This is one of my favorite holidays. Not just because I’m a glutton (for beads), but because the revelry that is the energy of Fat Tuesday is extremely attractive. This tradition was the ‘last hurrah’ before the Lenten season on the Catholic Calendar In New Orleans its celebrated as Mardi Gras. Globally it’s celebrated with parades and parties. Lavish balls are held in Venice Italy for four weeks up until Ash Wednesday. Carnival in Rio is for six days and it is when 80% of Brazil’s beer consumption occurs. I fully embraced the spirit of this holiday at what we like to call, “The Temple Of The Unusual”. This little spot that I worked at several years ago offered up fine Cajun and creole food to an uninformed public.
The restaurant had so many quirks to it that it’s hard to say which was the most unusual. Imagine if you will a fancy white colonial with a wrap-around porch regally set on the Boston Post Road. This is sleepy Westbrook CT, a tiny shoreline town across from Long Island. Imagine that this colonial was once the local funeral home where everyone sent off their dear departed. There was no competition back in it’s time, so this fancy white colonial was the last stop in the line for Yankee fisherman and townspeople alike. It was a family business that provided for a family of five. One day the daughter decided she would take her hairdressing skills abroad, join a cruise line and see the world. She cast off for adventure and found it in the green eyes of a food and beverage manager. Imagine if you will a five-foot six, basket ball star born in India and schooled in Zürich overseeing the feeding and serving of thousands of passengers aboard the cruise ship. Their love exploded. She swooned, he wooed. He promised to show her the world and that their address could be anywhere she wanted to have her family. She said she could never forget the tiny town from which she was from. He said that he would go to this ‘Vestbrook’ and they would be together. And thus the Temple was created.
Imagine if you will the townspeople of sleepy Westbrook, peering in to the once hallowed hall to smell amazing gumbo coming out of the foyers. Feel their confusion at seeing smoke from delicious blackened chicken billowing from the office window. Conceive if you can the main parlor once for viewing, now displaying a full bar with wine and beer service. Barstools where once stood Uncle Jed’s coffin. Where Gramma Edith was displayed, was a buffet table with chaffing pans. There were flowers still scattered about, but they were in gay hues and silken to boot. The facade of the building was given a make over with flower boxes carrying said flowers and snazzy New Orleans style awnings. What is New Orleans style awnings? Nothing special, I just like the alliteration of Nawlnings. That’s it. That’s all. Imagine if you will the cellar of the old funeral home and know that the new Deli was boasting delicious fresh-baked bread. There was a lot that was unusual surrounding the place and the older guard did not know what to make of it.
The rocky beginning wasn’t aided by the great nicknames it was earning around water coolers; Dead man’s Deli, New Delhi, Very Last Chance Saloon. Aaaaaah, Yankee ingenuity is only eclipsed by Yankee humor. It was when I came on board that I really was moved by the spirit of the place and it’s owners. In my mind I couldn’t continue to add to the list of the unusual quirks this gathering place had. There were too many. And Sunil perpetuated the mystique in his own unequivocably ways; letting people know that there was air-conditioning in the bar (not quite). There was a fan, and we would walk by and blow on the tops of people’s heads. Most found this charming. Most had already had a hurricane or two in them. The Temple Of The Unusual developed a great cult following. Would that it was the first cult born in an old funeral home it would be original, but word started to spread about great eats at the Temple. People started coming around and got hooked on the blackened shrimp and the Cajun chicken grinders. The gumbo became a must have on the dreary days on the shoreline. People began buying it in quarts and gallons for quick dinners at home. The bar became a popular spot with the people in the neighborhood. Quoted one regular, “What’s wrong with sitting here having a drink with my Grandmother? Do you know how cold a cemetery gets at night? Here, try this etouffe.” The only sacrilege was not trying the food at least once. Unusual, indeed delicious, guaranteed.
That five foot six basketball star made good with his beautiful blonde hairdresser wife. They have two kids and created an even larger family with their recipes. I’m proud to call him friend and can’t wait to have him join us here in Dish-Kitchen for a good time. Happy Fat Tuesday all my friends and great supporters; Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler……….