Shrimp boats once docked in the small canal that lined the area best known as Bucktown. It was a quirky little neighborhood with a restaurant, Sid-Mars, a view of the sunset over the lake, a bridge from which boys in cut-off jeans still jumped – even at an age when they should have known better – and other restaurants on the crossing’s opposite side. At its best that stretch of Bucktown was the city’s own seaport village, still rustic in many ways. There were no vendors selling replicas of the shrimp boats, no ice cream parlors or T-shirt shops.
The business of the street was seafood – gathering it and cooking it.
Bucktown comes to mind looking at the cover of this month’s issue, which features a pot of barbecue shrimp. In the neighborhood’s heyday people didn’t fix shrimp that way, it was mostly boiled or fried and served as a poor boy. Barbecue shrimp is a riverside-of-Claiborne-Avenue invention, particularly Pascal’s Manale restaurant, where the recipe was invented (though the shrimp are not really barbecued, but baked and served in a seasoned sauce that begs to be dipped into).
Fortunately the dish has survived better than Bucktown has. To imagine what the once-charming little road with the canal at its side looks like now, picture Hoover Dam. The neighborhood sacrificed its life so that the 17th Street Canal will never flood again like it did after Katrina. The new flood control structure has the charm of a rock but we’re a lot safer now.
There still are shrimp boats in the neighborhood though less visibly. Over the levee near the new Coast Card facility there’s a small marina where some of the boats are parked. It is good to see them and they’re charming in their own way, with their net poles locked in the upward position as though pointing to the crab constellation, but the setting just isn’t the same. There is no neighboring village, just an empty green space. I realize now that part of the charm of a shrimp boat is in the surroundings.
At least the descending sun will always be there. Each time it rises again there will be more nets in the water and more bounty heading for the kitchen.