*Editor’s Note: Tee Eva passed away in June of 2018, and her beloved storefront in uptown New Orleans has since permanently closed.
There’s a praline-colored building on the corner of Magazine and Dufassat Street, home to Tee Eva’s Pralines and Pies. A fitting color since inside you’ll find some of the best pralines in New Orleans.
Eva Perry was born by the sugar cane fields in St. Charles Parish but she grew up on Washington Avenue. Her grandmother taught her to make some of those pies that would one day sweeten up Magazine Street. It’s a legacy Eva would eventually pass on to her own granddaughter, intentionally equipping her both with family history and a future means of supporting herself. She now runs the shop and follows Tee Eva’s recipes with exacting precision.
In the 1980s, Eva left the south for a while, working in food service in California’s film industry. The 1987 earthquake sent her back home, a lucky break for New Orleans because she returned to her sweet roots and opened Tee Eva’s World Famous Pies and Pralines.
She began as a walking vendor, following the ancient tradition of black women who made a living in New Orleans selling pralines and pies after the Civil War. She eventually moved into a yellow cinderblock building on Magazine near Napoleon where she served her beloved baked goods from a walk-up window and also jambalaya, red beans and snoballs. It quickly became a city icon, one that Anthony Bourdain even stopped in to experience.
But it wasn’t just the sweet things that earned Eva’s attention and devotion. Music, too, was a lifelong love. She joined her cousin Antoinette, wife of Ernie K-Doe, in forming the Paradise Ladies. Together they traveled the world as his back-up singers.
After his death the women brought back the baby dolls, an old Mardi Gras tradition, in his honor. The Ernie K-Doe Baby Dolls were a group of businesswomen who raised money for local non-profits in addition to brightening up second lines and parade routes. Eva was imbued with joie de vivre, a desire to live life to the fullest as well as a generosity of spirit that wanted to help others.
New Orleans lost Tee Eva this past June. So while it’s true you can’t see her grooving down the street in a bright green baby doll dress, or hear her harmonies on stage with Ernie K-Doe, you can walk into 5201 Magazine Street and inhale the brown sugar and butter in that family praline recipe, one she made special but believed her granddaughter perfected.
Order some pralines or pie from the walk-up window inside and savor them at one of the high top two-seaters surrounded by photos and articles about Tee Eva’s life and the city she loved. She called her cream cheese pecan pie her better than sex pie, but you’ll have to go give it a try and decide for yourself.
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