And paying tribute to an old friend
Through a series of dumb business, personal and financial decisions I drove my life straight into the toilet in 2013. A business partnership that should never have been blew up to no great surprise, leaving me on the cusp of bankruptcy. I was faced with starting all over again at 44.
At the time Renee Kientz was a business acquaintance whom I admired and with whom I had much in common. Renee was the vice president of communications for the St. Tammany Department of Tourism, prior to which she served as the features editor for the Houston Chronicle. She traveled extensively. She loved dining and dogs.
Renee turned out to be a real friend, a mentor, a kindred vulnerable spirit who either could not or would not let life's harshest blows break her fine spirit nor harden her abundant heart. Renee understood the mess I had made of my life and she threw me a lifeline in the form of a decently paying writing gig when I was at the bottom of the heap. Our friendship grew as I slowly rebuilt my life and my career.
A seemingly fearless woman, Renee would say anything, do anything, wear anything and go anywhere. Of course she loved Mardi Gras. She caught the Krewe of Muses parade with friends on Feb. 28. On March 1, a Friday, Renee dined at Del Porto, a glorious restaurant in downtown Covington that she turned me on to years ago.
Renee died suddenly of a heart attack on March 3. She was 65.
This world is a more beautiful place, my life is a better place because this fierce, yet gentle beauty walked a few miles of my path with me. In honor of Renee I am recommending that you visit the Northshore this weekend. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
– "Renee loved our martinis. She loved Happy Hour," said Torre Solazzo, chef and co-owner of De Porto (501 E Boston St., Covington, 985-875-1006, delportorristorante.com). "Her loss is a devastation to our community." Take in that happy hour and raise a glass to Renee any Tuesday-Friday from 4:30-6 p.m. The martini selection changes daily based on what is fresh and seasonal. A gigantic one will set you back $8. Small plates ring in between $4-$10.
-Renee was also a big fan of Lola (517 N New Hampshire St., Covington, 985-892-4992, lolacovington.com), chefs Keith and Nealy Frentz's elegant eatery housed in an old train depot. At lunch, Nealy's homespun baked goods and from-scratch platters are a steal. Renee especially loved the chicken salad Vegas sandwich (mayo, grapes, walnuts and mixed greens on a house-made croissant). Enjoy one for $10 while honoring a great lady. For dinner, expect a white tablecloth setting with delicacies like cast iron duck breast ("really" dirty rice, charred Brussels sprouts, sweet chili soy glaze) for $28.
– For decades locals have gathered for breakfast and lunch Gus's Restaurant (82343 LA-25, Folsom, 985-796-0230) in Folsom. It's a humble place where you stand in line at the counter eyeballing the regular menu on the wall behind the cashier then check out the daily specials scribbled out on a dry-erase board and you struggle to decide what to order: It all looks so good. For under $10 you can eat like royalty at Gus's, enjoying comforting favorites like tender pot roast with carrots, chicken parmesan, stuffed bell peppers, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. And of course there are plenty of poboys to choose from, too.
– Liz Munson named her Where Y'at Diner (2500 Florida St., Mandeville, 985-626-8477, lizswhereyatdiner.com) appropriately: the lady is a "Y'at" –and a proud one at that. Everything about her namesake restaurant reflects Liz's vivid personality. Munson fulfilled a lifelong dream (and became Renee's friend) when she opened her cheerful little breakfast and lunch eatery in Old Mandeville in 2009 with a menu that ranges from local standards like crawfish etouffee to more ambitious options like a Napoleon of fried green tomatoes with layers of pepper jack cheese and a shrimp and crawfish cream sauce topping. I love this place for the friendly wait staff in their tie-dyed t-shirts and the possibility of a delicious breakfast any time of day for under $5 bucks.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Use it to celebrate the people and the community you love.