Journalist says goodbye, good luck

August 7, 2008

By Jonathan Edwards

I am leaving. Soon. And now. Lifeblood Beat is done, at least as a hyperlocal news source for Mid-City. And I will leave New Orleans in less than two weeks to intern at a small newspaper in Northern California.

It has been an admittedly short ride, but a fun one. Yes, I have a ticket for another ride, but that doesn’t quite help. I wish I could do both at the same time, kind of like when I was eight and wanted to go on Space Mountain and the Matterhorn all at once. But I couldn’t, and I can’t; and that’s just one of those horribly depressing realities that I continue to describe as “poopy.”

I apologize for not posting my farewell sooner. I received word on the internship about two weeks ago; saying goodbye to a project in which I was so invested is tough, especially because it means saying goodbye to the wonderfully interesting people it allowed me to meet.

Nevertheless, goodbye. Good luck.

Advertisements

Pothole causing serious damage to cars

July 14, 2008

‘Huge trench’ is ‘axle-breaking bad’

By Jonathan Edwards

Paint scrapes and metallic grooves mark the foot-wide, six-inch-deep trench stretching across the 4200 block of St. Peter Street. It is causing significant damage to passing cars, residents fear.

Wanda O’Shello lives next to the pothole. She has already put a garbage can wrapped in bright yellow caution tape to warn drivers of the “ravine.” She was planning a grander gesture as soon as she finished mowing her lawn Monday morning, a sign welcoming drivers to the Grand Canyon.

People can see the pothole during the day, O’Shello said, but at night she hears them scraping the undercarriage of their cars all night. “I can’t imagine they’re not doing serious damage.”

Amy Rini has already done that damage to her car. “Over the past few days, the trench has deepened, and yesterday, going as slow as possible, I still scraped the underbody of my car.”

Lisha Troncoso, like O’Shello, lives next to the trench. She said the Sewerage and Water Board tore up the street to fix a broken water main about two months ago. After they finished repairs, they filled the hole with sand.

But rains washed the sand away, “and the hole gets deeper and deeper and deeper,” Troncoso said.

As of Sunday morning, Mark Folse said it was “axle-breaking bad.”

Troncoso called to file a complaint two weeks ago, and the S&WB told her that the city had hired a contractor to fix the pothole. They could not tell her when the work would be completed.

“I don’t ever drive that way down the street anymore,” said Troncoso. “I drive the wrong way (down the one-way street). They’re ripping the bottoms of their cars up. It’s ridiculous.”

Multiple residents have reported the pothole to New Orleans’s beleaguered 311 phone system. Those residents said operators estimated it would take the city four to six weeks to repair.

All circuits were busy for both the S&WB and 311 when contacted for this story.


Street festival will bring food and free music to neighborhood

July 9, 2008

By Jonathan Edwards

Free live music, fresh food from award-winning restaurants and strong drink will highlight the 2nd Annual Bastille Day Festival this Saturday evening at the intersection of Esplanade Avenue and Ponce de Leon Street.

The Faubourg-St. John Merchants Association will close off the 3100 block of Ponce de Leon Street from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for the street fair, which will feature an arts and crafts table for children, the bands Vavavoom and The String Beans, and petanque, a French lawn game similar to bocce.

“Last year was a lot of fun—huge turnout. The music is great. It was just packed. We’re all looking forward to it,” said Erin Peacock, the co-owner of Lux, a high-end spa on Ponce de Leon Street.

Peacock estimated that 500 people showed up last year. She expects an even higher turnout this year since the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau listed the event on their Web site. Katrinafilm features a three-minute video and photo montage of last year’s festivites.

Nearly a dozen neighborhood businesses will have booths offering fair-goers everything from fine cuisine, to wine and beer, to tee-shirts and soap.

Laurent Rochereux is a sous-chef at Café Degas, a neighborhood French bistro known for top-notch dining, and said they will serve a white bean and duck confit salad topped with a cherry vinagrette.

Chris Reel is the executive chef at la Vita, an Italian restaurant just down the street. His street-fair fare will include an eclectic combination of köfte (Turkish-style meatballs), along with Creole tomato gazpacho, a Mediterranean salad served with a lemon vinagrette, and margaritas. Prices will range from four to six dollars.

Fair Grinds Coffeehouse will serve ice cream sandwiches in a variety of flavors, including Creole cream cheese, “a local favorite” according to Robert Thompson, the coffee shop’s co-owner.

The festival is not only a chance to buy things, but also an opportunity for neighbors and local businesses to come together.

“This is a very active community in this neighborhood,” said Peacock. “People are very supportive of the businesses here. It’s a very positive thing for everybody. It doesn’t take much for people to decide they want to have a party.”


Board unanimous in opposition to alcohol permit

June 28, 2008

Months-long process culminates in neighborhood association’s decisive vote

 

By Jonathan Edwards

 

The Faubourg-St. John Neighborhood Association’s board unanimously voted to oppose letting a would-be convenience store sell alcohol in the neighborhood when they met Saturday morning.

 

The decisive vote comes in the wake of survey results released Wednesday showing overwhelming resident opposition to a zoning change that would allow Brother’s Food Mart, a convenience store chain with multiple locations in Greater New Orleans, to sell alcohol at the now-derelict building sitting between DeBlanc Pharmacy and the Asian Pacific Cafe.

 

Nearly 68 percent residents surveyed—or 158 of 233—objected to alcohol sales at Brother’s, according to the survey results.

 

“Right now our alcohol providers are responsible and good merchants. There is no selling to minors, no selling to those who have consumed too much and no aggressive selling of objectionable packages of alcohol,” Linda Landesberg wrote in a June 9 e-mail she posted on the Faubourg-St. John Neighborhood Association listserv.

 

“We have reached our limit,” wrote Landesberg, “and we don’t need to stress out the businesses we have and love with more competition from a chain store.”

 

Eddie Hamden, the owner of Brother’s Food Mart, has tried to work with residents, but he also needs to run a profitable business, said Joe DiRosa, Hamden’s attorney. Brother’s can sell alcohol if we get a permit, or we can install gas pumps and stay open 24 hours.

 

BOOZE OR GAS?

 

Brother’s must apply for a permit through city government and ultimately get approval from the City Council in order to sell alcohol at their Esplanade location. Support, or at least non-opposition from residents and the neighborhood association could help Hamden’s application.

 

Since Hamden’s property is zoned as a “neighborhood business,” he has the legal right to install gas pumps and set his hours without any permits from city government. But, DiRosa said, we wanted to be a good neighbor, so we have tried to listen to residents and address their concerns.

 

“The basic issue is whether or not the neighborhood would rather have a store with limited hours (6AM to 11PM) that sells the same types of liquor that is sold at Terranovas and Consecos without 6 gas pumps, or a (likely)24 hour convenience store with no liquor, but with 6 gas pumps in the parking lot near Esplanade Avenue,” explained Rocky Seydel, a lawyer and a FSJNA board member in a June 7 listserv e-mail.

 

Residents have expressed concern over both options. Some worry alcohol sales will result in loitering and increased crime. Cheap gasoline, others fear, will cause traffic congestion.

 

“Does anyone remember when Circle K had gas pumps,” asked Kenny Tassin in a June 9 FSJNA post. “I do and it was a traffic nightmare. Esplanade and Grand Route St John was always congested with cars waiting in line for the gas pumps that the parking lot is to small for.”

 

As national prices gas prices rose above $4 a gallon, others thought affordable gasoline would be an asset to the neighborhood.

 

“Competitive gas at convenient hours is not the end of the world. Heck, even a little fried food that i could buy at 11:00 pm would be quite nice. We have all the beer, wine, and liquor we need in the area. We lack competitive gas and late night convenience services,” wrote Bill Dalton on June 8.

 

THE 13 PROVISOS

 

Trying to address resident concerns, Brother’s and FSJNA negotiated a deal in February that was subject to resident opinion (hence the survey): the neighborhood association would not oppose Hamden’s application to sell alcohol if he agreed to follow 13 “provisos,” which dictated how Brother’s would operate once it opened.

 

The provisos would limit the store’s hours of operation and the types of alcoholic beverages it could sell to those already sold by other businesses in the area. It also forbids the installation of gas pumps.

 

Derek Scheerer, a city planner with the New Orleans City Planning Commission and a Faubourg-St. John resident, looked over the provisos at City Hall and called them “a wish list.”

 

“They can ask that these be put in, but Brother’s doesn’t have to listen to them one iota,” said Scheerer. “The neighborhood association has absolutely zero say. Only the City Council can attach provisos.”

 

Scheerer focused on proviso 12: “Brothers will agree to sell only the type and quality of liquor, beer and wine sold at Conseco’s and Terranova’s; including no quarts of beer and no malt liquor.”

 

“This is absolutely arbitrary,” he said. “I think it borders on racist. I take offense to that. It’s his business. He can see what he wants to sell. It’s very elitist.”

 

The City Council will not attach such a proviso, Scheerer said. They will limit the hours of operation and make sure lighting is in accordance with the law, but Hamden has the right to compete with other businesses by selling different products.

 

ALLEGATIONS OF RACISM

 

“Brothers comes into the neighborhood association meeting and says, ‘If I don’t get a liquor license, I’m going to sell Urban Wear and put in six gas pumps,’” said Elizabeth Thompson, co-owner of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, which is located just around the corner from Hamden’s property.

 

“It was an ugly threat. I don’t think people would mind if it was presented in a nice way,” Thompson said. “‘I’m gonna bring homeboys into your neighborhood’—it’s such an ugly, racist way to behave.”

 

“The first racist punch was from Brothers, who said, ‘If we don’t get the alcohol license, we’re going to sell Urban Wear and bring young, black men into a predominantly white neighborhood. They appealed to the community’s baser instincts,” said Robert Thompson, also co-owner of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse and Elizabeth’s husband.

 

“I don’t think Urban Wear was part of the original business plan, but was used as a strategy to get the alcohol license,” Robert Thompson said. “I think Urban Wear was used to fan existing fears in an affluent, white community.”

 

“That is absolutely, utterly, completely untrue,” said DiRosa. “We tried to meet with residents. We intended on being a good neighbor. We wanted to hear what they had to say. For someone to have said that there was some racial motivations is totally offensive. That really is way, way out of bounds. The racism exists in the mind of the person who told you that.”

 

Seydel agrees with DiRosa. “All that stuff about racial innuendos is completely untrue and being repeated by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. I absolutely deny that,” he said. “Eddie Hamden has been very cooperative, very patient in letting us work through our process and resolve it.”

 

“Our business is not to make enemies,” said DiRosa. “We want to be friends with our customers.”


New Mid-City restaurant a must-try

June 25, 2008

Jonathan Edwards

Daniel’s offers top-notch cuisine at unbelievable prices

By Jonathan Edwards

Daniel Tobar opened his second restaurant at Tulane and Broad avenues six months before Katrina hit. After the levees broke and 80 percent of New Orleans found itself under water, his sophomore effort took on eight feet of water and killed the whole deal.

Almost three years later, Tobar is back with his newest venture, the five-week-old Daniel’s on the Bayou. Housed in the giant, Death Star apartment complex at the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Moss Street, the prospect of eating at Daniel’s is a little daunting.

The Esplanade at City Park is a gated, all-in-one community protected by a black, moat-like fence surrounding the property. To eat at Daniel’s, drink at the connected Bayou Bar, or patronize the in-house hair salon, someone from the inside must buzz you in.

“It’s a little forbidding. You’re not quite sure if the restaurant and the hair salon are open to people outside the apartment complex,” said Joanna Russo, a resident of Faubourg-St. John when asked why she had yet to patronize any of the businesses inside The Esplanade.

The front-of-house manager, Gretta Mollen, plans to ramp up PR efforts to make the whole thing less mysterious, but has faith in New Orleanians’ desire for amazing food.

“We’ve gotten a huge response from the Mid-City neighborhood….This is New Orleans. If the service is great. If the food is great, you’ll find a way. The gate? Ehhh,” said Mollen with a wave of her hand.

Daniel’s had come highly recommended by Elizabeth Thompson, co-owner of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, and she gave me a step-by-step how-to on getting to the restaurant. Since I knew the protocol, it was no big deal (I hit a button and someone immediately let me in). In fact, the whole process made me feel like I was an insider, as if I were uttering some unknown password to gain access to an otherwise forbidden 1920s speakeasy. It all felt very…hush hush.

Then I stepped inside, and the whole restaurant screamed, “CHEAP!” Paper table “cloths,” teal/turquoise paint and candle centerpieces that looked like they were just purchased at a garage sale down the street. They even had the filmy sticker leftovers that, once upon a time, probably said something like “50¢.”

Jonathan Edwards

I initially thought the floral arrangements were fake and plastic, but unlike every other part of the décor, the flowers were beautiful and real and added a brilliant color splash to a place that, at first glance, is impressive only in the negative. After high marks from Elizabeth, I was discouraged when I first stepped into Daniel’s.

My disappointment ended as soon as I took my first bite. The “odd” atmosphere, as “fgowner” put it in his post on nola.com’s Mid-City forum, is understandable considering the restaurant has only been open five weeks, but the food is some of the best I’ve had in the city. Mid-City, Uptown, the Marigny, Metairie, even the Westbank—wherever you are, you must make the trek to try this delightful new addition to the New Orleans culinary scene.

I started with the shrimp ceviche at the recommendation of Will, my very attentive, at times overzealous waiter. His recommendations were spot on throughout the night, although one gets the impression that this has less to do with Will and more to do with Daniel executing each dish to with a highly focused creative vision.

The shrimp were fat, plump and juicy, bursting into a full, pleasant mouthfeel with each bite. The perfect blend of red onion, cilantro, tomato and citrus juice left a resonating, pulsing heat on my tongue and in my throat. Long after I had finished, it stayed there like the undying coals in a campfire, a low-grade, humming burn that warmed me all over.

The play between citrus tang and an unidentified sweet element made me pucker one moment before giving me contented relief. Bite after bite, it was a game the ceviche and I played—sweet, sour, sweet, sour—and I was all in. And, unlike the restaurant’s interior, the dish was something to see: white Louisiana shrimp, red tomatoes, green cilantro, all overflowing in a beautiful cascade pouring out of a halved avocado.

Having made a great call with the ceviche, I went with another of Will’s recommendations and one of the evening’s specials—the sautéed catfish—that, how is this even possible, was under $10.

It was served with roasted new potatoes and warm, buttery spinach. The catfish was flaky but not light (two adjectives rarely separated when talking about fish). No, it was not light, but had a solid body that perfectly harmonized with the full mouthfeel of the spinach. The breading on the catfish was light and had an excellent tang that, like the citrus in the ceviche, cut into the fullness of the fish itself.

I am not a fan of roasted potatoes generally; I can never cook them so that they have a decent consistency all the way through. Daniel obviously knows a secret that I do not. They were fabulous—not too starchy, not too hard, but still they maintained some structure (think al dente pasta).

At this point, Will could have recommended the night’s garbage, and I probably would have paid 20 bucks for it, so when he mentioned garlic bread, there was no question. With six pieces for two dollars, it was another steal. With fresh-minced garlic, oregano, rosemary and olive oil—all atop light, crusty bread, it was another tasty pleasure.

Batting three for three, I let Will “surprise” me with dessert. Surprise is in quotation marks, because the menu only sports four options, all of them uninteresting and uninspired in writing. He brought me door number two, the bread budding, crosshatched with chocolate and caramel streaks and swirls. It was very pretty.

It was also piping hot, which always garners huge bonus points with me. Cinnamon, soft raisins, nutmeg—all the usual suspects were there. The bread pudding itself was soggy and mushy, a little less cohesive than I prefer. I like mine to have more structure. Nevertheless, I would still recommend it (although the mango sorbet sounded refreshing). The flavors melded together well, and at no point did I find the bread pudding’s sweetness saccharine.

My only regret is I did not get a red wine with my dessert. I ate the ceviche and catfish with a glass of the Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio, and it’s white-wine bite cut into the full butteriness of the shrimp, catfish and spinach. I had not yet finished the generous pour by the time dessert arrived, and the wine quickly became too harsh and overpowered the dessert.

That’s no fault of Daniel’s. Anytime a restaurant wants to give me a lot of wine that is fine with me. I still should have ordered a glass of a Cabernet Sauvignon, like the Silver Palm North Coast advertised on the menu.

My only major criticism was the huge chasmy rift between the food and the décor. The food was up there with the best in the city. I left smiling at having found this Mid-City gem tucked into The Esplanade at City Park, but it’s definitely a diamond in the rough.

Aside from the fresh-cut, beautiful flowers adorning each table, the decor was something I would expect from a low-class Italian joint ripped out of suburbia America. Outside on the apartment complex’s fence is a Pepsi-Cola sign with generic block letters advertising “DANIEL’S ON THE BAYOU” as if were some taqueria truck catering to lunchtime construction workers. I love a quick, cheap plato as much as anyone, but as soon as you eat anything at Daniel’s, you realize it is so much more.

Jonathan Edwards

Daniel’s features some of the best food I have had in a long time and is easily the best bang for your buck in the entire city—they comped my wine, but my bill was still under $30. Wait. Let me say that again: I had a dynamite four-course dinner for $25.

Daniel’s could easily be the hands-down, date-night choice for strapped guys everywhere (I live a five-minute bike ride away, but even if I still lived Uptown, I would make the fifteen-minute trip at $4 a gallon). But as soon as you walk in, the place is unsettling. The paper tablecloths, the cheap candles, the generally sparse feel—it all made me feel uneasy when juxtaposed with the amazing food in my mouth. Also, noise bleeds freely from Bayou Bar patrons next door and is distracting.

Of course, improvements in décor could mean higher menu prices. Tobar told me some were coming—like replacing the checkered tile floor with hardwood—and as he said it, I regretted all my knee-jerk criticisms. While I love beautiful restaurants, I am a poor foodie, and Daniel’s offers top-notch fare at unbeatable prices. If his new place keeps producing quality cuisine at affordable prices, Daniel’s will quickly capture a hard-core following, myself included.

Let’s just hope another hurricane doesn’t spoil the fun down on the bayou.

Daniel’s on the Bayou

3443 Esplanade Ave. Ste. 155

New Orleans, LA 70119

504.298.1755

Monday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Cash and check only. ATM on location ($2.75 fee)


Fire destroys Mid-City drug house

June 14, 2008

By Jonathan Edwards

A two-alarm fire ripped through a vacant Mid-City drug house Saturday morning and burned it to the ground.

“I was there, seeing all the smoke get darker and darker, and then the flames shot out,” Joseph said, who lives across the street but declined to give his last name. “Electrical wires was popping and s*** under that. It was a hell of a fire. I don’t know what caused it, but I know it was a big-ass damn fire.”


Joseph Brock

It took 50 firefighters 2 1/2 hours to control the blaze at the two-story building at the corner of Banks and South Gayoso streets. No other structures were damaged.

The vacant building was a well-known hub of drug activity, said community activist Jospeh Brock.

“Thank the lord!” Brock wrote in an e-mail to members of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization in the hours after the fire. “The drug white house on the corner on Banks Street & S. Gayoso is burning down!…with this house gone it will help with the bring down the drug traffic.”

No one was injured, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.


Award-winning project aims to create citizen-responsive government

June 13, 2008

Neighborhood Associations’ disregard of renters a roadblock to full citizen involvement, says project director

By Jonathan Edwards

The New Orleans Citizen Participation Project met today to jumpstart a grassroots efforts that would take decision-making power out of the backrooms at City Hall and put it in the hands of residents.

We have to have an open chain of information between government and citizens, said Khalil Shahyd, the director of the New Orleans CPP, when he gave an hour-long presentation to community leaders and activists from across the city.

Right now the decisions are already made, the contracts are already signed, things are already done before citizens have any chance for involvement, Shahyd said.

A formal citizen participation project “allows residents to be aware of the activities of government before they occur,” according to a pamphlet distributed during the meeting at the Beacon of Hope Resource Center in Lakeview. “It requires that neighborhood residents be enabled to take part in the planning process and monitor progress on public or private projects and programs.

“Instead of having people overflowing City Council chambers in distress about proposed development, residents will be made aware of all plans and be allowed to give input on those decisions that directly affect their community,” the pamphlet continues.

“It makes sure that what happens is what people want” Shahyd said. An issue arises or a proposal is presented—residents hear about it and decide if it is in their best interest.

The idea is not new, nor is it unique to New Orleans, said Shahyd. The PowerPoint presentation moved on, revealing a map of the United States. Stars started popping up on the screen, representing already-existing citizen participation programs: Sacramento, Houston, New York City, Baltimore—at least a dozen lit up.

Some of these programs have been around since the 1970s, but most were created in a “top-down decision” by a city’s government, Shahyd said. Local officials decided that their citizens needed this tool, and so they gave it to them. New Orleans will be the first “ground-up” approach, emerging from a collection of neighborhood groups.

“Our citizen participation program will be created by you. It is a people-driven exercise, and everyone is invited,” said Shahyd. “We hope that in six months to a year that we can create the first bottom-up, citizen-led democracy in America. It sounds like a lot, but we can do it.”

In the CPP model used in other cities, neighborhood associations are the grassroots forums where residents voice concerns over issues or make a decision passed down from city government, said Shahyd. He then attacked some New Orleans neighborhood organizations, though none by name, for excluding certain groups in their respective communities.

“We’re seeing a return to a land-based type of participation,” Shahyd said, referring to a time in early U.S. history when the right to vote required property ownership. “They’re not really operating as a neighborhood association, but as a homeowners association,” he said. The interests of renters are often ignored, said Shahyd.

Tension between homeowners and renters is not a new subject for Shahyd. He addressed them in an August 2006 interview as many New Orleanians were returning to the city after a Katrina-induced exile. On camera, an emotional Shahyd mentions an unnamed contingent of New Orleans residents who did not want renters, or rental properties, back in the city:

“We have to understand: whether you’re a homeowner or you’re a renter, it’s not because people own land, or because they own property that they want to come back,” he said. “But it’s because this land owns us; we belong to this land.

“And so young or old, crippled, blind, dumb and crazy, people want to come back to here, because this land is concrete, the soil, the river, the lake—everything—it owns us, and we belong to it. It has nothing to do with homeowners and renters,” said Shahyd.

Shahyd and the New Orleans CPP aim to use neighborhood associations, including the homeowners they represent, as the primary conduits of information between city government and individual residents. Open communication, Shahyd said, is the key to citizen-led decision-making.

“If citizens don’t have the relevant information, they can’t make decisions that affect their lives and their neighborhoods,” said Shahyd. A citizen participation project in New Orleans would increase government transparency and accountability, and would do so by creating a system where there is an open flow of information between elected officials and the citizens they represent.

Mike Murphy, the community outreach director for Tulane University’s Environmental Law Clinic, asked Shahyd how the project would acquire operational funding.

Many already-existing citizen participation projects are funded by their city’s annual budget, Shahyd responded. This, however, leaves them open to fluctuations in the political climate. Nevertheless, a similar project in New Orleans would probably acquire funding from the city budget, but Shahyd also said private funding was possible as well.

The New Orleans CPP is in the middle of a two-month campaign to inform city residents about their project and galvanize energy for their upcoming July summit after winning a $25,000 grant from the Seattle-based Case Foundation, according to a May 9 press release. Resident input at the summit, Shahyd says, will determine many key features of New Orleans citizen participation project will look like.

“The Summit will provide additional information on the concept of a formal Citizen Participation Program; more important, citizen attendees will begin the work of designing the CPP process going forward and determining how they wish to guide the project through the design and implementation phases.”

Neither Kate Parker, the president of the Faubourg-St. John Neighborhood Association, nor Jennifer Weishaupt, the president of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, could be reached by deadline. Lifeblood Beat will continue tracking this story.