The notice at work has been given, the plane ticket has been bought, and the lease is up; I’m headed home to Oregon! This meant a lot for me both as a chef and a person. I have had multiple triumphs and failures here that have helped define who I really am over the last year and a half both in and out of the kitchen. The society here is decadent with rich food, plentiful drink, and generous conversation whether you like it or not. I decided to be homeward-bound after I spent time in Mexico and Oregon during the winter which reminded me of the beauty of nature and the roots of my upbringing in the outdoors. As I’ve been telling friends here, “this place is just too damn flat.” When I returned to the south I went away from the life of music I was trying to force and accepted a career of the culinary arts that was infinitely more fulfilling to me. So in homage to this beautiful place that taught me my foundations in professional cooking I’m on a month-long pilgrimage to learn as much as I can about southern food before bringing it back to Oregon! The journey starts at a shack on Jefferson HWY called Crabby Jack’s.
I heard about Crabby Jack’s from a few friends here. The facts I got were: it is owned by the same folks that run Jacques-Imo’s, they have phenomenal local fare, and they share walls with a seafood distribution company. Turns out it’s all true. As I walked my bike up to the front window I saw painted words announcing what the have but not that it’s the best or biggest, which is unusual for this area. The walls inside were adorned with Dr. Bob’s art all depicting his signature phrase, “Be nice or leave!” in one way or another. I knew the tips were well founded when I stepped in. I decided on a catfish poboy to test the freshness and try a flavor I was familiar with along with a half bowl of gumbo to see if mine at the bakery measured up.
I sat down and checked out the clientele. It seemed like I was the only non-regular in the joint with most of the folk being Jefferson parish construction workers and office workers from down the highway. It was refreshing to feel out of place for once!
My name was called and my meal was brought to me contained in unceremonious butcher paper and styrofoam bowl that has become the standard for cheap southern lunches. There is no “for here or to go?” at this place; it’s all the same. I carefully unwrapped my tasty gift and popped the top off of my soup. That’s when it hit me: this is what I smell when I walk or bike past a food shack and begin salivating. It’s fat, salt, heritage, and love. The sandwich was perfect. Cheap French bread, dressed(meaning lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles), with crunchy battered catfish as fresh as you can get. Of course, I’m no fool so I doused it in Crystal hot sauce like any good southerner would. The gumbo was filled with chicken and andouille with a roux base that was bit light for my taste, but damn good nonetheless. Since the catfish passed the test, I might have to return and try the Fleur de Brees which has ham, roast beef debris, and gravy (maybe after a hefty day of biking).
Overall, my first stop on my last month’s culinary pilgrimage was a great success and I hope it gets even better when I check out the po-boys and jambalaya at Sammy’s in the Treme this week!