New Orleans East: 7400 Hayne Blvd.
Late 1950s-Mid 1980s.
Long before tract development began in New Orleans East, residences and businesses lined one side of Hayne Boulevard. On the other side was Lake Pontchartrain. Over those waters fishing camps on stilts lined the shore from the airport all the way to the little old community of Little Woods. If you didn’t own a camp you could rent one, and my family did for a week or two every summer in the 1950s and 1960s.
Some nights, we walked across the tracks and Hayne Boulevard to one of the many casual seafood restaurants. The famous names were Gee & Lil’s, the Edgewater Grocery, Bourda’s, and (past the end of the road, accessible only by foot) Henderson’s.
The best of these, however, was Lakeview Seafood. It was a misnomer, having no view of the lake or an address in the Lakeview section of town. But as inconvenient as its location was, people drove there from all over town for a unique specialty: the seafood boat.
The owner of Lakeview was a former Marine baker named Charlie. He used to bake his own standard loaves of white bread. He’d cut them from end to end, hollow out the bottoms, brush the insides with butter, and fill them with fried shrimp, fish, and/or oysters. They were big enough to feed two hungry people. I’m not positive whether Charlie originated the idea–at one time you could get a seafood boat from any of a number of restaurants. But his were the best and the most famous.
Lakeview Seafood also had boiled shrimp and crabs, seafood platters, gumbo, and poor boys. You never went there in a hurry, because they cooked everything to order. And if the place were full, you’d notice that people in even less a hurry to leave than they were to eat. It was a change of scenery from the camp across the street for most customers.
Lakeview Seafood was a dumpy place in the tradition of Uglesich’s. The floor sagged here and there, and the exterior always needed a paint job. It felt more like a bar than a restaurant, and indeed often did have more than a few guys standing up at the rail having a cold one.
The place became very popular after Richard Collin (the Underground Gourmet, the first real New Orleans restaurant critic) published a glowing review of it in the States-Item. All sorts of new customers found the place, many of whom didn’t know Little Woods existed, let alone anything about its edge-of-town culture. A friend told me that he was in the place one afternoon when the pay phone at the end of the bar rang. Charlie answered it and had this conversation:
“Lakeview Seafood. [Pause.] Yeah, we’re open. [Pause.] Yeah, we got fried seafood. [Pause.] Yeah, we got boiled seafood. [Pause.] What? [Pause.] Dress code? Cap, you can come here in your drawers if you want!”
Probably that would have been noticed. But bathing suits weren’t. We could swim in the lake back then.