Today Is January 16th, 2020

Tom Fitzmorris January 16, 2020 08:15 Almanac

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Red Fish. Chateau du Lac. Dizzy. Prohibition. Spicy Food Day. Pepper. Ruth Reichl. Collards. Refrigerator Cars.

Restaurant Anniversaries 


The Red Fish Grill opened today in 1997. With it, owner Ralph Brennan became the first member of his family to open a restaurant entirely on his own. Ralph had been running Mr. B's with his sisters and cousins. He  offered them the opportunity to buy into the new place he was planning for Bourbon Street, but got no takers. It proved to be a good investment. The Red Fish was (and still is) the most casual of Brennan restaurants. Its design is singular: it looks as if a bomb had been set off inside an old building, which was then patched up and painted, with cool furniture and neon installed. Most of the design was by Luis Colmenares, who would do many more restaurants after that one. The Red Fish had the distinction of being the first full-service restaurant to open in the French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina.

Coincidentally, this is also the birthday, in 1966, of Chef Haley Gabel, the corporate chef for all of Ralph Brennan's four restaurants. We first met her at Bacco. 

Today is the day I discovered the now sadly-defunct Chateau Du Lac, which opened in Kenner in November 2005. Bad timing. After reopening following the hurricane, Jacques and Paige Saleun moved their French bistro to Metairie Road in 2008. It always reminded me a lot of the original Crozier's, with a similar menu (although it's so classic that they can't be accused of copying). It became much better after the move but closed permanently on December 31st, 2017. They were known for delicious French food, and le surprise (always pronounced the French way). The Croziers and the Saleuns had more in common than two French restaurants with fantastic food. Both couples were chronically plagued by bad luck. Jacques Saleun should make his outstanding rabbit pate as a catering item, says my wife too often.

Beer And Sports  

Today is the birthday, in 1911, of Dizzy Dean, the ace pitcher of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s. Later, he was the first major baseball play-by-play announcer on television, on the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week. I remember watching that every Saturday afternoon with my dad when I was a kid. It was sponsored by Falstaff Beer. Daddy usually had a cold long-neck Falstaff in his hand during the game. To this day, Dizzy Dean reminds me first of Falstaff, second of baseball. Falstaff was the biggest-selling brand of beer in New Orleans in the 1960s, making millions of gallons of brew here. I did radio commercials for Falstaff in 1979, and after that I have no further impressions other than regret for the abandoned brewery, with its tower that tells what the weather would be like, based on whether the letters in "FALSTAFF" lit up from top to bottom or bottom to top. In recent times, the weather ball has come back to life. The plans to make condos out of the old building thankfully became reality.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: Never make a roux when you see the letters on the Falstaff tower light up top to bottom and bottom to top on the same day.

Annals Of Temperance 

A federal law that would be repealed only thirteen years later went into effect today in 1920. But its effects are still felt today, and in some places, hybrids of this law are still in force. Prohibition began, and from that moment on very few alcoholic beverages were legal to sell in the United States. The worst result was that most of the winemakers around the country went bust, and thousands of acres of great old vines were ripped up, to be replaced with everything from table grapes to almonds. Morris Sheppard, who wrote the amendment, said that it would result in "a rise to a higher and better plane of civilization for the United States. It means more savings, more homes, better health and better morals. It means that the American republic has achieved a distinctive triumph for right and righteousness in the low and bitter struggle between good and evil." This sounds a lot like what they've been saying about extra-large soft drinks in New York City for years.

Food Calendar 


Internet rumor has it that this is National Fig Newton Day. How they're made is more interesting than how they taste. The inventor, Joshua Josephson, used a rectangular-tipped funnel inside of another, larger one. The thick fig jam filling went into the funnel in the middle, the dough went into the one on the outside, and the whole thing was extruded in one operation. Then it was baked, cut, and named after the town of Newton, Massachusetts. I used to love them when I was a kid. Maybe they've made them sweeter, or maybe I don't like sweet stuff as much as I once did.

It's also International Hot and Spicy Food Day. My favorite way of making food hot and spicy these days is to sprinkle what I would have considered way too much crushed red pepper (the stuff you shake on a pizza) into it. As it cooks, it seems to mellow and spread out over a wider flavor spectrum. My taste in this regard is changing, too. I find myself liking my food milder than a few years ago, when it peaked in spice level. Maybe I can't taste it as well as I once could?

Delicious-Sounding Places  

Pepper, West Virginia is in the northern part of the state, on the west side of the Appalachians as they begin to slope into the Ohio Valley. The closest major city is Pittsburgh, 122 miles north. Quite hilly, though, isolated and rural. It's the crossroads of Pepper Road and Cherry Hill Road. The nearest restaurants are in the town of Phillippi, seven miles east. I'm intrigued by an eatery there known only as "Chinese Restaurant."

Alluring Dinner Dates


Today is the birthday, in 1948, of Ruth Reichl. After working in a Berkeley, California restaurant for a few years, she became a restaurant critic on the West Coast and with the New York Times for years before being named editor of Gourmet Magazine in 1999. Her three-volume autobiography--Tender At The Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic And Sapphires--is fascinating, occasionally sexy, and delicious.

Annals Of Restaurant Criticism 

Andre Michelin was born today in 1853. He founded the Michelin Tire Company in France in 1888, to make rubber tires for farm equipment. It grew into one of the world's largest makers of the early removable automobile tire. To encourage people to travel around France more (and buy more tires), Andre Michelin published a guidebook to the points of interest, including restaurants. Ratings were added later, and that more than anything else contributed to the fame of the Guide Michelin series. It was the first published to award stars to restaurants, to a maximum of three. No accolade is more valuable to a restaurant than a three-star rating from Michelin. These ratings seem less valuable in recent years, to me anyway.

Edible Dictionary 

collard greens, n.--A plant in the brassica family (which also includes cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts) with large, thick leaves that don't form a head. They are a mainstay of Southern cooking, particularly among African-Americans. In New Orleans, they're an essential ingredient of gumbo z'herbes. Collards are most often boiled, often with other greens, and flavored with seasoning meats. They come out like cabbage, but with a sharper flavor. Although they're typically grown in the spring, they're considered by most fans as a cold-weather vegetable. Collards are believed to have been cultivated and eaten longer than any other member of the cabbage family. They're eaten all over the world. The name comes from the Old English colewort.

Moving Food Around 


The railroad refrigerator car was patented on this date in 1868 by William Davis, who quickly sold it to a Detroit meatpacker. The car used ice and salt in racks to keep meat cool as it traveled from the place where it was butchered to markets. Although the railroads didn't like the idea, it quickly became a huge force in the distribution of meat, and made a fortune for Swift and Company.

European Food And Drink


In a blow to standards of gustatory excellence, the European Community ruled today in 2003 that confections made with vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter could be called chocolate. Spain and Italy, sensibly, were opposed to this. Most of the questionable chocolate came from England. . . In a related story, the first Starbucks in France opened today in 2004 in Paris.

Food Namesakes 

A lot of sho-biz today. The group Brandy had a Number One hit today in 1999, Have You Ever. . . A really stupid movie, Half-Baked, premiered today in 1998. . . Tennessee Williams's play Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore premiered today in 1963. A milk train, in case you miss the reference, is one that stops at every depot along the line. . . Mass murderer Alfred Fish was executed today in 1939. . . Two actors named Bacon: Lloyd Bacon, who was in many Charlie Chaplin movies, was born today in 1890, and Frank Bacon (a rare double food name!), who was also a writer, in 1864. . . Osip Brik, a Russian writer, was born today in 1888. (Brik is a Tunisian appetizer of puff pastry and various savory fillings.)

Words To Eat By  

"Sea urchin is the sexiest flavor on earth, a shock of soft, sensual richness that resonates in your mouth long after you have swallowed."--Ruth Reichl, born today in 1948.