Ginger and The Skipper in the Crescent City, Part 1: 13-14 August 2013

We only went to Big Daddy’s because we were still full from dinner. Sans car, we walked to Maurepas and back, the better to see brightly painted shotgun house shutters and sidewalk cats and rubber trees. We’re staying in Fauborg-Marigny. Maurepas is in Bywater, across the tracks. We went for the vegetables, though the grits and the dark-and-stormy came highly recommended, too. There were goat tacos and pulled pork something, but we stuck to the veg because it was August in the South and everything good was in season. We started with some very fancy cocktails and a small plate of pickles. Pickled okra, bell peppers, and peaches, all with different amounts of vinegar-y brine. They tasted clean. The peaches were my favorite, but I had to explain to The Skipper about those formaldehyde pickled baby corns and okras on the salad bar at Shoney’s and how this okra was so not that.

We shared four plates for dinner: arancini, grits, purple hull peas, and long beans. The long beans were a novelty, probably a foot long, grilled/charred with some oil, salt and cucumber kimchee, simply done. The grits set a new standard for rich depth of flavor and creaminess. I swore they were simmered with chicken stock and finished with cream, but I’d be happy to have the correct recipe. The Skipper has become quite the grits connoisseur and wondered why everyone doesn’t do grits this way. Why indeed? If the Italians can have risotto, why can’t grits Maurepas-style be de rigueur in the U.S.? I’m talkin’ to you posers from Brooklyn and  Jacobs Pickles. We got a clue about the subtlety and skill of the Maurepas chefs with the arancini (okra & charred tomato relish, gruyere, pickled peppers). The okra was cut in pieces and cooked through but still firm and served with arancini (that fried ball of rice from Italian street festivals), but in this case it tasted like fried cornmeal. Fried okra, deconstructed. So clever, so thoughtful.

But the purple hull peas did me in. Maybe because there were always gallon bags of them in my grandparent’s deep freeze in the garage. Maybe because I remember hulling peas in the summer, my grandmother’s long, perfect fingernails expertly slicing the husks. Maybe because they were always on the table, Sundays and weeknights. With the first bite, I am at that table again, sitting between my cousin and my grandma, a mound of purple hull peas spilling into tomatoes from the garden. And I am overcome, in the restaurant, quietly sobbing over my plate. It’s not nostalgia cooking with a nudge and a wink at all the butter. The taste is true. Maurepas makes food memories live again. Now if they would only do the yeast rolls from my elementary school cafeteria to sop up the pea liquor.

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