In Pursuit Of Food

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris October 21, 2020 06:32 in Dining Diary

Anyone who reads past this point will rightfully conclude that the Fitzmorris’s are desperate for something to do. The account that follows is embarrassingly true, and reflects our serious commitment to find content for all our platforms. It also reflects our COVID-induced boredom. 

Recently we went to our favorite restaurant in St. Bernard, MeMe’s. It was a celebration of MeMe’s new chef, Phillip Buccieri’s move from Emeril’s NOLA, (a place whose status is currently unsettled.) and an introduction of Buccieri’s delicious Louisiana-centric food. The account of that visit ran in last week’s newsletter.

On the way to MeMe’s that day I spotted a KFC, which has disappeared from everywhere we go in the metro area. We have been talking a lot about broasted chicken and pressure cooking, and I resolved the last time we talked about it to drop into a KFC next time I saw one and compare both crispy and original chicken versions for the next time it comes up, which is surprisingly often. I almost stopped on the way to the dinner, but thankfully common sense prevailed.

At the MeMe’s dinner, a bread epiphany occured. The delightful waitress asked us if we wanted bread, a question which usually receives a conflicting reply. We always get it because Tom eats bread, and I am curious about bread but rarely eat it. What arrived at the table per our request was a peculiar pile of bread parts with garlic butter. This sounds unappealing but it was most definitely very appealing. I asked about this bread and Rae Ann told me she goes to Dong Phuong every day (this is no small feat) for its famous bread. I have never had this bread before, but it is indeed special and far better than what is out there currently as French bread. I resolved that night to make the pilgrimage to Dong Phuong that I have thought about since it became famous. I had no idea where it really was, but it seemed almost a mythical place.

So it was with these two self-imposed directives that we set out for Chalmette on this day.

Our first stop was the KFC on Judge Perez. What struck me first was the price. Each of the two-piece white meat chicken dinners was $7 plus. At first this seemed a lot mainly because I have no current frame of reference. My last drive-thru was to satisfy my curiosity about the Popeye’s fried chicken sandwich, (a great product and even better value at $3.99) The time before that chicken dinners were about half of this $7.

We took some of each of the chicken to compare them. Although I’m sure the product itself hasn’t changed since that first bucket my three brothers and I got in 1969 in Ventura, California, I’ve changed. The Chalmette chicken this day seemed dry. We actually preferred the crispy version. And neither was as good in general, or as crispy or as flavorful as Popeye’s, which explains why so few KFC’s survive around town. This is Popeye’s country.

I drove away with a better understanding of drive-thrus. With its mediocre fries and reminds-me-of-school cafeteria coleslaw, this is still a decent, tasty multi-textured and rather pleasing quick and affordable lunch.

But I’m in this car with Tom Fitzmorris, whose career includes the poopooing of such folly. Tom Fitzmorris will not be eating KFC for lunch. We drove on to the local institution, Rocky and Carlo’s. The entrance moved to the parking lot side door. The food line entrance is from the right rather than the left, and the legendary macaroni and cheese hides in a corner of the food holes.

I have only been here once before a long time ago, and I dragged Tom then, as now. Today I understood his refusal to be sucked into the “thing” that is Ricky and Carlo’s. Residency in Chalmette must be a requirement to get “it.”

Quirky for sure, it is dark, spacious, and right out of the Forties with its glass bricks and terrazzo floors. The feature is a food line offering food not even as appealing as a Piccadilly Cafeteria. We left.

On to Dong Phuong, but not without geography and culture lessons on the way. I was unsure about exactly where Chef Menteur Highway was. Tom kept motioning far away with great sweeps of his arms for added punctuation. But it already felt like we were at the end of the world. Michoud Blvd connects Judge Perez and Chef Menteur, with water everywhere, seemingly at eye level. It is no wonder people in these areas fear hurricanes as they do. It is still hauntingly beautiful out here despite disproportionate amounts of rusty junk. 

It is here that the new immigrants landed so many years ago, and it is here that they embarked on their claim of the American dream, baking delicious French breads and pastries using skills from their colonial past in Vietnam.

Dong Phuong made a name for itself immediately by offering a delicious fusion of these two cultures. It is very Asain, as the unusual and interesting menu attests. And it is very French in its baked goods, particularly in the bread, which is much-welcomed by the residents in this new homeland. Dong Phuong more than any other place has advanced the infusion of the Vietnamese culture into the New Orleans culinary world, inspiring chefs like Michael Gulotta to make such fusion cuisine mainstream gourmet.

A James Beard award winner is not what one would expect on this lonely highway at the end of the earth, but there it sits, just as it has for 35 years. And here they come, steady streams of the faithful and curious newcomers, anxious to see what the fuss is about. Tom was here in the beginning, but not me. Because he was here already it was easy for him to say the socially-distant line was too long. We will return here to this exotic outlier place of renown. I have to make some of that bread my own, and to try one of the banh mi boxes with Vietnamese cold cuts or sausage.

We left Dong Phuong empty-handed and returned to the Bywater area to check out a place ML told us about. Bratz Ya’ll is a little German Biergarten on Piety next to Pizza Delicious. It was our intention to eat here and pick up pizza for later, but neither happened because parking was prohibitive. But a peek into the lot of Bratz made me want to return.

We ended up at a place called Misa, which took over the sadly-defunct and too short-lived Bordeaux on Magazine at Bordeaux. Across the street is Tal’s Hummus, and this is their upscale version.

As I looked at the menu for Misa, absolutely nothing on it moved me except fresh cut fries, and even I know a meal cannot be made of that. We ordered a two dip appetizer which arrived looking nondescript. The fries were actually quite good and were served with a spicy ketchup. They were a little thick like the ones at Shaya. The dips tasted as they looked. One was a potato thing and the other a white bean dip. I was definitely not motivated to go on. To be fair, they have only been open less than a month, so Tom’s long-standing rule applies. 

By this time it was after 4, and the restaurants open only for dinner would be opening soon. I called nearby Clancy’s and got a reservation for an outside table at 5.

To be continued...