My mother died when I was quite young, so I’ve spent a lifetime like that little fairytale duck who wandered about seeking his mother. It is fortuitous for me that I’ve encountered many generous women who have been willing to share their guidance and wisdom with me as I’ve stumbled along life’s path.
One of my earliest mentors was Harriet Robin, my childhood best friend’s mother. Thrillingly, in recent years Harriet and I have become friends in our own right and I’ve also become close with her lifelong best friend, Anne Leonhard. Both ladies are skilled and passionate home cooks, and together they’re enjoying second careers as culinary school instructors, most frequently at The New Orleans School of Cooking, where their classes sell out due to their mutual engaging style and sassy, sparking wit.
Harriet and Anne, both born-and-bred, card carrying Y’ats, had never been to Katie’s Restaurant. We started our belt-busting luncheon with char-grilled oysters on the half-shell swimming in buttery goodness and toasted Parmesan; and a crawfish beignet, a puff of dough filled with savory mudbugs, caramelized onions and Provel cheese topped with a zesty aioli.
The highlight of the meal was the arrival of Scottie’s CNN Blackberry and Jalapeno Ribs, which are s-l-o-w smoked and basted with a mind-blowing glaze of fresh blackberries thinned with jalapeño juice.
Harriet: “Oh Mercy, oh my goodness! These are the best ribs I have evuh had in my life! Wait, no, this could be the best thing I have evuh had! I’m going to bring some home to Maw-Maw!” Side note: Maw-Maw, Harriet’s mother, is still enjoying things like jalapeño-glazed ribs at age 101.
Chef Scott “Scottie” Craig: “Lemme tell ya ’bout dem ribs: Katrina is the best thing that ever happened to me. It changed my life.”
Days after the disaster, Craig’s friend encountered a group of CNN journalists seeking a mobile kitchen. He connected them with Craig, who had lost both his home and his business to flooding. “I was desperate. I found them a mobile kitchen and they got me along with the deal. I was gonna stick like glue.”
Scottie set up shop at the CNN outpost in a parking lot near Lee Circle. Inexplicably, those with high-level connections who were allowed to roam the city at will included Arthur J. Robinson, aka “Mr. Okra.”
Regardless that he was awakening to a sparsely populated, utterly decimated place, back in those dark days Mr. Okra cheerily continued to load up his pick-up truck with fresh fruits and vegetables and drove around town singing out through a bullhorn what items he had for sale.
“I have no idea where he was getting this stuff, but everyday it was ‘I’ve got blackberries!’ He seemed to have blackberries just coming out of his ass. So I bought blackberries. CNN headquarters kept sending in loads of baby back ribs. What to do? This is it. I still get calls from CNN bureaus all over the country asking for these ribs.”.
Hungry? The appropriately named Much Factory is turning out top-notch renditions of the kind of fun food we sought out in college. The Elysian Peels are hand-cut strips of potato peels, thicker than a potato chip but crispy like a French fry with rosemary kissed dipping sauce. The Bayou Nachos are obscenely good with just fried tortilla chips layered generously with Jack and Cheddar cheeses and savory pulled roast beef, onions, jalapeños and tomatoes. This is the kind of food you just cannot stop eating.
On a slightly more refined note, chef Ryan Hughes’ hotspot Purloo is now open for lunch Tuesdays through Saturdays. The centralized location that’s still off of the major traffic thruways make it an easy spot for a meeting or a quick bite with a friend.
Katie’s Restaurant 3701 Iberville St., 488-6582, KatiesInMidCity.com
The Munch Factory 6325 Elysian Fields Ave., 324-5372, TheMunchFactory.net
Purloo 1504 Oretha Castle Haley, Blvd., 324-6020, NolaPurloo.com