The Food Almanac: Monday, March 11, 2013

Restaurant Anniversaries
The Palace Cafe opened today in 1991. Envisioned as a more casual version of Commander's Palace, it was at first managed by cousins Ti Martin, Dickie Brennan, Lauren Brennan, and Brad Bridgman. When the Commander's Brennans split up their properties, the Palace Cafe went to Dick Brennan's side of the family. The place opened with an emphasis on seafood and rotisserie dishes, but over the years the restaurant evolved into a jack of all flavors Creole.

The building has quite a history. It was originally the landmark Werlein's music store, founded in the 1840s. The renovation took a long time. Meanwhile, many speculated as to what would happen to familiar "Werlein's For Music" neon sign on the roof, which could be seen far up Camp Street. The New Orleans Menu held a contest for the best name that could be made by rearranging the letters. I wish I could remember what the winner was.

Today's Flavor
It is White Chocolate Bread Pudding Day, in honor of the Palace Cafe, which invented the dessert. The speed with which it spread to other restaurants was testimony to its appeal and goodness. There must be a hundred restaurants serving it now. What's strange is that most of the restaurants offering it, while having a version nowhere near as good as the original, claim it as their own idea. I think that if a restaurant is going to copy another restaurant's dish, the menu ought to give credit to the inventor.

Legendary Local Chefs
Rosa "Mamita" Hernandez was born today in 1902. She passed away in 2007, at 105. She was the owner and chef of El Ranchito, one of our city's first Mexican restaurants, on Elysian Fields near Claiborne until it closed in the early 1980s. Rosa made everything from the tamales to the great mole sauce from scratch. If that little place could serve mole, how is it that so few Mexican restaurants now can manage it?

Gourmet Gazetteer
Turnover Creek is about halfway between Forth Worth and Austin, Texas. Most of its eight miles are within the Fort Hood military reservation. The creek flows into the Leon River, an upper tributary of the Brazos River. The lad through which it runs is pockmarked with gravel pits and gas wells. Not what you'd call pretty. The Taqueria Los Agaves is the nearest restaurant where turnovers (in the form of empanadas) might be found.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The most unrewarding job in the kitchen is making pie crust.

Deft Dining Rule #228: 
A restaurant that makes all its own desserts from scratch, and has many of them, is a better restaurant than a comparable place that doesn't. It's a big commitment to the diner, one not many restaurants are willing to make.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
On this date in 1986, the Popsicle was redesigned. The former two-stick model allowed itself to be broken in two pieces so you could share it with a friend. It was replaced by a one-stick design, more in line with the behavior of those spoiled-rotten, selfish kids of today.

Edible Dictionary
Texmati rice, n.–The brand name for a variety of rice created by crossing basmati rice from the Middle East with long-grain rice grown in Texas. It's an aromatic rice, which means that it emits an aroma when cooking that puts on in mind of roasted nuts or popcorn. It's the most widespread American aromatic rices, although there are many others–most of them with basmati in their past.

Eating Around The World
Mount Etna in Sicily erupted today in 1669, killing thousands and creating tremendous damage. That part of the Italy is still volcanically active. In the sea between Sicily and the Italian mainland is an island volcano called Stromboli, famous for sending out plumes of smoke almost all the time. Stromboli's steaming gave its name to a foldover pizza filled with cheese, sausage, and tomatoes. When it's served, a hole is punched in the top, from which steam and lava-like cheese and sauce erupt. Cool.

Music To Drink Champagne By
Lawrence Welk was born today in 1903. His band was called The Champagne Music Makers. Everything, no matter how corny it later becomes, seems hip at some time. I have a recording of a disk jockey show from 1939 that introduces Lawrence Welk's orchestra as "that clever new band."

Food Namesakes
Italian poet Torcuato Tasso was born in Sorrento today in 1544. . . Savannah transvestite entertainer Lady Chablis was born today as Benjamin Knox in 1957. . . American author Christopher Rice wrote Page One of his life today in 1978. . . Mark Stein, the lead vocalist of the slow-rhythm psychedelic band Vanilla Fudge, was born today in 1947.

Words To Eat By
"It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in Moby Dick. So you might as well write Moby Dick."–Annie Dillard, American writer.

Words To Drink By
"Long ago, it was said that if you drink the right amount of Scotch each day, you will find the secret of Eternal Youth. People have been in pursuit ever since."–Ian Henderson.