And if they need a remediation on how to prepare shrimp and grits I’ll be happy to run up there and give the cooks a clinic one afternoon.
The Fried Chicken Wars of the 9th Ward: You know you live in a sweet spot when Popeye’s is considered an expensive place to get your fried chicken fix. Our 9th Ward neighborhood saw some serious fried chicken price wars break out back in the summer with corner joints going down to .50c apiece and some daring entrepreneurs throwing in a side of fries as a sort of devil’s bargain.
10 piece box with a side of steak cut fries for $5? Only in New Orleans 9th Ward.
P2R Films: If you like exploring the seamy underbelly of gangster life in New Orleans the man behind P2R Films is putting up a real treasure trove of shortform documentaries on Youtube. There was some seriously crazy, violent stuff happening in town back in the day. Hell, there still is.Burger: J&J Grocery in Bessemer Alabama. On a beat-up side road, south and west of old Birmingham, J&J has been a grocer for decades but only achieved a sort of underground acclaim for its burgers since 1998 when new owners came on board. The joint is always packed with regulars, half of whom have Pall Mall cigarettes dangling from their lips. It’s a fine scene for a grandma burger and conversation with strangers.
Tumblr of the year: The 1959 Project. Every single day for the entirety of 2019, the blogger behind 1959, Natalie Weiner, put up a post of something significant that happened on that particular day 60 years ago. It’s crucial work if you love old school jazz.Brewery: Brash, Houston, Texas. We drank a lot of cold, craft (and macro) beer in 2019 but it was Brash that consistently impressed us the most. They’re a cheeky lot and not afraid to stir a little dust up in the by-the-numbers Houston brewing community. Their pilz is called “Beer,” and they threw a black mass at their brewery recently. Check out their “Hammer Smashed Faces” Russian Imperial Stout. It’s epic.
New Orleans reporter of the year: Katy Reckdahl. New Orleans is chockablock with great reporters and houses one of the nation’s great newspapers: The New Orleans Advocate. You’ll see Reckdahl’s byline over there as well as The Lens, the New York Times and plenty other publications. This girl is dynamite and is seemingly everywhere at the same time writing about the desegregation battles of the 60s with the same aplomb accorded to early rap star Mia X.
Taco Cart of the Year: Tacos Guerrero in Austin. Yolanda Guerrero works 10 hours a day, seven days a week vending tacos from a tiny old food cart parked near Cesar Chavez. I asked her when she rested and she laughed: “Plenty time to rest when I’m dead.”Fish House of the year: Eenvistweevis in Amsterdam. Chef Klaas de Jong has been putting out immaculate, simple Dutch seafood preparations at his tiny restaurant on Rapenburgplein for 20 years. It’s my favorite seafood restaurant on earth.
Barbecue Joint of the year: John Mueller’s Black Box, Georgetown, Texas. We only got one visit in to Black Box before the itinerant meat cook left for greener pastures in nearby Granger but what a feast. Charred juicy brisket, spicy hot guts and a warclub of a beef chuck rib. Love him or hate him, John Mueller is still at the top of Texas’ barbecue game.
Sausage purveyor of the year: Terranova’s Superette. For 94 years the Terranova family have been selling pluperfect handmade sausage from their little superette near Bayou St John. This is where the sausage conversation begins in New Orleans.Second Line of the year: 9 Times Social Aid and Pleasure Club. There’s no such thing as a bad second line (unless gunplay is involved) but some of the S&Ps are playing with a tighter stack on the deck. 9x blew the doors off in the 9th Ward with Young Men Olympian coming in hard in Central City as a close second.
BYOB hangout: Mayan Import Company. Sometimes you want a $30 bottle of wine without having to pay a hundred bucks at restaurant markup. That’s where Mayan Import Company comes in with their super-relaxed BYOB policy. Buy a fat pouch of your favorite tobacco or a box of cigars and you’re welcome to hang.
Coffee House: Coffee Science in New Orleans. They extended the hours but with the extra labor costs they also raised the prices. Their front porch is one of our favorite chill zones in the entire city and the baristas actually give a shit about the patrons. With the nearby courthouse the crowd’s a good mix of parolees, potential convicts, lawyers, students, and blue collar cats.
Best doc I saw all year: “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.” is a work of genius. Documentarian RaMell Ross spent five years in Hale County, Alabama following the lives of two young black men as they make their way through the world. It’s a superb piece of film making.Sad to see ya go: Cafe Rose Nicaud. I loved this little sun-splashed Marigny cafe, and was fortunate to have been a semi-regular for 20 years. They recently shut down after the owners decided to call it a day after nearly 30 years in the game.
Pizza of the year: Kebec in Amsterdam. Seats 6 eaters. Sourdough crust. Luxe toppings at sub-Dominos pricing (you can get a nice pie for under €10. There’s a fervent pizza movement in Amsterdam right now and Kebec has been leading the charge for six years.
Live concert: Ian Noe live at the Burl in Lexington, Kentucky. You know the troubadour is really good when, during the concert, your mind involuntarily starts praying that he does not die young. Noe reminds me of Townes Van Zandt.Best ribs: De Klos in Amsterdam. The smart-ass barkeeps add a good Dutch flavor to the dining experience but it’s the chewy (in a good way) and salty pork ribs that keep me coming back to this nearly 50 year old smokehouse near Leidseplein. A truly odd mayo-based barbecue sauce gives me fever dreams. I’ve been eating here for 25 years, and they are one of the few barbecue places from outside the US that could open in the South and make good money.
Brass band of the year: Big 6 dropped a straight burner LP a couple months ago and are the hardest working players in town. It seems like they’re at every single second line plus they are relentless in the nightclubs.
Fried catfish: Cherry Creek in Austin. We popped in here on a whim when we were on the southside a couple months ago and had a superb fried catfish feast. Nothing fancy. Just clean oil, proper seasoning and good quality fish. High level onion rings and the best fried green tomatoes in Austin too.Street Shooter: Pableaux Johnson, New Orleans. There’s a tiny community of street shooters here in New Orleans and Pableaux’s at the top of the heap. You’ll see him at all the second lines with a few grand in camera gear hanging around his neck and running like Carl Lewis to get his shot. Check him out online I’m sure he’s on the various socials out there.
Fine dining food truck: Three Little Pigs, Austin, Texas. Chef Raymond Tatum’s getting towards retirement age so if you want 4 star food at 1 star prices you may want to get by there soon. He’s been at the top of the Austin food scene for 50 years and we shall not have him forever.Outside slice pork sandwich: Johnny’s in Cullman, Alabama. They’ve been running for 70 years and have steadily pumped money back into the restaurant over that time. It used to have a roadhouse feel but nowadays it’s nigh country chic inside. No matter. Their outside slice pork sandwiche is one of the best in the South
Sweet treat: Pecan turtle cookie at Mad Batter’s in Chalmette. Sadly, this wonderful cookie that I’ve devoured for years has recently went to the dogs. It’s still delicious but at just under $2, and with a recent, drastic size shrinkage I can no longer recommend it.
Po boy: Fried catfish at Rampart Food Store, New Orleans. It’s the best fried catfish po boy in the city and dwarfs their more popular fried shrimp version. Rampart is a beat-up, little corner market with zero chairs and a stern no eating onsite policy.Grocery Store: Zuppardo’s, Metairie. The jury is still out on Zuppardo’s now that they’ve retired to uber-fancy digs a few yards from their former hole-in-the-wall. Prices went up. That $3 cheeseburger nearly doubled its tariff, and we’ve noted subtle price increases across the board. We’ll monitor the situation and report back.
Single best taco: Carne molida on scratch corn tortilla from Guerreros taco truck in Austin.
Steak: Salmuera in Amsterdam served us a behemoth ribeye on a wooden plank back in April and not a day has gone by that I have not daydreamed about it. You walk into a cafe and fire is everywhere: flames are flickering in the kitchen and each table has a waxen burning candle. It’s a dark redoubt of red meat, and there is nothing like it in the city.Best New Orleans curb store: Frady’s. A fried baloney po boy and .75c cup of coffee on a sunny 9th Ward morning makes Joe Frady’s old corner market impossible to beat.
Best bar in da Parish: Juan’s, Chalmette. Juan’s is a frayed-around-the-edges, old roadhouse where a thick haze of Lucky Strike smoke hovers over a crowd of blue collar gents drinking cold Miller and Bud longnecks. Loverboy or Travis Tritt may be on the hi fi. There’s also a crockpot.
Best source for dried beans: Adams Fruit Market in Lafourche Parish. The owner has a connection where he gets the finest, young, dried beans on the market and sells them for a song. We roll out there a few times a year to lay in some big sacks. Louisiana is bean country and Adams is the finest source we’ve found so far.
Random meetup of the year: Dave Bartholomew Jr. I was hanging at Little People’s back in the fall when Dave Bartholomew Jr walked in. We ended up spending a couple hours sharing conversation about the old days of New Orleans. He regaled me with tales of his life on the road playing drums with his dad and I pestered him for stories about long shuttered bars like Big Time Crip’s Place and the Funky Butt.Funeral of the year: Only in New Orleans do you tell your friends you’re heading to a funeral and they reply “have a good time.” Dave Bartholomew’s funeral was a fine one with plenty singing and dancing and beer vendors doing brisk business right outside the funeral homes doors.
Film: Midsommar. I never go to see the same film twice but Ari Aster’s insane, over the top, psychedelic rendering of Scandinavian folk “traditions” fucked me up so bad I had to make a return theater visit.
Best 24/7 donuts and coffee in da Parish: Gerald’s, Arabi. If it’s 3am and you need a warm donut and a hot cup of coffee for a song Gerald’s has the remedy. The waitresses could not be sweeter and there’s a nice patio to kick back with the Times-Pic.Best massive muffaletta: Tag’s Deli. The muffaletta at Tag’s could easily feed four hungry longshoremen and I’m certain it has as it’s just a five minute drive from the St Bernard docks on the Mississippi. Tag’s has been around since the 40s and the bossman, Mickey, is a trip. Get him talking about classic cars and the old days of New Orleans. You won’t hear a better storyteller. Best Louisiana bluesman: Lonesome Sundown née Cornelius Green has been dead since 1995 but he spent an inordinate amount of time on our record player this year.
Song of the year: Cleopatra’s Jumper Cable Song dropped on January 11th so there is no recency bias here. It’s a 74 second street anthem outsider piece link
Butcher: Larry at Jeanfreau’s Meat Market, Chalmette. Larry’s been standing over a massive block of wood with an arsenal of knives for nearly 50 years. I’ve hit him with my most vexing requests and he’s never been cowed. Jeanfreau’s may be a little under the radar to New Orleans folks but it’s well worth the 10 minute drive.
Radio DJ: Joe Nick Patoski and his Texas Music Hour of Power is a deep dive into the world of Texas blues, gospel, Tejano, punk, jazz and garage music. He broadcasts from a cave on the wrong side of the Rio Grande’ river somewhere near Marfa Texas. I live in a city with one of the greatest radio stations on earth and I always block out two hours on Saturday night to tune in Joe Nick.Street Dancers: New Orleans has the best street dancers in the U.S and they put on a massive free show on Sunday afternoons at our century-plus old second line tradition.