For my first entry in this series, a quick trip to a Bywater staple with my roommates before they skip town for the summer.
Dining Partner 2: Jessie
Occupations: Musician, sail maker, carpenter, etc.
You can find her: Playing guitar and singing with her band Pony Hunt, stealing your food even though she says she’s not hungry, cleaning everything.
Summer’s a time for clearing out of New Orleans. The heat ratchets up to intolerable levels, violent crime spikes, and the tourists, who provide the capital that keeps the city upright, look for cooler climes to vacate to. Many in New Orleans follow suit. Rather than cater to tourists, we become tourists, lighting out for other places to play, or to work, or both.
The musicians have a special handle on this kind of lifestyle. Many go on tour in the summer months, heading to Europe (especially the jazz musicians), Australia, or Canada. Others stay in country, touring the western states, New York, and the midwest. This has an unexpected benefit for the up-and-coming musicians of the city. With many of the established musicians out of town, new bands and fresh voices get slotted into gigs that established bands have held down for years. Street musicians find themselves playing their first regular club shows, and new street performers (the few willing to brave the rotten heat) arrive to fill their place. So the musical cycle of the city continues.
Among the musicians who clear out for the summer is my friend and roommate, Sam Doores. Sam and I have known each other for nearly eight years, having become friends shortly after my arrival in the city. He helped me learn to love the guitar, one of my mother’s chosen instruments, even taught me how to fingerpick. On my end, I’ve had the privilege of watching my friend progress from a local street musician to a band leader whose current band, The Deslondes, recently got write-ups and profiles in Rolling Stone and on NPR’s All Things Considered. Sam and his bandmates, all of whom have become friends of mine, are on the cusp of something big, and it’s thrilling to watch. I’ve felt this wave happening in New Orleans since I moved here, that somehow I happened upon one of those rare moments in time that will be studied by historians, a strange little bubble where everything seemed possible and the people we knew as our neighbors and bartenders and delivery drivers suddenly ascended into the stratosphere.
Maybe. If not, it’s been a great thing to be in the middle of.
Sam left town last week along with his girlfriend, Jessie Antonick, a Chicago native turned Oakland Renaissance woman with killer chops on the guitar and a voice like a long unfolding wave. Jessie and her band Pony Hunt are also doing some touring this summer, and Jessie will be back in Oakland for the bulk of the summer, a living situation many in New Orleans will envy deeply come August.
On the eve of their departure, we hit one of our favorite local spots: The Joint. Located deep back in the Bywater neighborhood, The Joint operated for years out of a concrete bunker on Poland Avenue that the owners somehow managed to make feel like a homey little cabin while they smoked meat out back. I damn near lived at this place when it was at its old location, and when word came they were moving, everyone was disappointed. We didn’t know what the new place would look like, but we were certain it couldn’t possibly hold the same kind of weird down home feeling as that concrete bunker, which I’m sure was only accented by the fact that it didn’t seem such a vibe should be possible in such an ugly vision.
There was never any need to worry. The Joint moved over to Mazant Street and set up in a brown and yellow striped building that somehow looks like it could smoke meat all by itself.
It’s a good little spot, and a classic standby on those days where you say “Where should we go?” and nobody has any ideas. The food is solid, and for those on the downriver side of Canal Street it’s pretty much the first and last word on barbecue. This was never a big town for barbecue, as other southern cooking tends to fill the “comfort food” vacuum. But since The Joint came along there’s a viable spot to get your fall-off-the-bone ribs, pulled pork, and brisket.
I went for the pork trifecta on this evening. A pulled pork plate with a side of baked beans (with pork) and a side of collard greens, which should always have pork in them unless either A) you have a deeply held religious reason for not eating pork or B) you’re a communist.
They’ve got chicken. They’ve got sausage. They’ve got beer, local and otherwise. And they dish out a mean slice of Key Lime Pie. And yes, that requires capital letters because it’s my favorite thing.
This was a goodbye for the summer. Sam’s hitting the road for four months and Jessie will, as mentioned, be back in the Bay Area. There are a lot of goodbyes going on right now. A lot of people already in other zip codes. I think that’s the appeal of the familiar restaurants this time of year. There’s a comfort in that continuity, in knowing that even a city as chaotic as this one has its anchor points. The Joint is one of those places for me, and saying goodbye to friends is a lot easier when you can do it in a place that’s outdistanced your friendship, and only seems to be getting stronger.
Be safe out there, you two.
The Joint is at 701 Mazant St. and is open from 11:30 to 10:00, Monday thru Saturday. Their website is here.
The Deslondes will be on tour across the U.S. and Europe this summer. For more info, go to their website here.
This is a sample of their music:
Pony Hunt will be playing local (Bay Area) and out of town shows this summer, and you can find more information at their website here.
This is a sample of their music: