Adventures in great N.O. eateries
By smiley anders
August 20, 2012
I was chatting with some buddies the other day when the conversation turned to the restaurants of New Orleans, and I was reminded of two memorable incidents in the ’90s, when chance encounters made our dining experiences truly special.
Back then, before we were married, Lady Katherine worked in New Orleans and I visited her on weekends.
One Sunday afternoon we dropped by Mother’s on Poydras Street for their legendary roast beef “debris” po-boys.
In line ahead of us was a young lady, carrying a book that was evidently to read as she ate alone.
It’s always a little sad to see people eating out by themselves, so we invited her to join us.
We managed to find a seat in the crowded restaurant, and as we dug into our sandwiches she told us she was a nurse from Portland, Ore., attending a conference at one of the Canal Street hotels.
I mentioned that I had just attended a National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference where one of the other attendees was Jonathan Nicholas, the fine columnist for the Portland Oregonian newspaper.
Taken aback, she said she had been featured in one of Jonathan’s columns recently — and produced a clipping to prove it.
For a short time the “small world” nature of this encounter trumped the excellence of our classic Mother’s po-boys.
When the wind is blowing off the river and humidity is high, winter nights in New Orleans can be brutally cold.
On one such evening Lady Katherine and I went into Mandina’s, the great Canal Street restaurant, to satisfy our craving for shrimp po-boys.
The place was packed, and we got the last table, by the door.
As we settled in, the door opened, a blast of frigid air whipped around us, and two guys appeared on the threshold.
They looked around at the crowd in dismay, realizing there was no place to sit.
We were at a table for four, so Lady Katherine asked the pair if they’d like to sit at our table.
(I’m not sure if she did this out of generosity or just to get them to shut the door and keep us from freezing.)
They accepted a bit reluctantly, but as we chatted they warmed up, both figuratively and literally.
They were watchmakers who lived in different parts of the country, and had met at a convention in a downtown hotel.
When someone recommended Mandina’s, they had agreed to share a cab and check it out.
We had a fascinating conversation about watches, and they kept remarking about how we had shown them that “Southern hospitality” wasn’t just a phrase, but really did exist.
After dinner they left us to get a cab back to the hotel, and when we went to pay for our dinner we learned that they had picked up the tab.
As we walked out into the cold night air, full of perfectly fried shrimp and basking in a pleasant, unexpected encounter, I couldn’t help it — I shouted, “I LOVE this town!”
Therese Addington thanks Bobby Lewis, owner of AAA Body & Paint Collision Center, for the help when her car wouldn’t start at the Calandro’s Supermarket on Perkins Road:
“The employees at Calandro’s are also due a huge thank-you for allowing me to store my cold items in their cooler until I could get my car started.
“When everything was resolved, Mr. Lewis told me not to turn the engine off until I got home, reminded me that my groceries were still in the store cooler, and then stayed by my car with the motor running until I retrieved them.
“What a gentleman! I am forever grateful.”
Mercedes Doré says reading about SEC Media Days in the Advocate’s Sports section “reminded me of my granddaughter Aidan, who was 5 and in kindergarten last year.
“Aidan was learning how to read, and when she was riding in the back seat of my car she would spell aloud words in her book she didn’t know, so I could tell her what they were.
“One day she was having to spell a lot of words, getting a little annoyed with herself.
“Then she yelled out yet another word: ‘T-I-G-E-R-S.’
“She got a rather puzzled look on her face, smiled and said, ‘Never mind, I know that word.’
“When I asked her if she learned that word at school, she said, ‘No, I go to LSU football games!’”
Algie Petrere, this column’s senior economics reporter, tells this one:
“A grocer put up a sign that read ‘Eggplants, 25 cents each — three for a dollar.’
“All day long, customers came in exclaiming: ‘Don’t be ridiculous! I should get FOUR for a dollar!’
“Meekly, the grocer capitulated and packaged four eggplants.
“The tailor next door had been watching these antics, and finally asked the grocer, ‘Aren’t you going to fix the mistake on your sign?’
“‘What mistake?’ the grocer asked. ‘Before I put up that sign no one ever bought more than ONE eggplant.’”
Write Smiley at Smiley@theadvocate.com. He can also be reached by fax at (225) 388-0351 or mail at P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821.