The June 6 issue of ‘New York’ has a feature called ‘The Urbanist’s Chicago’ and one piece is called ‘Three Restaurants Chicagoans Clamor For‘ — number one is ‘Next‘ which they say, “Nearly 19,000 people have signed up on the restaurant’s website just to buy tickets—yes, tickets—to Grant Achatz’s latest modernist-dining experiment. The menu changes cuisines and time periods every three months (current theme: Paris 1906). Hands down Chicago’s toughest reservation.“
They’re doing Paris 1906 right now; focusing on a time and place is the idea that John Folse and his team will be doing when his Restaurant R’evolution at the Royal Sonesta opens this fall. They will show how people ate in New Orleans in the 1800s, and that will be manifested in seven different dining rooms to represent seven cuisines that influenced the taste culture back then. There will be a market with meats, cheeses, etc., and the bar will specialize in pre-Prohibition cocktails. This is on my list when Leslie and Jeff and Av and I vacation in New Orleans this December together.
One restaurant that I’ve always wanted to just preserve in time (there are a few) is/was Weidmann’s in Meridian, which has been in business since 1870. A few years ago, a group bought it and tried to make it upscale. Disaster. Last year, it was purchased by someone who wanted to make it more like it used to be — unpretentious, comfortable.
It used to be open from early in the morning to pretty late each day, and the servers, who most had probably been there decades, were real professionals. There must have been at least 100 options on the menu, and everything we ever had was excellent, excellent. It was the type of food you would fix at home if you time the time or inclination. There was a long lunch counter, a dining room in the back with hundreds of signed photographs of national and local celebrities – from governors and astronauts to flag twirlers and cowgirls – and a room to the left as you walked in that had a very rustic feel, and I believe it was called the 1890 room (or 18-something room). Since butter was in short supply during WWII, Wiedmann’s substituted and put peanut butter in crocks on the tables. The little crocks could even be purchased at the cash register (we have one).
Not a whole lot in updates had ever, I think, gone on at Weidmann’s. Nothing was ever new. If it wasn’t broke, there was no need in fixing it. Weidmann’s was never broke.
Well, last month I had the occasion to have lunch at Weidmann’s, and it is more comfortable than it had been (but they can never bring it back completely — even the old owners had changed the layout of the restaurant). I had the vegetable plate: fried green tomatoes with a little remoulade, corn pudding, and potato salad:
It’s like they’re still trying a little too hard (i.e. the sprinkling of herbs around the rim of the plate) but…overall it was delicious.
Last month we had lunch at Isaiah’s in Montgomery — Av’s fish with mashed potatoes and corn:
…and my vegetable plate with blackeyed peas, corn, macaroni and cheese, and greens:
It was only okay. And the vibe was wrong — eating out of those weird glass saucers, those non-skid drawer-liner placemats, and the dainty atmosphere…
Our favorite in Montgomery is the Davis Cafe which isn’t as sweet and neat:
The SFA has just done an oral history series on the ‘Lunch Houses of Acadiana‘:
With few exceptions, steam tables and buffet lines are the focal point in Acadiana’s lunch houses. The food is almost uniformly smothered and darkened with gravy, for cooks in this part of the state adhere to two fundamental rules: start with the freshest ingredients possible, and brown the heck out of them to achieve the most naturally flavorful gravy possible.
Several of the cooks we interviewed believe so deeply in the superiority of fresh okra that they put up enough vegetables during harvest season to last throughout the year. Merline Herbert at the Creole Lunch House serves her smothered okra with chicken and sausage. Her rice and sugar come from producers up the road. She buys her sausage, tasso, and catfish from local artisans and growers. Ruby’s Café in Eunice, in the heart of Acadiana’s prairie, is comparable. Owners Curt Fontenot and Dwayne Vidrine source their seafood from fishermen, not middlemen.