Bizarre Louisiana Eats and Questions About Restaurant Openings

This Thursday Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern," will appear with Poppy Tooker from 3 to 5 at the Thursday afternoon edition of the Crescent City Farmer's Market in Mid-City. Tooker is, among other things, the host of the "Louisiana Eats" radio show on public radio stations WWNO and KTLN, and an ardent supporter of locally produced foods. Together they'll shop at the market and prepare shrimp étouffée.

I have not always been kind to television food personalities. There was a time when I cared about food television, but that ended when the networks began cutting chefs like Mario Batali in favor of Sandra Lee, Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray. I have been fairly restrained in my criticism for the last several years, despite taking the occasional potshot at the spiky-coiffed Fieri. (Seriously, I cannot think of Guy Fieri without thinking of Yeats' poem "The Second Coming." I picture Fieri as the sphinx in that poem, his gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun; his slow thighs rubbing together as he slouches towards Hollywood to shoot another commercial for some fast food restaurant.)

But I like Zimmern. I read an interview of Zimmern back in October of last year at the Onion A/V Club, and I discovered that the enthusiasm he displays on his show is entirely genuine. I don't religiously watch "Bizarre Foods," but I tend to enjoy it when I do. It reminds me of a more populist version of Anthony Bourdain's show on the Travel Channel, "No Reservations."

Zimmern has been in town this week shooting an episode of "Bizarre Foods America," and based on the photographs posted on the show's website, he's made some good choices. A poor boy at Parkway, Vietnamese food in New Orleans East, a meal with Leah Chase and the obligatory alligator sauce piquant on a side trip to Cajun country all sit well with me. In the video posted on that website, it's clear that Zimmern is actually enjoying himself, and that's a rare thing on these sort of shows. The American Can Company building which hosts the Mid-City market is located at 3700 Orleans Ave, which is just about directly on my way home from work every day. Hopefully I won't be too late to say hello to Zimmern and Tooker when I stop by after work this evening. 

In other news, there have been a slew of restaurant openings in the area in the last weeks. Superior Seafood, a cousin to the casual Mexican restaurant Superior Grill, opened at the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon, and Johnny V's started service yesterday at 6116 Magazine St. Maurepas Foods began serving in the Bywater at 3200 Burgundy, and Manning's Restaurant, the partnership between Archie Manning and Harrah's casino, joined the already restaurant-heavy Fulton Street pedestrian mall in the CBD. John Besh and Brian Landry opened Borgne in the Hyatt Regency on Loyola just a few blocks from the Superdome, and stretching the definition of “last weeks” just a bit allows me to include the French bistro C'est la Vie, which opened last December at 4206 Magazine St.

I have asked a number of people who are savvy about the restaurant industry how New Orleans has managed to actually increase on the number of restaurants that were open prior to Katrina, given the somewhat reduced population and the weakened national economy. No one really has a solid answer, but for my part I think it's largely got to do with strong support from local residents and the increasingly strong convention and tourist business New Orleans is seeing. I don't think either one or the other of those things would do it, but together they provide a solid and reliable base of customers for restaurants of all types. That's my theory, anyway. What's yours?

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