Before I head to New Orleans, a quick note: Over at the Booksake blog, Jessica is featuring Royal Street as her Waiting on Wednesday feature. Thanks, Jessica!
Now….DJ, the wizard heroine of my upcoming Sentinels of New Orleans series, is quite talented when it comes to mixing potions and devising magical rituals. Cooking? Not so much.
So, DJ goes out for Christmas dinner every year–and where she goes is Tujague’s, the second-oldest restaurant in New Orleans behind the venerable Antoine’s. (It’s pronounced “Two-Jacks,” by the way, sort of a bastardization of “Two-Jags”.) In a city teeming with really, really GOOD restaurants, there are pitifully few open on Christmas Day. But Tujague’s is always open. The restaurant has operated continuously since 1856 from its spot on Decatur Street across from the French Market and the Cafe du Monde, initially catering to the tradespeople who worked the riverfront.
Tujague’s was the ONLY place open the Christmas after Hurricane Katrina. So off to Tujague’s we went for a late afternoon/early evening Christmas dinner. Oh, did I mention I also don’t cook Christmas dinner? We waited for our table inside the old bar (above).
Once we arrived at our table in one of the tiny dining rooms (and I swear this is the exact table where we were seated), we enjoyed the fixed holiday menu of turkey, oyster dressing, and bread pudding. It was all kind of surreal that year. People at the tables started exchanging Katrina stories. “How’d you make out?” was the question on everyone’s lips, and everyone had a story to share. It became like a big family, just us and all these other people we’d never met before or since, sharing a common sorrow, a common love of our city, a common joy at being home again. At some point, a guy at the table next to us pulled out a ukelele and began playing a funny song about evacuating, then he stopped and began singing this strangely beautiful unplugged ukelele version of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” and I swear everyone in that dining room was crying. It was a Christmas I’ll never, ever forget.
So, in honor of Christmas at Tujagues in December 2005, here’s Louis Armstrong doing the original–a song that also plays an important role for the characters in ROYAL STREET.