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A Fun Saturday Afternoon at Newly Refurbished St. Roch Market in New Orleans

It’s nice to see the revival of St. Roch Market, one of the great New Orleans neighborhood markets. For years I’ve passed by this place on St. Claude Avenue and it’s been all boarded up, with paint peeling and windows broken. It looked like a nice building that was just going to waste. It’s been in a seedy, low-rent neighborhood with not much going on. And after Hurricane Katrina it seemed to look even worse.

A Fun Saturday Afternoon at Newly Refurbished St. Roch Market in New Orleans

st roch market new orleans

St. Roch Market Before

st roch market new orleans after

St. Roch Market After it’s recent refurbishment

But since that huge storm that brought with it a lot of flooding, misery and destruction there has been a great rejuvenation of the area, new buildings going up, old buildings being bought and renovated, new business coming in. And finally the St. Roch Market, originally built in 1875, has been refurbished and re-opened. And let me tell you it’s a great, fun place to go.

One Saturday a friend of mine and I decided to take a ride out to the other side of town and check this place out. It was easy parking in the free lot right next door. The outside of the building is freshly painted, repaired and gleaming with big windows.

The Layout

As we walked in those big windows fill the space with tons of light and gives it a really upscale, upbeat, fresh, happy feeling to the place. With walkways on either side of columns that line the center of the building, food counters line the walls.

St. Roch Market on the inside

St. Roch Market down the middle – note the oyster bar to the right

Small tables for eating and chatting are scattered around the center columns. The day we went the place was abuzz with activity. It so happened it was the day of the Red Dress Run and several visitors where attired appropriately.

There were two guys all decked out and I thought how nice they look and it did not seem strange at all to see them wearing red dresses. After all this is New Orleans. Then I remembered, oh yeah, this is Red Dress Run day. Right.

Our Brief Rapast

I got a dish from the Koreole counter, a fusion of Creole and Korean food served up by a Korean lady and her creole husband. I got the Bim Bim Bowl, a mixture of rice and chicken and other veggies, seasoned and spiced to perfection. In fact, just writing about it makes me hungry.

The purveyor of the Bim Bim Bowl

Kayti Williams – the purveyor of Koreole and the Bim Bim Bowl

I sat at one of tables and ate while my friend was getting his own meal at another counter. I didn’t pay much attention to what he got since what I had was so good I was only focused on nibbling every last little teeny morsel of delicious chicken off the bones.

A World of Ersters

After we’d finished out meal we moseyed over to the oyster bar of the Curious Oyster Company where they were serving not only freshly shucked oysters from the gulf but from several other places around the country as well. We ordered a dozen gulf oysters that we seasoned only with some lemon juice.

After all our oysters from the Gulf of Mexico are the best hands down.

After all, our oysters from the Gulf of Mexico are the best hands down. I don’t eat em with that red sauce in the middle… why ruin a good oyster?

I am not one to mix up a little sauce of tobacco, ketchup and horseradish that a lot of folks like to do. To me it only covers up the oyster flavor, you can’t really appreciate the oystery nuance with all that stuff all over it. I just like to eat it raw raw.

After we slurped those down our friendly shucker, a handsome black fella who said he’d been shucking since he was 18 and with powerful Popeye-like forearms to prove it, had us sample oysters from around the country. These were from New York, California, Washington State, and the Atlantic coast. Who would’ve thought oysters could taste so different. Wow. And because they have to fly them in fresh the price is kinda hefty, the real reason we originally went for the local oysters.

But after tasting these “foreign” oysters with their strange aftertastes, some oily-tasting, some with a strange bitterness, I realized that we here in the south have the best oysters in the whole country. Ours are smooth-tasting and mild with just the right kind of briny-ness.

These other oysters seem to have a kind of “ick” factor to them. I feel sorry for these people in other parts of the country who have to eat them. I remember when I lived in the Pacific Northwest and would occasionally have their oysters. At first I was impressed with the massive size, which made me think I was getting a bargain. But being able to compare them side by side with a gulf oyster, well, there is no comparison. The gulf oyster wins hands down.

Pricey Rents?

After we’d had our fill of oysters we gave our shucker a nice tip and a fist bump then headed over to the butcher counter and bought some freshly-made hog’s head cheese. I ask the woman behind the counter how was business and she said it was OK, just making enough to pay for the booth.

Then I asked her how much she was paying a month to rent the space. I don’t remember what she told me but I remember that I thought it was exorbitant and told her so. At the grocery counter at the door they were selling watermelon and other produce for ridiculously high prices. Who would buy such things when you could go a few blocks to the supermarket and get it a lot cheaper?

St. Roch is owned by the city, so I don’t know why they think they have to have such high rents. Seems counter-intuitive.

Anyway, we had a great couple hours there at St. Roch Market. Glad it’s come back, glad it’s again one of our great New Orleans markets. We’ll have to revisit. I’ll definitely get the Bim Bim Bowl again, maybe this time I’ll get two.

Check out St. Roch Market at their website.

Posted in Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Business, New Orleans Food, New Orleans History, New Orleans Landmarks, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Neighborhoods, New Orleans Restaurants.

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New Novel for Young Readers Gives Visceral Experience of Hurricane Katrina

It’s been ten years now since Hurricane Katrina barreled through New Orleans causing the badly designed, poorly built and terribly managed federal levee system to fail. We all know about the terrible flooding that ensued, the lives lost and the billions of dollar in property damaged.

New Orleans is still working it’s way out of the mess. Everyone who lived here during that time has their own story to tell, some more dramatic than others.

finding some place hurricane katrina new orleans

Denise Lewis Patrick has written Finding Someplace, a novel for young people about those fateful days. It’s an easy read and one that I found difficult to put down. It tells the story of Reesie and her family who live in the Lower Ninth Ward and what they have to endure when the hurricane hits the city.

Creative, imaginative Reesie is just about to turn 13, and the day before the storm hits she and the family are making preparations for a big blowout birthday party for the next day. Of course, the reader knows what is about to happen, that Reesie’s dreams are about to get shattered.

The author very successfully builds an intense feeling of suspense and doom which anyone who has lived through a hurricane is familiar with, especially one as huge and destructive as Hurricane Katrina. I could feel my chest tightening and pulse quickening as I read for I’ve experienced several hurricanes myself.

And we all know what happened in the Lower Nine when the canal wall broke and buried most of that neighborhood under water. Through circumstances beyond her control Reesie is stuck there and makes it through the storm in the house of her elderly friend Miss Martine. The house is flooded and they have to bust a hole in the roof to survive and eventually get rescued.

The story picks up a few months later when we find that Reesie has moved to New Jersey with her mother. Her father, a New Orleans cop, has chosen to stay in the city to help with the recovery, a choice that has irked Reesie’s mother and caused a rift in their marriage.

Although this book is meant for young people, it’s a great read for older folks as well. The characters are expertly drawn, the buildup to the storm is rich and suspenseful. The follow up a few months later when the characters are dealing with living in a strange and different culture, New Jersey, gives you the feeling of what it was like for many people to have to leave their beloved home and try to make it somewhere else, even if only for a time.

For those who don’t know about Hurricane Katrina this is a great introduction to it. For those who do, it provides a visceral story of thousands who experienced the drama and suspense of dealing with the hurricane and being uprooted from New Orleans, the place that gives them life and fills their soul.

Read the book. You can get Finding Someplace on Amazon.

Posted in Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Books, New Orleans Culture, New Orleans History.

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James Carville Quote About New Orleans Culture Nails It

You know we all talk about New Orleans culture and what it is and all the different aspects of it from the food, music, architecture, way of life. And most folks who come here see it as a beautiful city worth visiting because it is different and colorful and interesting, the can eat great food, and party down.

James Carville Quote About New Orleans Culture Nails It

james carville quote about new orleans

But I think what a lot of folks don’t get, and I would include some New Orleanians in this as well, is that although we are a city, a three hundred year old city, we also are very different from the rest of the United States.

Most locals don’t realize this till they move away, feel strangely starved for something that is almost intangible, and then get sucked back to the city and finally feel as if they are really living again. If you were to ask a died in the wool citizen of this burg what they owe their allegiance to first it would be New Orleans, then Louisiana, then the South, then lastly America.

And what Carville so succinctly points out and what really makes us different is that culturally we are really not American. We are made up of French, Spanish, African, Italian, Irish, German culture and blood.

And, yes, you could say that about other cities in America as well, but because we’ve lived in the swamps, essentially an island, at the bottom of the country for so long that we have been able to stew in our own juices and produce something that is unique, our ancestry something we still revel in and embrace.

Although politically I’m on opposites sides of the spectrum from Mr. Carville I gotta say whenever he talks about New Orleans he is usually piquant and right on.

So yeah as he says, “When you go to New Orleans you are not just going to a city, you’re going to an entire culture,” he nails it.

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Life.

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So Which is the Number One City for Young Creatives? New Orleans, Of Course

If anyone had any doubts that New Orleans is a world class Mecca for talent well the argument has now been settle with SmartAsset naming the Crescent City the number one place for young creatives.

So Which is the Number One City for Young Creatives? New Orleans, Of Course

Musicians play on the streets of the New Orleans French Quarter, a quotidian, ubiquitous sight.

Musicians play on the streets of the New Orleans French Quarter, a quotidian, ubiquitous sight.

Huh, can you imagine that? Of the top ten list where even Los Angeles and New York don’t even make it, New Orleans is considered number one. What’s fascinating is that Salt Lake City is number two. Here’s what it says on SmartAssets website:

The birthplace of jazz, New Orleans has long been considered one of the country’s best cities for musicians seeking inspiration and an audience. While it remains one of the world’s top music cities, it has emerged as a great place for all kinds of creatives. Indeed, going by total employment, the single largest creative profession in New Orleans is acting. There are 1,900 full time actors or actresses in New Orleans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What I’m amazed at here is that acting is the largest creative profession in New Orleans. I know since Hurricane Katrina theatre companies have exploded here and according to reviews have excellent productions. Hm. Coulda fooled me. I would have thought that musicians would have topped the list. But no, it’s actors.

It also seems that all the arts here have blossomed since the storm.

Loyola University has a very good music program that attracts people from all over the country. I discovered this SmartAsset story on the university student newspaper’s, The Maroon, website. It tells of a student, Pamela Nions, who moved here to go to the school.

Nions, a music performance graduate student at Loyola, decided that after living in Inkster, Michigan for many years, moving back to New Orleans was key for her acoustic calling because of the city’s leading music programs and idiosyncratic cultural sphere.

“For decades, academic institutions like Loyola University, have been – and will continue to be – directly influenced by the New Orleans multi-cultural scene because of the city’s rich historical heritage,” Nions said.

In the same article the Chair of Loyola Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, Georgia Gresham, says:

“On one side you have the alumni who stayed to create their own companies, such as the Cripple Creek Theater Co., in order to raise the city’s positive creative profile; and on the other side, you have artist from all around world who migrate here because they are allured by New Orleans’ leading contemporary culture,” Gresham said.

Gresham, who’s been part of the Loyola faculty for 25 years, frequently talks to her students about the principle of being cultural chameleons: to always appreciate the classics but to avoid separating themselves from being who they are at all costs.

“People here are a reflection of what’s truly happening in New Orleans: a rebirth,” Gresham said.

Don’t know what it is, perhaps being on the edge of a swamp and at the base of the Mississippi River, but almost from the founding of the city New Orleans has attracted creative types.


Posted in New Orleans Business, New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Music.

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You Can Get (Almost) Anything You Want at 25 Definitive New Orleans Restaurants

Of course we all know New Orleans restaurants and New Orleans food is known and celebrated the world over. For the last hundred years or so lots of books have been written about our food culture along with numerous cookbooks. Novelist Steven Wells Hicks has done something a little different from the norm in his book 25 Definitive New Orleans Restaurants.

Get this book to learn the fascinating ins and outs of New Orleans restaurants

Get this book to learn the fascinating ins and outs of New Orleans restaurants

You Can Get (Almost) Anything You Want at 25 Definitive New Orleans Restaurants

To be honest when I was sent this book to review I put it off for the longest time, it just did not seem that interesting to me. I thought, why write a book that’s about just a handful of New Orleans restaurants and bars? Some of the them I’d never even heard of before. Well, as the saying goes, you can’t always tell a book by its cover.

I have nothing against the cover, looks nice and clean and informs the reader of the gist of the book. But one evening I put my trepidations aside, cracked the book open, and was pleasantly surprised from the first page.

Hicks, a transplant to the city, has chosen several of the most famous and popular New Orleans restaurants, along with several I didn’t even know existed! Ha, and me supposedly being this big expert about all things New Orleans. Well, I guess I’ve now been shown a thing or two.

The author writes in a fun, engaging tone about his experiences in each one. He adds to that the history of the place, its fascinating personality and the cast of characters that make up the owners and its patrons thus providing a microcosm of just what makes the city of New Orleans unique in all the world.

Author Steven Wells Hicks brings his novelist skills to writing about his favorite New Orleans restaurants and bars.

Author Steven Wells Hicks brings his novelist skills to writing about his favorite New Orleans restaurants and bars.

Being a novelist he is able to write vividly with wit and humor with a novelist’s flair. This makes the book enjoyable to read. And to be honest, I’ve been reading it very slowly, sometimes only doing a chapter or two a night.

And he does not sugarcoat things either. When he talks of Antoine’s, yes that venerable place, he provides a brief fascinating history but in giving his overall review does not pull any punches. He acknowledges that local patrons have been pretty much aware for several years now that the food is not what it used to be, so he recommends eating there for lunch simply because prices are a lot better than in the evening.

Besides giving reviews on some of the famous places like Mandina’s, Galatoire’s, Willie Mae’s, and Mosca’s he also gives his take on neighborhood favorites like Clancy’s, Rocky and Carlo’s, and others.

Some I’ve never heard of like Cafe 615 (“Da Wabbit”), Sal’s, and Seither’s out in Harahan. And for the last restaurant he reviews Tujaque’s which, sadly, has seen a lot better times and, as he indicates, is in need of a complete overhaul.

I remember when we had a small family reunion of sorts years ago we all ate upstairs in this historic old joint, a place original intended to provide cheap meals for dock workers back in the 1800s. We sat at a big round table in this small room where the floor tilted to one side. Some of the young people with us were kind of freaked out by it, but the adults thought it was cool because it was just the character of the place and added to its quirkiness and sense of history. It was a four or five course meal as I remember and was okay.

He finishes the book with reviews of twelve bars around the city, and I must confess that most of them I had never heard of and now reading about them am tempted to make a pilgrimage to each one.

He does mention two of my favorites: Napoleon House, in my opinion the best all around bar in the city with the added bonus that it also serves good food, and Arnaud’s French 75, a classic, cozy, elegant place, an oasis from all the hubbub in the Quarter. To me it’s the kind of place that’s best enjoyed by dressing up a bit, sipping on a Sazerac (one of the best in the city) and engaging in quiet conversation.

He points up other bars like Cosimo’s (did Oswald plot the assassination of JFK here?), Marky’s Bar, The Blind Pelican that are not on my list of bars I knew about or even heard of. But he writes about them engagingly enough to make me want to try them out at my next opportunity.

The back cover says this book is “required reading for serious food fanciers planning their first or fifty-first pilgrimage to the undisputed Food Mecca of the Mighty Mississippi.” I would also have to add that it should be required reading for locals too.

For a New Orleanian it provides a fresh insight into our favorite places, for visitors it provides layers of wonderful history and tidbits that makes being a customer at these places that much more fascinating.

25 Definitive New Orleans Restaurants is a great guide book for Crescent City restaurants and bars and would make a great gift for visitors and local alike. Click this link to get it here.

Posted in New Orleans Books, New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Food, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Restaurants.

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