey,” he pointed out. “You have two California cops joining you in Alaska and some old retired state trooper up there who none of us even know. I don’t get why you don’t want me with you.”

“Because I need you at the Pines, Jordan,” Darcey Anderson replied. “I need you backing up the sheriff to protect my mother, Ivy, and Kelli.”

Darcey’s mother, Betty, Trent’s surrogate mother, Ivy, and Kelli, Trent and Darcey’s three year old daughter, had been sent back to Louisiana after the shooting. Darcey thought they would be safe there.

Jordan still wasn’t happy. He plopped himself down on the large, comfortable couch in the sitting room of the old house and found a movie about the Allies saving a companile during World War II. He didn’t know why the Nazis wanted to destroy a centuries old bell in an Italian church. Pure meanness, he thought. The why didn’t matter. The plot fit his mood.

Betty and Ivy thought serving Jordan a good dinner would make him less disagreeable.

“What’s your favorite meal for dinner, Jordan?” Betty asked.

“Breakfast,” was Jordan’s sarcastic reply.

Betty and Ivy gave each other a knowing look. They had this.

Spinach from Betty’s garden with ham, cheese, and eggs made a sort of faux quiche that was satisfying. Comfort food.

An hour later, Jordan’s belly was full.

He had two motherly women fussing over him.

He was feeling better.

Jordan Baron’s Ham & Spinach Faux Quiche

1/2 onion, chopped

2 green onions, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

10 ounces fresh baby spinach

1/2 pound ham, minced

4 cloves roasted garlic, minced

4 – 6 slices bread, or enough to cover the bottom of a casserole dish

Spinach & Ham Faux Quiche. Breakfast for dinner!

6 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon dry mustard

salt & pepper to taste

1/2 pound grated Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a heavy skillet, saute the onions and green onions in the combined butter and olive oil.

When the onions have softened and begun to take on a little color, toss in some of the spinach. A couple of handfuls will probably fill the skillet. Fold the spinach into the onions as it cooks. It will reduce dramatically in size. When the first batch has reduced, add more spinach. It’ll probably take about three batches before all the spinach is cooked down.

Add the ham and roasted garlic. Stir to combine.

Lay slices of bread on the bottom of a casserole dish. Tear one piece of bead into pieces if necessary to cover the entire bottom of the dish.

Spread the spinach and ham mixture evenly over the bread slices.

In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk, and dry mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Beat vigorously. Pour the liquid over the spinach and ham mixture.

Cover generously with the grated cheese.

Bake for about half an hour, or until the cheese is melted and golden.

Jordan wants to know what your favorite breakfast for dinner meal is.

As he would say, “Bon temps”

Jay’s Bar-B-Q

April 19, 2016 – In 1954 Jay Prethro was managing a convenience store in Baton Rouge.  He wanted more.  He wanted his own business.

He took over a small hot dog stand on Government Street and started serving barbeque to his neighbors.  62 years later Baton Rouge residents are still lining up for Jay’s legendary barbeque.

When Jay decided he was ready to retire, he sold the Government Street location to his employee of 30 years, Floyd LeBlanc.  Jay’s daughter and son-in-law, Connie and Rick Newton with their son Rich, own and operate a second Jay’s on Sherwood Forest, using the same recipes as the Government Street location.

The Government Street Jay’s was where I was having lunch.  Floyd LeBlanc’s son, Milton, took it over after his father passed away.  Milton has retired and his daughter, Jessica Mills, is now in charge.  Jessica is an affable lady who moves through the kitchen like a whirlwind but still takes time to flash a smile and greet her customers.  Through three generations the recipes and the quality haven’t changed.

My cousin, Genelle Parker Hughen, and I were meeting my longtime friend and former Baton Rouge neighbor, Selma Ruth, at Jay’s.  It was Selma’s idea.  She likes their chopped beef sandwich.

Genelle and I arrived first.  We ordered some popcorn shrimp and fried mushrooms to hold us until Selma arrived.  Both were satisfying.  Nicely browned.  Juicy.  Tasty.

When Selma arrived we got down to the serious business of eating barbeque.  Genelle followed Selma’s lead and ordered the chopped beef sandwich.  I wanted to try pork.  I asked for the pork dinner.  My plate came piled with thin slices of smoked pork accompanied by potato salad and beans.

It also came with a small container of barbeque sauce.  Not just any barbeque sauce.  It was wonderful!  Most of the barbeque world tends toward tomato-molasses based sauces.  Jay’s makes its own Carolina-style vinegar based sauce.

I go light on the tomato-molasses based sauces.  They tend to overpower the smokiness of the meat.  Jay’s sauce is thin, slightly sweet and very appetizing.  Just as a vinegar based sauce should be.  It compliments the meat rather than overwhelming it.   It might be the best barbeque sauce I’ve ever had.

The next time I’m in Baton Rouge, I hope Selma wants to go back to Jay’s.  I’ll go back  for the sauce and a loaf of bread.

And maybe some more smoked pork.

Or chopped beef.

But the sauce.  Definitely the sauce.

 

 

 

 

 

Mansur’s on the Boulevard

September 21, 2015 – I hadn’t been to Mansur’s on the Boulevard in Baton Rouge in quite a while.  I remembered it as a very good restaurant.  So when my cousin and colleague, Genelle Parker Hughen, and I found ourselves with a couple of hours between appointments I thought she might enjoy a leisurely lunch at Mansur’s.  As it turned out “enjoy” was a mild verb for what turned out to be an excellent experience.

Mansur’s has attracted a loyal group of followers since its opening in 1989.  The restaurant has accomplished that by consistently serving up some of the finest Creole food you’ll find anywhere.  Founder and corporate chef Tim Kringlie, chef/partner Charles Taucer IV and sibling business partners Justin and Brandon McDonald continue their tradition of supremacy into Mansur’s third decade.

We were fortunate that Courtleigh was assigned to tend our table.  Courtleigh, who told us he was named for his 2x great uncle from Austin, Texas, is a professional.  The kind of professional whose knowledge of food and familiarity with the menu transposes a good meal into an adventure.

I ordered a Champagne Cosmo to enjoy while we discussed the menu with Courtleigh.  It’s a cocktail usually made with vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime topped with sparkling wine.  Very similar to my all time favorite cocktail, the French 75.  Refreshing on a warm day marking the fall equinox.

Mansur’s is famous for its chargrilled oysters.  I thought it would be shameful to dine there without them.  I ordered half a dozen.  Each oyster rested comfortably in its own pool of Mansur’s special sauce.  Olive oil, butter, white wine, grated Parmesan, garlic and spices that Courtleigh didn’t specify.  A small portion of bread rested in the center of the dish with an additional loaf delivered for soaking up the sauce.  A little lagniappe to start the meal.

Genelle doesn’t care for oysters.  I suggested she try just the sauce.  She tasted a bit in a spoon.  I had made a mistake.  The next few minutes was a race between us to see who could use the bread to soak up the most sauce.

I just can’t go back to Louisiana without having gumbo.  That was next to arrive at the table.  Chicken, duck and Andouille gumbo.  I have always believed that I make the best gumbo in the world.  I have been mistaken.  Mansur’s gumbo was the best I’ve ever eaten.  The roux was perfectly prepared.  Consequently that wonderful roux-ness that is the base of a good gumbo permeated the bowl.  A gumbo to be remembered.

Genelle ordered crepes stuffed with crab, shrimp and crawfish.  I had said I wanted nothing but Louisiana food at this meal.  I ordered Fettuccini  Alfredo.  Genelle said that didn’t sound very Louisiana to her.  It is the way Mansur’s does it, I told her.  Sure enough the bowl of pasta that arrived was covered with shrimp, crawfish and chunks of lump crab meat.   It doesn’t get more delightful than that.  It doesn’t get more Louisiana than that.

It doesn’t get more Louisiana than Mansur’s on the Boulevard.

It doesn’t get better than Mansur’s.

 

 

 

TJ Ribs

September 20, 2015 – TJ Ribs is all about ribs.  Of course it is.

And sports.  TJ Ribs is all about ribs and sports.

It’s in Baton Rouge.  The home of LSU.  TJ Ribs is all about ribs and LSU sports.

Shaquille O’Neal’s size 22 shoe is on display at TJ Ribs.  So is Billy Cannon’s Heisman trophy from 1959.  LSU itself also got its own copy of the trophy but it disappeared years ago.  No one knows what happened to that one.  TJ Ribs has the original.

T.J. Moran was the founder of the barbeque restaurant that bears his initials.  Moran, who passed away in May of this year, was a legend in the Louisiana restaurant world.    He was the guy who talked Ruth Fertel, another Louisiana culinary legend, into letting him open the first Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchise in Baton Rouge.  (See Ruth’s Chris Steak House, April 23, 2014, in the Louisiana category.)

Any of the Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchises will give you a great steak.  T.J. Moran’s Ruth’s Chris in Baton Rouge offers the best steak in the world.  It’s just as simple as that.

Moran was known for far more than TJ Ribs and Ruth’s Chris.  He was an icon in the city.  His philanthropy touched everyone in one way or another.  His support of LSU and the great sports teams produced by the school was continuous and unwavering.  He was a man with a passion for sharing his good fortune with others.  A man who preferred that his generosity be received, for the most part, in anonymity.  We could use more like T.J. Moran.

My cousin and colleague, Genelle Parker Hughen, and I were meeting another Baton Rouge legend, Gerard Ruth, for dinner.  We wanted ribs.

But first I wanted to try the Gulf Coast Martini.  Tabasco was involved.  Garnished by a couple of boiled shrimp.  Jeremy, the young man tending our table whose age, he told us, was equal to Shaq’s shoe size, said it was spicy.  He was understating.  Tabasco was not a matter of involvement.  The relationship of Tabasco, vodka and gin was one of intimacy.  The cocktail was spicy and delicious.  The shrimp garnishes were spicy and delicious.  I was back in Louisiana.

While we waited for Gerard, Genelle and I shared the Spicy Sausage Plate.  Not as spicy as the Gulf Coast Martini but every bit as pleasurable.  Two large links of locally made pork sausage split and grilled.  Accompanied by grilled onions, deep fried pickles and Creole mustard.  The sausage probably would have tasted spicier had my taste buds not continued to dance to the tune of the martini.  As it was the sausage seemed mild.  Mild and very pleasant.

Once Gerard joined us it was baby back ribs around.  Why else would we be at TJ Ribs?  The baby backs were barbeque at its best.  Falling off the bone tender.  A delicious sauce that complimented the delicate meat without overpowering.

For side dishes I ordered two of my favorites.  TJ Ribs’ red beans and rice are as good as any I’ve ever eaten.  And the collard greens.  Oh yes!  The collard greens.  Another hint of spice.  A bit of smokiness.  As enjoyable as the ribs themselves.

Baton Rouge will miss T.J. Moran.  But the food he inspired remains.  It is a fitting memorial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juban’s

April 23, 2015 – It’s no secret that food is a way of life in Louisiana.  It’s a seductive way of life.  Many who move to the state from elsewhere find themselves quickly adopting local food.  Local customs.  The joie de vivre found in the state whose motto is “Laissez les bon temps rouler.”  The Cajun French phrase for “Let the good times roll.”

There are great restaurants scattered throughout the state.  Everything from small family-owned cafes specializing in fried catfish, po’ boys and gumbo, or fried chicken to those hallowed restaurants that are household names.  Among the royalty of the restaurant world.  Antoine’s.  Galatoire’s.  Arnaud’s.  Emeril’s.  Great names.  Great New Orleans restaurants.

Baton Rouge has its share of great restaurants.  On this trip I was looking forward to dinner at Juban’s.  One of the finest Baton Rouge restaurants.  From the sugar pot fountain in the small courtyard just outside the front door to the bread pudding dessert offering, Juban’s is all about Louisiana.

The Juban family opened the restaurant in 1983.  The family name has been synonymous with excellence from the beginning.  They took in Michael Shane Boudreaux as a partner a few years ago.  Boudreaux has been in the food business since he was 16 years old.  If the Juban family wanted a partner he was a good choice.  Though the family retains an ownership interest in the restaurant Boudreaux has now been named president.

Joey Daigle was introduced as executive chef in 2013.  Daigle is a Louisiana native.  Like all of us, the love of food is in his genes.  He didn’t decide he wanted a career in the kitchen until he was 23 years old.  Daigle says being a chef isn’t a job; it’s a lifestyle.  He felt he was coming late to that lifestyle.  He had some catching up to do.  He got a full time job at Galatoire’s Bistro in Baton Rouge.  Then he got a job working 35 hours a week at another restaurant.  He was anxious to learn.  He was willing to devote 70 to 80 hours a week to do it.

For a while he continued his education working at two of John Besh’s restaurants in New Orleans.  Then he headed west where he worked under Thomas Keller at Keller’s group of restaurants in California’s Napa Valley, including The French Laundry.  He immersed himself in the lifestyle of the chef.  He learned well.

I was meeting my neighbor of ten years, Selma Ruth, for dinner.  Whenever I’m in Baton Rouge on business I make it a point to see the Ruths.  They’re one of the best known couples in Baton Rouge.  More important to me, they were great neighbors.  On this trip Selma’s husband, Gerard, was in North Carolina at the furniture market.  So it was just Selma and me.

I arrived a few minutes early and was greeted by David Gipson, the man who would be tending our table.  David is a professional.  Good at what he does.  The kind of guy  who makes the dining experience so much better simply because he knows food.  He knows his restaurant.  He enjoys people.

I asked for a Dark ‘N’ Stormy before dinner.  Juban’s makes the cocktail with Old New Orleans rum and the usual ginger beer and lime juice.  It was excellent.  Dark.  Stormy.  Delicious.

Deciding on food was a lot harder.  Well, not for Selma.  She ordered what she always orders.  A small filet, medium, with mashed potatoes on the side.  It’s her favorite meal.

I, on the other hand, wanted to try everything on the menu.  I was in my native land so I had to have some native food.  But the menu was so awesome.  I really did want everything.  Gripped by the agony of indecision I admit to taking the easy way out.  I ordered the Chef’s prix fixe dinner.

This evening it started with chicken and Andouille gumbo.  The kitchen got the roux exactly as it should be for a good gumbo.  Dark.  Smoky.  That unique taste that lingers on the palate.  An excellent gumbo.  My down home fix for the trip.

The entrée was amazing.  A braised boneless short rib.  I’m seeing boneless short ribs show up more often on menus but frankly they haven’t been that good.  There’s something about the bone that adds sort of an all-beef lagniappe.  A little something extra to the taste.

Not so with Chef Daigler’s boneless short rib.  Beautifully marbled.  Cooked to a fork only tenderness.  Not a lot of meat.  So rich and tasty.  Not a lot was the perfect amount.

Selma was happy with her steak.  I was thrilled with an excellent cocktail, gumbo any Louisiana native would be proud of and one of the best braised short ribs I’ve ever eaten.

It’s why we say, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!”

Mestizo

September 22, 2014 – Some time around 2000 I was driving around Baton Rouge in search of an interesting place for dinner.  I passed what looked like a fast food style building with a sign that said Mestizo.  Mestizo?  An antiquated Spanish word meaning a person of mixed European and Native American heritage.  I had to know what this was all about.  I did a U-turn.

What I found resembled nothing even close to fast food.  Chef/owner Jim Urdiales was simply using what was once a burger place or some such to produce food that was all his own.  His creation.  And what a creation!

With a Hispanic father and a Cajun mother, Jim had grown up with two of the world’s great cuisines.  He put them together and came up with Mexican Cajun food.  Believe me when I tell you that you just haven’t lived until you’ve had a crawfish burrito or a shrimp and crab quesadilla.

Within a short time he moved his restaurant to a larger building in a better location.  His old customers followed him.  New ones found him.

Fast forward a decade.  The woman who is now my wife was coming to Louisiana for the first time.  She was arriving in the late afternoon.  I wanted her arrival to be memorable but it was just too complicated to prepare a dinner that would impress her and get to the airport to meet her flight.  The timing was risky.  I stopped by Mestizo to talk to Jim.  He agreed to put together a tasting menu for us.  A better idea.

I got her attention with a couple of chocolate martinis I whipped up at the house and then we were off to Mestizo.  Jim greeted us and did the serving himself.  Dish after familiar Mexican dish arrived at our table, all made with fresh Louisiana ingredients.   Tortillas.  Chilis. Shrimp.  Crab.  Crawfish.  She was delighted.  Impressed.  I was feeling clever.

Mestizo was one of the highlights of her visit.  Well, she did fall in love with New Orleans a day or two later when she discovered French Quarter bars provide go cups.  Such a civilized practice she thought.  And she did learn to “suck the heads & pinch the tails” with a plate of boiled crawfish at the Acme Oyster House.  But dinner at Mestizo was memorable.

A few days go I met my cousin, Genelle Parker Hughen, in Baton Rouge to take care of some business.  I took her to lunch at Mestizo and was pleased to find the food is as unique and wonderful as ever.

She opted for shrimp tacos.  Plump shrimp fresh from the Gulf of Mexico wrapped in corn tortillas.

I found one of my favorite Mexican dishes prepared Louisiana style.  A chili relleno.  Alleged to have originated in Puebla, a city southeast of Mexico city that was built by the Spanish in colonial days, it translates simply as “stuffed pepper.”

Chili rellenos are usually made with poblano peppers.  They can be stuffed with most anything but most often with cheese. The poblano is a dark green triangular shaped chili that is mild but has a very pleasing, dark flavor.  Mestizo, however, uses Anaheim peppers.  Even milder than the poblano.

The Anaheim is stuffed with crab and shrimp, rolled in a light breading and deep fried.  It’s served smothered in grilled onions, resting on a plate of traditional beans and rice.  But clearly the stuffing is the star of this show.  Louisiana shrimp and crab encased in the mild Anaheim.  A flavor combination that inspires delight!

Jim wasn’t in the day that Genelle and I had lunch at the restaurant.  But his Mexican Cajun creation was there.  And it’s thriving.  Evolving.  Growing.  Marvelous!

 

 

 

Poor Boy Lloyd’s

April 14, 2014 – Mary Kuntz was pretty in pink.  She told us she has worked at Poor Boy Lloyd’s in Baton Rouge for 37 years.  The original Lloyd died a while back, she said.  She seemed pleased to tell us that she was here to show current owner Fred Taylor the ropes when he took the place over more than 30 years ago.

My cousin, Genelle, and I were at Poor Boy Lloyd’s because Lloyd’s had what I needed.  What I needed was a po’ boy, Louisiana’s greatest contribution to the sandwich world.  (With apologies to Central Grocery of New Orleans and the muffuletta.)

The po’ boy originated in New Orleans.  Like many of the world’s favorite meals, it was working man food.  A section of French bread is sliced open and stuffed with fried oysters, shrimp, catfish, softshell crabs or any combination thereof.  The roast beef po’ boy, filled with shredded beef called “debris” and drowned in rich, dark gravy, is a New Orleans tradition.  And in recent years the French fry po’ boy has become popular. To put it simply, a po’ boy is a chunk of French bread stuffed with whatever you have on hand.

The predecessor of the po’ boy was the oyster loaf, popular in the last part of the 19th century.  It was also known as the “peacemaker,” allegedly because many an errant gentleman staggered home in the wee hours of the morning with one under his arm, hoping to distract the wrath of a waiting wife.

The name po’ boy originated at the Martin Brothers Coffee Stand and Restaurant.  Before Bennie and Clovis Martin opened their eatery they had worked as conductors on New Orleans street cars and were members of the streetcar employees union.  On July 1, 1929, streetcar motormen and conductors walked off the job and thus began one of the nation’s most violent strikes in a time known for brutal labor conflicts.

Patronage of the city’s streetcars fell to near zero partly due to fear of the viciousness exhibited by both sides.  But public support for the striking employees was also high among New Orleaneans.  The union received many letters of support, including one from the Martin Brothers in which they promised free meals to their striking union brothers.  The Martins ended their letter by saying, “We are with you till [sic] h–l [sic] freezes over, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm.”

To keep their promise the Martins sliced long loaves of French bread into sections to make sandwiches.  Cheap.  Portable.  Delicious.  Immortal.

Bennie Martin is credited with uttering the phrase that led to the name po’ boy.  Tradition has it that he said, “Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.'” In the unique way New Orleaneans have with the English language, it didn’t take much to get from  “poor boy” to “po’ boy.”

Today I was in need of a fried catfish po’ boy.  I’d had the craving for a couple of days.  We had gone downtown one evening to find a place for dinner and spotted Poor Boy Lloyd’s.  But there was a blues festival on the river and the closest parking was many blocks away.  We went elsewhere for food that evening but Poor Boy Lloyd’s stayed in mind.

I ordered my po’ boy dressed.  In the language of the po’ boy that means with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise.  For good measure I asked for a cup of red beans and rice on the side.  And a plate of fried pickles to share with my cousin.

I bit into the sandwich and it was exactly right.  The  crusty crunch of the French bread. The juiciness of fresh tomato and lettuce dressed with mayo.  Another slight crunch of the breading protecting the delicate filet.

Catfish is one of my favorite fish but only fried.  I’ve tried it many other ways but, to me, the fine texture of the white flesh just doesn’t stand up well with most treatments.  There are other fish more adaptable.  But fried with a light breading to hold in the moisture, catfish is exquisite .  Hard to find better.

The pickles were terrific.  Crunchy and sour and fun.

And the red beans and rice…well, I could write a whole separate piece about red beans and rice.  Oh wait!  I’ve already done that.  These red beans were great.  Just great.

After lunch, I stepped up to the register to pay the tab and met owner Fred Taylor.  Fred is one of those people born to be a restaurateur.  I had never met him before.  I only talked to him for maybe five minutes.  But when I walked away I had the feeling I’d made a new friend.

Even better my new friend knows how to put a po’ boy on the table.

See you soon, Fred.

 

 

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

April 12, 2014 – My cousin, Genelle, and I were carefully studying the menu like we’d never seen it before.

“What are we doing?” I asked her.  “We’re in Baton Rouge.  We’re at Ruth’s Chris.  We’re having steaks.”

I have a simple philosophy on such matters.  If you’re at Ruth’s Chris and you don’t order a steak, what’s the point of being at Ruth’s Chris?  Ruth’s Chris serves the best steak in the world.  Any Ruth’s Chris is good.  The Ruth’s Chris in Baton Rouge is the top.  It’s just as simple as that.

The Ruth in Ruth’s Chris was Ruth Fertel who passed away in 2002.  In 1965 she was a single mother faced with raising two sons and getting them through college.  Against all prevailing wisdom of the day she mortgaged her house and bought Chris Steak House in New Orleans for $18,000.  The mortgage was for $22,000 because she figured she needed another four grand to get started.

The Chris was Chris Matulich who opened the steak house in 1927.  He sold the place six times and each time the new owners didn’t make a go of it so he got it back.  Cheap.  Then along came Ruth.  He didn’t get it back.

She operated at the original location until 1976 when the building burned down.  Fortunately she had recently purchased a nearby location to use as the base for a catering company.  Within a couple of weeks Ruth was able to open for business in the new location.  But there was the small matter of the name.

The sales agreement gave Ruth the right to use the name Chris Steak House but only in the original location.  The new place would be Ruth’s Chris Steak House.  Tongue twister of a name but a legal end run around a small problem.  Ruth said she always hated the new name but she had to make it work.

1976 was a memorable year for another reason.  That was when Baton Rouge real estate developer T.J. Moran convinced Ruth to give him a franchise to open a Ruth’s Chris in Baton Rouge.  It was the first franchise and, in my view, still the best of the some 130 Ruth’s Chris restaurants that have subsequently opened under franchise agreements around the country.

I sipped on Ruth’s Chris version of my favorite cocktail, a French 75.  They call theirs a French Quarter 75.  They make it with Roederer sparkling wine, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Beefeater Gin and lemon juice.  A raspberry dropped into the Champagne glass along with a lemon twist adds to the presentation.  A preeminent variation on the original cocktail.  Refreshing.

I ordered what I always order when I’m at Ruth’s Chris.  The bone-in cowboy ribeye.  Rare.  Genelle ordered the filet mignon.  We asked for mushrooms and potatoes au gratin, served family-style.

You can hear a Ruth’s Chris steak coming well before it reaches the table.  Their steaks are seared and cooked quickly at 1800 degrees.  They come out sizzling.  A dollop of butter is dropped onto the steak just before serving.  It adds to the sizzle.  It’s a happy sound.

The ribeye was perfectly rare.  Premier among steaks.  The mushrooms, dripping in butter, so pleasant to the taste.  Such a scrumptious partner to a sizzling steak.  And the potatoes, draped in a carpet of melted cheese.  Simply delectable.

Genelle ordered a crème brulee for dessert.  I went with my favorite southern sweet dish. Bread pudding with bourbon sauce.  The slight bite of the bourbon sauce turning day old bread into a succulent pastry.  A ballet for the palate.

We waited silently in the cool air of a Louisiana early spring evening while the valet brought our car up.  Dinner was at Ruth’s Chris.  There was nothing more to say.