Tuesday, December 27: “It’s there but it’s gone, if you know what I mean.” Lynell is washing Bayona’s dishes and telling me about his house. He’s lived Uptown all his life, in a neighborhood that got flooded, in a city that got flooded. Around the corner, on Jackson Square, tourists are taking photographs. The Quarter traffic is moving at a snail’s pace. Locals on bicycles greet one another. At Johnny’s Po-Boys, a line forms for shrimp and oyster and roast beef po’boys, and one called the Judge Bosetta (ground beef, spicy sausage, Italian sausage, lettuce, tomato, pickles, hot sauce, mustard). “There are 16 of us living in one place now,” says Lynell.
In Bayona’s dining room, the phone rings and rings. The hostess is turning down diners for New Year’s Eve. In the courtyard beneath the palm trees, Chris Myers, fresh back in town, waits to talk to the chef. He had graduated from culinary school in Wisconsin and had landed a pantry job at Bayona in the third week of August. “You can understand how thrilled I was, and then a week later, it was like ‘damn’. . .”
Chris’ll be rehired. Susan Spicer needs him. She lost her chef de cuisine. She lost her sous-chef. She lost her prep guys who had worked here ten years. She lost her Lakeview home. She’s been commuting Tuesday mornings from Jackson, Mississippi, staying at her mom’s in Metairie, and commuting back to her family on Saturday nights. “Tuesdays are kinda crazy for me,” she says. “It’s hard to switch gears.”
The 45-year New Orleans resident, 15-year French Quarter restaurateur and two-year stepmother takes the time, between planning the menu and figuring the count and cutting the filet and garnishing the plates and inspecting the apps and firing the entrees, to explain to the writer in her kitchen, “It’s hard to think about the future of the restaurant industry. I think more about the city. Is it going to be more progressive? Will the politicians work together? Will there be better schools, a better transit system, more green space?” She’s looking at the line; she needs to get back to expediting. “With New Year’s coming up, people need to see some sign that things are moving forward besides restaurants.”
I help Paul Chell devein sweetbreads. Hall Ford, Spicer’s newly promoted 25-year-old sous-chef, is stuffing black drum with crabmeat beside us. “Everything’s the same, but everything’s different,” says Paul. “Totally the same but totally different,” says Hall. What’s different? “The people who are working here are different,” says Paul. “I sorely miss the prep guys,” says Hall. The hours are different. They’ve been working so much that 12-hour days, down from 16-hour days, feel like “a real treat.” What’s the same? “A lot of Susan’s signatures are still there”, Hall says, like the sweetbreads with lemon-caper or sherry-mustard butter and the eggplant caviar with tapenade and the grilled shrimp with black bean cake and coriander sauce. “The flavors are still there,” Paul says. “Everything still tastes really good.”
“It’s New Orleans,” Lynell says. “Ain’t any different. We’ll be all right. By summer next year, we’ll be all right. It's gonna come back.” Hall and Paul run down a list of New Orleans music clubs for me: Circle Bar, Mimi’s, Applebarrel, d.b.a. Paul was at blues queen Marva Wright’s annual Tipitina’s Christmas show. She sang “I Will Survive.” Paul cried. Irwin Mayfield’s trumpet “ripped right through” him. “You don’t find stuff like that anywhere else. I wanted to come back and be a part of it. I couldn’t abandon New Orleans.”
I leave Bayona. I go to d.b.a. A duo is playing there. A couple is dancing. The guy dips the girl. They twirl. The guy throws his arm in the air, big smile. I dial my friend Bill in New York. The phone rings. The organist sings, “I fall in love too easily. I fall in love too fast.” I hold the phone up to the music. “Hello?” Bill says. “Hello?”