Tuesday, September 15, 2020

New Orleans Restaurant Industry Updates

The restaurant industry is at the heart of New Orleans and Louisiana. The old joke about New Orleans was that it had a thousand restaurants and only one menu--so devoted were locals and local chefs to the same creole and cajun staples that are nearly cliches--red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo, and shrimp étouffée. 

In recent years, the New Orleans restaurant industry has seen a steady diversification of its restaurants. Alon Shaya at Shaya and then Saba offers some of the best Israeli food in the country. Nina Compton's Compere Lapin is true New Orleans fusion cooking, mixing the flavors of the Caribbean with old New Orleans favorites. Vietnamese cuisine has long been a prominent feature of the New Orleans culinary landscape. A banh mi is just a stone's throw away from a po'boy. 

Since the pandemic, however, the New Orleans restaurant industry is struggling to survive. We thought we'd highlight some recent articles about the goings on in the NOLA restaurant industry. 

The New Yorker had a recent piece about Compere Lapin's Nina Compton and her efforts to reopen amidst the pandemic. The article also explores Compton's rise in the context of the growing emphasis on BIPOC-owned restaurants and restauranteurs. 

Ian McNulty at the Advocate wrote an obituary for chef Leon West. West, a longtime staple of the New Orleans food scene, never had a restaurant of his own, but was tremendously influential amongst the BIPOC food community in the Crescent City. 

Eater New Orleans has been keeping track of the restaurant openings and closings due to the pandemic. The site also has a guide to helping out restaurants in need

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Saints 2020: One Last Run?


The New Orleans Saints begin their 2020 season Sunday September 13 in the Superdome against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (that sounds weird doesn't it?). After last year’s division title and loss in the Wild Card round to the Vikings, expectations in the Big Easy are high. As quarterback Drew Brees enters his age-41(!) season, it’s now or never for the Saints to bring home another Super Bowl title. 

The leading projection systems are in line with fan expectations. ESPN’s Football Power Index projects New Orleans to go 10-6 with a 82.4% chance to make the playoffs. The Saints have the third-highest odds to win the Super Bowl (12.9%) behind the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens.  Football Outsides gives the Saints the best chance of winning Super Bowl LIV at 15.4%. 

Rather than do a traditional preview, let’s look at the big questions confronting the Saints this season. The answers will determine whether New Orleans will have a socially distanced parade (is that a thing?) or finally close the chapter on the Brees era with another season of disappointment.

Can Brees remain Brees for one more year? 

At age 40, Brees continues to set records. He led the NFL in completion percentage last year--74.3% just a tenth of a percentage short of his career and NFL record of 74.4% set in 2018. His passing yardage was down significantly, from 3,992 to 2,979. He threw only 27 TDs compared to 32 in 2018. Yet Brees threw 4 interceptions. The Saints still have plenty of offensive talent in Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. At this point, there's little reason to bet against Brees continuing to be his old self. 

The question facing the Saints is is this the beginning of the end? The aging curve for 41 year old quarterbacks isn’t pretty. Remember what happened to Peyton Manning in Denver or Brett Favre in Minnesota? But even a diminished Brees is still better than most other quarterbacks in the NFL. In other words, who knows how Brees will play against the ageless Brady and the Bucs, but the Saints' Super Bowl hopes ride on #9. 

How Good is the Defense? 

After years of languishing at the bottom of the league in team defense thanks to a series on inept coordinators and bad drafting, the Saints defense has gotten good again. In 2019, they finished 11th in Football Outsiders DVOA after finishing 11th in 2018. The unspoken rule of the Saints in the Brees era is that the team goes as far as the defense. With even a league average defense, the Saints are Super Bowl contenders as long as Brees is under center and Sean Payton is calling the plays. 

Over the last few years, New Orleans has invested significant draft capital on defense including first round picks on Sheldon Rankins, Marshon Lattimore, and Marcus Davenport and second round picks on Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell. 

Defensive performance, however, varies significantly from season to season. Last season the Saints finishing 17th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost. But injury luck also doesn’t hold over from season to season. The Saints defense may look good on paper, but if Lattimore or star pass-rusher Cameron Jordan miss time, then it will be difficult for the Saints to replicate their defensive success from past years. 

Can the Saints keep winning close games? 

In 2019, New Orleans went 6-1 in games decided by seven points or less. Performance in one score games varies from year to year because it depends on just a handful of plays to break one way or another. 

Against Houston in Week 1, Will Lutz hit a 58 yard field goal with 2 seconds left in the game to win the game for the Saints 30-28. Against Dallas in Week 4, the Saints got only 4 field goals against the Cowboys. A touchdown on either side would have determined the game. This season, those plays might not go the Saints way.  

Last season, the Saints went 13-3, but lost in the Wild Card round to the Vikings. In order to reach that point, a lot had to go right for New Orleans—a good defense, health, and luck mostly—and New Orleans will need those to happen again to give Drew Brees, Sean Payton, and the people of the Crescent City their second Super Bowl title.  

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Some Pandemic TV Recommendations

We all need things to watch and now there are a myriad of streaming services to cater to our every entertainment need. Come on in Netflix! You, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are old friends, so let's welcome some new guys to the group. HBO Max! Disney+! Whatever Quibi is ???? With all that in mind, let's go through some recommendations to keep you sane in this increasingly crazy world. 

What We Do in the Shadows (Hulu): Based on the 2014 mockumentary of the same name, What We Do in the Shadows follows the story of three vampires: Nandor the Relentless, a former Ottoman soldier and married vampires Laszlo and Nadja through their mundane existence in Staten Island. Originally sent to the New World to enslave humanity, the three vampires just can't be bothered. The brilliance of this FX show is that it undermines vampire tropes at every turn. Laszlo, Nadja, and Nandor are petty and stupid with petty and stupid grudges to match. Laszlo refuses to give up a hat that is clearly cursed. Their roommate and reluctant vampire friend Craig Robinson is an energy vampire, draining the energy out of humans by being boring or frustrating, perfectly suited for corporate America. Despite the length of their stay in America, Laszlo, Nadja, and Nandor remain utterly unable to interact with humans or understand how to enslave humanity. Mostly they just want to drink blood and turn themselves into bats. 

Lovecraft Country (HBO Max): This imaginative take on the writings of noted sci-fi/horror writer H.P. Lovecraft is engrossing fan fiction (in the best possible way). With an impeccable cast and production values, showrunner Misha Green has spun Lovecraft's blatant bigotry and racism into a story of black America in the 1950s where the monsters are supernatural and all too real--vigilante posses of white men, racist sheriffs, and the general awfulness of racist whites. Throw in some Lovecraftian monsters, family drama, and a mysterious silver Bentley that seems impervious to the laws of physics and you've got an intriguing and enthralling show. 


Schitt's Creek (Netflix): Created by comedy legend Eugene Levy (every Christopher Guest mockumentary) and his son Daniel, the show follows the fabulously wealthy Rose family after their falling victim to a Bernie Madoff-type fraudster. Forced to live in the town of Schitt's Creek, which family patriarch Johnny had purchased as a gag years before, the family shares two rooms in a rundown motel. Along the way, they deal with wife Moira's inability to adjust to small town life, son David's neuroses and inability to give up control over anything, and daughter Alexis's hilariously fraught past running from warlords and gambling for her friends' lives. Schitt's Creek thrives on the interaction between the family and their loving, if demented dynamic. Fellow mockumentary regular Catharine O'Hara shines as Moira and Annie Murphy is wonderfully chipper as the aspiring Alexis. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Drone Tour of New Orleans

While it may be difficult to enjoy everything New Orleans has to offer right now, it is possible to see New Orleans from home--and in a way that you couldn't even if you visited. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Summer Book Recommendations

As we head into the final stretch of the summer, there’s still plenty of time to read a good book or two. So here’s some recommendations for you all to enjoy. 


Stealing Home by Eric Nusbaum 


A former sports editor at Vice and a resident of Los Angeles, Nusbaum details the dislocation of native communities and political machinations that led to the construction of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. Nusbaum keeps his focus on the activists who fought the stadium’s construction and the Mexican families who were displayed in order to provide a new home for the recently relocated Dodgers. He begins the book with disparate narratives that weave together in a story of the triumph of business and political machines over the people who made Los Angeles their home. 


Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre  


Ben Macintyre has carved out a career of retelling barely believable historical events with the skill of a thriller novelist. Mincemeat just might be the best of his books, telling the story of a daring operation undertaken by British intelligence during World War 2 to divert German attention away from the impending invasion of Sicily. The plan, cooked up by a small band of British officers, involved packing a dead body with intelligence documents and dropping it off the coast of Spain. There were numerous issues along the way—finding a body, producing documents to place on it, depositing it (via submarine) on the coast, and then making sure the documents made their way to the Germans. The daring plan helped change the course of World War 2. 


Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carré


While Macintyre may be the master of true-life spy stories, Le Carré remains the master of fictional spies. In his latest novel, the 88 year old author spins another eminently readable and engrossing story about a disillusioned spy, his badminton partner, and a double-agent. The story is Le Carré at his most polemical—turning his literary skill full bore against the villains of the modern era—money grubbing oligarchs, their enablers in government, and the amoral post-Cold War West. While Agent Running in the Field is no Spy who Came in from the Cold or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy le Carré remains an essential voice for sanity in an insane world. 


Rebel Cinderella by Adam Hochschild 


Hochschild, a founder of Mother Jones magazine, has spent the second half of his career telling the stories of political and social activists who stood against injustice. Along the way, Hochschild has examined the Belgian Congo, the birth of radical abolitionism, the anti-war movement during World War 1, and Americans who fought for the Spanish republic in the Spanish-American War. Now, Hochschild has crafted a delightful biography of Rose Pastor Stokes, an immigrant cigar roller who married into one of the wealthiest families in America. Her rise was a literal Cinderella story, but Pastor Stokes remained unrepentant socialist and embarrassed her husband’s family with her activism. Hers was a remarkable life devoted to aiding the working class and reforming American society, regardless of the personal cost. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Shrine on Airline: Drone Footage

Since the New Orleans Babycakes Triple-A baseball team has moved to Wichita (and seen their season cancelled because of COVID-19), the Shrine on Airline sits empty. But in the meantime, we can all enjoy this cool drone footage. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A Confederacy of Dunces

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the great books of the modern Southern literature. Toole, died at his own hand in 1969, but thanks to the work of Walker Percy and Toole’s mother, Thelma, the book was published in 1980. Toole posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981. Since then the book has become one of the most widely read fiction books about New Orleans and the South. 


Set in the early 1960s in New Orleans, the novel’s main character is Ignatius J. Reilly, a slovenly 30 year old man, living with his mother, who is convinced the world is arrayed against him. Well-read but utterly delusional, Reilly wages a solitary crusade against modernity. He decries the perversity of modern movies all the while spending most of his time parked in a theater seat. He sees himself as a modern day Boethius—a martyred philosopher of the Medieval period—railing against injustice. Reilly’s pyloric valve is a modern day Cassandra, warning him of upcoming dangers in his life. 


Reilly does not work or drive, instead relying on his mother for support. She indulges him on account of the death of his father 21 years in the past and because of Ignatius’s intelligence. Over the course of the novel, however, Mrs. Reilly falls in love and with the support of a new best friend conspires to have Ignatius committed to a mental institution. 

 Throughout Ignatius’s adventures in the French Quarter, Uptown, and the Bywater, he frustrates, confounds, and pillories a litany of characters that you can only find in New Orleans. There’s the owner of a pants factory who briefly hires Ignatius while dealing with the manipulations of his wife and an aging employee with dementia. Then there’s Angelo Mancuso, an inept New Orleans police officer who briefly attempts to arrest Ignatius. Throughout the novel, Mancuso finds himself unwittingly transformed into Reilly’s nemesis. There’s a parade of unsavory characters who call a French Quarter strip club their home. Along the way, Reilly torments everyone he meets with the not-at-all interesting story of his one trip outside of New Orleans—a Greyhound Bus trip to Baton Rouge. 


According to literary critics, especially those of New Orleans, Confederacy of Dunces contains the richest depictions of the city and its dialects found in modern literature. Currently, there is a bronze statue of Reilly under the clock at the 800 block of Canal Street (the site of the Hyatt French Quarter hotel). The location was the former home of the D.H. Holmes department store and the novel’s opening scene. The statue depicts Reilly, clad in his hunting cap, flannel shirt, and scarf, studying the crowd outside the store for “signs of bad taste” while waiting for his mother. 


Confederacy of Dunces is a modern classic and well-worth a read from anyone who will enjoy a good laugh at its central character.