Today's Food Fun Stuff

Tom Fitzmorris January 21, 2020 08:47 Almanac

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

Andrea's. Pineapple. Clam Chowder. Clam Creek. Cherrystones. Placido. Agnes.

Restaurant Anniversaries

Andrea's opened today in 1985. It was the first successful top-end Italian restaurant in the New Orleans area, and the city seemed to be ready for it. Restaurants of high ambitions and sophistication were opening all around town. Chef Andrea Apuzzo, then the chef of the Royal Orleans Hotel, partnered with his cousins Roberto and Costantino De Angelis to buy the former Etienne's in Metairie. All three were from Capri, where the father of the De Angelis brothers operated first-class hotels. Their father Agnello secured the location. Etienne de Felice wasn't interested in selling, and he was even more interested in retiring. Agnello and Etienne had a meeting, and the deal was done.

Andrea's first years were superb. Roberto was a master of service and style, and the dining room--even with its distinctly suburban look--was a nexus of pleasure and continental service. The menu and cooking hewed closely to the flavors one found in Italy--more specifically, Capri and the Amalfi Coast. But few ethnic restaurants in New Orleans stay entirely true to their homelands for long, and Creole flavor began creeping into Andrea's food. It's understandable: most customers prefer what they already like to authenticity. Andrea was always ready to give them what they asked for. Schmoozing is really what he does best.

Andrea's cousins left to open Spunto in the space that is now Nola in the French Quarter, and by the early 1990s, both had left town. Constantino landed in Los Angeles in the clothing business and Roberto ended up in Phoenix with PF Chang's. Their departure left Chef Andrea as the sole owner and tastemaker. And the localization process accelerated. Andrea's rises at times to its former heights, but not consistently. Nevertheless, you can't talk about Italian dining here without bringing up Andrea's. Celebrate 35 years with Andrea this Thursday the 23rd at the restaurant. For reservations call 504-834-8583.

Food Around The World

Today in 1813 is reputed to be the day that the first pineapple arrived in the Hawaiian Islands. The fruit originated in central South America and spread throughout the tropics worldwide. But nowhere did the big, prickly fruit take hold as fast as it did in Hawaii, to the point that the fruit and the place are synonymous. Pineapples are a symbol of welcome and good luck. They certainly have been for Hawaii, especially its Dole family.

Food Calendar

It's National Clam Chowder Day, say numerous sources, some of which declare it specifically New England Clam Chowder Day. Here in New Orleans, we don't eat much clam chowder. Although we do order plenty of lobsters, mussels and scallops from the Northeast, only a very few restaurants or stores bring in clams., though its incidence is growing. (One of those is the aforementioned Andrea's, which has them all the time.) When the bivalves turn up at all, they're usually in an Italian or Spanish restaurant for the making of cioppino, bouillabaisse, or the like.

You probably know that the two major isotopes of clam chowder are New England and Manhattan. The former is the better of the two. A good New England clam chowder starts with bacon, onions, and celery, to which is added clam or oyster liquor or fish stock. The potatoes go in as soft cubes and break up as the soup simmers. The touch of milk or cream at the end adds a bit of richness; butter is sometimes also used to make a blonde roux, but it's not usually necessary to make the soup any thicker. The big problem is the clams, which are chewy to start with and become more so after they're cooked for more than a minute or two. As for Manhattan clam chowder--made with tomato--the less said about it, the better.

Deft Dining Rule #548: Before ordering chowder in any restaurant, demand to know everything in it, and what color it is. And ask this: "Not canned, right?" Watch the server's eyes when you ask this.

Edible Dictionary

cherrystone clam, n.--The common hard-shell Atlantic clam used for cooking most of the clam dishes we commonly eat in America have different names depending on their size. Cherrystones are defined as being those about half the size of a full-grown (or "quahog") clam. Because clams get tougher the bigger they are, the little ones are more desirable. The smallest you're likely to see are littlenecks. Cherrystones are the next size up. Among clam connoisseurs, cherrystones are derided, but they make wonderful clam chowder and are not bad fried or baked.

Delicious-Sounding Places

Clam Creek runs across Jekyll Island, a wedge of low land in the delta of the Brunswick River in southeastern Georgia. The island is half a state park, half a resort community, with its longest dimension fronting the Atlantic Ocean. Clam Creek--which offers an excellent environment indeed for clams--comes close to cutting off the northern corner of the island. All this is seventy-five miles north of Jacksonville, Florida. Saydee's Restaurant and Lounge is within walking distance from the creek. Many more restaurants are across the channel in St. Simons.

People We'd Like To Dine With

Today in 1941, Placido Domingo was born in Spain. He became one of the great operatic tenors of his generation, and became even more famous when teaming up with rivals Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti to record as "The Three Tenors." I expect he could tell us a thing or two about singing and feeling. He graced the stage here in New Orleans when the Mahalia Jackson Theatre was newly opened, and I hear, brought the house down.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Agnes of Rome, virgin and martyr. She lived in the third century, and is still much revered in Rome and elsewhere. She has a church named for her on Jefferson Highway near Causeway Boulevard in Old Jefferson; for many years I sang in the choir there. St. Agnes is the patron saint of the Girl Scouts. Who, incidentally, began their annual cookie sale a couple of weeks ago. . . Today is also the feast day of St. Meinrad, who lived in the ninth century. Because he took in two ruffians who would up beating him to death, he is the patron saint of hospitality.

Food Namesakes

Randy Bass signed with the Hanshin Tigers to play baseball for three years in Japan for $3.2 million today in 1986. . . In 2006, Jennifer Berry was named Miss America in Las Vegas, but for the first time in decades, the pageant wasn't broadcast on a major network. Emma Lee Bunton, one of the Spice Girls (Baby Spice) was born today in 1976. . . Major league catcher and manager Johnny Oates hit the Big Diamond today in 1946.

Words To Eat By"But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazelnuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! The whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. We dispatched it with great expedition."--Ishmael, in Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

"Clam chowder is one of those subjects, like politics or religion, that can never be discussed lightly. Bring it up even incidentally, and all the innumerable factions of the clam bake regions raise their heads and begin to yammer."--Louis P. De Gouy, chef and author of The Soup Book.