Brocato’s: Bringing a Tradition to New Orleans

Believe it or not, the human inclination for frozen desserts dates all the way back to Ancient Roman and Egyptian times. Before electricity had even been a thought, frozen desserts were made out of snow gathered from the mountain tops and kept underground to keep it cold. It wasn’t until 1565 that a Florentinian cook named Bernardo Buontalenti invented the “modern icecream”. Using Bernardo’s new recipe and innovative refrigeration techniques, a Sicilian fisherman named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli created the first ice cream machine. With Italy being the birthplace of both modern ice cream and Angelo Brocato Sr., it is no wonder that Angelo went on to open the most infamous ice cream shop in all of New Orleans.

Picture of A detail of hieroglyph with an egyptian eating icecream

Angelo Brocato was born in Cefalu, Sicily which is about 90 miles from Palermo. Due to the need to support his family during financially difficult times, he didn’t attend school and instead went right to work. At the age of twelve, he began an apprenticeship at an ice cream shop in Palermo. He and his brother worked in several pastry shops and gelaterias around the city and with time, young Angelo mastered the pastry and gelato trade.

                   Gelato in Firenze Note Cards (Set of 10)
zoom

It is important to note that Angelo began making ice cream before you could just pick up a gallon at the local grocery store, before ice cream was shipped across the country for mass consumption. Angelo was learning in a time that meant you had a connection to the dessert, and it was something that could be mastered. At the time, gelato was being made in large barrels and long knives were used to scrape and mix the cream as it froze, much like the “old fashioned” ice cream makers you can buy today. Gelato was poured into loaf-shaped molds and sliced for serving, rather than large pre-made cartons to be scooped. Italian ices were served as soon as they were made which meant they were fresh and soft. Sicilian desserts were made according to the calendar. Baked goods would be served until Easter and cold desserts would be served during summer months.

Ice Cream Maker

At the age of 18, Angelo joined the Italian Navy. As soon as he came out of the Navy he began cutting sugar cane on a plantation in Louisiana. As soon as he had made enough money to bring his family over, he moved to New Orleans and opened his first shop in the predominantly Italian area of the French quarter which at the time was on Decatur Street right off of Ursulines. The shop in the quarter stayed open until 1981 which is when they moved to their location on Carrollton in Mid-city.

Angelo Brocato, Sr. with his sons Angelo Jr., Joseph and Rosario in his original French Quarter store

Even amidst modern technology and commercialized ice cream, Brocato kept the traditional gelato and pastry making alive. Brocato made a rich custard based gelato, a multitude of biscotti, cassata cake filled with ricotta cheese and iced with marzipan, candied fruit and almonds, lemon-filled “grandmother” cake, torta della nonna and marzipan using “pasta reale” (royal paste). Although arduous and extremely time consuming, Brocato would candy his own fruit which consisted of apples, pears, oranges and cherries.

IMG_1392

The first ice cream he made was a torroncino, which is a cinnamon and almond ice cream Which is still made and served the same today: in blocks and sliced. Although some of the traditional uses of ice cream and dessert making have died off, Brocato’s has impacted the meaning of ice cream in New Orleans and is and whether you’re heading to Brocato’s for coffee, cookies, spumoni or gelato, it is a timeless social staple for all the true dessert lovers out there.

War—It’s Good for Pizza

War.  What is it good for?

A question posed by one of the most popular protest songs of all time. “War” by Edwin Starr does indeed have an answer to the worth of war—it’s good for absolutely nothing.  C’mon, sing along with me.

War…Huh…Yeah!  Whaaaat is it good for? Absolutely Nothing.  Good God, y’all!
Say it again y’all!

The value of war has a vastly different definition here in restaurant row.  War is actually good for the pizza business.

Pizza Wars has concluded its final week highlighting the various pizza establishments in New Orleans.  Pizza Wars is a competition between participating restaurants promoting “A NOLA Pizza Experience.”  You receive a pizza passport that can be stamped at each restaurant and upon completion you fill out a survey and vote for all your favorites—including: Best Thin Crust; Best Specialty Pizza; Best Beer Selection; Best Deep Dish; Best Atmosphere; and (click here for) your OVERALL favorite pizza joint.

The contest winner receives a grand prize of a pair of Jazz Fest Brass Passes while 20 others can win gift certificates and pizza parties.  The odds of winning appear pretty good.  The lack of publicity and advertising for this promotion seems to favor either pizza connoisseurs or industry insiders that can compare talents or vie for bragging rights.  Obtaining 10 stamps can be adventurous and fun yet time consuming and expensive—hey it’s war anything goes…

Yikes–OK, almost anything.

What I find fascinating about Pizza Wars is that this is both friendly and competitive.  It’s about discovering a different experience, taste, and style of pizza.  It showcases diversity and various strengths.  It shines a spotlight on a particular cuisine in a city known for culinary creativity.

There are 10 participating restaurants, a couple of which are local chains with multiple locations.  However, there are 14 categories to vote for your favorites.

Photo Credit Ian McNulty

Basically, there’s plenty of space for everyone to be a winner.  It suggests that there’s confidence in the industry and that there are options for any desired style of local pizza.  This is a similar phenomenon here in our restaurant row where clustering is a means to success.

I’m curious to see the same war in an economic downturn.  Would we see this same competitive camaraderie?  I suppose you could argue that we are in such a recession—yet are we experiencing the same economic climate as the rest of the nation?  Are we still rebuilding from Katrina or still utilizing federal funds insulating our economy?  Certainly this area is still extremely attractive for continued investments as can be seen by the continued growth of the Lafitte Greenway.  In a down economic environment, I could envision the industry galvanized to such an extent that there would be an increase of “warring” cooperation.

Photo credit Ian McNulty

If you didn’t get an opportunity to tour your local warring pizza establishments don’t worry.   Once a war stops another one is about to begin.  In fact, check out this month’s Pizza Magazine where one of Theo’s owners, James “Jammer” Orintas discusses the benefits of cross promotion and the prospects of future Pizza warfare.  A second Pizza War is in the works for this summer (or 2013 according to The facebook) and will benefit a local children’s band.  Now, that’s something to we can come together and fight over.  So get your passports ready because war is around the corner.  Now that’s a great answer.

Photo Credit Eileen K. at Yelp.com

War.  What is it good for?  THAT is absolutely something.

Although, I like mine without mushrooms.

Peace.

By M. Hendrickson

Berry and Brocato’s

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new Midcity Market occurred on March 20, 2012.  Mayor Mitch Landrieu was present to commemorate the new development.

“Mid-City Market is critical for the continued revitalization of this important corridor. Though they were once blighted and vacant properties, this project will bring properties back into commerce and will interact nicely with Lafitte Greenway, which itself will spur activity and redevelopment across the city. Mid-City Market will bring hundreds of new jobs, new sales and property tax dollars and improved quality of life for Orleans Parish residents.”

As it is with most local development, we are reminded of the travesty of Hurricane Katrina, and how we, collectively as a city, are still in the process of recovery.  However, I believe that revitalization is not the appropriate word to use.  The area of our study has been prolific, profitable, and in my opinion, vital from the very beginning.  The new development will undoubtedly bring jobs and tax dollars to the city as a whole, however, there seems to be little consideration invested in the Midcity Market’s impact on the neighborhood itself.

Of the new shops and restaurants, one that is opening is a Pinkberry.  Based out of Los Angeles, Pinkberry offers a hip, healthy ice cream alternative in a very modern way.  Based on the original success of Red Mango, Pinkberry brought the frozen yogurt fad from Korea to America. The stores are often named a combination of an exciting adjective plus plant substance (PinkberryOrange LeafTutti Frutti, etc.)

Despite this time of economic hardship, these cookie cutter froyo shops have been materializing within developing cities at an exponential rate.  Much like Pinkberry’s neighbor, Whole Foods, businesses are capitalizing on people’s desire and ability to spend more money when they believe that their purchase is healthy.  Though frozen yogurt is not quite a health food, it has many less calories than its creamy competitors, and offering fruit toppings alongside the usual syrup and sprinkles reinforces their image. These self-service businesses are ultimately profitable, requiring only enough staff to operate a cash register and tend to the yogurt, while allowing customers to feel empowered in their yogurt selections.  Unlike most frozen yogurt establishments of a similar variety, Pinkberry does not allow guests to serve their own yogurt, although you are given free reign on combinations of flavors and toppings.  With prices as low as $.20 for an ounce of ice cream combined with deceptively large cups and theoretically ‘endless’ toppings, one snack can come out at around $10.  The neon colors, upbeat music, and ultra modern décor cater to a very stylized audience of hipsters and new agers, people who crave the ultra sleek empowerment that Pinkberry provides.

Image

I presumed that the best way to understand the impact of the Midcity Market is to understand how the new and old will relate with each other.  To do this, I visited the preexisting Pinkberry, located at the corner of Magazine and Joseph St.  In accordance with my expectations, the space was very open and bright, with light blue walls and bright green accents.  The decorative colors seemed to reflect the beautiful summer’s day that was happening outside of the glass façade.  I asked for a modest blend of chocolate and salted caramel yogurt, which seemed like a boring dollop of island in the ocean of my paper bowl.  The couple ahead of me was ordering surplus kiwi for their shared bowl, while the school girls behind me seemed to be calculating a way to combine every form of chocolate available.  When checking out, the girl who greeted me asked if I had found everything I wanted, which I had, as it was excessively labeled.  She was quite friendly, but not exactly personable.  I got away only spending four dollars for a sizeable portion of ice cream, though I still felt somewhat guilty for wasting so much packaging on such a small meal.  There were not very many people there on a Monday afternoon, however, the area was bustling with the usual sort of people who populate the Magazine street shopping district. There were many men in business attire stopping for lunch and many SUV driving women fighting for a space in the Whole Foods parking garage, amid the sea of young girls boutique shopping.

My experience with Angelo Brocato’s was much different.  Unlike Pinkberry, there is no parking lot, and so I had to walk a few blocks from my car.  It was a Tuesday night and most tables were preoccupied with families.  There was a long line blocking the glass case full of treats, and the small space was very loud with many overlapping conversations.  The workers bustled around one another, each of them working together to quickly serve each guest. Unlike at Pinkberry, the people here seemed connected to each other.  The employees and the customers joked with each other, while families talked at their old wire tables.  I ordered the St. Joseph chocolate almond, and the woman ahead of me in line turned around and reaffirmed my choice by giving me a thumbs up and informing me that she too had ordered the chocolate almond.  The decorations were antique and quaint, much like a relative’s home.  The portrait of Angelo Brocato looked down at everyone from above the counter, yet everyone in the restaurant seemed very focused on the people they were out with rather than the surroundings, much unlike the ultra efficient and impersonal attitude of those at Pinkberry.  There were guests of every race and age, from the group of old women in the corner drinking coffee to the young teenagers on what looked like a first date.

The difference in seniority, style, and audience are very apparent within these two competing stores.  Pinkberry is run with a modern sense of business, primarily focused on profitability and speed, while Angelo Brocato’s retains the slow paced personal experience associated with an aging way of business.  The two stores offer similar wares, at relatively similar prices; however, Pinkberry has an entire franchise backing their success, while Brocato’s remains family owned.  Brocato’s has always thrived on being the only consistent place to get desert amid so many restaurants, but the introduction of Pinkberry will undoubtedly remove a large fraction of Brocato’s potential business.  In this way, Brocato’s is the most susceptible to adverse effects of the Midcity Market. Although there are obvious differences in the experience associated with Angelo Brocato’s and Pinkberry Inc., will the draw of nostalgia be able to keep Brocato’s business afloat?

Going behind the scenes of Venezia and Lemonade Parade

Hello, my name is Jennifer. Together my partner Deyna and I were placed on an assignment to understand the neighborhood of Canal Street and Carrollton Avenue. The center of our focus was Venezia and Lemonade Parade. My previous blog covered the history of these restaurants and some online reviews posted by customers. The aspiration of this blog is to go more into depth with my groups interviews and observations.

Venezia Restaurant

The results uncovered in the last blog focused on the interview with the bartender working at Venezias. Shortly after this interview, Deyna arrived. We sat down and ordered our drinks and some food. The owner noticed us both sitting at the bar and walked over to begin his interview.He introduced himself as Anthony Bolonga. As he began to describe the pride he has for his restaurant, we realized our list of questions was not needed. We then slipped our notes away and listened intently.  Bolonga started by saying “family is important” and since this place had so much family importance, when Katrina hit he decided that the restaurant was too significant to end with a tragedy.

 Katrina

 

 

Bologna stated that his passion for the restaurant business was influenced by his father, a restaurant owner himself. Ever since his father showed him the restaurant life, he knew that one day he wanted to do the same thing. So when the opportunity of being the future owner of Venezia presented itself, he rushed in to pull it off the market.  According to the owner, running a business such as this one is “about working with the market.” He continued by asking, “What good quality product can I buy at a price customers are willing to pay?” He also said that he does not feel threatened about outside restaurants or businesses, because they help one another out. For instance if someone decides to go to Medinas for dinner one night, they might look down the road and see Venezias and think about stopping there next time.At this point, the manager asked us if we needed any additional information and after we assured him that we had enough and that we were grateful for his time, he left us to enjoy our meal.

 Lemonade Parade

After a few failed attempts to set up an interview with the owners of Lemonade Parade, we decided to understand Lemonade Parade through what we could observe and read about online.  The building is small and fairly easy to miss if it was not for their bright yellow sign featuring “happy fruit.” From the outside there are a few tables and chairs for outside dining.  The inside was a bit small but this did not seem to concern the large group of high school boys that followed shortly behind me. After ordering a drink, I quickly moved aside to allow the group to place an order. After the last boy ordered, I ran up to talk with the employees, but was unsuccessful. For some reason they closed the windows and went to the back where they were out of sight. Not sure what to do from there, I thought perhaps it was best to not bother them with an interview, especially considering that they were unresponsive to emails and facebook requests. 

        

As I walked outside I noticed that the group of boys was still lingering outside on the patio chairs. This seemed like a good time to catch some interviews. Following a brief introduction and description of the assignment, the boys happily agreed to answer some questions. The first question was, “are you from here and familiar with the Carrollton neighborhood?” A few boys shook their head yes, while the others remained nervous in the back. The next question asked was, what brought them to Carrollton and more specifically to Lemonade Parade. One boy, responded that they were students from a nearby school. They agreed that Lemonade Parade is a good place for students to meet up because of its close proximity to the school grounds and affordable drinks. Another boy commented that since the restaurants are so close to one another, they do not have to have a car to dine out and find variation in food options. They felt that Lemonade Parade was not exactly representative of New Orleans, but their cold drinks helped with the summer heat. They also stated that they felt the restaurants along Carrollton helped each other by drawing in more people and helped the neighborhood by giving more options for people to choose. After listening to their responses, it was apparent that they were ready to be on their way, so I decided to end the interview with those brief responses.

 

Canal Street Bistro Beginnings and Contributions

Canal Street Bistro is a small and quaint white table cloth restaurant located at 3903 Canal Street. It is surrounded by a multitude of other businesses such as Home Finance Bank, Jacob Schoen and Son’s Funeral Home,Redemption , and Mandina’s. The building has been around for a few decades, originally it was built as a residential home but it was split up and the bottom floor opened for commercial use. It has been home to many businesses mostly law offices and finance companies, but it was also home the infamous Eco Café, which is where our story begins.

According to front of house manager Seth Gray in an interview we conducted, “Eco Café had a bad reputation that we are still trying to recover from. They had terrible food and slow service.” Eco Café once served coffee, vegan, and vegetarian dishes. About three years ago Monica Ramsey took over the Eco Café. Monica has recently won the up and coming business woman of the year from NALB, and own the Canal St. Inn a block away from the restaurant, as well as a finance company in the area. She is a local and lives in the area so when she saw an opportunity to start a new business venture she pounced.  When she acquired the property the building was completely destroyed and in keeping with the one good tradition of Eco Café which is being environmentally friendly, she remodeled the building with almost 65% recycled material. In addition to that she installed heat controlled windows made out of recycled glass.

After remodeling the building Monica wanted to distance Canal Street Bistro away from the bad reputation of Eco Café. To do this they incorporated the Eco Café menu as a “cornerstone” but expanded to other diets as well. Another thing they kept true to was using local farm fresh ingredients in their menu. They are so committed to this farm fresh local concept that they change their menu to suit food availability of the seasons. They also have a tent at the local Crescent City’s Farmers Market to establish better farmer connections and to help the local farmers and fisheries.  Monica’s overall goal for establishing this restaurant was to create something new and improved for the New Orleans food tradition. She saw it as an opportunity to take it where she thinks the future of New Orleans food will be, not to recapture what it was (reference to Pre-Katrina).

Monica then added Chef Guillermo Peters to the family. Chef Guillermo is a German Mexican who is more than passionate about food. He grew up in Mexico and started cooking as child with his mother. He specializes in Mesoamerican cuisine and strives for food that is simple and tastes good.  Chef Guillermo Peters once owed an authentic Mexican restaurant in Kenner which was very successful and before that he owned a successful Salsa company for 20 years. He decided to start a career in food when he was working at an auto shop and cooked for his costumers. From there he discovered he had a unique style and wanted to expand. His food philosophy is “Respect the ingredient if it is fresh you don’t have to cover it up. No fusion it creates confusion” The chef is so particular about the quality of his food that he has no qualms about send food back to vendors if it does not pass is personal inspection and if the quality is good no price is a problem.

The final ingredient to make Canal Street Bistro Complete was Seth Gray the front of house manager. Seth had bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of New Orleans, with a focus on the relationship between food and culture, and the cultural distinctiveness of Latin America. Seth brought the final organization to Canal Street Bistro. Together all three made an excellent restaurant with food that is literally to die for and for once it’s worth its price. The restaurant strives for a more up class clientele and specializes in breakfast and lunch however they have dinners on Friday and Saturday, and this month they will be expanding their dinner hours to include Wednesday and Thursday. In the beginning business was slow going and they relied mostly on the other restaurants for business. But now as the word of mouth spreads it is picking up and they have now have their very own regulars.

On April 4, 2012 we were invited to their reception. We had a blast. They gave us free wine and tequila (a love of Chef Guillermo) as well as samples of their menu. The reception was intended to help network the restaurant to other restaurant owners in the New Orleans area. Many people showed up and all had a good time, even Poppy Tooker showed up. All in all it was a great evening made better by the fact that it was free and I got to meet some pretty interesting people. It also goes to show that Monica is not all about making money she wants to be a part of the community as well as contribute to it in any way she can.

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!

Canal St Bistro: An Experience to be Had!

By Kathleen DeMajo

Canal St Bistro is located at 3903 Canal St in Mid-City. Records exist of this building dating back to the 1960s. The building’s history reflects the neighborhood’s changing trends. Originally a residence, the building was split in the 1970s, and the other half became commercial. Some of the business that occupied that building in the past are: ABC Credit Plan, Courtesy Finance, Arrow Loan Co, Algiers Finance, The Mid-City secretarial service, The Mid-City Legal Group, and several doctors, although I am unsure if they we’re residents of the building.

Addresses of the buildings surrounding 3903 Canal appear and disappear frequently suggesting abandoned buildings, possible economic difficulties, or symptoms of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. However, through the years, we can see a steady source of revenue flow through 3903 Canal, which makes it an object of interest to those interested in the changing neighborhood.

Then and Now: Canal St

Image

1950s and 2012

Image

 

Image

Carrollton and Canal Intersection 1950s and 2012 Image

The setting: The neighborhood has a colorful mixture of buildings and architecture as well as things which have come to be known as typical New Orleans. Conveniently, Monica’s hotel, The Canal St Inn, is located a block away, making it the perfect distance for a leisurely stroll  to the restaurant for any meal of the day.  The streets are lined with palm trees and oak trees. The funeral home next door, something that would normally be considered unappetizing, is bright orange and so lovely that it becomes a landmark for people unfamiliar to the neighborhood as well as  neutralizes  death among life and food as part of our everyday lives.

Image

Then and Now: 1950s and 2012 The Neighbors 

Image

 The Building

3909 Canal is large and pink with an element of playfulness, sophistication, and social awareness. There is pleasant outdoor seating which gives the option of being a participant of the neighborhood as you watch people walk by. The decor of the building is clean and fresh feeling. There is a sense of class and relevance among the white walls lined with local art, and the comfortably cushioned wood and wicker chairs. There is music so soft that it is a whisper. The margarita, the Bistro’s signature drink, is made from the fresh locally grown ingredients. These drinks are so fresh and perfectly balanced with top shelf alcohol.

When entering the restaurant I was welcomed warmly by the owner, Monica Ramsey. Image

She is very involved with her restaurant and personally greets and seats her customers. She creates relationships with the neighborhood and going to her restaurant is like going to a friend’s house. To read more about Monica’s accomplishments in environmentally progressive business practices, check out this blog, from where I borrowed the picture above.

 

Food: Although well above my price range (the poor college student), I actually considered going into debt to be able eat at Canal St Bistro on a regular basis. When trying to think of a word to describe this restaurant, several come to mind: clean, pure, fresh, whole, balanced, savory, creative, and lets not forget delicious. Executive Chef Guirllermo Peters, specializes in mesoamerican cuisine. he is a charismatic and wise man who has an intense passion for food. He enjoys being in an environment where he gets to design each dish from start to finish. Chef creates each dish purely for the art of the food itself. He has specific recipes of his own that he uses and customers do not ask for substitutions in their foods because they are there for what chef wants to make for them, not what they want chef to make. Such great respect comes from knowing that out of everyone, chef has the highest expectations for the foods. He proudly explains to us that when trucks of fish or produce come to deliver at the restaurant, if the items do not meet Chef’s standards, he will send them away. The quality of the food is always his number one priority.

I would like to give a special thanks to Seth Gray (Front of House Manager) who was an exceptional help in providing information about the resteraunt and the neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Ruby Slipper is Not Your Typical Breakfast Joint

When I first walked into the ruby slipper, I was almost instantly floored by the amazing smells that filled the entire dining area. There were only 3 full tables in the entire restaurant, but somehow it smelled like they were cooking a feast in the kitchen. I arrived there at around 11:40am. I decided to get there before noon so I could witness the lunch rush madness. I ordered some tea and a delicious omelette  and sat by myself observing everything.   And sure enough, right at around 12:15 the place started to quickly fill up. It seemed like every minute, the waitress had to seat a new table. The front dining area filled up and people were being directed to sit in the back of the house. I asked my waitress if this was a normal weekday lunch crowd. She said it was a little busier than usual, but not completely uncommon. The crowd was mostly filled with young professions and students. I saw two girls doing homework while they ate. It was nice to see I wasn’t the only one!                                                                                                                           

The atmosphere was very nice and comfortable, but I have to admit—the omelette was delicious! It is no wonder why the people come in droves. It was a simple omelet with mushrooms and cheese, yet it tasted divine. Then I remembered that The Ruby Slipper proudly uses locally made products, and locally-based food sellers. According to their website, their, “sausage (pork breakfast links, chorizo, chicken sausage patties, andouille, and more) is made right in Mid-City, New Orleans by Creole Country Sausage. Their Dairy products come to us from Kleinpeter Farms Dairy; a Louisiana-based, family owned and operated dairy. Their breads are all locally baked and delivered fresh to our door by Leidenheimer, Wild Flour Breads, and La Louisiane Bakery”.  The Ruby Slipper also has a garden across the street from their Mid-City location, where they grow many of the herbs and vegetables used in their kitchen, as well as using a local recycling service and composting coffee grinds. So that’s what made this omelet better than the one at IHOP! Well, that and the service is much better. The Ruby Slipper is definitely not your typical breakfas joint.

                                                                                                                                                                            Since my last blog entry, I have done some research on the location of the Ruby Slipper. The only thing I have been able to find out is that before it was converted into the Slipper after Katrina, it was a rundown cornerstone that was famous for its many loiterers. This makes me wonder what the neighborhood was like before the Slipper. From I could see it was a pretty normal New Orleans neighborhood—there was street parking only, it was relatively quiet, and the sidewalks were pretty torn up. Did the neighborhood like that the corner store was closed down, or do people feel resentful that a neighborhood gathering place (of sorts) was tuned into a hipster eatery?            

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.