Flavor and More Flavor
When you are looking for a restaurant with delicious food and atmosphere, then Melba’s, at 1525 Elysian Fields Avenue, is a place you must check out. And if you need to do laundry, Melba’s can help with that too.
Located a few blocks outside of the French Quarter, Melba’s is a neighborhood joint that provides local flavor in the food and the ambience. The fare consists of New Orleans soul food: gumbo, jambalaya, fried chicken wings, fried and grilled seafood, sides and desserts, and daiquiris. One of the sides that come as a standard option are their grits. Grits may not sound like a dish to get excited for, but theirs are creamy, rich, and hearty—they could be an entrée. I make sure and get them every time. Bright art work covers the walls, and some of the artists are locals, some are out of state, and one is incarcerated at the Louisiana State Prison, Angola. The paintings consist of famous musicians from the city, a black Holy Family, and still lives from around the city.
We have never gone in there when the place is not jumping with customers and lively workers. You stand in line, place your order with a cashier and generally engage in humorous banter until your name is called. The daiquiris are excellent. I have had daiquiris around the Crescent City, but none compare to Melba’s for taste and potency.
A scale stands by the front door, allowing patrons to weigh themselves before enjoying the delectable food. We have never weighed ourselves, entering or leaving, but I am certain we would not be happy with the numbers; but we are always happy with the food.
If you find yourself visiting the French Quarter, do yourself and your stomach a favor and stop in Melba’s. You’ll rub elbows with locals, fill up on some of the best grub in the city, and probably will have a story to share with the folks back home.
We made it to one day of the 2016 Jazzfest in New Orleans, Saturday April 30, and squeezed in three Louisiana acts before a monsoon drove us into the grandstands and eventually home.
Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole was the first act we saw. Cedric wore a round hat and a string tie. Fitting for the fais do-do stage. Rain had dominated the previous day and the ground was a malleable mud, but not sloppy. We—my wife Natthinee and our friend Erin who was an angel and drove us—made our way to the edge of the throng. We did not want to push our way any closer, and settled in a clearing. As seasoned festival goers, we had our backpacks and chairs, but since it was only 12:30 and our first show of the day, we didn’t want to sit. Plus, who could sit when Cedric and his band were cranking out traditional zydeco and enlivening old standards with a new energy? We settled near a group who had spread out a blue tarp; not wanting to get our belongings muddy, we laid them on the corner of their tarp, and as we did we gave a beseeching look and received a thumb up.
Cedric ended with “Boozoo Medley,” and he introduced the last song with: “This is dedicated to the late Boozoo Chavis. The ghost of Boozoo may be dancing with you now.”
Boozoo’s ghost dancing with us: What a wonderful thought. After all, as long Boozoo is in our thoughts, he’s not gone!
When we left, we thanked the group on the tarp, who wished us, “Happy Fest.”
Next we saw the Treme Brass Band in the Economy Tent. Their first song was “The Second Line” and people with umbrellas did just that: second lined through the tent. The crowd spilled out of the tent and those on the periphery blocked the Second Liners route. One security guard—an African American teen—did his best to make a way for the Second Liners, but to no avail. The dancers did not mind, as they circled back and continued parading with their umbrellas pumping over their heads. The second song, “I’ll Fly Away,” was dedicated to Alan Toussaint, who passed away this year. This song is a Christian standard, and hearing it I think of Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon, which speaks of the African American myth that slaves could fly home to Africa. I like to think that like with Boozoo’s ghost dancing with us earlier, Toussaint’s ghost filled the tent as the Treme Brass Band burned through the number.
The next act was Big Freedia. I had not heard any of her songs before, but Erin is a big fan, and I trust her judgment. Big Freedia is a transgender rapper who plays New Orleans bounce music. On the stage there was plenty of booty bouncing, women and men, and it became a free for all. Her show was dedicated to Prince. She wore a white coat with his sign on the back. The rain came, slowly at first, but it increased and we made our way into the grandstands, where we used the restrooms—the ladies had a long wait—and waited hoping the rain would stop. Instead, it intensified with wind and lightning. Finally, knowing that we could not see any more acts—all of the ones inside tents were impossible to get to—we waded through ankle high to the car.
The shows that day brought up so many great artists we lost this year and in the recent past. Heard three Louisiana artists, all different, and all talented.
Despite being cut short by a monsoon, we had a happy fest.
Half Shell Oyster Bar and Grill
Good food at a reasonable price may be a marketing cliché, but at the Half Shell Oyster Bar and Grill it is a truism. Located at 3101 Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana, the restaurant is cozy with a patio in front. A bar sweeps out of the far corner, and at the end of it is the shucking section. It is always nice to see your oysters being shucked in front of you.
The interior is lively with paintings by local artists providing ambience. Adding to the look was the playlist of old R&B and blues. Etta James, Buddy Guy, and Bill Withers sang while we and other patrons ate and had a good time. There were about a dozen tables, ranging from those that seat four to those that seat and along the front window were high tables that seated two. A table of four near the door were there when we arrived and were still there when we left. They laughed and had a good time and were never given any looks by their server—a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, for true. We took a tall table with stools next to the front window, where we looked out at the patio and the recurring showers that blew through that afternoon.
We ordered three dozen raw oysters, a dozen at a time, and found a black pearl in one. When we placed our order, the server filled a yellow tray with crushed ice, which were soon covered by delectable oysters on the half shell. Their oysters were fresh and had that briny flavor which turned to a hint of sweet after squeezing fresh cut lemon on them. The cocktail sauce was a nice mix of spicy and sweet, but if you wanted it spicier, extra horseradish was in the tray.
We also ordered crab cakes and a fried oyster and shrimp platter. The problem with many restaurant’s crab cakes is that they are too small and too few, but that was not the case here. Three large crab cakes were served with a remoulade dipping sauce. The crab cakes were moist and had a nice blend of spices. The oysters in the platter were huge—and this is not hyperbole nor was it extra batter. The oysters were cooked thoroughly but were not dry, and the shrimp had a thin batter that was seasoned but did not hide or overpower the taste of the shrimp. French fries accompanied the platter and they were flavorful too, but the stars, as they should be, were the oysters and shrimp.
The food is the caliber of a world-renowned restaurant, while the vibe and prices are those of a neighborhood joint. The Half Shell Oyster Bar and Grill has found the golden mean!
Multi-Cultural Epicurean Delight
The place is called Cajun Seafood, but an accurate title is: Cajun+Asian+Soul Food= AWESOME!
Cajun Seafood is located at 1479 North Claiborne Avenue, parking can be tight, but it is worth squeezing your auto in to a cramped space to experience their delectable treats: fried rice, fried seafood, crawfish pie, boild crabs and shrimp, lo mein, and even pig’s feet. Inside the pace frenetic, with at least two lines ordering and one line checking out. Place your order loudly and clearly, and if you order something from the kitchen, prepare to wait; but usually no longer than 10 minutes, and the wait is worth it.
Taking seemingly disparate parts of the City’s ethnic make-up, Cajun Seafood embodies the greatness that is capable when cuisines are combined. A multi-cultural epicurean delight!
Bevi Seafood Company
Bevi Seafood Company on 236 North Carrolton Avenue is a perfect sample of a New Orleans seafood eatery. They serve po-boys, but we always go there for the seafood platter or the oyster platter. One platter is enough for two people to share, and that’s even for big eaters like us. The seafood platter comes with fried catfish, fried oysters, and fried shrimp. The batter is light and spiced, making for a wonderful dining experience. The sides are fries, Texas toast—always buttery—and potato salad, which packs a tanginess that accompanies the seafood nicely. There other sides that you can choose, but if we’re already eating a slew of fried food, why worry about too many carbs?
The seating is informal, with red metal chairs around aluminum tables. Some wood tables and benches are outside, and that is where people bring their boiled crawfish. My wife loves their boiled crawfish, but I have not had them. I have had, however, their daiquiris, and I can attest that they are tasty and functional.
Venezia: A Taste of Italy in the Big Easy
In the 1800s, the Italians made a nice addition to New Orleans’ ethnic gumbo, and today you can taste that contribution at Venezia Restaurant in Mid-City (134 North Carrolton Avenue).
On our first visit, the staff made us feel welcome as well as providing tips, without being pushy, as to what we should consider ordering. For appetizers, we had crab claws in a light alfredo sauce and calamari. My entrée was a steak, while Natthinee had grilled redfish. My steak was juicy and well-seasoned, not spicy but flavorful. Natthinee’s redfish was a tender fillet with pasta on the side. The pasta was in an alfredo sauce, and I had pasta has a side too. My pasta, however, was drizzled with oil, which made a nice compliment to the steak.
When visiting New Orleans, you owe it to yourself to visit Venezia. You’ll enjoy great food and the company of locals.
Landry’s Seafood can be found in different cities in south Louisiana, and when you’re in New Orleans, visit the one on Lake Ponchatrain (8000 Lakeshore Drive). You will enjoy stellar food and a great view of the lake, which expands into the horizon so far that you feel as if you are at the ocean.
The interior has terrific views, but to enjoy the entire experience, sit on the deck. On the days we visited, the weather was cool and dry, so we had a nice breeze off of the lake to enjoy our cocktails and food. As always, we ordered appetizers (what’s the use of eating out if you don’t?) Shrimp wrapped in bacon and oyster nachos, which consist of a fried oyster atop a nacho with a spicy, creamy drizzle. I ordered the grilled seafood platter, and was not disappointed. Shrimp, fish, oysters with a buttery coating! Natthinee had grilled shrimp with Cajun rice and grilled vegetables.
Once the entrees arrived, our talking decreased as we savored the food and watched the moon rise over the lake.
Essays and Photos by Natthinee and Hardy Jones