July 16

It's Seafood Poor Boy Day

Seafood Poor Boys. Pecan Island. Hangtown Fry. Parking Meters. Alice's Restaurant. Orville Redenbacher. Amazon.

Days Until. . .

Food Calendar

In New Orleans, it's Seafood Poor Boy (And Loaf) Day. The seminal seafood poor boy is the oyster loaf. Fried oysters, buttered French bread, a few shots of hot sauce, pickles. . . perfection. Variations abound. Almost any other seafood that can be fried finds its way onto French bread. Shrimp poor boys are almost as popular as oyster. (The price hike in oysters from the oil spill may have even made shrimp sammiches more popular.) Catfish has all but replaced speckled trout on poor boys. Soft-shell crabs present a unique poor boy experience, as you start off eating legs and claws, work into the body, and end up with legs and claws at the end.A rare and wonderful variation on the seafood sandwich is the seafood "boat." It starts with an unsliced loaf of regular white bread, with the top cut off and the inside hollowed. After being toasted and buttered, it's filled with oysters, shrimp, or catfish, or all three. Casamento's uses the same bread, but cuts it differently to make their oyster and shrimp loaves.Of this there is no question: a seafood loaf made with freshly-fried, crisp seafood on fresh and toasted bread is one of the greatest pleasures of the neighborhood New Orleans cafes and seafood houses.

Deft Dining Rule #655

Any poor boy shop that puts fewer than a dozen and a half oysters on an oysters loaf is not worthy of selling the sandwich.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Pecan Island is a small camping and fishing community on the marshy coast of the Gulf of Mexico, in Southwest Louisiana. Although it's well inland, it looks like an island, with different vegetation and higher terrain that what surrounds it. It's almost certainly a former barrier island that was surrounded by land built by an ancient route of the Mississippi River. Either that, or a salt dome. About three hundred people live there. It has been hit hard by hurricanes over the years, notably Rita in 2005. Pecan Island is really out in the middle of nowhere; the nearest restaurants are in Kaplan, thirty-two miles back in the direction of civilization.

Edible Dictionary

Hangtown fry, (Archaic), n.--This nearly-extinct dish of oysters and eggs still shows up on menus now and then, particularly on the West Coast. But the story is worth telling. During the California Gold Rush, a prospector who had a good strike wandered into a cafe in the boom village of Hangtown (now Placerville). "Give me the best food in the house!" he said. The cook said the most expensive food he had were oysters, and that he could fry them and serve them with eggs and bacon. That sounded good to the prospector, who enjoyed a big plate of them. Someone else saw him eating the dish, and the next thing you know, people were eating fried-oyster omelettes all over California. The one time the dish showed up in New Orleans was at Houlihan's Old Place on Bourbon Street. The dish's popularity was no doubt depressed by its name

Speed Eating

The first parking meters in America were installed on this date in 1935, of all places, Oklahoma City. They cost a nickel for an hour, but it was the middle of the Depression (and the Dust Bowl, too.) I wonder how many meals were rushed to ruin by the threat of a parking meter about to run out of coin. I use parking meters a lot, and was very pleased when the ones on New Orleans streets began accepting credit cards.

Annals Of Cookbooks

Today is the anniversary of the first appearance on the Web of Amazon.com, in 1995. Now the web site is a major force to be reckoned with the sales of everything under the sun. Finding cookbooks on Amazon is incomparably easy.

Music To Eat Turkey By

Today in 1967, Arlo Guthrie first performed Alice's Restaurant, his twenty-minute-long song/comedy routine at the Newport Folk Festival. Alice's Restaurant was a real place, and still exists. In the recorded version of the song, Guthrie talks about eating two "Thanksgiving dinners that can't be beat."

Food Entrepreneurs

Today is the birthday of Orville Redenbacher, in 1907. He lived to be 88; he died of a heart attack while taking a whirlpool bath. Although his name and face became synonymous with branded, high-end popcorn, he was a real person--a real agronomist, in fact, working with actual grain and fields and production equipment before he rolled out his popcorn in 1976. I had him as a guest on my radio show in 1979; he was exactly like the guy you saw on TV. Although he's gone, ConAgra Foods (which owns the brand now) has brought his digitized image back to life.

Food Namesakes

Dancer and actor Ginger Rogers was born today in 1911. . . General Amos Fries was appointed the first chemical warfare head of the U.S. Army, which has since sworn off such things, today in 1920. . . Jude Tucker Fitzmorris ("tucker" is Australian slang for "food") was born today in 1989. He's our son.

Words To Eat By

"Do one thing and do it better than anyone."--Orville Redenbacher, born today in 1907.

Words To Drink By

"Everyone who drinks is not a poet. Some of us drink because we're not poets."--Dudley Moore, in the movie Arthur.