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Food

Bywater Banter: A Different New Orleans Neighborhood

The Bywater is a special place. More than that, it’s a different place. Where else can you see someone dressed in Day of the Dead makeup making their way on a tall bike most likely built with their own hands at 9:00 in the morning? Or a bunch of neighborhood types with gypsy instruments sword fighting on the Chartres Street levee? When you enter the Bywater, it’s kind of like stepping into another dimension. This episode of GoNOLA Radio is about that New Orleans dimension and the people in it.
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Sunpie Barnes narrates as our hosts talk to Bywater proprietors and artists who are part of a new renaissance happening right now in the NOLA neighborhood. New Orleans Food Goddess Lorin Gaudin speaks with Michael Doyle, the chef and owner of a new, exciting restaurant called Maurepas Foods that’s already been celebrated for its inventive and unconventional menu. Mikko speaks to the owner of the legendary Markey’s Bar, a favorite among locals. He talks to Roy Markey about the culture of the establishment and the neighborhood it calls home. New Orleans All The Way Live host George Ingmire speaks to Michael James, brainchild of My Graveyard Jaw, about how he writes his country folk songs and what he loves about the Bywater.

GoNOLA Radio is a free New Orleans podcast hosted by Sunpie Barnes, Lorin Gaudin, George Ingmire and Mikko about the food, music and culture of the Crescent City. Subscribe to GoNOLA Radio on iTunes or download to your mobile device on Stitcher. GoNOLA Radio features music by Cale Pellick.

Podcast Transcript

Sunpie: Welcome to GoNOLA Radio. My name is Sunpie Barnes and I will be your host of hosts as we explore New
Orleans to learn about the city’s rich cultural heritage, food, and music.
We being you experts, the real deal experts, who will talk with you about
the people who make New Orleans such a wonderful place to live and visit.
It’s GoNOLA Radio. The Bywater is unique even for New Orleans and that’s saying a lot. The
neighborhood is full of artists and performers of all types. It is truly a
Bohemian colony that makes New Orleans a premier cultural destination. Listen as our hosts talk to artists making the Bywater thrive.

Lately the Bywater is bustling with new restaurants. The most exciting new
addition is Maurepas, a restaurant with a cool atmosphere, fun drinks and a
playful menu. New Orleans food goddess Lorin Gaudin talks to the Maurepas chef and
owner, Mike Doyle about his hip new restaurant.

Lorin: Hi. Welcome. This week we are talking about a part of town in
New Orleans that is really popular and getting more popular, growing by leaps and
bounds. And that is Bywater. It’s on the other side of the French Quarter,
the other side of [Marigny], a triangle, beyond the Marigny rectangle, across those tracks and you are in a part of town known as Bywater. It’s a very popular dining destination these days in great part due to a restaurant called Maurepas Foods, chef owned by Mike Doyle. And we welcome Michael Doyle to show to talk to us about Marigny Bywater, mostly Bywater and his restaurant. Hey, welcome to the show.

Mike: Hi Lorin, how are you?

Lorin: I’m great, thanks how about you?

Mike: Oh not too bad.

Lorin: Good, so we’re talking about what’s going on in Bywater and the fact
that there’s this real restaurant renaissance going on right now in Bywater
that you pretty much have been leading the path. I mean, obviously there
have been many restaurants and neat little bars and cafes and things like
that that are in Bywater, but really the first destination restaurant that
I can think of beyond [bakkenaw], beyond the Joint, beyond those kinds of things is Maurepas Foods. How did you decide to do this restaurant and in this
location?

Mike: I decided to open the restaurant after leaving Dante’s Kitchen
uptown. I was there for years and years, and I was in a really creative,
progressive shop and there wasn’t really anywhere else to go other than
sort of try out something on another end of town. And feel like I was free
to try something out, you know?

Lorin: What’s interesting to me about the whole concept that you have going
is that right now, it’s the food that we all want to eat right now. And
people are probably saying, well what does that mean? It’s vegetables, not
just done but done beautifully and done thoughtfully, and as including
things like your Brussels sprouts and of course that you lard them with
pieces of meat. And all of the vegetables, anything, I love the kohlrabi
with the pieces of sausage. Everything has some really flavor and texture
to it. It is robust in the most beautiful sense of the word because it’s
not so in your face. But it does have depth and character. And the food is
very beautiful. I’m a huge fan, as you can tell and I love the way the
place looks and the vibration that’s in there. I think robust is a very
interesting word. Because rustic doesn’t really quite say it either. And so
the menu, when you put that together, what really was, what were you
thinking about in terms of what you wanted to bring to the table? What
experience do you want diners to have?

Mike: We want the diners to have, I wouldn’t go so far as to say thrilling,
but an exciting experience. We sort of specialize in serving things that
you may not have thought very much about before. And that’s really what
we’re often shooting for is sort of finding the depth in something like
kohlrabi, finding what’s interesting about sweet potatoes, which nine times
out of ten is served pretty much the same way.

The idea was to say that okay, maybe we’re not going to sit in the garden and be inspired and then call people all over the country and get the things that we need to cook. What we’re probably going to do is the [old are] farmers and fisherman and the people that we know and between me and the other folks in the kitchen, we’ve been doing business in this town a long time. We’re going to pile up a whole lot of produce. We’re going to pile up a whole lot of dry goods. That’s what you need to use in order to make it affordable.

So we sort of like it to be very, very simple food that’s somewhat revelatory. That you’re eating and you’re like wow, somebody really cared about this food. So I think we put a lot of care and attention into the food and we don’t really feel hamstrung by having to have a pork dish, a beef dish, a chicken dish. We just are going to make what we feel like making.

Lorin: And I think it’s fantastic and you really have captured that whole
spirit and the idea that this kind of restaurant really appeals to the type
of person who’s looking for more of a simple, straight forward, but yet
character in-depth in the food. It really is that good we want to eat right
now. You and I talked recently about whether or not that restaurant would
work anywhere but the Bywater. You said I don’t think so. You didn’t think
it would work in any other part of the city. So why do you think it works
so well in Bywater?

Mike: I think it works well in the Bywater for one reason, our hours. We’re
11:00 a.m. to midnight. And we open straight through. People are in all day
throughout the day. We have cocktail sales are great at lunch. People
coming in for wine and mussels in the afternoon. People have a very sort of
different lifestyle down there. The Bywater’s been a great place that way
and I think we’re vegetarian, vegan friendly, which is huge down there. We
keep the odd hours. We have cocktails. It is sort of just a very free-form
environment.

Lorin: So how should someone if they’re coming in Maurepas Foods, what is
like the recommended way to approach that menu?

Mike: I’d say the recommended way to approach the menu is engage with your
serve. Whether it’s a server or a bartender, everybody is really trained to
sort of be themselves. We hired a lot of really great folks who are simply
their directions are to know exactly what’s on the menu, what goes into
everything, how long it takes to make, and then go out and be yourself.
That’s the biggest thing to do. And if you do that, they’ll tell you that
if you’re looking for a standard meal, you should probably start out with
some soups and salads just like you would at any other restaurant. And
then get some chicken, fish, you know one of our vegetable dishes is you know, maybe $6 but that’s a side for two or three people to throw around between them. But if you’re coming in a big table, just order one of everything. It’s not going to cost you much and we’re a really low cost restaurant and we enjoy that.

Lorin: I’m a big fan of your cocktail program, which you really worked hard
to develop. Brad is incredible. I guess, is he your head bartender?

Mike: Yeah, he goes by Chief Intoxicologist. He hits up that kitchen hard,
just the same as the rest of us do. We use spices, we use infusions, we use
herbs, we use vegetables. And I think there is sort of like that same
respect for the ingredients while trying to take it in a different
direction, not break any barriers down but maybe make you think about
something you hadn’t thought about before.

Lorin: I love it because that’s the whole idea is that honoring what’s
there. Tapping into your kitchen, your toolkit in the kitchen, to develop
these beautiful cocktails, you do the same thing with the food, and you’ve
done the same thing with the restaurant in an area, it’s all very symbiotic
the way the whole thing works. We’re talking about Maurepas Foods,
Chef/Owner Michael Doyle. The restaurant is located at 3200 Burgundy Street
in Bywater, which is the other side of the railroad tracks. That’s where
Press crosses over on Press. And it is a beautiful community of people, of
artists, of musicians and residents. It’s just, it’s old school New Orleans
neighborhood, reviving, renovating, and just renewal of the most
beautiful and delicious sense. Cocktails, food that you absolutely want to
eat right now and we thank you so much Michael Doyle for helping bring back
Bywater and bringing us yet another incredible restaurant in this delicious
city of New Orleans.

Mike: Absolutely, thank you Lorin. You know where to find me. Come by and
see me.

Lorin: And by the way, you can find them on the Internet because of course
you’ve got maurepasfoods.com. It’s basically a business card page. So if
you really want the scoop, go to the Facebook page maurepasfoods. Or tweet
at @maurepasfoods and that’s m-a-u-r-e-p-a-s-f-o-o-d-s and you can catch
all the scoop on the Internet and in town. Thanks for much.

Mike: Thank you.

Sunpie: Markey’s Bar is a local Bywater favorite where you can always have good times with even better people. Mikko talks to the own, Roy Markey about the legendary watering hole that his dad started before there was hardly
anything else in the wacky New Orleans neighborhood.

Mikko: A bunch of years ago when Kerri McCaffety was writing her book Obituary
Cocktails, she asked me and Chris Rose to name the most important bars in
the city. I remember we were sitting around and she says okay, the Bywater.
And this is exactly what we said at the same time. We said Bud Rips and
Markey’s, because that was the only game in town. Folks, I’m here in
Markey’s with Mr. Roy Markey. I’m with royalty. The owner of the culture
spot of Bywater. Welcome Roy. Welcome to my show.

Roy: It’s a pleasure being here with you.

Mikko: And I’m sort of not kidding. You can hear the fans or I should say
the guests of the bar, in the background. We are actually here in your
wonderful place during business hours. I guess, I just told a friend this
the other day. She asked me why’d you pick Markey’s? I said because it’s
not, it’s dive-y enough but it’s not a dive, but it’s also social enough
that you might meet guys that have lived here for decades. You might meet
college kids. You might meet young beautiful women. You might meet older
beautiful women. I mean, every strata of society is here in your bar. Is
that by design?

Roy: Actually, it’s pretty much yes. When we first opened years ago in
1947, we were primarily a riverfront bar. And when these walls closed in
the last ’70s we had to kind of reinvent ourselves. So the idea was well,
become a neighborhood bar in the effect that we used to open at 6:00 in the
morning, close at 10:00, now we open at 2:00 in the afternoon and close at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. And of course the neighborhood changes facilitated that as well.

Mikko: And the neighborhood changed but I noticed on Sunday’s you got your
barbeque out there. Saints game, it’s the best place to see the Saints I
think.

Roy: Well we’ve gravitated to sports a lot with other technology today,
different games. Once again, getting back to the population in
neighborhood, everybody seems to be from somewhere else that want to live
here. When you can show a lot of different NFL teams or baseball teams from
all across the country, it makes good place for them to come and catch
their hometown team so to speak.

Mikko: Now you live across the street. Your dad was born in this
neighborhood. There’s a park named after your uncle Mickey, Mickey Markey
Park, which is a lot of fun to say.

Roy: Yeah a lot of history with our family. My father was born here in
1927, in a house on Congress and Royal. My great uncle got this bar in
1947. I’m third generation here and I do live across the street. I just
love the neighborhood.

Mikko: You really are a product of the neighborhood, aren’t you?

Roy: Oh yes. Most definitely.

Mikko: For someone listening, they might not even know where the Bywater
is. We’re even below the French Quarter, down river the French Quarter. I
remember, like I said Bud Rips and you are the only game in the town. Now
we have bakkenaw, we have the country clubs, there’s a lot of-

Roy: A lot of great places.

Mikko: How has the neighborhood changed like in the time even that you’ve
grown up here?

Roy: Well I mean there was basically two changes. One prior to Katrina
where it was a renaissance, so to speak of renovations and people just
buying these houses, older people dying off or moving. After Katrina hit,
most of the older people got out. Mainly I think, hospital issues, just
going through the thing. It just took their toll on them and a lot of them
moved out so it certainly opened up the real estate market to a great
degree. So now the neighborhood is like I have on any given night in my
bar, a bar full of people that are not, none are from New Orleans.

Mikko: Yeah it’s become one of these must do things.

Roy: In fact all my bartender’s aren’t from New Orleans actually. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

Mikko: Well, we are a cosmopolitan city.

Roy: Yes.

Mikko: One thing that I love is that you are right in the heart, if you’ve
got foot traffic here in the evening times, there’s lights on, people
walking around. It’s safer, people feel safer. There’s more businesses in
the area. It seems like the area’s actually growing.

Roy: Well, it really is. I mean, not to give all the names though because I
honestly don’t know them all but we’ve had four or five brand new
restaurants open within the last two months. All within like a three block
area. The Joint, which is a very popular barbeque place. Maurepas, they
just moved to a very big location on [Rawr] Street. So certainly the commerce
in that respect for food and beverage is certainly getting very exciting
[inaudible 13:50]. I’m really her. Because to me, I mean, competition’s great. It brings more people in. It works out better for everybody.

Mikko: I’m almost afraid to ask this question. And if it’s a sad story,
it’s okay if you don’t want to tell it. But you used to have a pool table
here that had the leather-

Roy: I still own it. I still have it.

Mikko: -the pockets, it was exactly like something out of an old Speak
Easy, what happened to that pool table?

Roy: Well, when we started doing food again I, the place being so small it
was a trade off. So we kept the shuffleboard game in here and I still have
the pool table. You never know, we might bring it back. It certainly was an
icon in this place. I learned how to play pool on that myself at age 10, no
less. That’s when it was okay to do that. But we still do have it, but once
again the size of the place and it just dictated that we make some
sacrifices.

Mikko: I have this great idea. New Orleans is the city of festivals. Louisiana is the state of festivals. We ought to have a pool table, the marquis pool table festival. You just whip that sucker out for like one week and people come in. You could probably auction off a hundred dollars a pool game, raise the money for some charity…

Roy: Like I tell you, I caught a lot of grief over that one. I really did.
Because it’s not so funny, it’s actually at a location where my brother in
law lives. He owns Swiss Confectionery uptown, and they live upstairs. Some of
my customers went to a party at his house through Holy Cross, I’m rambling
a little bit. But anyway, they were playing pool and they went this pool
table looks awful familiar. Then sure enough they realized that it was the
table from Markey’s Bar. Never will let it go. It’s an heirloom. But once
again, it’s a little give and take when you’re running a bar room.
Certainly a bar this size. It’s very small.

Mikko: Well you certainly do give a lot to this neighborhood. I appreciate
the time you’re spending here. And to be honest with you, my rum and Coke
is almost out so I’m going to end this show so I can go get another one.

Roy: Yeah.

Mikko: Thank you so much for your time Roy.

Roy: Great. Thank you and enjoy. Come to Bywater.

Mikko: Okay.

Sunpie: Michael James is the mastermind behind My Graveyard Jaw. His rough around the edges roots rock band, George Igmire talks to the Bywater musician who impresses audiences with his gruff country voice and musicianship.

George: I am here with Michael James. We are in what some people would call
Bywater North. But it’s otherwise known as the 9th Ward. For many people
it’s just a neighborhood that they’ve read about. But this is kind of a
combination of countryside, as you can hear in the background, and a place
for a lot of creative types. I just want to welcome Michael James to GoNOLA
Radio.

Michael: How you doing?

George: All right, now, what’s interesting is I’ve always known you just as
a musician. But here we are in a neighborhood that kind of redefines
everything because there’s a big creative thing going on here. But we’re
also surrounded by nature. So it seems like the songs that you’re writing
are probably in some way influenced by that. I’m curious about the process
that you go through, the inspirations that you find in order to get to a
song.

Michael: Well when I first came to New Orleans pretty much my writing pattern had come from traveling throughout the United States for so long, hitchhiking
and hopping trains. Being with the freak show in a circus for like four
years of my life, so when I finally came to New Orleans, I kind of got more
involved in music. As before I just fiddled around on stuff. So I got more
serious about it. My topics for my songs kind of came from all of that.
Lately, like the past year and a half or so, there’s been like a-, I’ve felt
like a really big growth spurt where there’s bigger topics. Environmental
is one of the big ones. Where we’re going is human beings and what we’re
doing to this planet. We all have a part in it. That’s what the new album
coming Wednesday kind of touches base on. And a lot of growth within myself
and all the stuff that I went through.

George: Talk a little bit about just the scene that you’re a part of. I
mean a lot of this, I may be just putting on with my own idea of what a
scene is but there is a very vibrant, creative musical scene that’s taking
place in the 9th Ward along the St. Claude corridor, the Bywater, the Marigny
that you’re a part of. I associate you with their, that has kind of been a
new infusion of creativity. But it’s drawing upon a lot of the same themes
that New Orleans has always focused on. But you’re drawing on elements both within
New Orleans traditional forms, but also your own. Your own background, but it seems
like this environment is helping foster that.

Michael: Yeah, I mean like in the beginning I kind of had, there’s a couple
songs that we kind of very bluesy or some jazz chords. And even singing
about the city. But the way you put it is perfect. I’m a singer/songwriter.
It’s all original music. I don’t do any covers. I’m not in any jazz bands
which like a lot of my friends do. Which I have nothing against. People
always think I’m against New Orleans music. But with me, covers and that stuff is
that I’m inspired by the music that it kind of helps me with my own rather
than trying to learn. Like doing a cover song, I don’t want to cover
someone’s song. I want to create something from it. It helps me create
something from it. You know what I mean?

George: Now if somebody were to just write you or run into you on the
street and they’re like, I’m in town just for a few days and I want to
check out the Bywater. I want to get a really nice taste of it in let’s say
a 48 hours period. What would be some of the things that you would direct
them towards?

Michael: I would definitely, like for me, like my biggest enjoyment over
there is literally going up to the levee. Taking my dog up to the levee,
which everybody calls the end of the world. It’s beautiful up there. You’re
right on the Mississippi, like literally you could jump in it. And it’s not
like it is in the corridor where it’s like a moonwalk and stuff. BJ’s has a
lot of amazing music there. It’s definitely a neighborhood bar. That whole
triangle, Vaughn’s. You got the Joint that has like a new, their barbeque
is delicious. They got a new place that just opened up.

Other than that, like for me going to the corridor, coming back, I usually take my time just going through the neighborhoods and the streets. I just love seeing the people that I see every day and saying hi to, and just the houses in the neighborhood. For me, that’s enough for me. I just love biking through that neighborhood. I rarely drive my car through it.

Sunpie: GoNOLA Radio is a production of New Orleans tourism and marketing corporation, in conjunction with FSC Interactive. Music by Cale Pellick. My name is Sunpie. Tune in next week by subscribing to GoNOLA Radio on iTunes or gonola.com.

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