New Orleans Nostalgia_The Early Years
House On St. Charles
St. Charles Avenue is the iconic mansion location for upper class old line New Orleans families. At least that is the way I perceived it to be. Street cars, stately mansions, buckled sidewalks, coupled together with the sounds of the night make for wistful memories of days gone by.
I remember the large family home at the corner of Short Street which was a block from the Mississippi River levee. It had a front porch whereby you could listen to the cars in the rain and gaze out at a nearby tavern with an oval front door reflecting its lights on the wet pavement.
The house had stately rooms where dinner meals were prepared by the servants and cooks in the large white tiled and stainless steel kitchen. A big refrigerator was stocked with Barq’s Root beer. My grandparents spoiled me and let me have anything I wanted in that place.
I was a teenager back in the days when no one asked for your ID in the local bar. Lying to the bartender would result in their believing me.
I was a member of a family known as the Fabachers. They owned the local brewery that has become a hallmark of the riverfront scene by the French Quarter.
Jax Brewery is well-known for its landmark history and impact on the local genre. My uncle, John, was the treasurer there and allowed for me to work in the accounting office at the age of 14.
I remember looking through the windows at the large beer processing tanks and having scrambled egg sandwiches washed down with a bottle of Jax Beer. Nobody blinked an eye at my doings.
Malts At The Fountain Counter
Katz & Besthoff was the long-standing local drug store throughout the city. They were also a fountain lunch counter hangout.
My uncle and I would go over to the one nearby the brewery and have a delicious malt served with a large tapered glass and a stainless steel goblet filled with K&B’s signature ice cream. Scrambled egg sandwiches again seemed to be his favorite, so that was our combo lunch.
The store chain has now been replaced. The purple and white signs no longer dot the city. But I miss them just the same.
Ye Old College Inn was another favorite. I would wear my Dad’s Tulane University football sweater for fun when I went there with high school friends. I didn’t really care that I got a lot of looks. All I really wanted was to have a big chocolate malt and a really good “ground in-house” hamburger. It is still there today with my Father’s Jesuit High football picture on the wall.
Mardi Gras And The Truck Parade
One of the big events on the actual day of the Mardi Gras celebration was the decorated trucks that carried revelers behind the main King Rex parade. Scores of the pseudo “floats” would line up as the major event passed and join in the beads and trinkets tossing to the waiting crowed.
Our family became part of a group that commandeered one of these festive vehicles. They rented a semi with an open cargo carrier and did their own decorations. I somehow always seemed to be responsible for buying my own stuff and really couldn’t afford much at the time.
I would save my money and when the time came I would visit one of the supply houses and purchase what I could. When the big day came we would donne our suffocating costumes and toss various items to the crazy people below.
The only way I could keep from running out of my stash was to tie the beads to a big rubber band. I would toss the trinkets to outstretched hands and let the rubber band return the gems back to me before any hands could catch them. Kind of a mean trick, but I did eventually let various items go as the parade advanced onward.
The Elephant Bun
A major treat that is indigenous to New Orleans cuisine is a giant sandwich called the Muffuletta. It is approximately 9″ in diameter filled with ham, turkey, and salami seasoned with an olive dressing. It feeds 4 people.
My father started a restaurant called the Elephant Bun. It was centered around a sandwich that was similar to the Muffuletta. I don’t remember the chef there, but the food was excellent. Along with this very large sandwich, the fried chicken was to die for.
Again, I was in my early years at high school and underage for employment there. Somehow I was in charge of the cash register and collecting the fare from the clientele. Since the manager was stealing money from my dad when he wasn’t there, I knew the enterprise was short-lived.
He had another restaurant called the Key Club located on St. Charles Ave. Everyone was stealing from him in that place. The cooks and servants were hiding turkeys and steaks in trash cans in the alley and retrieving the items after dark. It didn’t take long for both restaurants to go out of business. What a shame!
Poboys and French Bread
I used to love to hang out in the French Quarter, the most identifiable area of the Crescent City. Wanting to pursue a career in art, I would wander among the streets below the shadows of St. Louis Cathedral admiring paintings done by local artists.
I would wander down narrow streets and in and out local shops to discover things I had never seen before. Voodoo parlors, restaurants serving Creole food, and dark taverns were everywhere. I just loved to take in the fare.
Often there was the smell of fresh French Bread being made by a local bakery filling the air. I would be enticed to seek out a sandwich shoppe serving the famous local delicacy know as the ‘Poboy‘.
My two favorites were the fried oyster served with Remoulade sauce and the roast beef drenched in an incredibly delicious gravy. That was the pinnacle of gustatorial delights for me.
The Local Culture
Schwegmann’s was the precursor of today’s supermarket. It was an over sized shopping complex under one roof. You could not only buy an unlimited supply of groceries, but get your shoes shined, eat boiled shrimp, and shop for unrelated items in one place.
I remember the one I went to as being cold inside. Almost like a big refrigerator. You could grab an oyster loaf and a beer at the in-house Shopper’s Bar to carry down the isles while filling your cart with just about everything imaginable. It was an unbelievable experience.
Another landmark was Morrison’s Cafeteria. Truly delicious comfort food was all made on the premises daily. My mom loved taking us there and gave us permission to choose anything we wanted. That included Crawfish Etouffee, Red Beans and Rice, Banana Pudding, Gumbo, Lost Bread, Chowders, Bisques, and Homemade Soups.
On the flip side, my mother’s father would gather his grand kids and take them to Brown’s Velvet Dairy to get the most delicious ice cream. Back then it was all natural ingredients and had the sweetest flavor. I was only allowed one cone, but was always wrangling for ways to get more. I had to hope one of my siblings or cousins would not finish theirs and give it to me.
I saw New Orleans through the eyes of a child and teenager. The city was wide open to me. I explored the sights and landmarks like an adventurous explorer. Later I did it with my wife who embraced the city as her own.
It’s not the same now. It has changed a lot since I was a young man. Many old landmarks and indigenous structures are gone now. History there seems to be disappearing a little by little. Time marches on as do the people who made it all happen.
But nostalgia and memories abound. Long time residents bring days gone by back with commentaries and pictures and personal insights. I hope I have done that here. It sometimes makes me wish I could go back in time. At least for a short period of time and take it all in.