My interview with Steven Wells Hicks was first published on March 8, 2015. I’m sad to share that Hicks passed away on September 4, 2020. He loved New Orleans and he loved to write and share about it. My deepest condolences to his family.
Steven Wells Hicks had been traveling to New Orleans for over 40 years. The Mississippi native was always on the search for the best meal that the city had to offer. He took notes as he visited all the restaurants, roadhouses, bistros, beaneries, and bars. With all the information he had collected, Steven, who now calls the Crescent City his home, compiled a guidebook for the best places to get a traditional New Orleans meal.
If you’ve traveled there, you know that it can be a daunting task to narrow down the long list of restaurants to find a place to eat. What do you do when you only have a couple of days but a thousand restaurants to choose from?
With a strict set of rules, Hicks created the book, The 25 Definitive New Orleans Restaurants.
Here are the guidelines he created to be on his list: they must serve traditional New Orleans style food, absolutely no chain restaurants, they must have originated in New Orleans, and ownership cannot operate more than five total restaurants.
That eliminates quite a few restaurants. You might be surprised by who didn’t make the list. Plus, not to leave you thirsty, he also included a “dozen damned good places to drink“, too.
He writes in the book, “I wanted to list restaurants where the odds are strong that you’ll get better than a good meal in a place that will usually provide you with not only a pleasurable experience but also a taste of the spirit of this remarkable city.” When you buy this book, you’ll realize that he didn’t create a simple list with just a short blurb, an address and sends you on the way. Hicks, a novelist by trade, tells you a wonderful story about each of the 25 restaurants.
As an example, here is an excerpt from the book:
With its location in the lower end of the French Quarter, visitors thinking “Bourbon Street” are in for a gentle awakening.
It’s been over fifty years since the assassination of President Kennedy, perhaps the single largest source of conspiracy theories ever, and the story keeps swirling around that the plot was hatched in the back room of a New Orleans saloon.
Maybe it’s true. Maybe it isn’t. Anyone who knows is most likely dead, and if they aren’t, it’s pretty obvious they’re in no hurry to talk about it. At any rate, here’s the fact, if indeed it is a fact, and you can decide for yourself if it’s true, if it’s bunk or if you even give a damn.
The bar is Cosimo’s, a generally quiet watering hole in the lower French Quarter about two blocks in from Esplanade Avenue, the street generally recognized as the end of the city’s most famous historic district.
Myth, legend, or whatever, it’s said that the Kennedy assassination was plotted in the back room of Cosimo’s by none other than Lee Harvey Oswald himself. If that’s true at all (and that’s a Texas-sized if), depending upon which conspiracy theory is being promoted at any given time on late-night cable television, the co-conspirators could have had the backroom packed with Mafiosi, Cuban mercenaries, Soviet KGB agents, the FBI, Southern segregationists or even Lyndon Johnson (although I suspect someone would have looked up from their seat at the bar and recognized the Vice President of the United States when he walked in).
Now I have no idea whether there was a fiendish plot and it was hatched in the back room of Cosimo’s, but I’ve always been a sucker for a good yarn, so I decided to walk the two blocks from my apartment at the time and check it out for myself.
I liked Cosimo’s immediately.
If you love history and stories, you’re really going to enjoy this book. There’s great information on all of the 25 restaurants. But remember, it’s a guidebook, you will definitely want to take this along with you for your next trip to the Crescent City. The 25 restaurants are broken up and categorized by chapters; the classics, chef-run, the originators, neighborhood favorites, and local color. You won’t miss an excellent meal using this guide.
It’s advertised as a guidebook for those “food-loving visitors” searching for an unforgettable traditional New Orleans meal. But this book is for anyone if you live in the city or not. If you simply love New Orleans and want to read more about its rich culinary history, you’ll want this book.
You can tell Steven Wells Hicks loves New Orleans, and it definitely comes across. You can also tell that he wants you to come away from his city-loving the food as much as he does.
Cafe 614 (“Home of Da Rabbit”) in Gretna, LA.
Chile paste. Dried red beans for me.
Normally Mondays, but not exclusively.
You can find Steven Wells Hicks books on Amazon.
He also had a website called HicksWrites (https://hickswrites.blogspot.com/). It was like his travel journal when he visited New Orleans before he eventually moved there. The most recent post was from August 7, 2012, but it was fun to go back and read his stories and see the many photos he took of his beloved city.
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