Tom Fitzmorris’s Hungry Town: A Culinary History of New Orleans, the City Where Food Is Almost Everything
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010, 224 pages
Anybody who has ever strolled the streets of New Orleans, lazy with the humidity and history, overcome by the wafting smells of magnolias interspersed with a blast of jambalaya, knows that the crescent city is a town that loves its food. From beignets and acrid chicory-laced coffee at the touristy Cafe du Monde to po’boy sandwiches served up at some place in the 9th Ward with no sign to even let people know it exists, New Orleanians like to eat.
Nobody knows this better than food writer Tom Fitzmorris. The man who has been writing about food in New Orleans since the early 70s is probably the most knowledgeable person in the world on the subject of New Orleans restaurants and Cajun and Creole food. To say the guy is high-functioning would be an understatement – he does a daily 3-hour radio show about New Orleans food (can you imagine? 3 hours a day – just about local food and restaurants?), writes reviews almost daily, hosts a weekly dining event and runs The New Orleans Menu, a website on dining in New Orleans that is updated daily.
Admittedly, I’d never heard of Fitzmorris until my husband came home with a copy of his latest book, Hungry Town, in which Fitzmorris chronicles not just his own career, but also the history of the New Orleans dining scene, from the ragtag po’boy shops to the upscale French dining meccas to the hot new trends that infiltrated restaurants everywhere. Fitzmorris refers to it as “sleazy chic”, but the prevalence of braised pork belly on the menus of hot young New Orleans chefs differed little from the “rustic” “comfort food” or “nose to tail dining” that has been prevalent across the continent.
The most engaging sections of Hungry Town are when Fitzmorris writes about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. From the restaurants who served up meals for free, both to help people who were displaced but also to use up perishable ingredients in a city where electricity was spotty, to the reconstruction of New Orleans dining icon Commander’s Palace, Fitzmorris shows his love for his city as he begins a count of the number of restaurants open before Hurricane Katrina (809) compared to the date after the disaster when that number was matched (April 16, 2007). His website continues to keep track (1238 as of today). He is whole-heartedly devoted to his city and its food scene.
It may be less devoted to him however – in Googling him, I came across a blog that seems to be all about smearing him, which means that either someone’s being petty and jealous or Fitzmorris maybe thinks a bit too highly of himself (or both). In any case, foodie scene politics (and hey, it’s not as if Toronto doesn’t have its fair share) aside, I found Fitzmorris’ book to be entertaining, informative and, most importantly, it made me want to head back to New Orleans for another go at their fabulous restaurants. So he’s doing something right, isn’t he?