This review is from: Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde: Life Stories about Food (Hardcover). I’ll begin with saying I am not what you would call a “foodie,” but being an artist, I am easily susceptible to a good story or stories that make me think and feel. Somehow, the events are still under review in my scattered memory, I found myself hungover like Hemingway in The French Quarter the day after New Year’s Day this year with my girlfriend in tow.
Having never been to New Orleans before, there was the typical dropdown menu of clichéd “I’m in New Orleans” things I said I was going to do. If you’re thinking that list included A) Indulge any and all vices with and without my girlfriend; B) Take a swamp tour; C) Gain 10 pounds on local food and drink; D) Check out the Katrina ravaged sites; E) Visit Café Du Monde; F) Make a fool of myself in public; G) Converse with some locals and understand maybe 17% of what they were saying under their thick Orleans accent that can be best summarized as a drunken fun baby birthed by France and New York; AND H) Listen to Saints fans talk endlessly about how Roger Goodell screwed their beloved Saints, then you must think you’re pretty special. And while I was able to knock off just about all of the aforementioned items (I’ll make it up to you next trip swamp gators) I still hadn’t made my inaugural trip to Café Du Monde and I was on my way out of town. Finally arriving at the corner of Decatur and St. Ann, I noticed in short order that the place was packed like a Saints home game. Somehow I found a table and nursed my hangover with their feloniously delicious café au lait and my first ever beignet.
Lots of sugar was involved and some spinal fluid might have been sacrificed. My girlfriend and I had such a good time that it made me want to buy a souvenir so I asked one of the waitresses if there was a souvenir shop. Fortunately there was. Unfortunately it involved walking across the street. Once there I did a google search on my phone to see if there were any books on the Café and came across “Meanwhile Back at Café Du Monde…”, Perfect, I thought. “And of course they’ll have it here. I mean it’s the souvenir shop for the Café.” WRONG. Sold out. I even had one of the clerks call the OTHER Café Du Monde souvenir shop down the street. Not happening little buddy. All sold out. Now this piqued my interest. So I go the Amazon route like so many have before and after me. I went into the initial reading with mostly conjecture about what the actual text would consist of. “Maybe some overlong back-in-time journey into the heart of New Orleans, some voodoo and a complete rundown of the culinary king or queen who created the joint,” I’m thinking. What I got was one of the more unexpected but incredible literary surprises I’ve ever stumbled upon. Creator/editor Peggy Sweeney-McDonald has crafted a touching and at times inspirational series of 67 first person anecdotes about their shared experiences with their favorite comfort food and accompanying recipes. These stories are based on live shows that were held throughout 2010 and 2011 at numerous restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Natchez and New Orleans. Many of the stories, including that of Sweeney-McDonald, are set at Café Du Monde. There is also a foreword from Karen Benrud, the owner of Café Du Monde, as well as the history of the Café itself. If you haven’t been there before reading this, you’ll become obsessed with visiting. The Café Du Monde is used as a state of mind (kind of like the classic film Chinatown only without the corruption, incest and manipulation of land and water) for that place where we all feel safe and secure and that just happens to have our favorite food. We all have them and I am no different. What is amazing is that no one had ever thought to do something like this before. The stories all leave an imprint on your memory and the recipes are written so that even kitchenphobes like your humble critic here aren’t intimidated.
Okay, so maybe my girlfriend did most of the cooking. The pictures of not just the people telling the stories but of the recipes themselves by Troy Kleinpeter are well placed to guide you through. When discovering that Sweeney-McDonald lives in the same part of Los Angeles as I do, I couldn’t help but wonder what she would be like in person. As it turns out, she has been doing an extensive set of book signings and speaking engagements around town. I got to meet her and have her sign my book last weekend. She is a true Southern Belle in every way from looks down to her hospitable personality. We talked about everything from food to art and got to meet her husband Jimmy as well.
I eagerly await her next book and the next live “Meanwhile Back at Café Du Monde…” show in Los Angeles. Do yourself a favor and pick this up. You’ll be just as surprised and pleased as I was. No pretentiousness just a lot of heart and good people. Just don’t read this on an empty stomach. Try the Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Sugar-Cane-Skewered Shrimp and follow that up with Henry Burns’ Famous Banana Bread.
by Adnan Tezer (Los Angeles, CA)