Tag Archives: Louisiana

Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

In 1994, New Orleans R&B legend Ernie K-Doe and his wife, Antoinette, opened the Mother-in-Law Lounge (named after the singer’s 1961 hit single). Located at 1500 N. Claiborne Avenue, in the city’s Treme neighborhood, they hoped the lounge would infuse new life into the singer’s career. It did just that, and the bar and music spot soon became a cultural hub of the community.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

Following her husband’s death in 2001, Antoinette K-Doe continued to own and operate the Mother-in-Law Lounge (which was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005) until her own death in 2009. The club closed the following year.

But in January 2014, the Mother-in-Law found new life when it reopened on Martin Luther King Day under the stewardship of New Orleans jazzman and native son Kermit Ruffins. Today, with its vibrant exterior murals and predominantly local clientele (as well as a smattering of tourists), the Mother-in-Law is reaffirming its place in Treme, providing a venue and gathering point for a variety of area musicians.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The renowned Treme Brass Band’s weekly Sunday gig happily coincided with my first night in town. So at the encouragement of Andy Rubin, a Baltimore-based friend and the Treme Brass Band’s General Manager, I set out on the mile-and-a-half walk from our digs at the French Market Inn on Decatur Street.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The residential streets surrounding Esplanade Avenue, in Faubourg Marigny, are quieter, more empty, and within a few blocks of the Mother-in-Law it becomes evident that you’re no longer in the tourist-driven combine of the Quarter. The words “I told u who hold the fuckin power!” are hand-scrawled in black Sharpie across the warped clapboards of a nearby house. And then, farther up the street, the visages of Ernie and Antoinette manifest in the form of a colorfully loud mural. A bronze plaque beside the door commemorates the previous owners.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

Inside, the Lounge is comparatively nondescript (save for a flamboyant life-size statue of Ernie K-Doe), comprised mainly of two utilitarian rooms – the bar side and the stage side – separated by a cinderblock wall, patrons in the former dancing to the brassy strains emanating from the latter. Benny Jones, Sr., the Treme Brass Band’s leader since the 2012 passing of Uncle Lionel Batiste, and five or six other band members generate their signature sound with little, if any, amplification from the tiny stage, which is little more than a raised platform. Five or six patrons stand watching the band, their backs to the dividing wall; unlike the bar side, no one facing the music is dancing. Not in the corporeal sense, anyway.

For once, I don’t feel badly for sweating through my pressed, button-down shirt; in this climate, everyone does, especially in late June. I found the staff to be very friendly, and I downed a couple of reasonably priced beers during the roughly 45 minutes of the Treme Brass Band’s set that I caught. Despite its simplicity, the place exudes an identity, a sense of history and atmosphere, much more on par with the classic juke joints and gin mills of old than their more modern, sanitized corporate counterparts.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The band wrapped up their set, and I dropped a few bills in the metal urn in front of the stage that serves as a tip jar. I bought a copy of their 2008 album, New Orleans Music, which the band members graciously signed to the attention of my 8-year-old son. From hard rock to hip-hop to traditional folk, he loves live music – the enthusiasm and energy – in all its forms. And the CD, by proxy, will hopefully tide him over until the day I can bring him with me back to see and hear and appreciate for himself the singular city of New Orleans, and the resilient, unvarnished character that appears nightly in places like Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge.

Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
1500 North Claiborne Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70116
P: (504) 975-3955

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kermits-Treme-Motherinlaw-Lounge/674959599217170

Stalking Fictional Characters: James Lee Burke’s New Iberia

“The air smelled like Bayou Teche when it’s spring and the fish are spawning among the water hyacinths and the frogs are throbbing in the cattails and the flooded cypress.” ― James Lee Burke, Creole Belle

James Lee Burke Sign on Main Street in New Iberia
James Lee Burke Sign on Main Street in New Iberia

The minute I heard of an upcoming work conference in New Orleans, my first thought was not of Bourbon Street and sanctioned drunken revelry, but the small southwestern Louisiana town of New Iberia. As a fan of writer James Lee Burke, I have been reading about New Iberia for more than a decade. Burke writes for the senses. His lyrical descriptions of place make New Iberia itself a character in his novels — every bit as much as the recurring Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell. For a book person, this was something of a pilgrimage. I wanted to feel the morning dew on my arms, to smell the rain, to hear the birds, to taste a cup of coffee at Victor’s, and to watch storm clouds build in the distance.

I did all that and more.

In Burke’s books, Dave, Clete, or both, often make the two-hour-plus drive from New Orleans along US-90. His words came alive as we passed swamps, broken down trailers, agricultural fields, and rusty looking bars. We drove through Morgan City, and before we reached New Iberia a storm gathered and the clouds seemed full-to-bursting. The rain finally came, and I was in heaven.

U.S. 90
U.S. 90

Pulling off of the highway, I was initially disappointed by the strip malls and fast food joints in New Iberia. I was expecting something untouched and idyllic. We found that just ahead, once we reached Main Street. While “progress” has reached the area, much of it remains intact. We turned onto Main Street and found Teche Street just to our right.

Bayou Teche Guest Cottage
Bayou Teche Guest Cottage

At the end of the road we found our accommodations for the next three nights – Bayou Teche Guest Cottage. When I started planning the trip I was thrilled to find this place. I had figured on a shady motor court just off the highway, like where Clete might stay, but instead I found a cottage nestled along the Bayou Teche

Bayou Teche Guest Cottage
Bayou Teche Guest Cottage

When I called to make reservations I spoke with the owner, Ms. Gayle, who told me to just bring a check – no credit cards and no pre-payment required. This somehow spoke to the New Iberia I had read about. We arrived and met Ms. Gayle. She lives in the house on the property. When I fessed up that the whole reason we were there was James Lee Burke she told me that his grandfather used to own the property and that the film crew for In the Electric Mist had rented out her house and the cottage. We then conspiratorially agreed there had never been a truly successful film adaptation of his books. When she said she had a pirogue for us to use I may have gone all giddy. May have. Definitely did. Might have squealed.

The storm was moving out, leaving sun showers in its wake, and we walked into town on the Main Street that James Lee Burke has described as the most beautiful in the country. I had reviewed a map provided by the town that highlights spots to check out.

New Iberia Sheriffs Dept
New Iberia Sheriffs Dept

We walked past the Burke House, the sheriff’s station, Books Along the Teche, the local library, Evangeline Theater, and Victor’s Cafeteria. As we turned around there was a rainbow over the town. Are you fucking kidding me? Well done, New Iberia Chamber of Commerce!

Main Street, New Iberia, Louisiana
Main Street, New Iberia, Louisiana

We stopped at a local bar, but the smoke and dead-animal heads were a buzzkill after the rainbow, so we took our “go-cups” of scotch and soda and strolled around town. They are amazingly lax about imbibing in Louisiana.

Along the Teche
Along the Teche

I loved the cottage. Each morning, I enjoyed my coffee on the porch and then drifted down to the dock along the Bayou Teche. I was surrounded by cypress knees and dripping trees, and on the second morning I saw a nutria swimming near the bank. We took the pirogue out for a little while one morning, as Dave often does in the books. I wanted to go out again that afternoon, and we managed to experience both a leech in the boat and a torrential downpour. Both of these were amazing, each in their very different ways. The leech explained why we hadn’t seen anyone swimming.

On the Bayou Teche in a pirogue
On the Bayou Teche in a pirogue

 

Leech in the pirogue
Leech in the pirogue

The afternoon of our last full day we stopped by the drive-thru daiquiri trailer (again, something mentioned in the books). I should note that I am not enough of a devotee to either go completely dry or on a bender; Dave’s drinking problems are his own. I learned that daiquiris are legal and do not violate open container laws because there is tape on the cup and paper on the straw. Tape and paper = totally legal. Did you know you can get ticketed for jaywalking in Washington, D.C.?

Drive Thru Daiquiris
Drive Thru Daiquiris
Totally legal
Totally legal

We also stopped by Books on the Teche. We browsed, and while paying for our books, I found out that the store offered signed first editions of “Jim’s books.” The proprietors knew him from way back, and he only does this for Books on the Teche and a bookstore near his current home in Montana. “Jim.” Giddy alert level 7. I pre-ordered his latest book, Wayfaring Stranger, despite the fact I was in the middle of reading an advance copy that a friend acquired for me.

Books Along the Teche
Books Along the Teche
Books Along the Teche
Books Along the Teche
Signed Copy of Wayfaring Stranger
Signed Copy of Wayfaring Stranger

We got up early on our last day in Louisiana so we could go to Victor’s Cafeteria before heading back to New Orleans for our flight home. They are open for early breakfast (6 a.m. – 10 a.m.) and lunch and we arrived a little after 6 a.m. The coffee was good. Watching the locals have breakfast before heading to work, I had no trouble imaging Dave amongst them. They even have a mock bait shop in the restaurant as homage to the character that has made the place famous.

Victor's Cafeteria
Victor’s Cafeteria
Victor's Cafeteria
Victor’s Cafeteria

Louisiana felt very alive – something I had to experience to truly appreciate. There is something about the air, water, and rain that are tangibly vibrant. The people there also helped make the trip – from the woman at the Goodwill with an accent so thick I had to translate for Patrick to the young cashier at Simoneaud’s Grocery & Market who carded me (yes!) and seemed pleased to hear how much we liked the area.

New Iberia was everything I hoped for and more. I traveled there because I wanted to experience a Louisiana that I knew I might not find. I was basically stalking a fictional character and written descriptions of a place. James Lee Burke’s power as a writer made every day feel like it was imbued with the magic of fiction. The place was real. So yes, the trip was about writer James Lee Burke, Dave Robicheaux, and Clete Purcell, but I loved southwest Louisiana well past those literary connections. And now I understand why Burke writes about it with such love, respect, and concern.

New Iberia, Louisiana
New Iberia, Louisiana

The only thing that could have made it better was if Budget had had an old convertible Cadillac to rent.

Urns of Justice, John M. Shaw U.S. Courthouse, Lafayette, Louisiana

The Urns of Justice, by sculptor Diana Moore, sit outside of the John M. Shaw U.S. Courthouse,  in Lafayette, Louisiana. While they are meant to evoke decorative, anthropomorphic urns of the South and antiquity, one is instead struck by the thought that justice is both blind and brainless.

Urns of Justice

 

Urns of JusticeMore information.

 

SOUNDTRACK: Southern Louisiana

The best music will evoke the most cinematic qualities from any landscape. The musical gumbo of southern Louisiana is infused with a variety of cultures, including French, Spanish, English, and Afro-Caribbean, to name just a few. Rock and roll, jazz, zydeco, New Orleans rhythm and blues – each speaks to the syncopated rhythm of life in a particular time and place.

And so it was that, still haunted by the first season of the HBO series TRUE DETECTIVE, we fled the Crescent City for the swamplands of Iberia Parish, the brassy strut of urban jazz soon yielding to dusty folk rhythms and the lonesome twang of a blues guitar…

The New Orleans Bingo! Show – “New Orleans”

 

Huey “Piano” Smith & His Clowns – “Little Chickee Wah Wah”

 

Ernie K-Doe – “T’aint It the Truth”

 

Earl King – “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights”

 

Ike & Tina Turner – “Too Many Tears in My Eyes”

 

The Handsome Family – “Far From Any Road”

 

Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks – “Southern Love”

 

Brian Tyler – “The King’s Highway” (BUBBA HO-TEP soundtrack)

 

Trailer Bride – “Porch Song”

 

Luna – “Bonnie & Clyde” (Serge Gainsbourg cover)

 

John Lee Hooker – “Unfriendly Woman”

 

Jo-El Sonnier – “Evangeline Special”

 

Boozoo Chavis – “Paper in My Shoe”

 

James McMurtry – “Hurricane Party”

 

Ray Wylie Hubbard – “Snake Farm”

 

The Rock*A*Teens – “Never Really Had It”

 

Kris Kristofferson – “Casey’s Last Ride”

 

Dr. C.J. Johnson – “You Better Run to the City of Refuge”

 

Gary U.S. Bonds – “New Orleans”

 

 

Best Meals: Louisiana Smells like Rain and Tastes Like Potatoes

Louisiana offered up multiple variations of two of the things I like best: potatoes and spicy food. The start of the trip was a work conference and the banquet and luncheon meals were everything I’ve come to expect as a vegan who cannot eat wheat. Apparently, this translates to, “OMG, she has no tastebuds, let’s give her the lukewarm roasted sawdust special!” Thankfully the rest of the trip did not seek to deaden my senses.

HERMES BAR

Soufflé potatoes at Hermes Bar
Soufflé potatoes at Hermes Bar

At Hermes Bar, a local friend introduced me to soufflé potatoes and a new friend introduced me to Chartreuse. Chartreuse is both powerful and beautiful and the only color to be named after a drink. As for the soufflé potatoes, my friend inquired of our lovely, southern gentleman waiter as to the vegan status of the dish before we ordered:

Friend: Excuse me, where are the soufflé potatoes prepared?
Waiter: Why, in the kitchen, of course.*

It was the perfect answer. Upon further clarification, we learned that Hermes cooks them in peanut oil alone. Soufflé potatoes are sublime puffed potato pillows and three plates were devoured in a matter of minutes.

*May not be exactly verbatim, I had already had a Pimm’s Cup and a chartreuse.

13 BAR AND RESTAURANT
In search of a decent dinner after a conference lunch of leaves and flavorless root vegetables, we found ourselves at 13 Bar and Restaurant. Their signature dishes include “tachos.” What are tachos you ask? They are the genius idea of tater tot nachos. They are served with or without cheese, vegan chili, jalapenos, and salsa. The red beans and rice was also vegan.

3 POTATO 4

3 Potato 4
3 Potato 4

On our way out of New Orleans we stopped at 3 Potato 4, which I had read about online prior to the trip. All vegan, gluten-free, and devoted to potatoes. This was close to a religious experience. The menu offers three kinds of baked French fries and a bunch of all-vegan sauces. I tried the Garlic Ketchup, Garlic Pepper Mayo, and Wasabi Ginger Mayo, as well as the vegetable soup. I would have had some coconut ice cream had I not snarfed up all of my fries and some of Patrick’s. Highly recommended.

COTTAGE ALONG THE BAYOU TECHE

Cottage on the Bayou Teche
Cottage on the Bayou Teche

We bought a few supplies at Whole Foods in Metairie before we drove out to southwest Louisiana. Among the items was a jalapeno-cilantro nut-based pesto. Damn, that was good. We had dinner and listened to the sounds of live oaks swaying and birds going to bed. While no potatoes were directly involved in the pasta, I was noshing on Earth Balance Cheddar Kettle Chips and Patrick had Haunted Ghost Pepper Tortilla Chips that made him cry.

THAI CUISINE

Singapore Slings at Thai Cuisine
Singapore Slings at Thai Cuisine

We drove 45 minutes in rush hour in the pouring rain and arrived at a most underwhelming strip mall in Lafayette, LA housing our destination: Thai Cuisine. I had found the place online and once we asked for the vegetarian menu we were set. The Singapore slings were perfect. The lemongrass soup was among the best I have ever had. They really know how to add heat without losing flavor. I know you are thinking, “Where are the potatoes???” Fear not, the garlic tofu came with several roasted potatoes that were cooked to perfection. The garlic tofu was somehow both moist and crispy. It was so good we went back the next day for lunch.