Rico’s Bucktown Café
After Carmine’s left, the restaurant building at the corner of Hammond Highway and Lake Avenue underwent a renovation. When it reopened in 2001, it did so with a promising future. Its new owner was one of the most familiar figures in New Orleans dining circles.
George Rico was a character. For longer than anyone can remember, he was in charge of the front door at Commander’s Palace. He rose to that position after starting as a busboy–which was what he was doing at Commander’s when the Brennans took over in the early 1970s. He literally came with the building.
George had no intention of leaving Commander’s when he opened Rico’s. Which was fine with many of his regulars, who could always count on George to know who they were and find them a table on a busy night.
But his new restaurant in Bucktown took him by surprise. He was going to let his family and partners run the place, and planned to work a few days a week there. That wasn’t nearly enough. With no small trepidation, he left Commander’s, never to return.
The Bucktown location created the expectation that Rico’s would be a casual, cheap seafood house. Or maybe something like Carmine’s. It turned out along the lines of Drago’s. Casual and moderately priced, lots of seafood, but only a little of it fried and none of it boiled. And beyond George’s smiling face, there wasn’t a lot reminiscent of Commander’s.
Well, Rico’s did have turtle soup. And a crab-and-corn bisque. Both good, but different from Commander’s. And shrimp remoulade–with a white sauce instead of the red one Commander’s made. Bacon-wrapped shrimp with hot sauce butter was a bigger hit. So were the crab cakes–made with jumbo lump crabmeat, like George was accustomed to selling. He also favored you with a whole flounder, a fried seafood platter, or shrimp Creole.
The renovation had made the dining room brighter, with white walls covered with Bucktown memorabilia. A rare outdoor dining area in front was enclosed by awnings and filled up rapidly.
The way I understand it, Rico’s grew too fast. That requires capital, and they didn’t have quite enough of it. And then George got sick. He passed away a few years later, leaving many nice memories. I should have known something was wrong. While at Commander’s, he was a starting point for many jokes that would shortly sweep across the city. I hardly ever heard him tell a joke at Rico’s.