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 (Culture)

By Danielle Boudreau

 

The second of our three concepts of “local” refers to local culture.  The food served at the establishment does not necessarily have to be grown in the garden next door for it to still represent the local culture. For instance, the self-dubbed “Creole Taqueria,” Juan’s Flying Burrito (http://www.juansflyingburrito.com), integrates Latin American culture with New Orleans’ culture beautifully. Albeit “Americanized” cuisine, with plenty of cheese and variations of sour cream, it is still a sit down establishment where family and friends can congregate over burritos, tacos, quesadillas or enchiladas, much to the tradition of the Latin American way. Locals and visitors alike frequent this place- its hard to get a table around lunchtime any day of the week! As there are numerous people in business attire as well as scrubs, it seems that Juan’s is the hot spot for taking a break from the daily grind.The “Mardi Gras” tacos, coupled with a full Saints drink menu and décor made from Mardi Gras beads give one the impression that the New Orleans vibe is still seeping in at this establishment. Those wanting to fully integrate both worlds can purchase a T-shirt sporting the logo “Hecho in Nola”. Or, perhaps they can start a New Orleans traditional “second line” parade down  Carrollton Avenue headed by a Mariachi band? Anything is possible in New Orleans where all culture is welcome, but local culture is celebrated fiercely.ImageImageImage

“Local” (ethnicity)

By Danielle Boudreau

The last concept of local we should examine is a bit hard to articulate.  It involves representing the concept of “local” for those who may be far from home.  El Rinconcito, Taqueria Guererra, and even Canal Street Bistro, on some levels, all successfully accomplish this task for the immigrants and transplants who have been here since Hurricane Katrina.  In terms of decor, el Rinconcito and Taqueria Guererra both remind me of the many restaurants I visited in Central America.  Spacious, brightly colored, and with minimal decorations, the focus of the experience in these restaurants is on the authenticity of the food and the company one keeps while there.

Taqueria Guerrero is a restaurant that is “true” to the Mexican culture, offering up native dishes such as “Pollo Empanizado”, “Chiles Rellenos” and “Arroz con Frijoles” (a Mexican alternative to the New Orleanian Red Beans and Rice).It also serves as a place for local immigrants to maintain contact with their respective families back home- there is a separate counter where people can purchase prepaid calling cards and other items, a set-up similar to the Hispanic “pulpuria” (a convenience store sometimes located in restaurants or other popular gathering spots).

El Rinconcito translates literally to “the little corner”, and one can see that a more casual meaning of this restaurant’s name refers to the little corner of the world that it represents- that is, a loyal rendition of Central American cuisine. The name further translates to a place where the Central American immigrants find comfort in companionship after a hard day’s work. One does not find this place empty after 4pm- on the contrary- the bar has only room to stand, as does the room with the pool table, while the tables of the restaurant are full of those wishing to unwind and experience a little piece of “home” in their own little corner of the world, located in New Orleans, as well as local neighbors wishing to taste some “authentic” Central American cuisine.

As for Canal Street Bistro, Chef Peters attempts to use ingredients from the five native cultures of the Americas that may not be commonplace in our local New Orleanian culture.  Not only do American residents get to taste and experience these other cultures, but it provides some familiarity and comfort for those who are immigrants to get an authentic taste of “home”.

 

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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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La Cultura que Representa la Cultura (Culture Representing Culture)

By Danielle Boudreau

People would like for everything related to “culture” to specifically represent the city, but it is not that simple. Various ethnic backgrounds, some distinct and some blended, that inhabit a space, are what form the basis of our city culture that we try to “define”. Here in our Restaurant Row neighborhood, Hispanic culture is presented in myriad ways that all contribute to the collective society and success of the Mid City area. Since Hurricane Katrina, not only has the neighborhood of Mid City consistently thrived, but the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center shows that there has been an increase of residents in Orleans Parish who identify themselves as “Hispanic” of nearly 7%.  We will examine five restaurants, El Rinconcito, Taqueria Guerrero, Felipe’s, Juan’s Flying Burrito, and Canal Street Bistro. They are all attempts to integrate Central American culture and cuisine into Restaurant Row, but each represents a varying shade of the spectrum, under the definition of “Hispanic” culture. In the following essays, we will look at a concept called “consumption of experience”, and we will see how these restaurants contribute to three different ideas about “local”- whether they use locally grown food, represent the local culture, or represent a “local” culture for those looking for a familiarity from home- i.e. their concept of “local” via ethnicity.

 

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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

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.

Blogosphere Realizations of a Noobie Blogger

As some of you already know, an on-site (and online) exhibit at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum is going to accompany our Restaurant Row Recovery Project. We are working on the possibility of publications in scholarly journals as well. All of this seemed relatively standard for this type of project, but as to how blogging fit into this, I was clueless.

Rising Tide NOLA 5 New Media Conference Poster. Graphic Art by Greg Peters of Suspect Device (click the photo for a link to more of Greg's work)

On August 28th I discovered that we had at our disposal an entirely new media format for our project to tap into: blogging. I know this sounds odd since we have been blogging about our project for weeks now, but I never really understood the potential of such an avenue until I attended the 5th annual Rising Tide NOLA New Media Conference. Until that rainy Saturday I thought of our blog as simply a method of providing some chronological feedback on our progress, and as a possible source of topics for further exploration.

Prior to this project I was not a blogger. Until this conference I never truly understood the power, and access, blogging could provide. The new media conference (subtitled A Conference on the Future of New Orleans) changed that.

What I am somewhat familiar with is the jambalaya of emotions that go along with doing field work in New Orleans. Self doubt gets sautéed with shyness and preemptive humiliation to create the perfect discomfort food, and I had a feast before me. What did come as a surprise were the jitters I had about making our project public. The bloggers I met at the conference seemed immune to such thing. In fact, they actively strive to be public.

At this point in my life all of the conclusions and analysis of my previous work remained in a closed academic system, thus lessening potential shortfall fears. The final outcome resulted in grades in a grade book, some brief experiences and encounters with the public, and a new semester of classes. In other words, no harm, no foul. But this project is different; this project is not just for a grade. This project is for adding to the knowledge base of Anthropology, for shedding more light on the role restaurants play in New Orleans culture, and for contributing to the understanding of a New Orleans post Katrina neighborhood recovery. All of this sounds fantastic on paper (and in theory), but how can it become practical? How do we add our findings to the elusive knowledge base? How does our research, and academic fantasizing, make the way from bits of collected data to printed literature and disciplinary journals to public knowledge and discourse?

The bloggers and conference attendees– active and aware citizens – are providing us an alternative answer: new media. Part of the same media some the restaurants on our Row use to tell their own stories (a topic covered on this blog by David Beriss). Key note speaker Mac McClelland of MotherJones.com and author of For Us, Surrender Is Out Of The Question: A Story From Burma’s Never-Ending War, went so far as to say that the rise of “citizen journalist” was evidence that new media was a forerunner to pushing for cultural change and cultural awareness. I came away from this event in agreement.

Keynote spearker Mac McClelland. Photo by Bart "Editor B" Everson of b. rox (click the photo for a link to more of Editor B's work)

McClelland also spoke against the recent government, and BP, reports on the amount of oil still present in the Gulf. She argued the oil is not gone and that the seafood and restaurant industry are going to be reeling from this for a long time, a sentiment echoed by two of the restaurant owners I have interviewed. McClelland praised the blogging community of New Orleans for its dedication and passion for the city. The New Orleans blogosphere (and now us, the RRR team, to a lesser extent) are creating transparency and focus to a city in recovery.

Taking this one step further it is now apparent to me that new media can be tremendously useful for future academic recovery projects like this one. Gone are the days of the lonely anthropologist heading off to some far away exotic locale with a notebook and pencil. Technological advances like new media allow us to not only document our ongoing work, but also to achieve a level of transparency previously unattainable. Analysis and conclusions can be viewed as a process instead of an event. Consultation can come from a variety of far away sources, and perhaps most importantly, our study subjects can be involved like never before.

New media is a powerful tool. I am honored to have been invited to the conference, and am inspired to further utilize this avenue for my future anthropological and social justice work. I would like to say thank you to all those who continue to provide the community with an alternative voice.

Exploring Their Connections

One of the objectives of our Restaurant Row Recovery Project is to try to better understand how restaurants have played a role, if any, in the relationships with, and within, the neighborhood and the Greater New Orleans area.

Obviously, as businesses, they compete to provide a service in exchange for an established price. From the other side, the consumer provides the restaurant owner and his employees a means of financial support. Bottom line is that these are businesses, and profitability is fundamental to their survival. But these local establishments seem almost as dependent upon their relationships as their bottom line. After interviewing some of the owners, employees, and customers of the Row it quickly became apparent that there was much more to this story.

For starters, most of the restaurant owners interviewed by my colleagues and I have described a type of local connection fundamental to their supply chain. Some, like the owner of EcoCafe, actively engage in more grass roots community networking, by striving to buy from local farmer’s markets as much as is absolutely possible. Others like, Paul Ballard, founder and CEO of WOW Café and Wingery, as well as PJ’s Coffee, are supplied by larger firms, but are nonetheless local. Frank, owner of Rinconcito, went so far as to express a sense of loss when he mentioned decreasing his seafood order from local supplier Vincent Piazza, Jr. & Sons Seafood Incorporated due to the BP oil spew plunging the demand for seafood. These all serve as examples of restaurants playing the role of consumer and local patron, but also express how each strives to maintain a connection to place.

Afternoon Delivery

The bartender and daughter of Delmy Cruz, owner of Fiesta Latina, echoed what Paul had said about being there not just to make money, but to serve a community in need. This got me thinking about what we, as consumers, need to have in a restaurant relationship. What is it we expect to get out of a restaurant beyond a quality meal? How are those expectations met? I know I enjoy going to the places where I know the staff. Making a connection to the people who work in my favorite haunts is fundamental to it actually becoming one of my favorites.

Paul talked about his amazement with the response to first opening after the storm. He said he had never heard so many heartfelt thank you’s in his life. He recalls seeing people piling their MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat distributed by the military in the wake of Katrina) on the table while they ordered their first familiar meal in weeks. Paul says he will always remember how happy people were to be in one place eating wings of all things. To them, the folks at WOW were heroes. They brought back something familiar. They brought back a little bit of normality and Americana: beer, wings, and college football.

Above all, these examples go to show how restaurants can often play a much larger role in the neighborhood beyond providing substance to an already nourished population base.  They can serve as counselors, organizers, entertainers, neighbors, and sometimes friends.  Of course, for our study group it doesn’t hurt to have a tasty baseline from which one can operate.

Minh-City Cafe

One of my research adventures took place at Cafe Minh. It is located in what used to be Michael’s Mid-City Grill before the storm. When the latter restaurant did not re-open Post-Katrina, Chef Minh Bui decided that it would be a fitting abode for his Cafe Minh.

With his roots in Vietnam, Chef Minh got his New Orleans start cooking at places such as Emeril’s and Commander’s Palace. After mastering his skills, he developed a Vietnamese-French fusion cuisine that contains hints of local Creole cooking. His first restaurant Lemongrass was opened next to Angelo Brocato’s on Carrollton Avenue. A second location of Lemongrass located in the International House hotel was opened, and a third restaurant called 56 Degrees was also opened in the Whitney Hotel. Before Katrina, both the Carrollton location and 56 Degrees closed. After the storm, Chef Minh decided he wanted to return to Mid-City and opened Cafe Minh at its current location.

Cafe Minh fits perfectly in the Restaurant Row even though it is not physically in line with the others. About a block into Canal Street, it is still in close walking distance of the area, however. One thing we can recognize about the Restaurant Row is that even though there may be similar types of food (for instance, Wit’s Inn, Venezia, Theo’s, Papa John’s and Domino’s all have pizza), there is still enough variety throughout the restaurants that they are all able to survive. Among the Asian restaurants, you may find that Little Tokyo, Doson’s Noodle House, Yummy Yummy, and even Cafe Minh have similar items on the menu. Yet because of the creativity of the chefs, the different environments of the restaurants themselves, and the specific cravings of those searching out food, co-existing is not a problem for these places.

Another similarity I have noticed between the Asian restaurants is that the owners or head chefs all learned to cook in their birth countries. This seems to come full circle as they originally learn to cook in the authentic way of their birthplace, then they end up drifting into another type of cuisine (whether it be another Asian cuisine or something completely different), and in the end, they come back to their original style of cooking, adding a bit of their own flair. That little bit of flair and originality is what sets each of these restaurants apart from the other.

During my visit, I discovered that the food at Cafe Minh is excellent, however, when one typically thinks of the item he or she is ordering, one might not get exactly what they are expecting. For instance, when I ordered the fried eggplant, I did not expect it to be topped with mozzarella, on top of tomatoes, on top of a bed of lettuce, on top of toast. It was amazing nonetheless. This is an example of Chef Minh’s genius at work.

For dessert I had the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake, and it was divine. Colorful and divine.

Also, while visiting Cafe Minh, I immediately noticed all of the artwork on the walls. With the high ceilings and ambient lighting, I almost felt that I was in an art gallery for a moment. The bartender even told me that the artwork is rotated by several local artists throughout the year.

When wandering Mid-City and you find yourself wanting something different than the norm, try stopping by Cafe Minh. If anything, the experience is one you’re unlikely to find anywhere else on Restaurant Row.