Today we celebrate New Orleans cuisine. Six friends are joining Ruth & me for a kind of Creole meal. We have spent the last week learning how to make Muffuletta sandwiches, Creole shrimp soup, and dirty rice. We’ll know soon if our efforts were worthwhile.
When we were in the French Quarter a couple of weeks ago, Ruth had to go the Central Grocery for lunch. Central Grocery is home to the original Muffuletta sandwich. If you eat one, don’t tell your cardiologist. Central Grocery has been making these working man sandwiches for 111 years. Its French Quarter location is in one of America’s oldest Italian grocery stores. The line to get a Muffuletta in the early afternoon is quite long but moves fast. Ruth lingered over her lunch that day.
But I was anxious to move on to the Southern Food & Beverage Museum at 1504 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. This is a new kind of museum. There is one here, one in California, and one in New York (Brooklyn). To my knowledge, these are the only 3; but I can see this concept, a celebration of regional cuisine, catching on and becoming new museums all over the country. Is the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans worth visiting? Yes. Is it perfect? No. It’s not even 4 Compass….yet. The whole time I was in SoFAB I kept wishing I had come, not to see the museum, but for a cooking class. SoFAB sponsors frequent demonstrations by local chefs. To get the most out of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, you just have to eat something while there. The museum, which celebrates its 10th birthday in 2018, is, for now, too cluttered and diverse. I kept wishing that it celebrated only Louisiana cuisine instead of the entire South and would put away or sell most of what’s on display. It could use serious updating too.
One of its biggest displays is about Al Copeland. If you’re saying, “Who is Al Copeland?” you’re like me before SoFAB. Al was a local restaurant legend who opened many Copeland’s eateries that served New Orleans style cuisine. In 2004 there were more than 40 Copeland’s locations. Al, who loved racing powerboats, went on to create a national chain of fast food chicken and biscuit sellers called Popeyes. He died relatively young of a rare cancer caused by a malignant salivary gland tumor in 2008.
Another display honored Piggly Wiggly. A grocery store with this name opened in Memphis in 1916, so this chain claims to have created the very first self-serve grocery store in America. It now has 530 stores in 17 states and recently opened a new one in Columbus, Georgia.
SoFAB invited the entire Museum of the American Cocktail into its museum. To me, its most interesting aspect was a tribute to absinthe. This green liqueur that was loved by many artists and writers was first distilled in Switzerland in the 18th century. It was banned in the United States in 1912. The ban was lifted in 2007.
The displays mentioning individual states’ food specialties are mildly interesting but generally earned an “I knew that” response. For example, “The vast variety of native peppers that grow in Texas have given rise to a natural spice that has influenced cuisines around the world”.
After a couple of hours I was anxious to head for dinner. Bon Appétit had just named a small, local sandwich seller called Turkey and the Wolf the ‘”best new restaurant of 2017″, and we wanted, despite lunchtime Muffulettas, to try it…if it was possible to get in. We succeeded.