Tag Archives: restaurant

Stalking the Wild Americana

Before there was the interstate highway system and a steady stream of 18-wheelers, there was a road called the Old Spanish Trail that went from St Augustine, Florida to San Diego, California. One of the benefits of our Jack Kerourac-style traveling, is following an old road that preserves the culture and sights of a past era.

We left the interstate highway to travel a chunk of the Old Spanish Trail west of San Antonio, Texas. The road went right through Main Street in Bandera, Texas. Naturally, there was still a general store on Main Street, and the very charming OST Diner  – “OST”  being the acronym for Old Spanish Trail. This diner was a stopping point for the Chevys, Buicks, and Oldsmobiles of the 1940s and 50s.

We went in for a late breakfast (served all day, of course!). The decor is kitschy Western, with a large section of one wall dedicated to John Wayne. For you cowboys missing the range, the bar stools are saddles. Their specialty, and traditional breakfast, is chicken fried steak, eggs, biscuits and gravy, and perfectly cooked hash browns. All of it was delicious and perfect, served with fantastic coffee (and I’m a mean critic of coffee, so you know it was good!).

The idea for a southern-most transcontinental road was conceived in 1915, and took nearly 15 years to finish. The Old Spanish Trail strung together four different US freeways. By the early 60s, Interstate Highways I-10 and I-8 killed the Old Spanish Trail and many of the businesses on it. One of the truly great losses of America is its heterogeneity – the lack of unique Mom & Pop businesses that still mark so many other places in the world. That is the reason Deena and I travel.

The Birthplace of Equality

Heading west from Florida, we just had to stop at Dooky Chase’s restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana. Why did we stop then?
HISTORY!

We were on a mission to enjoy the Cajun specialties at Dooky’s buffet because the restaurant has an unique attraction.

Dooky Chase’s is the landmark restaurant of the civil rights movement in the United States. In the apartheid 1950s, it was also the only place in town that had a black dining room, a white dining room, and an upstairs where blacks and whites could sit in the same room and not be harassed by the local police. In that upstairs meeting room, community leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Thurgood Marshall, and many others, discussed civil rights issues, plans, and strategy over meals provided by Leah Chase, the Queen of Cajun Cooking.

It was Leah’s vision that drove Dooky’s from a 1941 sandwich shop to the first African-American fine dining restaurant in the United States (and also the first African-American artists’ gallery!). Yet it wasn’t just the restaurant we visited. After a delicious Cajun lunch of fried chicken, pickled okra, red beans and rice, collard greens, and andouille sausage, we went backstage to visit the amazing Leah Chase herself.

At age 95, the very woman who cooked for nearly every civil rights leader that ever marched, a Supreme Court Justice, two US Presidents, famous jazz musicians, and the entire Who’s Who of African-American celebrities, still arrives at the restaurant early every morning to prepare the dishes.

We talked to her when she just sat down after peeling the sweet potatoes for tomorrow’s lunch. Did we mention that she’s 95 years old? She has all her wits about her and then some. All we can say is that she’s not only the Queen of Cajun cooking, she’s also the queen of positive attitude and behavior. Even Hurricane Katrina, which closed Dooky’s for two years, couldn’t stop Leah Chase. It was an honor to converse with this giant of a woman.

If you go, make sure you arrive before it’s open, or be prepared for an hour wait. The buffet is quick, easy and delicious, and Ms Chase loves visitors after lunch, so don’t be shy.