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Steven Wells Hicks is an epicurean essayist and the author of three novels: "The Gleaner", "The Fall of Adam", and "Horizontal Adjustment," all available through amazon.com

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Orleans Dining: My Ten Best for 2011

The revised and updated 2012 New Orleans Dining: A Guide for the Hungry Visitor Craving an Authentic Experience is finally off the press and on Amazon.com, so it’s time to get back to blogging after too long of an absence. Since it’s that time of the year when everyone is putting out “10 Best” lists, and I needed a way to loosen up my typing fingers, so just for the fun of it, here’s mine.

Like anyone else’s list, it’s 100% subjective. Since it’s my list, I created the categories. Just for the hell of it, I also named a second place in each of them. I’d be curious to know how many of the twenty places you’ve visited, so if you’d be kind enough to reply with a number and the name of a restaurant I was crazing not to include, I’d like to see it.

That said, drum roll, please…..

Best Creole Classic: Galatoire’s, French Quarter

Second Place: Commander’s Palace, Garden District

Best Neighborhood Place: Charlie’s Seafood, Harahan

Second Place: Mandina’s, Mid-City

Best Bistro: Herbsaint, Central Business District

Second Place: La Provence, Lacombe

Best Cajun: Brocato’s Eat Dat, New Orleans East

Second Place: K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, French Quarter

Best Italian: Mosca’s, Avondale

Second Place: Irene’s Cuisine, French Quarter

Best Owner/Chef: Bayona (Susan Spicer), French Quarter

Second Place: Brigtsen’s (Frank Brigtsen), Riverbend

Best Poor Boys: Parkway Bakery & Tavern, Mid-City

Second Place: Seither’s, Harahan

Best Breakfast: Surrey’s Juice Bar & Café, Lower Garden District

Second Place: The Ruby Slipper, Mid-City

Best Raw Oysters: Casamento’s, Uptown

Second Place: The Red Maple Inn, Gretna

Best Down-Home: Willie Mae’s Scotch House, Tremé

Second Place: Café 615 (“Da Wabbit”), Gretna

Have I lost my mind? You tell me: hickwrites@gmail.com

Happy New Year and better times ahead.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Orleans Dining: R&O's

Perhaps the best way to describe the extensive menu
is “Round up the usual suspects.”

I’m not one who cheerfully stands in lines. Waiting in line for a table doesn’t raise my expectations, only my blood pressure. Even at my favorite New Orleans restaurant, Galatoire’s, when I see the line extend more than twenty-five feet from the front door, I vamoose.

Consequently, the first time I entered the wraparound entryway of R&O’s in the Bucktown neighborhood, the sight of fifteen benches and a dozen stray chairs ready to accommodate fifty-some customers far more patient than me made for an ominous start. Fortunately, with her unfathomable forbearance of my hair-trigger curmudgeonliness, The Sensible One gently pointed out that the restaurant had just opened for the day and there remained a few tables as empty as the foyer benches.

Truth told, any waiting area one-third the size of the restaurant within often means one of three things:

1. The proprietor is a cockeyed optimist.

2. The owner is hoping that the large waiting area will give the impression of a huge demand for seating and thereby generate a snowball effect.

3. The place is really that good.

R&O’s is that good.

Trying to put a finger on my basis for such a conclusion, I can’t come up with one single reason. Rather, I think R&O’s is one of those cases where, to trot out that dreadful cliché, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Despite only dating back to 1980, R&O’s is a latter-day continuation of the New Orleans tradition of opening as another kind of business before becoming a restaurant. Parkway, one of the city’s premier po’boy shops, began life as a Mid-City bakery. Mandina’s, considered by many the city’s definitive neighborhood restaurant, started selling sandwiches when it was a pool hall. The legendary Mosca’s evolved from a swamp-side roadhouse named Wildwood Tavern. R&O’s, the subject at hand, started in the tiny back room of a ramshackle grocery store.

A true Mom & Pop operation, R&O’s (so dubbed for founders named Roland and Ora) expanded into first a pizza parlor before expanding once again into its current incarnation of po’boy, platter and pizza emporium. While many if not most restaurants seem to lose momentum in proportion with expansion, that isn’t the case at R&O’s, which seems to have expanded its customer base even more rapidly than its real estate.

For the type of place it is, R&O’s is relatively large with a capacity in the neighborhood of 150 people. When the restaurant is full, and it often is, the members of the wait staff have to carefully maneuver trays between the tables to create and navigate impossibly narrow walkways. The attendant noise level puts R&O high on the list of restaurants you’d be least likely to select for a romantic meal, but that’s not the point of the place anyway.

Ultimately, R&O’s is not a place to “dine” in the most elegant sense of the word. Rather, it seems to be the first place anyone on the west suburban part of the city thinks of when someone says, “Let’s go get something to eat.”

The room is as Saturday afternoon casual as the dress code. Multicolored Christmas tree lights line the inside rafters. No matter where you sit, you’ll be sure to see a poster, banner, newspaper front page, brewery sign or knickknack celebrating the city’s beloved NFL Saints.

Despite food that can sometimes prove messy to eat, there are no napkins provided or napkin holders on the tables, but instead rolls of paper towels on vertical stands serve that utilitarian purpose.

As one might expect in a place that clearly caters to a local, working class clientele, the servers, mostly middle-aged women, somehow manage to keep smiles on their faces while ceaselessly hustling an army’s worth of food through tight spaces to ravenous hordes. Despite the fact that I find myself older than the majority of them, the way they coddle and cluck over me whisks me back a half-century to suppertime at Mom’s kitchen table.

The drawing card at R&O’s is the food, period, and there is nothing fancy, pretentious or precious about it. It is straightforward New Orleans casual with a Sicilian “red gravy” accent.

Perhaps the best way to describe the extensive menu is “Round up the usual suspects.” Consider:

· The menu lists eighteen appetizers ranging from seasonal boiled shellfish to French fries smothered in gravy

· There are three soups and a half dozen salads

· Twenty-five sandwiches are listed before add-ons, from the ubiquitous muffuletta to soft-shell crab Parmesan served on sesame-seeded Italian rolls instead of the more traditional po’boy loaf

· Eight mostly Italian specials are offered at weekday lunch

· Thin or thick crust pizzas, both hand-tossed, are available with a choice of twenty toppings

· The twenty-four dinner choices are mainly seafood, Sicilian or a traditional hybrid of the two

· A true, kid-friendly family place, R&O’s offers nine children’s plates of real food (with not a hot dog, hamburger or chicken tender in sight)

Even by New Orleans standards, the portions are generous. Plus, for the underfed itinerant lumberjack or the garden-variety masochist, there are three desserts on the menu and usually a couple of chalkboard suggestions.

The cooking is not imaginative, but workmanlike, and that may be the true secret of R&O’s continuing success.

Even in New Orleans, a city where kitchens seem to be abandoning homegrown traditional cuisine in favor of the trickiest post-hip trend, and so-called (and often self-styled) celebrity/superstar chefs sprout up like so much culinary crabgrass, the number of people deriving comfort from the familiar far exceeds the vocal minority of fad chasers. While I do not have the statistics at hand, I would be willing to wager that during R&O’s 32-year run of dishing up dependability, it’s far more likely that the number of gimmick-chasing eateries that have opened and shuttered their doors can be more easily counted by the hundred than the dozen.

In all candor, were I able to have time for only one meal on a trip to New Orleans, it would more likely be at a place that’s more upscale than R&O’s. There are, after all, any number of restaurants in New Orleans where the cooking is more heroic, the servers more polished and the surroundings more genteel.

That said, there remains a school of thought suggesting that if you want to learn what the city it truly all about, the farther you get away from the established tourism and convention districts, the closer to its heart you’ll get.

You may very well take exception to such a statement, and that’s more than okay, but I know of a place where more than fifty people with growling stomachs patiently sit on wooden benches waiting to disagree.


New Orleans Neighborhood Standards

216 Old Hammond Highway in Metairie

(7.2 miles by auto from the intersection of St. Charles Avenue, Royal and Canal Streets)

Open for lunch daily, for dinner Wednesday through Sunday

All major credit cards honored

No reservations

Telephone (501) 831-1248

No website

Thursday, May 12, 2011

New Orleans Dining: A Trio of Avoidable Disappointments

Café du Monde

Few New Orleans commercial establishments of any kind, let alone restaurants, are as iconic as Café du Monde. Dating back to 1862, CdM is twenty-two years younger than Antoine’s, arguably the city’s best known old-line restaurant, and 128 years older than Emeril’s, the first and flagship outlet in the “BAM” Man’s culinary empire.

Located at the intersection of Decatur and St. Ann Streets on the downriver corner of historic Jackson Square, CdM is politely called a landmark by Chamber of Commerce types and a tourist trap by those of us more outspoken than gracious. Everyone seems to go there at least once in his or her lives, like some murky rite of passage, so you might as well suck it up, go and get it over with.

The menu couldn’t be more basic: beignets and coffee (Yes, they have soft drinks and orange juice, too, but they don’t refer to themselves as a coffee stand for nothing).

Beignets are square pillows of dough that poof up when tossed in the oil of a deep fryer and are then finished with liberal dustings of powdered sugar. If there is a breeze and you happen to be wearing black clothing, you may as well resign yourself to the fact that everyone will know where you’ve been. Occasionally without warning, some pour soul will sneeze in the general direction of a plate of beignets and trigger a blizzard.

While iced coffee managed to sneak its way onto the menu during CdM’s second century of operation, most people choose to drink it au lait (hot with scalded milk). Some more rugged types drink it as it comes or with a brimming teaspoon full of sugar, which in New Orleans parlance is often described as, “black as the devil, hot as hell and sweet as love.”

My general rule of thumb is to avoid Café du Monde, which can prove problematic considering that CdM now boasts eight locations scattered across the metro area, the last seven of which most visitors bypass in favor of the original Jackson Square location (the one on which my comments are based.

While the fare is acceptable (as it should be with so short a menu), the reasons I stay away can be lumped together with the simple words, “everything else.” It is a madhouse in the morning and not worth the wait, at least to me. During the afternoon and through the night when there are fewer customers, I have found the place to hover between unkempt and downright squalid. Finally, as to the waiters, while I can think of several thousand things I’d rather do than schlep beignets and café au lait to hordes of nickel counting tourists, well, I’ve seen cheerier folks in a proctologist’s waiting room.

All that said, if you’re like 99% of the visitors to New Orleans, at some point you will end up dusted with powdered sugar at Café do Monde. It’s just part of the drill, somewhat akin to a Nathan’s hot dog at Coney Island or a mint julep at the Kentucky Derby. Set your standards low enough and you might not be disappointed

Café du Monde

Coffee Stand

800 Decatur (at St. Ann) Street

(Eight blocks on foot from the junction of

St. Charles Avenue, Canal and Royal Streets)

Open 24 hours daily except Christmas

No reservations

Cash only

Telephone: (504) 525-4544

Website: www.cafedumonde.com

The Camellia Grill

“I guess you had to be there.”

Someone has no doubt said it to you when what they considered a side-splitting story from their past was met by your blank stare. Perhaps you and your Significant Other attended different colleges and, being the good sport you are, you allowed yourself to be dragged along on your SO’s stroll down memory lane, where the landmarks meant nothing to you.

These kinds of disconnects are what I feel at The Camellia Grill on South Carrollton near St. Charles Avenue. This original location, opened in 1946 when GI’s returning from World War II were opening restaurants on an almost daily basis, has in recent ears been joined by outposts in Baton Rouge, Destin (Florida) and the French Quarter.

In the name of fairness, let me confess that I know nothing of the copies beyond what I’ve seen by looking in the windows of the French Quarter branch. My comments are based on visits to the original location, a place so mediocre I’ve never felt any desire, let alone need, to check out the knockoffs.

The fact that The Camellia exists in one location, let alone four, is prima facie evidence of the tired notion that nostalgia will usually trump excellence, at least below the Mason-Dixon line. Abandoned for more than two years after being swamped by Katrina in 2005, the café’s reconstruction and well camouflaged restoration was delayed by the owner’s indecision about reopening, some courting of investors and the reassembly of The Camellia’s displaced and far-flung staff before becoming un fait accompli. The entire process ultimately begs the question: At what point does a major effort to save a second-rate diner become first-rate folly?

Granted, The Camellia oozes curb appeal. A whitewashed Greek Revival bungalow complete with classic gabled pediment and the homey touch of a white picket fence, the building is nestled beneath tall trees. The fabled St. Charles streetcar rumbles along the “neutral ground” bisecting South Carrolton in front of the restaurant. It makes for a most pleasant place to stand in line, something you will definitely be doing (and quite possibly for a long time) should you decide to visit during weekend breakfasts or brunch. Alas, The Camellia’s idyllic charm stops at the front door.

Inside, you’ll find a serpentine lunch counter, which looks like it would be more at home in a truck stop or an old five-and-dime store, and some benches where you’ll wait a little longer for stools to clear. The waiters jabber in a patois of their own, an idiosyncrasy not all that uncommon in many a city’s entrenched diners and greasy spoons, but it may be of passing interest to people who have never been exposed to such nattering, at least for a minute or two.

The menu offers a predictable variety of diner specialties – burgers, chili cheese omelets, shakes, etc, -- and the food is as passable as it is uninspired. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong per se with The Camellia Grill, but why anyone in a city with so many first-rate restaurants would choose such a shrine to mediocrity escapes me.

I guess I wasn’t there when I needed to be, so many moons ago.

The Camellia Grill

American Diner

625 South Carrollton (at St. Charles) Avenue

(5.5 miles by streetcar from the junction of

St. Charles Avenue, Canal and Royal Streets)

Open seven days, 8 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Friday and Saturday hours extended to 2 a.m.

No reservations

All major credit cards honored

Telephone: (504) 309-2679

Website: www.camelliagrill.net

Palm Court Jazz Café

Imagine, if you will, a French Quarter restaurant serving traditional New Orleans dishes accompanied by traditional New Orleans jazz played by pick-up ensembles of mainly geriatric jazz masters.

The concept itself is unassailable, and the only thing that surprises me is that more people haven’t given it a shot. After all, the Palm Court Jazz Café has managed to hang around for over twenty years running an operation that would have a life expectancy of maybe six months if it had any real competition.

Aside from the geezers on the bandstand and the occasionally heavy-handed bartender, the PCJC is the biggest disappointment I can think of in all New Orleans, or at the very least in a dead heat with The Court of Two Sisters and Mother’s.

If you want to hear genuine traditional jazz played the old way and have a few drinks in the process, I actually do suggest the bar area at PCJC. While not as well known or picturesque as rickety Preservation Hall, the jazz is hot, the drinks are cold and chances are you won’t be relegated to standing in shadows at the back of the room or jostled by the sneaker and fanny pack crowd. Moreover, the barroom/lounge is in the shorter leg of the L-shaped room and directly faces the stage, allowing patrons to see the players head-on. It truly is a good place to enjoy a set or two of America’s original form of jazz.

Beyond the bar and the bandstand, well, things go straight to hell.

The longer dining room is situated in such a way that all the diners get is a stage left partial view of a few of the players, which is a poor idea for two reasons. First, by exiling food clientele to such a visual Siberia, PCJC is immediately telegraphing the notion that customer satisfaction takes a back seat to the convenience of their operation. Secondly, and probably even more disastrous, by making it more difficult for the customer to savor the jazz, PCJC is ipso facto encouraging people to actually focus on the food, when the one ingredient that might salvage the chow is a liberal measure of distraction.

To call the food execrable may be unsporting, but accurate. Until The Sensible One and I wised up and just started watching the band from the bar, we were (mis)treated to a very respectable garlic chicken destroyed by the tepid red beans and rice accompaniment, lukewarm seafood pasta swimming is an astonishing bland “Creole sauce,” and several other items that time and the mercy of a fading memory have allowed us to forget. While the somewhat lengthy menu is rife with selections from the canons of traditional Louisiana cuisine, PCJC’s kitchen executions were so inconsistent and slapdash that I felt I was generous when I gave their cooking a second chance, an overly charitable error in judgment I won’t repeat a third time.

At its black little heart, Palm Court Jazz Café is a tourist trap that cynically uses first-rate New Orleans jazz to foist fifth-rate food on naive visitors who the house is betting won’t know the difference and whose likelihood of a return visit to the city anytime soon is negligible at best. Any illusion to the contrary evaporates when the harpy in charge of the place announces it’s time for everyone to “second line.”

“Second lining” is a New Orleans tradition harkening back to the heydays of brass bands and jazz funerals. After marching to the cemetery to a somber dirge and entombing the dearly departed, the band breaks into joyous jazz and, with the family and main mourners in tow, form a “first line” and dances its way to a celebration of the loved one’s ascension to Heaven. They are followed by the “second line,” usually an unceremonious coalition of onlookers, bystanders and less than reputable acquaintances who dance along, often twirling colorful parasols or waving white handkerchiefs.

Regrettably, At Palm Court Jazz Café, the second line is patently phony and anything but spontaneous. Once the call for everyone to join in is shouted out with all the mechanical enthusiasm of a sideshow barker or a lamppost worker with sore feet, the vast majority of customers (who have no idea of what a second line might possibly be) stays firmly rooted in their bentwood chairs. I suspect that most tourists realize the PCJC version of a second line is about as authentic as a four-buck Rolex and act accordingly.

It’s a shame, really.

After all, chefs can be fired and kitchens fixed. Floor plans can be rejiggered for the benefit of the customer instead of the shortsighted convenience of the house. Patrons can have their curiosity rewarded with authentic traditional jazz instead of having their intelligence insulted by contrived showmanship and bogus events. Ultimately, it’s all a matter of treating clientele with open respect instead of cynical contempt. It’s a matter of will that, in the maladroit hands of Palm Court, has degenerated into a matter of won’t.

The corruption of such an attractive concept as good jazz and good food by such an inept group of mis-managers is more than a disappointment awaiting visitors to New Orleans. It’s at best a tragedy, and it ought to be a crime.

Palm Court Jazz Cafe

Louisiana Traditional

1204 Decatur (at Governor Nicholls) Street

(0.9 miles on foot from the junction of

St. Charles Avenue, Canal and Royal Streets)

Dinner served Wednesday - Sunday, 7 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Reservations are suggested

All major credit cards honored

Telephone: (504) 525-0200

Website: www.palmcourtjazzcafe.com

Photos used provided by Flckr strictly for noncommercial purposes

Saturday, April 23, 2011

New Orleans Dining: The Two Perino's

Neither of the two Perino outlets remotely resembles

pastoral bayou backwater daydreams.

This is a test with three (more or less) questions. It’s not one of those silly magazine self-help deals where “there are no wrong answers.” There are wrong answers, and if you happen to stub your toe on one, well, you should probably think of eating somewhere else. Here we go:

1. How authentic of an experience do you really want? No weaseling “I’m a good sport,” but really?

2. How local do you want to go?

3. Do you know how to suck the head, and if so, are you willing?

The correct answers are:

1. (Gulp) Bring it on.

2. Fully leaded.

3. Yes, and you betcha.

Most visitors to New Orleans almost never cross the Crescent City Connection bridge and venture to the West Bank, a continuing cluster of bedroom communities where the farther you go, the bluer the collars get. (Don’t feel bad about it. In truth, natives on the “city side” of the river rarely make the trip, either.)

The main drag connecting the ‘burbs of Algiers, Gretna, Harvey, Marrero and Westwego is the largely elevated Westbank Expressway, which for the most part rises above frontage roads lined with aging shopping centers, big box stores, chain restaurants, fast food joints and other landmarks of suburban American blight. For some reason, whenever I drive it, the word “frowzy” comes to mind.

In hard-working New Orleans, a lot of the people providing the muscle live on the West Bank: refinery workers, fisherman, pipefitters, dockworkers and the like. While the area is gradually becoming, if not gentrified, at least a little more urbane, the ethos remains one of hard work, family values, go Saints and a headstrong demand for better-than-average food at a better-than-average price.

While the culinary landscape on the West Bank is changing along with the demographics (i.e., Vietnamese and Mexican eateries are sprouting up everywhere), the mainstay remains traditional New Orleans cooking. Longstanding places like Café 615 (“Da Wabbit”) and The Red Maple Inn continue to flourish. While success in a food-crazy area is always dependent upon the quality of what’s on the plate, it strikes me that a surefire formula for success in the area would include substantial plate lunches and generous portions of family friendly chow at dinner.

Straddling the line between Harvey and Marrero are two seafood places operated by the Perino family. Sam Perino’s Seafood & Deli is on the westbound frontage road off Westbank Expressway, while Perino’s Boiling Pot II is poised a few blocks away along the eastbound side. In other words, they get you coming and going.

To no one’s surprise, the places specialties are seafood in general and boiled (locally pronounced “burled”) in particular.

Perhaps it’s too many movies or episodes of The History Channel’s Swamp People, but for me, the idea of boiled Louisiana seafood has always conjured up imagery of tin-roofed, cypress shacks trimmed with multicolored Christmas light in clearings of trees dripping with Spanish moss. Yellow light streams out the window and the mating calls of frogs are drowned out by the clattering frottoir, the reedy chords of a piano accordion and the sawing fiddle of a zydeco band as they work their way through yet another rowdy chorus of Jolie Blon.

Well, forget it. Neither of the two Perino outlets remotely resembles such pastoral bayou backwater daydreams.

Sam Perino’s Seafood & Deli (let’s just refer to it as “No. 1” from here on out) is long on seafood and short on deli. It’s really nothing more than a mom-and-pop fish market with three or four small, utilitarian tables in between two rows of cases. The deli counter, such as it is, is a small work area underneath a limited menu board featuring a couple of plate lunches and a few sandwiches. Along a back wall is a metal table covered with whatever seasonal seafood is being offered at the time. In truth, the dining area looks like it should be nothing more than a break room where employees can grab a quick bite before getting back to work. To call No.1 “no frills” would be an overstatement.

The Sensible One and I discovered No. 1 by accident while we were driving in circles looking for Perino’s Boiling Pot, which we had read about in a reliable local entertainment newspaper (Gambit Weekly). On our first step inside No, 1, we knew we either had to be in the wrong place or else the reporter was drunk, but we chose to look around anyway. I don’t know if I was duly or unduly impressed with the place, but favorably impressed I was, and I’ll tell you why.

No. 1 smelled salty and coastal, yet clean. Missing was the immediately recognizable odor of fish on the brink of outstaying its welcome. The absence of such an off-putting aroma encouraged the two of us to wander and look around what proved to be a widely inventoried and well-stocked market. Like the deli area is 100% about seafood and 0% about décor, the market appears to be 100% about freshness and 0% presentation or merchandizing. It is definitely a place we’ll visit again to shop and won’t have the slightest hesitation about grabbing lunch while we’re at it.

Once we got turned around and were headed eastbound, it was only a matter of blocks before we saw the sign for the Boiling Pot. The restaurant is attached to the front of a low-cost motel, which may not have been a hot sheets hangout, but looked like the linens were at least a little warm. Flanking the entrance to the restaurant are kitschy statues of a six-foot crawfish and an equally tall gator that look like fugitives from a crumbling miniature golf course. The rest of the exterior is finished out in an unsteady blend of cartoonish swamp life paintings and beer neons. The overall appearance is that of the kind of place, which, as with clichés, I avoid like the plague.

The interior of the Boiling Pot is visually schizophrenic. Take away the menagerie of taxidermized critters and you’re left with a barroom and a lunchroom with all the charm of a junior high school cafeteria. The tables are in rows arranged for communal seating under fluorescent lights. Arcade games along the back wall flicker and beep. The two rooms are bifurcated by a take-out counter. It would be fair to surmise that the only people who go there for the décor tap the linoleum floors with white canes.

While the Boiling Pot offers three salads, nine fried baskets and four appetizers beyond oysters on the half shell, in addition to keeping the gumbo pot simmering away on the stove, it’s all more or less window dressing. The restaurant’s raison d’être is boiled seafood, period.

Depending on the season, the centerpiece of the menu will be boiled crawfish, shrimp, blue crabs or the larger Dungeness crabs. While Louisiana’s seafood industry hasn’t totally recovered from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, the shellfish coming out of the Perino boilers are once again plentiful and affordable, not to mention the most thoroughly inspected in the world and totally cleared for safety.

The shellfish species are all indigenous to Louisiana, of course, but the one least known to people outside the immediate gulf area is the crawfish, which itself has become an unofficial logo for the state’s Cajun subculture. For those unfamiliar with the nicknamed “mudbug,” an interesting take on the crawfish’s rise in popularity can be found on New Orleans magazine editor Errol Laborde’s blog (http://www.myneworleans.com/Blogs/The-Editors-Room/April-2011/How-the-Crawfish-Became-a-Star/).

Three of the four available sides are the traditional accompaniments for a Louisiana seafood boil: ears of corn, red potatoes and smoked sausage links. (For diners to whom traditions matter little, the Boiling Pot also serves the ubiquitous French fry.) While the place offers full bar service, the time-honored drink of choice at a seafood boil is beer, cold beer, as icy as possible. The owners of the Boiling Pot obviously understand what a crucial component ice-cold beer is to a successful seafood and suds blowout as evidenced by their thoughtful choice to put plastic-encased batons of ice in every pitcher.

A quick scan around the room with its frosty pitchers and platters of steaming seafood tells you that the people who come to the Boiling Pot take the good life seriously. The dress code, such as it is, falls somewhere between tattered and downright scruffy, because these people know that cracking into crabs, peeling shrimp and sucking the fat out of crawfish heads is wet and sloppy work requiring rolled-up sleeves, rolls of paper towels and a total disregard for the possibility of flying shells and dropping husks rendering spotless fashions into splattered rags.

There’s a shopworn phrase that regularly crops up in magazine ads in tourist towns like New Orleans: “Where the Locals Eat.” That clinker always struck me like quality, honesty and virginity; the more frequently it’s brought into the conversation, the less likely it is to be true. If you really want to eat alongside the locals, make a beeline to either of the Perino seafood operations and open your ears. They will be assaulted by the Broolyn-esque staccato of the Upper Ninth Ward patois and caressed by the lilt of Cajun French.

In the end, there’s nothing fancy about either No. 1 or the Boiling Pot. The rooms forsake style for function and there isn’t a fingerbowl in sight, but the seafood steams, the beer is frosty and if you leave any airs you may have at the door, well, you’re going to fit in just fine.

Sam Perino’s Seafood & Deli

Louisiana Shellfish

6850 Westbank Expressway in Marrero

(9.8 miles by auto from the intersection of St. Charles Avenue, Royal and Canal Streets)

Open Seven days

All major credit cards honored

No reservations

Telephone (501) 347-5410

No website

Perino’s Boiling Pot II

Louisiana Shellfish

3754 Westbank Expressway in Harvey

(7.7 miles by auto from the intersection of St. Charles Avenue, Royal and Canal Streets)

Lunch and Dinner Daily

All major credit cards honored

No reservations

Telephone (501) 340-5560

No website