Broke-Ass Insider’s Guide to New Orleans: Treme/ Mid-City
From Drew Brees to Hog’s Head Cheese, James Black to Sazerac: Here’s our New Orleans insider’s guide, neighborhood by neighborhood, to all the things that make the Crescent City the greatest city in America.
Treme St. by St. Louis Cemetery #1
The Treme should be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This neighborhood has more uniquely developed cultural significance than anywhere else in the country. This is where jazz was born with roots in Congo Square. It’s one of the greatest epicenters for rhythm in the world. Legendary drummers like Joseph “Smokey” Johnson, Earl Palmer (one of the most recorded session drummers in history), and James Black grew up here. Listen to this audio documentary on James Black by David Kunian to learn more about this underrated musical genius if you don’t know who he is.
St. Augustine Church in the Treme
As the oldest African American neighborhood in the United States, the Treme has played a pivotal role in developing black culture in America. It’s an impenetrable culture for curious outsiders that captivates them with its enchanting spirit that has spread throughout the world. It represents progression, optimism, and perseverance. Unlike most historic neighborhoods in this country, most of the Treme was not settled by immigrants who moved here at their free will. It was founded over 200 years ago by free people of color, whose parents and grandparents where brought to North America as slaves from Africa. It’s had an integral part in improving the status of African Americans in the United States. The Southern Civil Rights Movement emerged from the Treme in the 1950s.
Jazz Corner of the World
The neighborhood has had to battle to keep its cultural identity alive through the years. In the mid 1960s, the city decided to build an expressway on the live oak lined neutral ground (street median) of Claibornce Ave., directly through the heard of the neighborhood. Extreme urban poverty, drugs and violence have also plagued the Treme for a number of years. Katrina certainly didn’t help. Despite all these setbacks, it is still a cultural hub for New Orleans. The intersection of Orleans and Claiborne underneath the I-10 bridge remains the primary meeting point for the Downtown Mardi Gras Indians. They still have second lines on Sunday and they continue to produce some of the nations finest musical talent, like Troy Andrews a.k.a “Trombone Shorty,” Kermit Ruffins and Shannon Powell, the “King of the Treme,” on drums.
Overpass at Orleans and Claiborne
Keep heading north from the Treme and you’ll find yourself in Mid-City. It’s a large area of town that’s sort of its own little world. With Bayou St. John, the Fairgrounds racetrack, and City Park, there’s very little reason to venture too far out of this part of town once you settle in. It’s quiet at night, but still has an after hours scene. On a pretty day, you can cast a line out into the bayou with a cooler of Budweiser and let the time slip away by the water, or take a kayak out and paddle to Lake Pontchartraine. During Jazz Fest, Mid-City gets flooded with hundreds of thousands of visitors flocking around the Fairgrounds, looking to enjoy a taste of New Orleans outside the French Quarter. This section is a bit be heavier on the food and the music, not to take away from the bar scene in this area. It’s the edge of the lively part of New Orleans, before crossing into the more suburban Lakeview or Gentilly.
Bayou St. John
Betsy’s Pancake House: This is a classic American breakfast establishment. Hanging on the walls are pictures of former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush. On Sundays, everybody eats at Betsy’s after church. The dining room is large and gets completely full every weekend. It’s a Mid-City family staple.
Betsy’s Pancake House
Coco Hut: The best (and sone of the only) Caribbean food in New Orleans. The owners/ chefs are a dynamic friendly Afro-Columbian family that lived in the Caribbean for a number of years. Cane juice, fried fish, and jerk chicken are the specialties. I once went there and asked for my jerk chicken to be extra spicy. The chef watched my eyes water as I tried to mask the pain I was going through from the spice. He gave me some creamy garlic sauce to put out the flames. Afterwards I asked him where I could get that sauce. He said he would specially order it from the international distributing company that carried it. Now every time I go in there he has the sauce for sale on the shelf just for me. It’s that type of service that keeps me going back.
Dooky Chase’s: This is as New Orleans as it gets. It’s certainly not a broke-ass establishment, but it would be impossible to talk about food in the Treme without mentioning Leah Chase and the quintessential Creole cuisine she’s been serving New Orleans for over 60 years. She’s open for lunch Tuesday-Friday, and dinner on Friday.
Hare Krishna Temple: It seems strange to mention a Krishna temple on a food list but they have the best vegetarian food in the city, and it’s FREE every sunday around 7 pm. If you attend the ceremony, you don’t have to wait in the long line for food. The intention is to feed those that are needy in the community, but all are welcome to eat. All their food comes from their Krishna farm in Mississippi.
ISKCON Hare Krishna Temple
Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy: For the last few years, Kermit Ruffins has been the unofficial spokesman of New Orleans music for the rest the country, gaining recognition through HBO’s Treme, and gigging internationally. Recently Kermit Ruffins has been staying away from blowing his horn at local gigs that go till 4 am. He’s got a restaurant to tend to. Just last month he ended his 20-plus year run with a weekly gig at Vaughn’s on Thursdays. Stemming from his tradition of bringing home cooked food for his band and the audience to eat at gigs, Kermit has a passion for feeding the masses. At Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy, he’s not just the owner, he’s the chef. His speciality is rabbit and from legs.
Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy
McHardy’s Chicken and Fixin: This is my favorite broke-ass establishment in the city. I have a passion for eating fried chicken. When I get the itch, nothing can satisfy me quite like good-ass fried chicken. McHardy’s has some good-ass fried chicken and it’s dirt cheap. Well seasoned, juicy, golden pieces of pure joy. The fixins aren’t bad either.
McHardy’s Chicken & Fixin
Parkway Bakery & Tavern: This is my favorite place for poboys in the city. From the bread, to the meat, to the atmosphere, Parkway does it right. After Katrina this area had a good bit of water. Luckily there was enough love for this fine establishment that it didn’t take too long to bring the place back to its glory. I usually sit on the tavern side and order my poboy from the bartender while I sip on a frosty Dixie beer, but there’s an entire indoor and outdoor family style seating area on the other side where you order at the window.
Tiger’s Creole Cuisine: This is sort of the broke-ass version of Dookey Chase. I had to include this place on the list because I feel like Kermit is slowly putting this family owned establishment out of business with his Speakeasy right across the street. Tiger’s has all the food you can’t get outside New Orleans at a good price.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House: McHardy’s is a fried chicken shack, Willie Mae’s is a fried chicken restaurant, located behind Dookey Chase’s. Willie Mae’s is widely accepted as the best fried chicken in the country, possibly the world. It’s as elegant as eating fried chicken gets.
Finn McCool’s Irish Pub: This is the only soccer bar in town. Although it’s an Irish bar, if you’re an Anglophile that just can’t get enough of the Premier league, you’ll probably love this place. They serve all the beers you’d expect from an Irish pub with the right atmosphere. Boo Koo BBQ serves some of the city’s best BBQ out of Finn’s. It’s a great Mid-City neighborhood bar.
Pal’s Lounge: This is an easy place to miss. It looks like a house and there’s really no other bars around it. Like Milan Lounge, you have to be buzzed in to this bar. Pal’s really haa the neighborhood lounge feel down.
Seahorse Saloon: If you go to Jazz Fest, you will almost certainly end up at this bar at some point. Located directly across the main entrance to the Fairgrounds on Gentilly Blv., it’s sort of the last stop before officially crossing over into Gentilly.
Twelve Mile Limit: This is the best dive in Mid-City. Like Pal’s, it’s not the type of place you would know was a bar unless somebody told you to go there. They serve good food, drinks are a fair price, there’s a pool table, and they have a great jukebox. What more could you ask for from a neighborhood bar?
Backstreet Cultural Museum: This belongs in a category of its own. If you want to learn about second lines and Mardi Gras India culture, go here. The museum is a house in the Treme located right across the street from the historic St. Augustine Church. The owner decided to preserve some of the incredibly unique traditions of the area by showcasing priceless cultural artifacts and photographs to visitors.
Candlelight Lounge: Candlelight is the home of the Treme Brass Band who plays there almost every week on Wednesday night. This is what the Treme is all about. Friendly bartenders, good music, wide open dance floor, and tables if you want to just sit and drink. They usually have FREE food for customers in the back while the Treme Brass Band plays.
Club Caribbean: Located just down the street from Coco Hut, this part of Bayou Rd. is the closest thing New Orleans has to a Caribbean part of town. Island culture fits right in with New Orleans. Club Caribbean serves as the premier Reggae club in the city, showcasing touring acts from Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean. You can smell Jah’s blessing in the air in this establishment. If you have an aversion to smoke, this place might not be your cup of tea.
Chickie Wah Wah: This is a straight forward New Orleans music venue, located away from most of the other clubs in the city. They do a great job showcasing the city’s best talent in an intimate environment off Canal St.
Domino Sound Record Shack: Hands down the best record store in the city. I love this place. It’s my favorite record store in the country, but that’s just because the owner has my exact same musical preference. Only vinyl here, which is fine by me. It’s the type of record store that does not require digging. Every piece of vinyl in the shop is worth owning, it’s just a matter of what you want on that given day. Conveniently located next to Coco Hut and Club Caribbean, Domino has the best selection of rock steady, dub, reggae, and dancehall music in the city.
Favorite Corner Stores
Man chu Food Store: It’s impossible miss this solid purple brick square by the I-10 overpass on Claiborne. Don’t be weary of the food, it’s good I swear. If you’re a reel broke-ass, this place has it all. It also has my favorite name of any corner store.
Terranova Brothers Superette: This is the ultimate mom and pop shop. It’s been family owner since 1925. These type of establishments keep the New Orleans charm alive. The butcher section is run by a father and son. They have homemade hog’s head cheese and sausage that is as good as anywhere in the city. Last time I was in there, I didn’t have enough money to buy a cold drink and it was very hot outside. The lady told me to give her whatever change I had in my pocket and pick out any cold drink I wanted. She acted like I was family just because I was in her shop. That’s the New Orleans hospitality people miss in the rest of the country.
New Orleans term of the Day: Neutral Ground– the area separating one side of the street from the other. Most cities call this a median.
Now here’s Alvin Robinson: Down Home Girl