N.O. culture, cuisine winning over Seattle fans
SEATTLE — In this city, much like New Orleans, they love their Seahawks above all.
It’s impossible to drive more than a few blocks or walk down the street through the trademark northwest winter gloom without seeing a blue “12” sign or flag or jersey. It’s emblematic of the Seahawks’ 12th man fans, the ones who make so much noise the Saints blew out two loudspeakers at practice in Metairie this week trying to imitate them.
New Orleans’ football team may or may not conquer the beloved hometown Seattle Seahawks here Saturday.
But New Orleans cuisine and culture is shouldering its way into the hearts and minds and palates of folks here, even if they have never set foot on Bourbon Street or hitched a ride on a St. Charles Avenue streetcar.
Every Mardi Gras, Anthony McDonald, his wife Marcela and a joyous band of New Orleans expatriates mask up and dance out the door of their Pioneer Square restaurant, Marcela’s Creole Cookery, and into the street. Every spring, McDonald puts tables out on the sidewalks, covers them with newsprint and piles them high with steaming Louisiana crawfish.
“New Orleans is known for its food,” said McDonald, a New Orleans native who was a waiter for three decades at The Court of Two Sisters before moving here after Hurricane Katrina. He and his Seattle-born wife with the South Louisiana-like name opened their restaurant in 2008.
“Even people who have never been there know it for its food. They’re intrigued with what New Orleans cuisine tastes like.”
Every week day at different spots around Seattle you can here the cries of “Where ya at Matt?” They’re directed at New Orleans native Matthew Lewis, whose “Where ya at Matt?” food truck has become a familiar fixture on the Emerald City’s streets for the last four years.
Lewis, who grew up in New Orleans East and went to school at Holy Cross and Xavier, has been here since 2000. The success of his food truck, which sends a steady stream of poboys and jambalaya and beignets out to waiting hungry hands as though he was passing out Zulu cocanuts, allowed him to open the creole-themed Restaurant Roux in the Fremont district north of downtown Seattle.
Asked to explain the appeal of Louisiana cooking in the land of crab claws, Lewis said: “It’s flavorful, it’s simple, but it something not a lot of people attempt with their own cooking.”
And in case you’re wondering if they make their own roux at Restaurant Roux, they do.
Because they only had a week’s notice after New Orleans’ 26-24 playoff win at Philadelphia last week, a much smaller crowd of Saints fans is expected at Saturday’s playoff game (3:35 p.m. CST, Fox) than for New Orleans’ 34-7 regular-season loss here Dec. 2.
The ones who do come will be marching into Seattle’s CenturyLink Field emboldened by that win over the Eagles, New Orleans’ first-ever playoff road victory.
Kelly and David Griffin, parents of Saints’ backup and former Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin, are here, if a bit by accident. They were planning to go to Philadelphia last week but their flights got canceled. They cashed in frequent flyer miles to make their hasty plans to be here instead.
“Let’s just say my expectations weren’t high for the Eagles game because of the weather,” David Griffin said. “I sort of have lower expectations, so we can have a higher celebration.”
New Orleans native Bethanie Collongues, stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island north of the city, will make her first foray to the noise pit that is the Seahawks’ home stadium, decked out in her No. 80 Jimmy Graham jersey with a co-worker friend in tow.
“She’s cheering for Seattle,” Collongues said. “That should make it interesting.”
Lewis feels like he can’t lose — or can’t exactly win — with Saturday’s result.
“I think I know what Mrs. Manning felt like when Eli and Peyton played each other,” Lewis said with a broad smile. “You love them both but who you going to root for, at least publicly?
“Seahawks fans and New Orleans fans are pretty much the same. They’ve been through the same heartaches.”
The Saints visited Seattle during the regular season and were treated like unwelcome interlopers. In a showdown of what was at the time the top two teams in the National Football Conference vying for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Seahawks raced out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead. They couldn’t be caught as Seattle handed the Saints a humbling 34-7 loss, New Orleans’ fewest points since coach Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006.
McDonald is optimistic that the Saints will give a much better showing five weeks later, and move on to their third NFC championship game in the last eight seasons.
“I love my Saints,” said McDonald, who as a boy attended the very first Saints’ game in 1967. “I think we’ll be ready for them. I’m hoping it’ll be a close game and the Saints pull it out in the end — or the Saints just run over them.”
That would be reason for an early Mardi Gras parade at Marcela’s for sure.