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30 Restaurants: Angelo Brocato’s & Harbor Seafood

Angelo Brocato

I had to wait to write this post because I had to go back a second time because I didn’t get what I intended to on the first trip. I really need to go a third time and try something else. Angelo’s is a well-known Italian dessert shop with gelato, coffee, cookies, cannoli, and other pastries. I’ve eaten the gelato there once in the first few years of living here. I remember it being good but I never went back. I think I just forgot about it and I typically go to Creole Creamery to go get ice cream (which I know is not the same as gelato). I added it to the list because it seemed a shame to love dessert as much as I do and not know their products as intimately as I know other places. Also, it could become my go-to shop when I get a craving for something sweet.

On the first visit, I got their regular sized cannoli, filled half and half with vanilla and chocolate flavored ricotta and covered in pistachios, powdered sugar, and cinnamon. I also tried some of their more popular cookies. I had intended to try the tiramisu, but it looked like they were out (they weren’t, I just missed it), hence my second trip. As much as I hoped it would, I don’t think this will be my dessert drop-in. Nothing really called out to me. I’ve not eaten much cannoli but what I’ve had was in little Italy in NYC, and aside from the chocolate chips on those, I remembered really liking the shell and filling. I didn’t love Angelo’s cannolis–I ate one and left the other three for my husband, who to be fair, really loved them. The cookies were also a ‘take em or leave em’ situation; they weren’t bad, they’d satisfy my sweet tooth in a second, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for them. I went back more recently to get the tiramisu, and as much as I was looking forward to it, it was completely underwhelming. Now this could all be as a result of having other, less authentic versions of Italian desserts, such that now that I’m eating the real thing, my expectations are all off base. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m going to try a third time, maybe revisit the gelato and see about their more seasonal pastries; something has to pique my interest.

 

Harbor Seafood

I don’t eat out much in Kenner, it’s really not far but in my head it’s a journey to plan a meal out there. Folks have been telling me about this great seafood place for years now, and it’s always been in the back of my mind. More recently my husband even said that his friends mentioned to him that we should go to Harbor for dinner. So we finally made a plan and went. There’s a restaurant on one side and a seafood market on the other where you can just pick up stuff and go. There was a bit of a wait to sit down in the restaurant, despite what looked like an abundance of tables, but it wasn’t bad, and we browsed the menu while we waited. The outdoor area is a bit more modern than the cafeteria-esque inside, but since the termites had been swarming the last couple of nights, we opted to stay indoors. They have a ton of options on their menu; basically as long as you like seafood you’ll find something you want to eat. That being said, it truly is a no-frills, basket/boil/platter-with-a-large-drink-on-the-side type of place…where you go to get your fill of all things ocean life, maybe watch whatever sports game is on, and go home without a fuss. We got some oysters and gumbo to start out with and then we both ordered our own dinner.

I went with the swamp platter: fried alligator, fried crawfish tails, fried frog legs, turtle soup, crawfish etouffee, and cajun boiled alligator sausage. It was a ton of food, most of which I ended up taking home, and everything was delicious EXCEPT the turtle soup. I’ve only ever eaten turtle soup at Commander’s Palace, and I love it, but whatever was served in this cup seemed unrecognizable to me: I took one bite and left the rest on the table. But I scraped at the bottom of the cup of etouffee, and of course, how do you mess up fried seafood/swamp food. We didn’t get dessert, both of us were pretty stuffed and it really wasn’t a place either of us wanted to linger around in (not dodgy just not a place with that kind of ambiance). I will certainly go back the next time I have a serious craving for seafood, because you really can get any and all types of seafood, cooked any type of way, alone or in a combination platter, for a really decent price.

Book 13: The Taste of Salt-Martha Southgate

In essence, this novel is about flawed people with a flawed family, who try to do right, try and lead normal productive lives, and still find themselves in messy, difficult, overwhelming situations. What was refreshing about The Taste of Salt, was that it had atypical Black characters with both typical Black-life problems and typical life problems in equal measure, presented in that universally relatable way that most movies and stories with all white characters are. By that I mean, there’s this tendency to write and view the stories of predominately white characters as being the “everyman’s” story, where the scenario could have happened to anyone, and a white face is the essential blank canvas with which to ensure those scenarios relate to all audiences. When you get stories with predominately POC characters, even if their issues are just as relatable, they suddenly get framed as a niche market–a Black/Latinx/Indian/fill in the blank coming of age story; the same scenarios are presented but are eclipsed by cultural identifiers.

And I’m not saying we should all strive to write universal storylines (that there even is such a thing) or that we should aim for colorblind characterizations. I’m also not saying that there’s anything wrong with writing stories about POC in ways that are unique to those cultures, or that there aren’t cultural nuances that couldn’t fundamentally shape or change the basic narratives of POC. However, not all narratives of Black families happen as they do simply because of some monolithic “Black experience.” I may be somewhat contradicting myself, but essentially what I found interesting was that this novel expanded the boundaries of the Black experience in a way that made it more cross-cultural, or maybe it just made it more relatable to Black people with a different (neither urban north nor deep south) Black experience, which is a vital perspective to have when thinking about the myriad ways we are shoved into boxes that strip away the range of our humanity.

This family could’ve been any family experiencing economic difficulties and deferred dreams that create poor mental health that is self-medicated in socially acceptable ways, that have negative impacts across generations and fracture familial bonds through the process of dealing with addiction and depression. It could’ve been any family, and yet, because it was a Black family it was maybe more provocative because it was talking about issues we don’t typically address as a community or that we don’t necessarily view as a problem. Usually when we talk about addiction and Black people, we’re talking about drug use–crack heads, dope boys, heroin–we’re not usually talking about alcoholism, despite how present alcohol is featured in  our media and our acknowledgment of how flooded our communities are with liquor ads. And although we’re getting better at addressing mental health, particularly depression, we still really don’t talk about suicide–either attempts or successes.

Overall, this novel had a compelling story, with well-developed characters, and a particularly unique way of narrating, such that the evolution of the family dynamic is unwound across time, space, and perspective. Reading it is like watching a satisfying movie with a plot that isn’t predictable or trite, doesn’t smother you with a deep political or metaphorical message. While those deeper elements are still there, they’re subtle, coming out through the storytelling rather than being the focus with a storyline fit around it. It’s a poignant read that will keeping you guessing and engaged until the last page.

Book 12: The Bluest Eye-Toni Morrison

I’ve been hearing people talk about the importance of this work for years, and yet it was one of the few texts by Toni Morrison I wasn’t particularly interested in reading. I added it to my list because it seemed like it was time that I learned for myself what all the discussion was about. Overall, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this book. It’s written in a way that makes it a bit hard to follow: it jumps from character to character, voice to voice, time period to time period. It wasn’t until midway through the book that I could follow the abrupt changes without having to re-read previous portions; checking character names so that I was clear about who was speaking and what time period we were in. I think this is one of those books that truly merits reading in the context of a classroom, where you can pause and discuss and reflect and have some guidance through digesting the material.

In her foreword, Morrison writes:

When I began writing The Bluest Eye, I was interested in something else. Not resistance to the contempt of others, ways to deflect it, but the far more tragic and disabling consequences of accepting rejection as legitimate, as self-evident. I knew that some victims of powerful self-loathing turn out to be dangerous, violent, reproducing the enemy who has humiliated them over and over. Others surrender their identity; melt into a structure that delivers the strong persona they lack. Most others, however, grow beyond it. But there are some who collapse, silently, anonymously, with no voice to express or acknowledge it. They are invisible. The death of self-esteem can occur quickly, easily in children, before their ego has “legs,” so to speak. Couple the vulnerability of youth with indifferent parents, dismissive adults, and a world, which, in its language, laws, and images, re-enforces despair, and the journey to destruction is sealed. (pp. ix – x)

This intention came through in the storyline, but the central element of desiring blue eyes, of desiring to be someone you are not–the image of what is socially valued–and the rejection of that which is considered ugly and the object of your oppression, was not as direct as I think I expected it to be. Which isn’t a bad thing, I think the subtleties and the winding narration just made it harder to process. What really came through to me (and this probably because I’m primed to pick up on these themes because of my PhD work) was the trauma and the violence within each generation and across generations; how the hurtful and violent experiences of one led to their perpetration of hurtful and violent actions to the next. Until we get to Pecola, who turns her experiences of violence and hurt inwards, who inflicts self-harm to the point of dissociating from herself and her entire reality in order to create an identity and existence that reflected what she perceived as safe and beautiful…and happy.

The way the story developed and ended necessitates another reading, followed by conversations with other people who are also reading it, and then, maybe even another reading. To say the story had a sad ending would be too easy, because the ending was just another face to, and continuation of, what it means to be Black and attempt to survive in a world that thrives off of anti-blackness; it really forces you to question whether any one survival tactic is better or healthier than another, if one’s remaining in reality and “coping” with the madness is truly any better than being consumed in the madness and retreating to your own reality, or if it’s all just relative…

We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used–to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.

And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.

She, however, stepped over into madness, a madness which protected her from us simply because it bored us in the end. (pp. 205-206)

30 Restaurants: Palace Café & Country Club

Palace Café

This is a place I’ve passed by countless times–for a long time without ever giving it a thought as to whether I should eat there. A few years ago I started thinking that I really should make a plan to go and check it out, and stick around downtown for awhile, which isn’t something I do very often. It finally became a convenient thing to do once I’d made movie plans at Canal Place. I’d finish class around 5 PM, already be downtown, go to Palace Cafe for dinner, and then pop over to see Wakanda Forever! (i.e. Black Panther).

I wasn’t terribly hungry when I came, so I just got a couple different appetizers and dessert. I started with the crabmeat cheesecake (which had a pecan crust, mushroom sauté, and creole meunière sauce)–I don’t know that I loved this, but it was interesting.

I also got a cup of gumbo that was very good. For dessert we got Bananas Foster with the whole table side performance. It was cool and our waitress gave a great run down of the history of the dessert. But the dessert itself, was aight. I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it again.

I think I need to come back when I have an appetite and get an entree, and also enjoy sitting outside on the sidewalk seating, which is where you always see people. Or maybe go upstairs. Either way, I need to try this place again.

Country Club

I’m disappointed in myself for living here damn near 7 full years and never getting to this place before. Even more disappointed that I never experienced their ‘clothing optional’ poolside before they changed their policy (for logical and necessary reasons). But regardless, I finally made it for at least lunch. And the food did not disappoint.  We ordered a bunch of menu items and shared most of it. We were supposed to have a lunch meeting, but the food was so damn good that we spent most of that “meeting” talking about how delicious everything was. We got the fried green tomatoes as an appetizer for the table. And then two crispy whole fish, with carrots, yellow curry, plantains, yucca, charred poblanos and Louisiana popcorn rice; the bacon fat fried chicken sandwich on toasted brioche with pickled vegetables, arugula & dill pickle mayonnaise; and the char grilled flank steak, cooked medium, with smothered potatoes, caramelized onions, brussels sprouts, fire roasted tomatoes & cebollita-roasted garlic jam.

Everything was amazing and the place itself is cute and bright and covered in hand painted wall paper with massive floral patterns. The only thing that was unfortunate about my experience was the dessert. After such decadent, delicious, every-bite-makes-you-want-another food, the dessert was awful. We ordered some donut thing with fruit on top, the black bottom banana cream pie, and the tropical ice box pie: most of it stayed on the plate. So that was a sad ending to an otherwise amazing experience. But I will definitely be back for a different meal and to go to the pool!

MC Elis – 6 year old Brazilian musical artist

This young girl is over here singing about:

  1. Loving her natural hair: it’s NOT dry/hard, it’s her crown as a queen
  2. Being sick of racism
  3. Pride in her Blackness: referring to herself explicitly as Black (preta) rather than one of the endless other terms that refer to color (mulata, moreninha) but try to maintain distance from being of African descent.

Also, peep the black panther on her shirt! Go dance with Elis!

LYRICS

Vem dançar com a elis
Vem dançar com a elis
Aqui não tem caô
Só chegar e ser feliz

Eu já estou cansada
Dessa ideia de racismo
Eu não tô de mimimi
Fale o que quiser nem ligo

O meu cabelo não é duro
Ele é crespo e muito lindo
Vou passar logo a visão
Tá incomodado comigo?

Vem dançar com a elis
Vem dançar com a elis
Aqui não tem caô
Só chegar e ser feliz

E não venha com esse papo de mulata e moreninha
Sou preta com muito orgulho
Minha coroa é de rainha

(Note: some of they lyrics may be off, but there weren’t many websites that had a transcript available. If you can hear Portuguese better than me, i.e. native speaker, and know something is off, let me know so I can fix it!)