***image1***We didn't choose le Moyne's Landing as our Restaurant of the Year because last year Hurricane Katrina blasted through New Orleans, taking Honey Howard's house and livelihood with it. We chose le Moyne's because we love the crawfish étouffée, catfish po'boys, oysters Irene and the long list of daily specials like Farmers Market baby eggplant smothered with crawfish in a spicy cream sauce. Authentic Crescent City comfort food, a welcoming atmosphere and warm, attentive service have all made us grateful that Howard decided to relocate her family's restaurant to Guadalupe Street.
Last summer Katrina devastated the New Orleans restaurant industry, affecting more than 10,000 restaurants that employed almost 200,000 people. Back then, Howard and her mother were in the process of relocating the original le Moyne's Landing from the riverfront to the French Quarter. For the better part of 25 years, it had been the only outdoor bar and restaurant on the Spanish Plaza. (Anchored by a huge, beautiful fountain, the plaza was a gift to New Orleans from ***image4***the Spanish government.) But their lease was up and the family had found a great project in the new location-a historic building that had been vacant for 50 years. Howard's father was excited about fixing it up himself.
As the hurricane approached, Howard and her family were able to evacuate to Mississippi, where they rode out the storm in safety. Afterward they were relieved to find that the French Quarter building that was to house the restaurant was still standing. Unfortunately, the rest of the city was a deserted disaster area. There was no one left to build the restaurant, nobody to cook or wait tables and, most important, nobody left to eat there. Owners of the other businesses on the street had no definite plans to reopen.
Shortly after the storm, Howard's mother suffered through a stroke and then pneumonia. Her parents' house gone, the restaurant without hope, they decided to stay in Mississippi. But Howard was engaged to Matt Yohalem, who owned the French Quarter restaurant Belle Forche as well as Santa Fe's Il Piatto. He convinced her to take a chance on New Mexico, and this spring she opened le Moyne's Landing in the small space on Guadalupe Street that had most recently housed Rooney's Tavern.
Rooney's white and kelly green color scheme is gone, replaced by chocolate-brown walls that somehow make the place feel cozier but not smaller. Howard says she was trying ***image2***to re-create the feeling of a bayou swamp cabin: "There's a painting on the wall here by Al Federico [a New Orleans artist], and when my parents opened their steakhouse-the first restaurant I took over from them-we had him paint a mural there. The guy painted this little room in a swamp theme, with boats and a little swamp cabin. In my mind that is Louisiana…and that's what I wanted people to feel. You're sitting there, right on some muddy water and look! There's an alligator!"
Our rattlesnakes are no match for their alligators, but in many ways, Santa Fe and New Orleans are similar; both share a long history of strong European influence, totally unique cuisine and a persistently charming ambiance that lures visitors in throngs. It seems natural that people from either city would love both equally. But the two cities are also quite different, especially in terms of weather, temperament and ethnicity. "I love the Latin culture and the Indian culture here," Howard says. And when comparing New Orleans' "party all night" lifestyle to Santa Fe's "what nightlife?" lifestyle, Howard gives points to New Mexico. "Santa Fe is just more peaceful…healthier."
The change in venue gave Howard the opportunity to make some changes to the menu she and her family had been serving for years. In New Orleans, le Moyne's offered crawfish étouffée, ***image3***shrimp Creole and red beans on the menu all the time; regulars demanded them and tourists expected to find them. In Santa Fe, Howard thought she would run those dishes as specials and focus her menu on more innovative recipes. "When I opened without étouffée or Creole on the menu, people were furious!" she says, laughing. She figured that people would get bored with the kind of everyday dishes that are the equivalent of our green chile chicken enchiladas and green chile stew. Instead, they insisted she put the traditional Creole and Cajun dishes on the menu. Howard says she was surprised and refreshed by the interest.
At le Moyne's there is a comment card tucked in every vinyl check holder. "Some people like [the food] and some people don't," Howard says, "and those who don't have no problem letting me know!" But mostly the cards come back with requests for favorite dishes. "A lot of people ask for me to make boudin [pork and rice sausage]…and it takes a little time; it's a process…but I'll do it." She gets ***image5***a lot of praise for the garlicky shrimp Creole, creamy étouffée and the deep, rich flavors of her gumbos, which change daily.
Being able to shop at the Farmers Market has been a joy for this chef, but sometimes customers don't understand that things like green tomatoes can be hard to find. Her fried green tomatoes with tangy rémoulade have been a big hit with customers, who can get cranky when the dish isn't available. "I keep trying to get good green tomatoes," Howard says, "but I won't put it on the menu if it isn't perfect." And what of the criticism she takes from fried-green-tomato-crazy customers? She's pleased to know that people care, "even if they're writing to tell you what a piece of $#*! you are."
At the end of the day, this New Orleans transplant feels appreciated. "I was so happy to have a place to come and cook for people," she says of the move. Grasping for words, she tries to convey the emotions of such a transition. "In the few months ***image6***I've been open…to have all these people come…and now I know them and I know what they like! I can't emphasize enough my appreciation and how thankful I am to have people come here. To have the business and to be surviving. To have specials every day and be here for customers, like they're family. Sometimes New Orleans can be a hustle-bustle world, and it's nice to have that feeling of family here."
There is a heartwarming sincerity about Howard when she says things like this, and it reminds you of what so many restaurant people have in common: They're people people. These people and the food they cook bring us out of the house to celebrate life around a table of family and friends. Santa Fe is a better place for folks like them and the sustenance they give us, and this is a better place since the addition of Honey Howard and le Moyne's Landing.
2 pounds pork butt
1½ pounds pork liver (can substitute chicken liver)
2 onions, cut into chunks
3 stalks celery
1 large bell pepper, cut into chunks
1 pound ground pork
2 fresh jalapeños, diced (remove membrane for milder flavor)
3 pounds cooked white rice
To prepare the filling:
• Place all the above ingredients in a large pot; cover with water and boil for 2-3 hours, until tender. Remove ingredients from broth and continue to cook liquid until reduced by half.
• Remove all bones and excess fat and chop meat parts finely or run through a food processor.
• Season with salt, black pepper and cayenne to your liking (this should be a highly seasoned dish).
• Mix the meat mixture and liquid (not all the liquid at once) together with the cooked white rice, stirring the mixture as little as possible to prevent the rice from breaking. Should you find the mixture to be too dry, add more liquid.
To prepare the boudin balls, you'll need:
3 eggs, beaten
Bread crumbs seasoned with salt and cayenne
Oil for frying
• Shape your boudin mixture into balls about the size of a walnut.
• Dip in the eggs and then into the seasoned bread crumbs.
• Deep-fry at 375 degrees until golden brown, then drain excess grease on paper towels.
Makes about 4 dozen.
Barbara Jean's Rum Pralines
2 cups white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
1 cup milk
2½ cups pecan pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ounce dark rum
• In a large saucepan, combine sugar, butter, milk, pecans, vanilla extract and dark rum. Cook slowly over medium heat for about 20-30 minutes. Stir until the mixture becomes thick, almost too difficult to stir.
• Spoon 1-tablespoon portions onto wax paper, in cookie form, and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes before removing from the wax paper.
Makes about 2 dozen.