Red Beans and Ricely Yours March 22, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: red beans and rice
Serio’s red beans have gone all to hell, tasteless but at least not as underdone as the rice. There are only a few sins even stirrup Catholics who promise an act of contrition before they hit the ground will not admit in this city and serving bad beans is one. Maybe its a shake-up in the staff, a new cook, I don’t know. Red beans are a fundamental, an article of the local catechism and if you can’t get those right, you have no business running a restauran.t I don’t care if you beat Bobby Flay in a mufaletta throwdown, if your beans suck you’re dead to me.
Over the last few years working just across the street it’s been a given you would find me at Serio’s on Monday, in spite of the overly loud TVs and a proprietor with a lot of questionable opinions straight off of WWL-AM that he loves to loudly broadcast. I stopped going for a while after I heard him announce to some tourists who asked about the Ninth Ward, “oh, that was nothing. All those houses were junk anyway. Lakeview suffered just as bad if not worse.” It set my blood to boiling as if I’d spilled an entire bottle of Crystal onto my food, the casual racism of it but then we are a town of casual racists, and if you serve good beans (especially if your sole Black employee, the only one in the place whose the tiniest bit friendly and solicitous serves them to me, well, I came back. The beans were good and just across the street. What’s a guy supposed to do?
The nice black woman who served me every Monday with just a nod by me and a wave and a smile back, allowing me to skip the ordering line and go straight to the register, is gone. I never learned her name. I miss her smile as she as she brought me a plate overflowing with beans and maybe an extra bit of sausage for which I gladly gave up a dollar tip. She deserved more and if I saw her again I’d probably slip her a twenty to make up for it, but she’s gone. Maybe I’m just old but I miss that kind of service, the sort Miss Mary in the Canal Street D.H. Holmes men’s sportswear department used to give, someone who knew your neck, sleeve, waist and inseam size at a glance from 20 feet away.
I think of all the good red beans past, first of all Buster Holmes which fed generations of working people with an inexpensive delicacy, probably the finest beans in the city, long gone since the restaurant was sold in the 1980s and Mr. Homles passed on in 1994. (You can thank whoever Mr. Holmes sold out to, because their failed chain of red bean-themed restaurants inspired Al Copeland to add them to the Popeye’s menu. Thank you, Buster). Eddie Baquet’s on Law Street, one of the great New Orleans soul food restaurants mostly unknown to half of New Orleans because of it’s location (but not to me because a friend took a semester off college to work a produce truck) is also long gone. His descendants own Lil’ Dizzy’s and I’ve not tried their beans and will have to some day if only in memory of the originals, to see if they measure up, but that means getting in the car.
The same for Buffa’s and their mean red beans. Too far, and the overwhelming temptation to have a Hi-Life with my lunch. I need a place I can walk to. Dunbar’s is back thank god after spending several years in the catering business (we had beans and chicken for lunch at the first Rising Tide bloggers conference in 2006), but that’s another car trip, this one much too far Uptown. If I worked from home on Mondays the solution would be simple: Liuzza’s at the Track, but I’m usually downtown. (Another great loss: specials at Parkway, including the Monday Red Bean po-boy, a length of French bread hollowed out and filled with beans. Man those were good but they’re gone, too).
When my server at Serio’s left, some of the spirit went out of the place, leaving only the proprietor with his loud opinions and the overly loud TVs he bellows over and walls full of fading LSU memorabilia I could care less about, and nothing sums up the loss of a favorite restaurant as the simple fact of bad red beans, two weeks in a row. I’m done with them. I think I’m going to have to start spending Mondays at the Commerce but if you want to sit that means getting out of work 11ish, and I’m not sure I can resist one of the best fried shrimp or oyster po-boy’s in town just sitting there on the menu distracting me from my Monday mission. Its going to be tough, but I’ll have to manage somehow.