Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Circle Foods Store

We have a grocery store folks!!

Who would think that this would be a common sentiment in this bustling city of rebirth, but I guess, good things come to those who wait.  At least in the 7th Ward/St. Roch/Treme/Marigny/Bywater/8th Ward/9th Ward (wow, we really needed a grocery store)-and this was well worth the wait.

I attended the Grand Opening for Circle Foods on Friday, which is coinciding with the grand openings for many other Claiborne flyover businesses including Kermit Ruffins backing the famous Mother-in-Law Lounge.

Circle Foods has everything that I need, and within walking distance.  They offer an array of fresh produce, including out of the ordinary produce like papaya and cactus.  Fresh gourmet cheeses at a great price, and a fresh seafood and meat counter.  The isles are stocked with all the necessities that you have had to previously traverse Family Dollar, Walgreens, and the pricey NOLA Food Co-OP to find.   Quaint cast iron looking signs mark check out isles and the exposed warehouse ceilings look incredible.  A hot prepared food cafe along with a pharmacy flank the far side of the store.

I only hope that the trash level around this store doesn't rival the squalid apocalyptic looking parking lot of the Dollar General Market which I have never been able to bring myself to shop at.

Meanwhile, I will be supporting Circle Foods, if for nothing other than supporting the neighborhood, and the sweet old lady I met while shopping there who was almost brought to tears that she wouldn't have to shop at Family Dollar for her food anymore.  We now have a healthy option, with fresh meats, seafood,  and produce, we have an opportunity to feed ourselves without traveling across town, without finding transportation, without having to settle.  Only good things to come. 

 Circle Food Store
1522 St. Bernard Ave
Parking to the side of store off St. Bernard

Circle Food Store on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Swing and a Miss: Tennis in New Orleans

I moved here from a town of tennis aplenty.  Free, public, city ran courts were everywhere, and lessons and community outreach programs dotted every other court.  That was North Carolina, and as we planned our move to New Orleans it never even dawned on me to check on that state of tennis in this city.

After two years of searching I'm not much further on my quest.  First, I found free courts in Jefferson Parish (4 courts at a school, at least half an hour drive), Atkinson-Stern in Uptown is nice, it is at least a little cheaper for paid spots at $7 an hour, with seven clay courts, although they can be a little dry and don't expect them to be swept.  I have occasionally seen children's lessons here and they have Mixed Doubles on Tuesdays, woo.

Audobon has seven clay courts that cost $11 an hour.  They offer group lessons and clinics, are ran by four tennis professionals, and have absolutely no information about any other programs they run for juniors or adults on their website.

Now, we move onto the big tennis balls on campus-City Park Pepsi Tennis Center.  I have to say, the facilities are on the whole quite excellent.  There are 26 courts, 16 hard, 10 clay, and they are $12 an hour to play on hard, $15 for clay (also, do not expect these to be swept, but do expect to see remnants of group lessons to be left all over the courts, such as ball tubes, balls, trash, etc.).  They run a Friday night doubles the first and third Friday of the month-laughable.  That is all the information they have on their website for programs available for the public to participate in.

By this point we are already at a piss poor standing as far as programs, availability, accessibility, and outreach, but my friends, I have saved the best for last. We live in the St. Claude area and after searching Google maps for at least an hour looking for public courts I stumbled across the Oliver Bush Playground in the Lower 9th Ward.  The park features four free hard-courts that were just recently resurfaced and reopened in September of 2012 after seven years of dormancy from Katrina.  I visited these courts last week, about 14 months after the park was completely re-done, and they are the worst tennis courts I have ever been forced to play on.  I say forced, because usually if I ever have run into courts this bad, there were always other options, I don't really feel like paying $12 for just an hour at City Park, so we really had no other choice.  There are NO courts nearby.

It began with us canvassing the courts to find the one with the least amount of glass shards, which proved a difficult task.  A Miller Lite forty was smashed between two courts, a Bud Lite box in the corner, lighters, female deodorant, and fast food trash littered each court.  We kicked away the trash and glass, and cleared up a court enough to play.  Within thirty minutes we had five kids sitting on the bleachers asking if we had extra balls and racquets. After an hour and a half we had nine kids show interest in playing, they cheered us on, asked the rules, and all asked if they could play.

It is bad enough that there is such a complete lack of free public courts in a city of this size, but to allow what little we have to go into such disrepair is despicable.  It would take one hour, ten racquets, and a basket of balls to bring a little something special to these courts.  It would take the city not just using the reopening of a park in the Lower 9th as a publicity stunt, but to actually service what they have built to assist the community.  You never know who the next Williams sisters or Roddick will be, and you never will the way things are going in New Orleans.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

St. Roch Market: Here's What We Know

If you were unable to attend the meeting at the Charles J. Colton KIPP school on St. Claude tonight regarding the potential plans for the St. Roch Market, here is what we know.

The Market is owned by New Orleans Building Corp to negotiate a lease with a thrid party entity, etc. the city wanted it off their hands, and NOBC started receiving bids from potential leasers.  St. Roch Community Partners, Inc. entered a bid and is led by owners of local businesses, specifically, Faubourg Wines, St. James Cheese Co., Cleaver & Co., Redmellon Restorations and Developments, and Bellegaurde Bakery.  We do not know if anyone else has put a bid in, and this group does not know when they will receive a response from the NOBC, or even what their rent will be.

They hope to create a non-profit organization that runs and manages the market, consisting of a Board of Directors and a Board of Advisors that will have a representative from either one or multiple local neighborhood associations.  Tentatively, at least, these are the fuzzy plans. 

There will be 12 stalls available for rent, under a 6-12 month lease, and each representing a different facet of the market needs.  So there will potentially be a fish monger, a Maitre Fromager (a cheese guy), a butcher, a baker and so on.  Emphasis also being on the knowledge that these vendors can impart on their customers as well as the interpersonal relationship formed with shoppers in general.

The city also built a restaurant in the back of the market, that might be used in a similar since to Cafe Reconcile.  There is space upstairs that they might utilize for community events, and parking is going to be a serious issue that the board will need to addressed, although no solution has been put in place as of yet.

In attendance were members of Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association and the St. Roch Improvement Association.  The St. Roch Association expressed concerns over affordability, which were addressed by St. Roch Community Partners as something they are taking into account.  They responded that although their businesses might be considered 'gourmet', they have a range of products they will offer to meet varying incomes.  They emphasised their concern over the affordability of their products, but until they know if they even got the bid or how much the rent will be we will not see price ranges. 

I officialy live seven blocks from the market, and I must say that I think what these guys are trying to do is great.  They are offering us something we don't have.  I just made it to Cleaver & Co two days ago and I've had a gift certificate for the place for almost a year--I don't leave my neighborhood!  We can't get seafood anywhere close by that I would trust to eat, not even from the Co-Op (and hopefully they will up their game some at the Co-Op). Half the people I see get a lot of their groceries from Family Dollar, Walgreens, Save-A-Lot.  Sometimes you have to put a little more money to get a quality product.  With Circle Foods opening soon we will have another option, and maybe Roberts will decide to get on it sometime soon.  Are we giving them grief because this is our ONLY grocery option nearby?  Maybe once Circle Foods and Roberts open the St. Roch Market will be filling a more fitting niche.

Think about this, we don't even know who else has put bids in, and shouldn't we be a little more fearful of those unknown entities.  This group is really attempting to involve the neighborhood, and I hope they continue to be a strong community gathering place and promoter, and that they keep their word concerning affordable options--that is, if they get the bid.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Joint: Always Smokin'

701 Mazant St, New Orleans, LA 70117
(504) 949-3232
                        Monday - Saturday 11:30 am – 10:00 pm, CLOSED SUNDAY

By:  Amy Thomas

Last night I had the pleasure of dining in the Bywater at The Joint--even passed up Pizza Delicious for it!

I'm from North Carolina originally and BBQ is something we take very seriously, and the great thing about The Joint is the selection of sauce--if you close your eyes you could be eating smoked meat from St. Louis, to Eastern North Carolina, to even South Texas/Mexico with the vinegary Habanero Sauce.  Smoked meat is something I urn for in my a sexy man, it satisfies a guttural and primitive desire for me to see dark black coal-like mouth-watering, melt like butter
crust coating the outside, and pink rings and juices seductively revealing themselves inside.

The prices are pretty low, the service is excellent, the atmosphere is great.  I wish with the new bar they were a little more creative with the drinks, lets get some bacon vodka or whiskey, more smoked bourbons, scotches, and beers.

My only other complaint is in the sides.  The cole slaw is hard to mess up, but the macaroni and cheese has always been a little dry, room temp, and bland.  The salad is okay, my smoked tomato dressing wasn't as smoky as I would have wanted it to be, but it was still okay, and then your other choices are baked beans and potato salad, two more relatively uninspired options.

But the brisket, oh...the brisket.  The brisket makes the rest of the world melt away.

The Joint on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Crawfish Boils & Spitfire Nights

By: Amy Thomas

Although we have officially lived here for over a year now, this season I celebrated my first crawfish boil.  Crawfish (down here you don't say crayfish) eat like lobsters, aka bottom-feeders, and look like lobsters that were miniaturized with a ray gun.  They are a family staple here, I listen with envy to the stories of family Easters and Memorial Days centered around crawfish boils, because they connect you with the others ravenously hovered and dripping around your table.

My first boil was on the neutral ground on Esplanade at Royal for a friends birthday.  I learned my first 'boil' lesson fast, at a crawfish boil you will always wait.  It will never be ready when scheduled, and that is ok.  You are going to mingle, meet new invitees, and of course, enjoy ice cold libations. During all of this your olfactory glands are being overwhelmed, housing a fight club of incredible, mouth-watering smells.  This stingy, spicy, salt-water scent wafts into the air and creeps into your hair follicles to where you are becoming one with the boil before the red-armored mouth gold even exit the pot.

Traditionally, boils are made with crawfish boil juice which is a mix of vinegar and voracious spices, most people either use Zatarains or Louisiana brand.  Then a mix of whole garlic, lemons, red potatoes, and corn cob pieces, this one also had okra and pineapple in it (we had a chef).

It's time.  You know this because the table is cleared off and lined with newspaper.  The tension builds in the air, you begin to look at the table, strategizing, where am I going to stand...Your mouth begins to water as the pot is hauled over, slowly lifted, and dumped across the table, releasing fifty pounds of bright red delicious, nectariously beautiful, steamy goodness.  I am taught how to eat them, which takes two long seconds, and its on!!

I almost black out until its over.  The shells are hot as hell, I suck the head of each, vacuuming in spicy crawfish stock to the back of my throat, the excess dripping down the sides of my mouth and down my arms--the small bites of meat inside, perfect.  Its so much better than lobster because you have to put so much work into getting to each and every little bite of meat, and the reward is the pay-off.  To me, sucking the head is equally fulfilling to eating the meat, it's like a shot of chanterrelle buerre blanc followed with a bite of medium rare filet mignon with each and every crawfish.

There is a frantic urgency in the air, I spare half a moment to look up to see that everyone is sharing my intensity.  Pick one up, remove the head, suck hard, peel around on the first shell of the abdomen, grab the tale right where it starts, pinch, and pull, eat the meat, throw it down and pick another one up as fast as you can. Do it again.  A banjo is playing in the background.  Friends walking by on the street are called over to join, strangers stand next to each other, ravaging, now we are like brothers and sisters of this visceral moment.

When it's over its like waking up from a dream.  You are covered in juices, you finally feel the sting in every cut on your fingers that you couldn't feel during the ecstasy of eating.  Survey your pile of carcasses and feel proud.  The music starts, the horns, and drums, mixing with hillbilly banjos.  You feel fulfilled, alive, maybe a little drunk, and it feels like you are a part of a low country tribe of vandals, like a gypsy queen of alligators and crustaceans alike.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Icy & Sot Hit New Orleans

Just around the corner from Banksy's Raining Girl on Rampart and Kerlerec in the Marigny, Icy and Sot have made their stencil marks in New Orleans.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My First Mardi Gras

By: Amy Thomas

The day after Mardi Gras is filled with trash, glass, puke, possibly regrets, and, if you really open your senses, the traces of an ancient esoteric magic. 

I, Amy Thomas, have just experienced my first Mardi Gras as a New Orleans citizen.

I feel like this statement should stand alone.  It is just as important a saying as I have conquered Mount Kilimanjaro, or I have reached complete happiness, because experiencing Mardi Gras, as a local, was one of the most incredible moments in my life. 

What was so great about Mardi Gras was that it was absolutely nothing like what the rest of the world thinks it is.  It is not about showing boobs, which I never once heard, its not about vomit and one night stands and potential alcohol poisoning, or shootings on Bourbon Street, in which some of our citizens so graciously displayed the complete breakdown in our social system in New Orleans with many young African American males and gun violence, it is about joy.  It's that simple.  It is about being completely unabated, unabashed, and beautiful, it is fireworks and orgasms, it is Christmas and your birthday and all your best friends, and pure joy. 

My day started with a three Mardi Gras Indian showdown a block down my street in the Seventh Ward.  I am not going to describe this scene because it is something you can only witness to truly comprehend, but I can tell you it is steeped and bound with an intense and honorable sense of heritage, strife, and cherished ceremony.  The Chief's feathers are absolutely incredible. It was everything I imagined it would be and I am honored to have been a witness to it.

We had watched the docking of royalty for Zulu and Rex the night before on Lundi Gras.  It is basically the King and Queen of the most esteemed black and white organizations in the city.  The pomp and circumstance is a great counter to the partying idea of Bourbon Street, and an excellent representation of the preservation of history this town breathes and bleeds.

The parades that we've been witnessing have been such an incredible array.  I've seen Babylon, Chaos, Muses, and Endymion where huge tractor pulled floats were stocked with enthusiastic masked throwers of beads, cups, doubloons, coconuts, or whatever, these people are all members of the krewe.  I've seen Marigny parades like Krewe du Vieux and Chewbacchanal which were flagrant and geeky and homemade, so much more my style. I thoroughly enjoyed the Marigny parades out of them all.  Which is why when I was making my walk to the Quarter on Mardi Gras, walking down Esplanade toward Royal, I was stopped by the St. Ann parade in the Marigny and changed course for my sister neighborhood's version of Mardi Gras.

I never made it to Bourbon Street and I don't really care. I will probably take it in one year--for a block or so. But I learned Mardi Gras has nothing to do with Bourbon Street, that is just where you filter out all the tourists. Mardi Gras is about being great, it is about getting it all out before lent in the most lavish, fantastic, and hedonistic way, the last hurrah. And to be honest I have taken it seriously for the first time since middle school, I have actually given up fast food for lent. I am not a Christian, so I really have no religious reason to do this, but the fat of the last two weeks of Mardi Gras, the mouthwatering Cream Cheese King Cake (I got mine from Alois J. Binder Bakery at Frenchmen and Rampart), the alcohol, the food, it is so much after a while that you are ready to give something up by this point. It just feels more worth it.

The costumes, oh my god the costumes.  I started to cry walking around thinking to myself among the throngs of umpa lumpas, panda bears, french royalty, nymphs, and bunnies, that I live here, and that is something special.  That is something incredibly special.  I spent my day taking in the parade, eventually walking in it just so we could get through the streets, made it to the Quarter to catch beads from sweet old lady tourists on balconies, and got to sit on a porch at Frenchmen and take in the crowd.  It was a long day of steadily and carefully drinking, I had to work for a while, made a crapload of money and free booze and more beads, and finished my night following a drum line of eastern Europeans towards my home.