Walking into the chilly morning bluster of sun and wind, I was on a mission to find the building that once belonged to my grandfather, the building which housed his restaurant and inn. Rounding the corner onto Lafayette Square on Saint Charles Street I spun around looking at all of the buildings when a tall and narrow red building with balconies laced with shiny black wrought iron railings caught my eye. I snapped a photo and sent it to my father who confirmed that this was indeed, my grandfather’s establishment from 1942 -1975.
From Lafayette Square, I meandered my way through the warehouse district that is in full renaissance mode. Old buildings, sometimes with only the façade intact are being renovated and finding renewed life as chic and hip businesses.
One of the things I love so much about New Orleans is the care in which the history and legacy of the city is handled. The patina of what was is embraced into the new and not torn down or sandblasted away.
I walked all day up and down the streets, in and out of the French Quarter. Evidence of Katrina still exists as a reminder of the tragedy and loss and also as testament to the spirit of the people who rose up to rebuild their lives and their beloved city.
The architecture, colors and use of the buildings is brilliant.
We indulged our hungry bellies at Emeril’s that evening and we were not disappointed. Everything about this restaurant was impeccable. The service was attentive without hovering, the atmosphere was warm and beautiful without pretense and the food was perfection.
The following day while I was out exploring, I stumbled upon Southern Candymakers on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.
A bright and charming shop, I could smell the sugar and butter cooking in the large copper pots as I walked down the street towards the front door.
Inside I was met by a lady pouring hot caramel over peanuts and racks of cooling confections. Now I’m not a big candy eater but this was the real deal and the aroma was intoxicating. These delicious morsels were hot of the press and I couldn’t resist. I left with a hand-picked assorted box of goodies to send to my father and step-mother but I admit, I knicked a few for Ric and myself before shipping the treats. Who could fault me for that?
Later in the afternoon, Ric and I walked back over to Lafayette Square so I could show him my grandfather’s old restaurant site.
As my father described Fred’s Inn, “This was a character place like Damon Runyon wrote about. On the right side of the room, there were pinball machines, which paid for the monthly utilities. Past the machines, was a high mahogany bar with a long brass rail footrest that ran the length of the room back to the kitchen. The bar stools were high with brass frames and red leather seats and the floor was made from small octagon shaped white tiles with some black tile designs scattered about. On the left side of the room, there was a row of white tables, black chairs and some wood booths with red leather padded seats. In the back beyond the bar and the booths there was a jukebox and a small dance floor.”
The clientele ranged from government officials and sailors to ladies of the evening, or as my father told me, the morning would begin with “seamen and the loves of their lives who they met earlier the previous evening, coming in for a breakfast of beer, steak and eggs with grits or a giant stack of pancakes and sausage or thick sweet bacon. Winos would come in to get a schooner, an old fashion beer glass with a round cup on a pedestal. They were shaking so bad, they could not pick it up so they would put their face in the glass and suck up what they could, as the shakes subsided, they could tilt the glass and keep drinking”.
The working crowd arrived later, including the folks from the “federal buildings that surrounded Lafayette Square who would come in for breakfast, coffee and fresh French pastry. Lunch and dinner was a fantastic mix of Cajun and Creole seafood dishes, stuffed devil crabs, oysters on the half shell, and an array of great food that Dad felt like cooking or serving that day. The place was always packed.”
As a wildcat oil entrepreneur in his younger years, Grandpa was a hard-drinking, heavy smoking and a living out-loud kind of guy who, at one point, almost drank himself to death. He was picked up out of the gutter by a tough and caring broad named Ulla Mae who helped him clean up his act by giving up tobacco and booze cold-turkey. While I’d heard the stories of his wild and colorful past in Texas and New Orleans, it was his soft southern drawl laced with a hint of his native Spanish language calling out to me, “come on over and sit with me, baby” as he would tell me his stories and his puttering around in the kitchen when he visited that I remember so well. Rotund and short in stature, I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile on his face. He was another amazing cook in my life who undoubtably influenced my love of food.
We ended our fabulous trip to Nola with an early dinner at Cafe Amelie and then dessert at Cafe Du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait.
My grandfather’s legacy lives on in his children and grandchildren as we are a family of many wonderful cooks and we are so fortunate to have some of the recipes that he served up in his restaurant.
Here is my take on his decadent fudge pie. You can make it in a regular 9″ pie pan with a pre-baked crust or as I did, in small canning jars with a graham cracker crust.
FUDGE CREAM PIE
3 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons butter, plus 7 tablespoons melted butter for crust
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 12 ounce can of unsweetened evaporated milk
1/3 cup sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for meringue
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 packet of graham crackers, broken up into crumbs
Pinch or two of salt
Optional: 1 teaspoon instant coffee grounds mixed with 1 teaspoon water
Preheat oven to 375.
Place 6 small canning jars on a sheet pan (4-6 oz jars work best).
Mix together the pecans, graham cracker crumbs, salt and 7 tablespoons of butter in a bowl. Press approximately 1/4 cup of mixture into each mason jar. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Whisk together in a medium saucepan the 1/4 cup sugar, flour and cocoa. Slowly add the evaporated milk while whisking so not to get lumps. Add the vanilla and coffee. Turn on the heat to medium and continue to stir while the mixture heats and thickens (10 minutes or so).
Once the chocolate has begun to thicken, take a few teaspoons of the mixture and add it to the egg yolks, mix thoroughly and then add the yolk mixture and the 2 tablespoons of butter to the saucepan with the fudge sauce and continue to stir for a few minutes while the yolks cook.
Evenly distribute the fudge sauce amongst the mason jars .
Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat until they begin to get thick and frothy. While continuing to whip, slowly sprinkle in the 3 tablespoons of sugar. Beat until the meringue is stiff and glossy.
Spoon the meringue on top of the fudge in the jars with a swirling motion or finish off decorating by putting some of the meringue into a pastry bag and piping it onto the pies.
Place pies in oven and bake for 15 minutes while checking often to make sure that the meringue is not burning. Once the merge tips are toasty and golden brown, remove the pies from the oven and allow to cool.
Best served the day these are baked either chilled or at room temperature.
Let the good times roll!