Consumption of Experience

By Danielle Boudreau

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In “The Restaurants Book: Ethnographies of Where We Eat” (David Beriss and David Sutton, eds. www.bergpublishers.com) Derek Pardue talks of the “consumption of experience” whereby “exoticness and familiarity are purchased scenes in which food and eating experience play a significant role” (2007:67).  Design, decor, and music play into this experience almost as much as the patrons and food itself.  The Hispanic restaurants of our neighborhood each contribute in some manner to this consumption of experience.  Whether it is as a more “authentic” offering of Latin American food, such as at Taqueria Guerrero and El Rinconcito, a fusion of cultures, such as the New Orleans inspired version of Hispanic food at Juan’s Flying Burrito, or Mexican fusion cuisine offered at the upscale Canal Street Bistro, one can be sure these restaurants stay busy with locals for various reasons. They each offer a different “experience”, depending on one’s mood, so it seems as though they are not in competition.  While I might want a Mardi Gras Indian Taco at Juan’s one night, the next may find me hankering for some flautas at Felipe’s. Such is the key to the success of these restaurants in our study (not to mention, all offer unbelievable cuisine!!)

ImageImageFelipe’s Taqueria (http://www.felipestaqueria.com)

 

 

Local (grown)

By Danielle Boudreau

The first concept of “local” that we will examine is that of origin.  I.e., food that is cultivated locally.  Two of our restaurants on the row that serve Hispanic food vehemently support this notion of “local”.  Chef Guillermo Peters and Owner Monica Ramsey, of Canal Street Bistro insist on using local products, particularly in their choices of seafood (http://www.canalstreetbistro.com). Co-owners of El Rinconcito (http://www.elrinconcitocaferestaurant.com), Mervin Duque and his mother Maria Louisa, insist that they only use “fresh” ingredients, which they believe is to be grown locally, in their Central American cuisine. Both restaurants take great pride in their culinary creations, and they believe this pride can only be cultivated by paying tribute to the local area of New Orleans.  How is this an important contribution to the Restaurant Row? Not only are they offering fresh, delectable dishes for those residents and visitors alike who crave either traditional or innovative Hispanic fare, but they are contributing to the local economy by attempting to secure their seafood, meats, and produce from the area in which they conduct business.

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The Red Door Lounge

The Red Door Lounge is described to me as having “Mid-City charm.”  Online reviews, as well as the bar’s homepage, consistently use the same adjective.  The bar’s bio states that it is “a cozy place for regulars and an inviting space for newcomers.” Not being overly familiar with Mid-City, I wanted  to see what about the bar gave it such obvious Mid-City charm.  Then I hoped to discover what Mid-City charm even meant – the term seems to be used and understood by locals with some frequency, as if there were a particular qualifying criteria for such a description.  

The front door of the bar is angled in such a way that if viewed in isolation, it would appear to be a corner lot. However, it is not.  It is positioned between Taqueria Guerrero and a discount mattress and futon store.  Charming.  Inside it is narrow, long, dark, and last night, hot; the air conditioning had gone out earlier that day.  The walls are lined with a mix of (reproduction?) nostalgia, Saints stuff, some acrylic art, photos from the flood, and bar events promotion boards.  There will be free food for next weekend’s Saint’s game.  The Red Door also offers a variety of activities, other than drinking.  One can gamble using video poker machines, play Wii, darts, pool, or watch TV.  It also appears that you could have a dance party.  There is a disco ball all the way in back by the pool table.

The crowd seemed almost entirely regulars and many service industry workers. This could be in part because the Red Door offers a discount for industry people.  The bartender was very friendly and the drinks were extremely cheap.  Though I did not order a $10 bucket of beer or a $5 pitcher, if I had it would have been served with a bag of ice floating to maintain drinking temperature.

The Red Door during a Saint's game

I understand that the bar was originally opened in 1940, but after Katrina, was bought and renovated by its current owner.  I have come across reviewers that long for the old Red Door, saying that the new one is “straight out of suburbia.” There are others, though, that feel it is the “perfect neighborhood bar.”  One such blogger goes so far as the have specific requirements for earning this title, requirements worth reading as they paint a vivid picture of the Red Door – http://millyonair.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/new-orleans-part-iii-the-red-door/ .  Despite the heat and the 90’s pop grunge playing last night (later changed to Erykah Badu, which was great) and the sports-bar-feel of the Red Door, I was charmed.  There was an odd assortment of effects that did this; street car going by, holiday string lights, the fact that the bar decorum makes it seem as if they are always hosting a party, and that Restaurant Row and the Red Door Lounge have a slightly dilapidated look and feel to them.  It feels like a neighborhood here, maybe that is “Mid-City charm.”.