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Arts & Culture

Red Beans and Tambourines: Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy Restaurant

Kermit Ruffins’ Speakeasy in the Treme has some of the best New Orleans live music, food and atmosphere you could ask for.

One of my favorite things about New Orleans is its long history of combining two good things to make one fantastic thing. Daiquiris? Good, but in New Orleans the sugary glory of a daiquiri is married with the convenience of the drive-thru, and you can pick up a jumbo Grape Fury without having to get out of the car. Fried seafood po-boys? Wonderful, and in New Orleans you can have one with a dipper full of roast beef gravy poured over it, marking an exciting new frontier for the surf-and-turf concept. Leisurely cruises along the Mississippi? Gamble while doing it. The English language? Sprinkle some French on it. You could come up with examples all day and not come close to cataloging all the amazing hybrid varieties of fun New Orleans has produced over the last 300  years. It’s almost like a parlor game: choose any two pleasant things and figure out how they can be combined.

St. Kermit of Treme, shown here in a traditional depiction. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll start: beloved jazz musician Kermit Ruffins and the concept of an old-fashioned supper club. I’m cheating a little, because the work has already been done. Ladies and Gentlemen, Kermit Ruffins has his own speakeasy. On Basin Street, Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy Restaurant has an unremarkable exterior (as well befits a speakeasy), but inside is all magic. It’s often standing room only, but absolutely worth staying on your feet for. People talk a lot about food to die for – the Speakeasy offers food to live for. The frog legs, rabbit, and red beans and rice are especially recommended, along with the cornbread, black-eyed peas, and chicken wings… oh, just bring a couple friends and order the whole menu. Ruffins himself performs on Sunday nights, and on other evenings you “only” get to listen to the kind of musicians Kermit Ruffins hires to perform in his own personal speakeasy. New Orleans’ own Lady Tambourine makes an occasional appearance – if your only experience with a tambourine is a peppy church-camp rendition of “If I Had a Hammer,” prepare to be amazed at what the instrument can do.

And, in true speakeasy fashion, the drinks are strong and it has no website. It says some weird things about our society that “not having a website” is so incredibly cool – but it is, it is. So consider this officially peer pressure, come to New Orleans and go to Kermit Ruffins’ speakeasy. It’s cooler than whatever the cool kids are doing.

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