Follow Up With Frank Barrera

Friday – March 16, 2012 – Interview with Frank Barrera

In theory, our research project on the Restaurant Row should be easy for us budding food anthropologists – particularly those of us who are locals. After all, a common phrase heard in New Orleans is “we don’t eat to live, we live to eat”.

The “natives” among us should know all there is to know about navigating our way in and out of the social spaces we find ourselves dining in as part of our research. Theory is one thing but practice is another.

Front door to the bar at El Rinconcito

I called Frank Barrera, owner of El Rinconcito, a few times over the last couple of months but he was always busy- he just did not have the time to give an interview to a nosy young man (or anthropologist… this quality often goes hand in hand). Truth be told, it was harder than I expected for me to explain why I wanted to interview him about El Rinconcito. While there are specific things the Restaurant Row Recovery Project  hopes to find, I realized that making our research goals clear was easier said than done.

I’m a college student and he’s a restaurant owner; the community dynamics that either one of us sees in some ways are very different from one another. While we may call the Canal/Carrollton area the Restaurant Row, the restaurant owners probably don’t; we bring our perspectives of the area to the area that we’re studying. Our different worldviews and experiences sometimes lead us to be “lost in translation” even though we’re speaking the same language to one another. All was not lost, I promise.

Entrance to the Dining Area of El Rinconcito

I did finally get to interview Frank Barrera to ask him more about El Rinconcito and the Restaurant Row. If anything, after talking to Frank, I realized how much he goes out of his way for his workers, clients, and those interested in his restaurant in one way or another. While he doesn’t have a website yet, he told me that anyone can reach him by e-mail if someone has any questions about the restaurant or menu.

The bar at El Rinconcito

I arrived about an hour earlier than we had scheduled to meet and talk. This time I went to the bar. It’s interesting how much different the bar experience is from the dining one. On the bar, I saw painted LSU, Tulane, fleur-de-lis(es?), and Saints helmets. There were two TVs: one at the bar and one close to the windows overlooking N. Carrollton. One was giving highlights of the soccer world while the over was playing music videos of Mexican pop stars. The clientele was a mix of both working-class Latinos and Americans.

I was dressed up more than usual and, in some ways, this made me stand out more- a dressed up young man with a laptop drinking water at the bar. I was clearly a little out of place. I thought this would allow me to be taken more seriously and it may have. I’ll ask Frank next time. Just let me believe my fashion sense that day paid off.

When Frank arrived, I could tell he was busy. He had brought some supplies with him and he started to talk to the bartenders and cooks. I waited awhile before I approached him but once I saw he was ready, I let him know I was the nosy anthropologist who had been calling him for the last couple of months.

While I’m the type who likes to dabble in the small details of stories or discuss the particularities of things, Frank likes to get straight to the point. He told me from the get-go that he could only do the interview for a short while cause he was busy, but he was very courteous and took me seriously. Although I could go into a lot more detail about the particularities of how and why El Rinconcito came to be a part of the Restaurant Row, I’ll try and brief the bloggers.

Dining Area of El Rinconcito

Frank is an incredibly interesting as well as hardworking person. He was born and raised in Colombia and learned how to cook at home with his mother. He moved to the US in 1962 and has lived in many different parts of the US including Texas, New Jersey, Florida, and Louisiana. He has held a large variety of jobs during that time. While crossing the country during his stint as a truck driver, he passed through New Orleans a few times. He loved the parades and how “small” New Orleans was in the 1970’s so much he decided to move here.

He has owned and operated a variety of different businesses while living in New Orleans. In 1995, he leased and operated what was once the Home Plate Inn on Tulane Ave. He changed the name to La Finca Home Plate Inn that was a restaurant for some time. He still uses this name for his limited liability corporation (LLC) that includes El Rinconcito and La Finca Home Plate Inn (which is now a weekend night club). He also stills drives taxis around town.

When I talked to him more specifically about El Rinconcito, I asked him a variety of questions about its history and the surrounding community. Before El Rinconcito, the building used to serve as an antique store and restaurant that served Chinese food. He doesn’t remember its name.

The main reason Frank chose to open El Rinconcito in 2006 on N. Carrollton was because it was a busy street that was lacking a restaurant that served Latin American food. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he said that he had the only restaurant open in the area and served hundreds of people everyday. In addition to that, he loves parades and he felt this wouldn’t hurt his business either since some of them run right through N. Carrollton during Mardi Gras.

Frank has lived in Metairie most of his life since 1976 when he first moved to New Orleans. When I asked him more about his clientele, he told me that he does have quite a number of regulars that come to the restaurant or bar. He said the majority of his customers are people from all over Latin America. Despite this fact, he made it very clear to me that he tries to appeal to everyone.

One of the more interesting things about El Rinconcito is that it claims to be an “American” and “Spanish” restaurant. Interestingly enough, Frank and I were both in agreement that the food at El Rinconcito is clearly much more Latin American. Frank explains it this way, “Come and ask for any food and we will make it for our customers. That’s the main reason I advertise food this way”.

He backed it up by telling me a few stories. He told me of instances where he cooked pork chops or even hamburgers for his customers who weren’t interested in what’s on the menu. Other times, he said that his customers might have a different take on what should be in an enchilada or burrito. He tries to make them the way his customers would like.

What Frank likes about running El Rinconcito on the Restaurant Row is simple. He has good customers and no one really gives him any trouble. He has a cordial relationship with the other restaurants in the area but is not incredibly close to them. He says his main goal is to serve his customers right.

When I asked Frank about his feelings on the construction of the Mid-City Market and the Lafitte Corridor, he remains positive for the future of the area. He feels that it is better to have new businesses come into the area to get rid of the blight and to attract new customers. To Frank, these new developments pose only new opportunities for El Rinconcito, not obstacles.

Before starting the interview, I showed Frank the first blog. Overall, he appreciated it but he did mention one flaw in what I had written. Once again, the word “rumbo” came up. He mentioned to me that my translation of El Rinconcito motto is a little off. He told me that rumbo, in this context, is really more along the lines of giving to others. A better translation of the experience to be found at El Rinconcito might be this: “No somos los mejores pero sí los mejores del rumbo.” – “We’re not the best but we give the best service.”

PS- More on Kjeans later!

Piecing Together the Canal/Carrollton Community

Contributed by: Deyna Cimino

It’s been about a month since my first blog entry. Jenny and I are still working on Lemonade Parade and Venezia’s. We’ve since achieved an interview with the owner of Venezia’s, Mr. Anthony ‘Tony’ Bologna. Mr. Bologna described Venezia’s as a family-owned-and-operated establishment. He was full of pride while explaining that his son and daughter helped re-decorate the restaurant after Katrina destroyed the Canal/Carrollton area. The restaurant has white linen and pictures of Venice on the walls but doesn’t forget its loyalty to New Orleans. Pictures of Saints, LSU, and Katrina memorabilia make the dining and bar area seem like you’re eating at a friend’s parent’s house. The restaurant is busy and the close seating helps spark up conversations between patrons. Jenny and I remarked on our fellow diner’s caper pizza but weren’t disappointed when our veal entrees came out. The food is way more than you can finish and during the interview, Mr. Bologna explained that he kept his prices down for the people and its working because the people definitely come. We watched as the early birds enjoyed their dinner and then were amazed with the swarm of people who came around 7pm for dinner. The building filled with laughter and clinking plates. Mr. Bologna explained that they were originally among the few pizza places in the area, but he didn’t see Dominos or the pending MidCity Market as a threat because it wasn’t the same type of food nor was it the same type of atmosphere or service. He explained that all the restaurants in the area actually helped each other. “The more people the better” he said and continued that even if someone ate next door, they’d say “we have to try that Italian place next time, so they still come.” Jenny and I sat at the bar and enjoyed drinks, more food than we could eat, and then coffee so we didn’t slip into an Italian food coma on the way home. Our bartender/waiter, Chris, was more than accommodating. He’s worked at Venezia’s going on five years and also attends UNO. This showed aspects of the UNO and Canal/Carrollton community merging. Metairie is also a factor in Venezia’s, where their other location is found. Mr. Bologna explained that the street cars increased business because tourists were able to venture to different parts of the city, including MidCity, and he appreciated this. But, he still made sure to treat his loyal local customers with reverence. After Katrina, this reverence became even stronger. He explained that he was touched to find out that people who were displaced, temporarily and, or permanently, still kept Venezia’s on their list of New Orleans must haves upon returning or visiting home. Mr. Bologna explained that his contribution to Venezia’s was built on the idea of family and that his mission was to perpetuate that feeling through his service and food. Compared to the bustling inside of Venezia’s the outside is relatively unassuming. The sign is neon lighting—part of its method of marketing may be, as an authentic Italian restaurant located in New Orleans, the very lack of seemingly deliberate marketing. It’s plain, rustic, white-walled exterior lets the food speak for itself.

https://i2.wp.com/menuorleans.com/files/menu_images/Venezia1.jpg

Photo borrowed from menuorleans.com

photo borrowed from virtualtourist.com

Lemonade Parade’s logo is reminiscent of the 1950s era dancing fruit commercials and reminds me of the Prytania Theater’s “Let’s all go to the movies” clip. Mike and Lori Bennencourtt also own The Peanut Gallery which hosts exhibitions and other community events. Some of the same people involved with the gallery seem to be involved with Lemonade Parade—extending the Canal/Carrollton community reach. The exterior brick is light blue and their sign is canary yellow with dancing fruit. They’ve compensated for their visibility problem by placing huge yellow banners in front that does attract attention. They have tables outside for seating and this seems to be the way to enjoy Lemonade Parade. This atmosphere works nicely as the community is the backdrop of the restaurant and patrons are literally surrounded by the area as they enjoy their food or beverages. This also yields more community involvement as those passing can engage with patrons, see the items they have to offer, and momentarily become a part of the restaurant’s atmosphere. It seems like Lemonade Parade’s patrons are mostly from the MidCity area.

Photos borrowed from: http://www.yelp.com

Getting Lost in History Can Be Fascinating

Submitted by: Haley Ashe

Hello all! Hope you all have enjoyed reading these adventures in field work as much as I have. Each research opportunity, restaurant visit, casual conversation, new blog post, etc allows all of us to learn something more about this unique city some of us are fortunate enough to call home. New Orleans is a jewel and myself and my fellow bloggers have been investigating this particular facet located at Canal Street and Carrollton Ave.

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Many of us have provided links and helpful photos pertaining to the development of the Lafitte Corridor. Not at an attempt of being redundant but more so out of importance, here are some more links and photos.

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http://www.bestofneworleans.com/blogofneworleans/archives/2011/12/14/sec-of-interior-gives-greenlight-to-lafitte-corridor-greenway

http://www.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/plans-for-the-lafitte-corridor-greenway-are-still-on-the-rocky-road-to-recovery/Content?oid=1620787

http://www.bestofneworleans.com/blogofneworleans/archives/2012/03/20/winn-dixie-breaks-ground-in-mid-city

http://www.urbanconservancy.org/projects/carondelet-basin-greenway

This development is very important to the area and has the potential to drastically change this historical neighborhood.  Interested in becoming a friend of the corridor? You can do it here: http://folc-nola.org/

This particular neighborhood has always been a microscopic example of the racial diversity of The Big Easy. Post Katrina census figures have changed slightly as far as residential make-up, but over all the figures are within similar ranges when you consider the fact that not all citizens have returned nor have all of the homes been rebuilt. Here is a comparison of the 2000 and 2010 census data. http://www.gnocdc.org/NeighborhoodData/4/MidCity/index.html

Mid-City gained its moniker from when it was literally the middle of the city in the late 19th century. Pre-contact natives had long settled the area along the natural levees of the river, avoiding the routine flooding of the lower lying areas we now inhabit today. Mid-City was fully developed by 1920 and had multiple public amenities such as public transportation (http://www.gonola.com/2011/03/16/nola-history-streetcars-the-early-years.html) , pools, parks, theaters, churches, schools, restaurants and more. In September 1926 what had begun to be known as Jesuit high school opened its doors on Banks St. and South Carrollton. (http://www.jesuitnola.org/about/about–6406.htm) Around this time as well across from what is now The Shamrock on N. Carrollton and Tulane was a stadium for our minor –> major league baseball team The Pelicans. http://nolalocal.com/new-orleans-pelicans/

Our old, beautifully decaying city has had many transformations and Mid-City has transformed right along with it. The area of Mid-City has seen many historical structures lost due to neglect and nature. Multiple city blocks along Canal Street have been leveled in the name of progression and corporate interests. Even when citizens have attempted to get involved (http://www.preservationdirectory.com/preservationblogs/ArticleDetail.aspx?id=806&catid=1) it is sometimes not enough. There are grants available through the government for citizens to preserve our city though. (http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2011/08/historic_mid-city_properties_e.html) There are also ways for concerned citizens to get involved in what is happening to their area. (http://www.npnnola.com/issues/view/8/master-planning-for-neighborhoods-in-new-orleans) What often happens is that “we” see what is going on in our city but feel we don’t have the time to devote to city meetings, or that a local government agent would not reply to a strongly worded correspondence. Because of this lack of incentive, many wonderful aspects of our city will be forever lost. I am actually alarmed at how few people are aware of the Greenway project. Claire and I have not spoken with the owners of Juan’s or Wit’s Inn yet, but I have spoken with some other Mid-City business owners, employees, residents and area visitors. Most of the individuals I have spoken with have perhaps noticed there are buildings being torn down. Aside from seeing construction, most are not aware of the future intentions of the area, which in turn has not made them aware of the future impact this project may have. While we all hope it will be positive, the past has shown that large-scale development such as this causes rent to rise and an influx of more affluent residents to move in. This is good for the businesses in the area, this is NOT good for the predominantly working-class, low-income and student aged residents calling this area home. (http://www.prcno.org/neighborhoods/brochures/MidCity.pdf) My hopes for the future is that businesses and residents alike will work together to preserve what makes  this area of the city special in it’s own right.

Our research of Juan’s Flying Burrito http://www.juansflyingburrito.com/

   1908 4724 S. Carrollton Ave Juans bldg

Has turned up some interesting information. Sanborn maps printed in 1898 did not contain any data for the area. I then realized that was because at that time it was only “Carrollton Ave.” and had not extended to Canal Street from Claiborne Ave. yet. However, in only 10 short years Carrollton had then developed into South and North Carrollton and was connecting to City Park. On the 1908 map what is now Juan’s was in existance. It wasn’t until the 1937 maps were we able to discern that Jaun’s had been for many years a Steam Cleaners. On the south side of the building was a movie and performance theater and on the north side of the building was a service station. An anticipated meeting with the owner and more Sanborn maps may shed light on the 60 years after it was a Cleaners.

Our research on Wit’s Inn (http://witsinn.com/) has also unearthed some interesting information as well.

   New+Orleans+1937 141 N Carrollton Wit’s Inn

Wit’s Inn is home to a former pool hall in the 1970s. According to Sanborn maps printed in 1908, the location already existed, although it wasn’t until 1937 that were we able to find a map actually labeling the location as a restaurant. Claire hopes to get to speak with the owner so we can see what his sentiments are on the Greenway project and perhaps give us some insight on the neighborhood and how the businesses and residents interact.

I hope you all have enjoyed reading this as much as I have had writing it! Until we meet again.

Establishing Rapport at El Rinconcito

My partner Rachael Horn and I, Mark Paternostro, will be conducting research on three restaurants in the Mid City neighborhood of New Orleans. All three of our restaurants are located on N. Carrollton Ave. between Bienville Ave. and Toulouse St. (refer to the map on the left or here for a larger view).

We chose to carry out research and conduct interviews with three (extra credit, Dr. Beriss?) very different restaurants that happen to be either next to or across the street from one another: a restaurant cluster within a restaurant row, if you will. They are El Rinconcito (218 N. Carrollton), WOW Café and Wingery (231 N. Carrolton #C) and KJeans (236 North Carrollton).

One of the goals of the Restaurant Row Recovery Project (RRRP) is to understand why there are so many restaurants clustered together in this one area. In class, we also noted that, within the Restaurant Row, all of these restaurants collectively seem to be serving a continuum of cuisines that would make the United Nations proud.

On the Row, one can dine at New Orleans’ institutions like Mandina’s, Venezia’s, and Angelo Brocato’s or mix it up at fusion restaurants like Café Minh or Canal St. Bistro or try out some of the newcomers like Yummy Yummy and El Rinconcito (neither of these have websites, sorry bloggers!).

We hope to find through our research if the sheer volume and variety of restaurants on the Row are representative of those who live in the surrounding neighborhood and/or of any demographic changes in the city as a whole.

By researching the history of the area and conducting interviews with the owners of these restaurants, we hope to find out what role they play to the surrounding community and New Orleans as a whole. We also hope to find out in what direction this already dynamic neighborhood is headed with regards to the near-future construction of both the Mid-City Market and the Lafitte Corridor.

February 15, 2012 – Establishing Rapport at El Rinconcito

Rachael and I, Mark, had made plans a couple of days prior to have lunch at El Rinconcito. I arrived first and, in some ways, this was probably for the better because our server, Rosalba, did not speak English and I was able to use my intermediate Spanish to order my food and later ask a few questions.

At first, I just took in the atmosphere of the place itself. There is a sign that lets customers know that to get into the restaurant area it is easier for one to enter in on the side of the building and that’s just what I did. When I entered, a group of Latino men were playing pool to the right of me and there was a very large dining area that was on the left. One of the men that was sitting down handed me a menu and I decided to seat myself.

A few moments later, Rosalba came to ask me what I would like to drink. I asked for horchata but it was not ready so I took a Coke instead. She gave me time to look over the menu and it was during that time I took in some of the material culture found around the restaurant. There were sombreros hanging from a large pillar in the dining area, an outstretched flag that said “Colombia” above the bathrooms, and a few Mardi Gras decorations to be found hanging from the walls and fans. The menu was also a mixture of different types of Latin American foods. The whole menu was in Spanish and I saw everything from huevos rancheros to enchiladas to quesadillas to carne asada and then some.

I decided to go with the Carne Asada (literally translated as “grilled steak”) which also included corn tortillas, lettuce, tomato, queso blanco (I don’t want to call it cheese because that word conjures up a particular image to most Americans. It is literally translated as “white cheese” but its texture and taste are much different than say Cheddar or American. I think it is made from goat milk.), beans, and rice (I list them separately because they were separate from one another unlike the local variety of “red beans and rice”. They also had a much different texture and taste than that New Orleans’ favorite.)

Throughout the meal I had asked a couple of questions of Rosalba. I mentioned to her that I’m a student who is interested in El Rinconcito and the surrounding restaurants and neighborhood. She told me she was new to the restaurant and was from Honduras. She also told me that many of the clients were from many different Latin American countries. I wanted to know if there was someone I could talk to about the history of El Rinconcito in English. She said yes and, later, this became helpful.

As I was thoroughly enjoying a meal that was larger than I had imagined, Rachael and her boyfriend came in to join me on the dining experience. One of the men opened the door for them and they came and sat down next to me. I had told Rosalba that I had two friends on their way earlier and soon enough she came by to get their orders.

Rachael mentioned to me that she liked the relaxed almost homely atmosphere of the place. I wholeheartedly agreed with her. There is something about the light pastel colored walls in each of the dining rooms, our friendly server, the Spanish music coming from the bar, and the group of Latino men playing pool and drinking that seemed to separate us from the busy traffic found right outside the front of the building. After Rachael’s observation, I began to appreciate the fact that the dining area was located in the back and lent itself to this homely environment.

While Rachael and Mac were working on their meals, another lady approached us. She began to ask us in English if we had any questions about the meal or service. I told her that we were students who were researching the restaurants in this area including El Rinconcito. She was very kind and helpful. She told us she would give us the boss’s number and that he would most likely be happy to give us an interview.

After we had finished our meals, Rosalba came back and handed us an El Rinconcito keychain. The keychain has two numbers: one to reach the owner and another for the restaurant. It also says this about El Rinconcito: “No somos los mejores del mundo pero si los mejores del rumbo”.

Before we paid, I had to ask Rosalba one more question. I had no idea what the word “rumbo” meant so I asked Rosalba. She mentioned it’s a Latin American word that is hard to translate to English. I asked her if it meant like the aesthetics of the place or a certain feeling of a place and she said she yes.

Later, we decided to look up the word for ourselves. “Rumbo” actually has many different meanings, but I think the best loose translation would be this: “We’re not the best in the world, but we are the life of the party.”

More to come on WOW Cafe and Wingery and Kjeans… until next time!

Continuing The Restaurant Row Recovery Project

Contributed by: Deyna Cimino

In 2010 David Beriss began the Restaurant Row Recovery Project with a small group of grad students in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Orleans. Two years later Beriss is continuing the research on just what the cluster of restaurants means to Mid City, New Orleans. Our Applied Anthropology class, consisting of mostly undergraduates and a few zealous grads, are once again tackling the question: “What makes it work?”  Our class has been paired into groups of two. Each team responsible for two-three restaurants from Little Tokyo to Juan’s Flying Burrito and from Mandina‘s to Café Minh successfully covering the Canal/Carrollton dining possibilities (in case you’re like me and need a visual here’s a map-courtesy The Times-Picayune and Erin Kinchen).

It is our aim to use whatever weapons necessary, whether they are guidebooks, written archives, or our fellow 2010 researchers to do our best in finding out why the restaurant row exists and what keeps it ticking. I, Deyna Cimino, have been paired with Jenny Frerirchs. Our assignment is to research Venezia’s (located at 134 N. Carrollton Avenue) and Lemonade Parade (4709 S.Carrollton Avenue).

Photo borrowed from InthekNOwla.com

Lemonade Parade is a brightly colored shack-styled one-stop-shop for drinks and desserts. Their menu has a bunch of refreshing items to offer so check them out. Venezia’s is an authentic red gravy savory Italian adventure. Looking forward our fieldwork so that I can try their Eggplant Vatican.

Photo borrowed from: hickswrites.blogspot.com

While researching the area for our initial post, I’ve enjoyed the pictures and history that we’re unearthing. My parents have deep connections with the area—as children, young adults, and also during their professional careers. Talking with them about their take on the block, what it used to be and what it is now, has definitely reinforced that New Orleans’ food culture is ever-changing yet manages to take its own comforting shape in past, present, and hopefully future generations. Lemonade Parade used to be Manuel’s Hot Tamales (est. 1933). It was a small roll-down stand where both my parents remember anticipating a hot batch of Manuel’s finest.

So far in our research, we’ve looked at reviews from the Virtual Tourist where user Virtous_Tourist describes Venezia’s as “softly lit and not terribly fancy […]white table cloths share space with plain vinyl chairs, [where] decades old wall hangings set the stage.” Looking at articles about Manuel’s, the restaurant is almost always described as nostalgic, a legend, or as definitively New Orleans. Lemonade Parade feels like their famous “Rising Sun” (a tangerine, orange, banana smoothie) tastes. Their building is bright and screams summertime and sprinkler fun—even in the winter. So far, it looks like they’re living up Manuel’s reputation. GoNola describes them as “nostalgia for all ages.”  In a Restaurant Spotlight by InthekNOla.com, Mike and Lori Bettencourtt, owners, explain that they originally intended to make the shop a po-boy shack called The Porch. With smoothies this good, I feel like they made the right choice going with Lemonade Parade.

Jenny and I will work with the rest of our classmates to see how this Restaurant Row fits with the current plans with the Laffite Greenway Project and the Mid-City Market scheduled to break ground as soon as this month and reach completion in 2014. We plan to ask the following questions:

1.    What neighborhoods contribute/are affected by the Restaurant Row?

2.    How does the Laffite Greenway Project and Mid-City Market compete/assist the established area?

3.    Why is this a Restaurant Row?

4.    How did it get to be a Restaurant Row?

5.   What is the future for the area?

6.   How are the restaurants related with the community/ with activists inside the community?

Jenny and I are working up interview questions and are planning to visit both places this week. Hopefully we’ll have interview results for the next blog post (depending on owners schedules). That’s all for now. Handing the torch to Troung. Good luck you guys.

“This is NOT a Cannoli” (But What Is?)

The very first day I went in to Brocato’s I was overwhelmed by the sheer variety of confectionary delights.  Some things were familiar to me as things that are distinctly Italian even though I myself may not have had them before.  There were jars of candy coated Almonds, a variety of biscotti to choose from, spumoni, and rum cake. Then there were the cannoli.  Or at least I thought they were cannoli.  However, they were listed as cannocini with a small sign below, distinctly stating: “This is NOT a cannoli.”  I was intrigued, because knowing what they were not did not help me in figuring out precisely what they were.  They appeared to be Italian cream filled cylinders, and I was failing to distinguish the difference.

My confusion regarding Brocato’s wares involved their frozen treats as well.  During our interview, Arthur Brocato repeatedly referred to his frozen concoctions as “Italian ice creams”.  I had considered them to be gelatos and ices.  When I looked to their website for clarification, I noticed the following: “For the true connoisseur, Brocato’s offers a complete selection of “gelato” (Italian for ice cream) featuring all natural imported Sicilian flavorings from chestnut to moka to amaretto.”

So, according to Brocato’s, “gelato” is Italian for “ice cream”.  Not being convinced that there wasn’t a bigger difference, I scoured the internet, and after looking through numerous Chowhound posts, Wikipedia postings, About.com answers and endless other streams of running commentary on the subject, I gathered that the general consensus is that gelato actually contains milk and cream as opposed to just cream and that the fact that is seems to be superbly creamy in comparison to its ice cream counterpart has more to do with the fact that it is mixed slowly enough that air doesn’t whip in, allowing for a much denser creamy texture.  As for the cannocini: when I finally gathered the determination to display my ignorance of Italian desserts and ask for the difference, I was told that they are filled with sweetened custard filling rather than sweetened ricotta as the cannoli are.

I bring up the cannoli and gelato examples not because I wish to nitpick Brocato’s selections and word choices but because I think they serve as excellent examples when it comes to the endless debate on authenticity. If Brocato’s chooses not to call its Italian Ice Cream “gelato”, does it make it any less authentic? Furthermore, if one is to consider the new twists to old tradition, such as spumoni cheesecake, then where does authenticity come in to question? Are we to assume that if it isn’t traditional it isn’t authentic?  If that’s the case, then nothing new or innovative would ever fit the definition, we’d be stuck in time forever, slaves to authenticity.

Several people have asked me how I feel about Juan’s Flying Burrito (another of my research subjects on the row) when compared with El Rinconcito or Fiesta Latina.  In other words, is Juan’s “authentic” Mexican food?  I would say that it all depends on the definition of authenticity.  I come from a place where a burrito is food to be held, lunch packed to go.  At Juan’s the burritos barely fit on the plate and they are often drenched in sauces.  Grasping one would be highly inadvisable. Does it make them something other than a burrito? Not if Juan’s says that’s what they are.

Distinguishing Nationality and Ethnicity: The Food Factor

Where does nationality end and ethnicity begin? On the surface there seems to be an easy answer. Nationality is expressed in the form of governmental controls in which the individual pledges some type allegiance and in turn receives protections and other social services. Ethnicity on the other hand seems to supersede those limitations by including anyone who speaks a particular language, shares in origin beliefs or customs, and/or claims heritage in similar roots. Ethnicity when framed in this way seems much more inclusive.

Foods, and more particularly food ways, seem to challenge the broad sweeping inclusiveness of ethnicity. Nearly all of the restaurateurs gracing our study area seem to strive to stand out as individuals while simultaneously maintaining an adherence to the broader expectations of their potential customers.

Part of the dinning decor at El Rinconsito 216 S. Carrollton Ave.

I began recalling that the meals I have eaten at El Rinconcito – Breakfast, lunch, or dinner – have all been served with soft warmed tortillas. This did not seem out of place prior to my Colombian trip– hence the lack of blog entries – where I feasted on amazing national and regional foods. None of which included even a single tortilla shell. There were close equivalents, of course, known as arepas, but their function seems closer aligned with the pita. Arepas are often stuffed with a meat, cheese, or egg, and either grilled or fried pre or post stuffing. The breakfast ones served on the coastal regions often contained fish or shrimp and were by far my absolute favorite.

Excited to share in this cuisine with my wife I quickly looked over the El Rinconcito menu when I got home and found that despite the obvious Colombian influence, the menu was lacking in the unique food stuffs I found in either urban or rural dinning. Warm tortillas now seem out of place when I go there. Despite their lack of belonging in the South American foodways, however, I do still eat every one.

La Taqueria Guerrero at 208 S. Carrollton Ave. New Orleans

Some locations, like Taqueria Guerrero Mexico, Angelo Brocato’s Italian Ice Cream & Pastry, and soon an Italian Pie, are able to easily present national, and even regional, foods because ethnicity and nationality have become synonymous within some categories. Other places, like Theo’s Pizza, Mandina’s, and Juan’s Flying Burrito all claim a type of individuality by expressing a possessiveness over their cuisine variations. Whether the claim is to a particular lineage or place many of the restaurants in our study area claim a similar possessiveness.

Menu for Fiesta Latina of New Orleans

Among the restaurants I am currently studying –Fiesta Latina, El Rinconcito, Taqueria Guerrero, and WOW Café and Wingery – each applies differing regional ties to their menus. Fiesta Latina claims to specialize in Mexican and Central American foods, while Taqueria Guerrero offers more familiar Mexican cuisine. El Rinconcito defines itself as serving Central American and South American dishes. And WOW Café and Wingery – a Louisiana original – has sauce selections named on ethnic expectations – Asian, Bombay, and Polynesian – as well as more regionally specific selections – Texas, Acadian, and Kansas City.

What I want to know is this: what are some national and ethnic foods that you are most fond of? How do the versions of those foods stand up when exported out of their original place of consumption and creation? Do restaurants need to adopt some form of homogenization in order to be successful?