Hot spots: Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy and N.O. Oyster Fest
29th May 2012 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
“Have you tried that raccoon yet?” a smiling Kermit Ruffins asks the audience from the stage at his new spot, Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy. “It’s sooo dee-licious!”
Dressed casually in shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops, the trumpeter looks around the small, well-appointed Basin Street club and restaurant at a sea of familiar faces. The patrons on this Sunday evening are Ruffins’ family, friends and regular followers plus folks he’s long known from around the Treme neighborhood.
Ruffins opened the Speakeasy on historic Basin Street and North Robertson Street (1535 Basin St.) during Jazz Festival and is taking his time to develop a music schedule and clientele. For now the venue, which is being run and leased by his daughter Tawanna Ruffins, is focused mainly on food with live music offered only two evenings a week. Food and music, of course, are Kermit’s departments. He’s rustling his big pots and pans filled with beans, rice, chicken, stuffed peppers, sausage, greens and other such soulful staples in the impressively large and well-designed kitchen. On Sundays and Mondays from 6 p.m. to around 7:30, he dons his bebop hat to blow trumpet with his band.
“I’m loving that damn kitchen,” Ruffins exclaims adding that at that very moment he was cooking up 15 pounds of butter beans and had hot sausage in the oven. “I’m Iron Chef Ghetto!” Ruffins amusingly declared to the crowd, referencing the popular Food Network show “Iron Chef America.”
Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy is Ruffins’ third venture into the business of club ownership. Years ago, he opened Kermit Ruffins’ Music Hall on the corner of North Robertson and St. Philip Street, the former home of the Caledonia (not the original) and Trombone Shorty’s. Ruffins retains interest in Sidney’s Saloon on St. Bernard Avenue and holds the lease on the legendary Mother-In-Law Lounge. When Ruffins took over the North Claiborne Avenue institution, he wasn’t informed that he had to get it up and running in six months in order to have the liquor license grand-fathered in. Thus he’s had to request rezoning of the club and pay the required fees. He is awaiting a date to go before the City Council to, all music fans hope, have the rezoning of the Mother-In-Law approved.
Meanwhile, the opportunity to lease the Basin Street club and restaurant, formerly known as Jazzabelle’s, was presented.
“This came up out of nowhere,” says Ruffins who, in support of Treme businesses, often took his family there to eat. On more than one visit, he expressed his interest in the place if the owners ever opted to sell.
“You know what I say, my dreams come true,” the always up-beat Ruffins offers. “It was a big stroke of luck.”
For now, Ruffins is content to lead his band, which on this particularly night found Jerry Anderson behind the drums, to kick things off. Naturally, an array of musicians came by to sit in including trumpeters Kid Merv and Glen Hall III (of the Baby Boyz Brass Band), vocalists Michael Batiste and Ray “Boom Boom” (of the now defunct Ray’s Boom Boom Club fame) and more. Ruffins hopes to slowly gear things up and recreate the great Sunday night jams that he led at Treme’s Joe’s Cozy Corner. The trumpeter has already enlisted electric violinist Michael Ward, who regularly joined Ruffins at Joe’s.
The restaurant opens for lunch at noon seven days a week. Presently, there is no cover charge for the Sunday and Monday evening shows. That’s likely to change when the Speakeasy becomes more established and the line-up of musicians is augmented.
Kermit Ruffins loves the Treme and the folks in the Treme love him right back. That makes Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy a win-win situation.
New Orleans Oyster Festival By the River
The very big news concerning this year’s New Orleans Oyster Festival —Saturday, June 2, and Sunday, June 3 —is definitely its move from a Decatur Street parking lot to the grassy Woldenberg Park along the Mississippi River. In the past, even the most devoted oyster eating and music loving fans found it difficult to ignore the heat emanating from the macadam and really enjoy the event to the max. What a difference a jump over the levee should make.
As the promo states, “the shuckin’ and jivin’” begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday with the Tremé Brass Band. Oyster shucking and eating contests are presented on the big stage along with music from Rockin’ Dopsie Jr., the Benjy Davis Project and Wet Willie (all Saturday), the Zion Harmonizers, Kermit Ruffins and Bonerama (all Sunday). The Queen of New Orleans Soul, Irma Thomas closes the free festival out from 6:45 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Some of this city’s finest restaurants will be selling dishes starring the king of the day, Louisiana oysters. Many will showcase their signature dishes such as Drago’s charbroiled oysters and the Acme Oyster Houses’ raw fare. There will be a number of cooking demonstration and an area for kids as well. That all this will take place next to the river, one of the most beautiful and breezy yet under-utilized areas of the city, absolutely transforms the New Orleans Oyster Festival from delicious to delicious and delightful.
One More Time
The magic of the Thursday evening Jazz in the Park concerts continues for one more week. People United for Armstrong Park (PUFAP) presents vocalist and percussionist Cyril Neville on Thursday, May 31. The free performance starts at 5 p.m. with the up-and-coming Baby Boyz Brass Band. The PUFAP’s aim is to keep Armstrong Park vital and relevant to the neighborhood. This concert series has accomplished that goal and has welcomed folks to experience the park’s beauty. The series resumes in September.
This article was originally published in the May 28, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper