Thursday, December 22, 2005

You'll dig the way it's fried

An apology to my friends and family who have been faithfully checking here for news and updates but have found nothing new to read for the past few days. My excuse is simple: I have this pesky job that takes me out of town every now and then, and I can't post when I'm on the road.

But the good news is, traveling beyond boundaries of the battered Crescent City has given me new perspective on this catastrophe. The first of which I write about now:


I think we all know what I'm talking about. Sometime in the 1970's, a New Orleans entrepreneur invented a wicked blend of spices to make fried chicken something to get excited about. Oh, there were Kentucky Fried Chicken and Plantation Chicken outlets in every city in the south long before then.

But no one had ever tasted anything like the cayenne-fueled fire of Popeye's recipe. When the first couple of Popeye's restaurants opened here in New Orleans, there were lines of people waiting to get that golden goodness before you could say, "Gimme two pieces, dark, spicy with fries." And the epidemic quickly spread to the rest of America.

From the beginning, the advertising and decor of Popeye's were made as loud and wild as the flavorful poultry they served. "Love that chicken from Popeye's," the ads sang. You know the tune. "Made the New Orleans way."

And in all the mess left by Hurricane Katrina, I had not noticed until recently that all the Popeye's in New Orleans are closed.

I know I've written more than once about food and restaurants here, but there's a reason I have not written about fast food. Because in New Orleans, there ain't no more fast food. Not even the spicy New Orleans original.

I noticed this because when you leave New Orleans and travel several hundred miles away as I did earlier this week, there are fast food restaurants on every corner. Even Popeye's, which strikes me as just a bit ironic, since it is apparently easy to get New Orleans flavored fried chicken everywhere except New Orleans right now.

How can I be making a big deal about a fast food restaurant? Because Popeye's will forever in my mind be that constant touchstone. No matter where I go, I know I can find home in that garish, greasy goodness.

About 25 years ago, for instance, I went through Army Basic Training at Fort McClelland, Alabama. Our barracks faced a large parade ground. Across the parade ground was one of the gates to the post. Outside the gate was a highway. Across the highway were several small businesses, including a Popeye's.

Several times a day, while lined up in military formation, I could see that orange and black fast food restaurant across the several hundred feet of land. And I would be reminded of the food, the fun, and the family back home. When the Drill Sergeants got me down, I'd imagine going AWOL over that fence and spending an hour at Popeye's before the MPs found me and dragged me back. (For the record, I never did get to eat there--I got shipped off to my next post the same day I completed Basic Training.)

I don't know how popular Popeye's is in other towns, but in New Orleans you could walk to one no matter where you lived or worked in the city. I just looked in the phone book and counted 20 in New Orleans proper, and 20 more in surrounding parishes. I've heard that some of the Popeye's in neighboring parishes are open, but most, including all in New Orleans, have not reopened.

There was some excitement a couple months ago when Cafe du Monde across from Jackson Square reopened. I'm thinking the Mayor is sure to be there to cut the ribbon when they reopen the first Popeye's here.


Editor B said...

There's a functioning Popeye's in Algiers on Gen. De Gualle. Yeah, you bet I ate there!

Tim said...

Wow! This is great news. I guess I was only focused on the East Bank. I haven't even been across the river since the hurricane, except to pass through on my way down to Plaquemines Parish a few times. I might see if I can get over there tonight. Thanks, B.

Laurie said...

Oh, my! You are starting to make me feel guilty. (Guess where I'm going for lunch now.)