Gentilly: 2119 Law Street
Eddie’s was one of those restaurants where the anecdotes about it were as good as the cooking. And the cooking was fantastic.
The best tale was told by Bill Cosby on The Tonight Show during the Johnny Carson years. One of his friends here offered to take him to what he said was the best soul food restaurant in New Orleans. Cosby related in his trademark exaggerated way the ordeal of getting to Eddie’s. How to even get to Law Street you had to go underneath an overpass next to the railroad tracks and the drainage canal. Then how you had to navigate among potholes that could swallow an automobile and leave nothing showing. When Cosby’s party got to the restaurant’s address, they weren’t sure whether this were really the place, since there was no sign on the building.
Cosby stopped exaggerating when he started in on how good the fried chicken, gumbo, and fried seafood were. Eddie’s food really was worth all this trouble, and then some.
Eddie Baquet cooked for many years around town before he opened his own place in Gentilly. He didn’t seem to be all that interested in spreading his fame, or even pulling in business from anyone other than the neighborhood. That was true of most neighborhood cafes of the time, but especially of those in the primarily African-American areas. Even Richard Collin–who blew the cover off most of the great soul food restaurants around town and introduced them to the wider market–didn’t find Eddie’s until seven years into writing his column.
Eddie was into fine details of cooking. On my radio show in 1990, he went on for about a half hour on his technique of making “Creole gumbo,” the variation most common in soul-food restaurants but not often tasted elsewhere. He made it with both seafood and sausage, both okra and file. The amazing thing about his dissertation on Creole gumbo was that he never let on exactly what went into the pot. Secret recipe, he said.
Eddie’s fried chicken and seafood were everything one could want from those classic dishes: hot, crisp, greaseless, amply served. The robust red beans and rice came with the potent hot sausage from Vaucresson’s. Poor boy sandwiches were the equals of anybody’s. If you were lucky, you could finish up with bread pudding.
The premises–a converted frame house–were much nicer inside than the rest of Law Street. It was as much a bar as a restaurant, with two large dining rooms, almost always full–especially on the days when the fried chicken buffet went up.
After Eddie Baquet died in the early 1990s, his son Wayne took over Eddie’s and kept it going for a few more years. He also opened a second, much nicer, easier-to-find restaurant called Zachary’s in the Carrollton section. Wayne shut both Eddie’s and Zachary’s down in the late 1990s, but not long after he brought his father’s recipes back to life at two restaurants called Li’l Dizzy’s. Both are good soul food vendors, but neither has the magic that was Eddie’s, a contender for Best Creole Neighborhood Restaurant Of All Time.
This is one of 122 reviews of fondly-remembered but extinct restaurants from Lost Restaurants Of New Orleans, just published by Pelican. It’s available in bookstores all around town, and full of photos, graphics, menus, and memorabilia.