Thursday, July 22. Tropical Storm? American Sector. Rusty Pelican. The weather service is saying that Bonnie, a storm just barely strong enough to have a name, will cross weakly over the Keys, then head straight for New Orleans. They also say it probably won't get very strong. But the BP crews working on the snafued oil well are clearing out, just in case. They're leaving the newly-placed cap in place. They have been watching it around the clock, but seem to think that it will hold for now. So all this adds up to a good-news, bad-news excuse for conversation.
Lunch with Bill and Jim Thomas, father and son, and fellow Manresa men. Bill looks so much like my own late father that even after knowing Bill for twenty years, I still get a twinge of recognition when I look at him.
We met at American Sector, John Besh's retro place in the World War II Museum. Bill, who is old enough to recall The Big One vividly, had been there before and explored the museum, too. He was intrigued by the menu, which is based on the kinds of dishes people ate in the 1940s. I'm interested in it too. Even after eating about two-thirds of the offerings at our Eat Club surfeit a couple of weeks ago, there's plenty more food for me to try here.
I began with oyster stew, the kind we call old-fashioned because almost nobody serves it anymore, made with milk, butter, and green onions. The first hurdle for the restaurant was actually getting the oysters, which they did. In fact, they were large and meaty, and the broth was rich and just peppery enough.
Bill and I were both interested in the beef tongue sandwich, and he wanted to try the beef daube. I ordered one and he the other. Neither dish fit our expectations. Beef tongue is a deli cold cut, if no longer a common one. It's usually made into a cold sandwich. Instead, what came out was an open-face sandwich (not a sandwich at all, really) of hot, thin-sliced tongue in gravy. If I'd know this, I wouldn't have asked for the sauerkraut, which I thought would go well with the cold tongue. Even after shifting my paradigms, I can't say I'd ever get this again.
Bill had a better dish, but it was puzzling as well. Daube is one of those words that has several dramatically different meanings. The two most common are the slices of roast beef simmered in spaghetti sauce, and the hogshead-cheese-like cold appetizer served during the holidays. What we had here was another beef stew, with carrots, zucchini, and green beans in another brown gravy, the beef slices hidden at the bottom.
Jim knew exactly what he was getting, and got it. A Vietnamese poor boy, made with several treatments of pork, with pickled carrots, onions, and cucumbers. He could only finish half of it, but that owed to entirely to its large size.
Because we know one another from our annual retreat, our conversations have a way of focusing on big life issues, almost always with an optimistic slant. But Bill had read Hungry Town, and while he enjoyed it, he was most struck by what I say about Mary Ann in the book. "She must be a saint to put up with you!" he said. That is probably true.
I didn't think I'd need dinner, but by the time I made it across the lake after the radio show I opened consideration of a quick supper. The Rusty Pelican, in the middle of Old Mandeville, came to mind. I've tried to eat there for a couple of years, but it never seems to be open when I go. This time, it was--although it would close immediately after I left.
The Rusty Pelican is a contemporary diner, with a rustic style but squeaky clean. Hamburgers and sandwiches dominate the menu, with a few platters and salads filling it out. It's the kind of place you'd go with your kids after a baseball game.
My expectations of the crab cake salad were suppressed by the $10.50 price, but I was surprised. The two crab cakes were crisp (as in deep-fried) on the outside and creamy on the inside, tasty all the way through. They looked so much like one another that a suspicion arose that they came into the restaurant ready for the fryer. But I don't know that, and since they were unarguably good I'll assume they were made in house. The greens, tomatoes and the remoulade dressing satisfied all the rest of my needs. Wish they would have tossed the salad with the dressing, but that service is getting to be a lost art.
And what's with the plastic utensils and the roll of paper towels instead of napkins? The quality of tabletops in restaurants--from the top to the bottom--keeps going down with each passing day.
American Sector. Warehouse District: 945 Magazine. 504-528-1940.
Rusty Pelican. Mandeville: 500 Girod. 985-778-0364.