Extinct Restaurants

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Home Plate Inn
Mid-City: 4033 Tulane Avenue

New Orleans never was as rabid about baseball as it is about football. But baseball has enough fans that we’ve almost always had a minor-league team here. The New Orleans Pelicans played here from 1887 to 1959. Their glory days were 1915 through 1957, when they played at Pelican Stadium, on the corner of Tulane and South Carrollton Avenues. People filled streetcars to get there, and afterwards would hang around in any of a number of neighborhood bars and restaurants nearby.

One of those was so well liked that it persisted for decades after Pelican Stadium was torn down and the Pelicans became extinct. It had a baseball theme, yet. The Home Plate Inn literally was as close to Pelican Stadium’s home plate as it was possible to be–right across the street.

Through its long history, only two families owned the Home Plate: the Gatipons and the Lehrmanns. A lot of what we know about the Lehrmann years comes from the late Phil Johnson, the longtime news director of Channel Four, and a big fan of the Home Plate Inn. In a piece entitled “What I Love About New Orleans” (who could write that but Phil Johnson?), he noted that not only did the Home Plate serve great New Orleans food, but in the old days it ran a betting book on the side. This made it even more solidly a part of the culture. It was as much a bar as a restaurant–a common configuration, particularly before 1965.

The Home Plate’s roast beef poor boy was a bit pepperier and garlickier than most, had just the right amount of gravy, and was very generous. If you sat down to a plate of red beans or hot tamales, you’d leave happy. (I once got both together, and found an unlikely but great new flavor synthesis.)

The eternal topic of conversation at the Home Plate was what a shame it was that they tore the stadium down. The volume went up when the Fontainebleau Motor Hotel that replaced it was converted into a storage facility.

The water was very deep in the Home Plate Inn after Katrina. Matt Lehrmann didn’t reopen; the neighborhood was already deep in decay, and the flood made it hopeless in the near term. Some other owners came in using the Home Plate name as a suffix to “La Finca.” But it’s not the same. Thus one of the two or three greatest restaurant names in New Orleans dining history fades.

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