I have been friends with Arthur more years than I am willing to admit having been alive.
When I got the call last fall that he had a Sarcoma on his leg I remember my blood being chilled to the bone. He was in New Orleans caring for his dying mother, and now this. It took a couple of days to process, but I knew I had to see him. I got on a plane to New Orleans to say my goodbyes to his mother, Miss Josephine and to see Arthur.
I met him for brunch at Elizabeth's on Gallier and he rolled up his shorts to show me a rather massive tumor on the inside of one leg. Sarcoma is a very scary cancer and as he talked about finding the best treatment center and the frightening possibilities a sense of calm came over me.
I had an overwhelming feeling that he was going to be alright. And once I knew that with the same certainty that the sun will rise in the East; brunch proceeded like old times.
Once again, we both sat there complaining that it is rare to get an authentic taste of New Orleans in any other city. I had shrimp and grits and he the grillades. It made me sad that most of the country has never had grillades for breakfast.
While talking he said, "Why don't you do it Karly? Open your own place? (I should note that few still alive are allowed to call me Karly)
I once had a place in New Orleans and as I always do I poopooed the suggestion that I would be willing to do all that work again without a regular paycheck. I saw the difficulties, not the possibilities.
We shared a second amazing meal at Cochon: ribs, lima beans, oysters and that amazing soft french bread. No other bread like it in the world.
This was early fall, back and forth with texts and e mail, I followed the shrinking of his tumor, always with the certainty that he would be restored. At times he was scared and yes Chemo is a bitch. Radiation is happening and now he has the same certainty that after surgery he can return to his life.
My story is less interesting. Encounter with car, eventual surgery and next thing I knew my foot had been rebuilt and I was in a cast on crutches.
When I was presented with the opportunity of a pop up restaurant that would allow another food business to run out of the same space, I felt a certainty that this was the right thing to do.
Immediately I knew the concept was to be New Orleans food and a sandwich was to be named after Arthur. The name of the restaurant was chosen because it was his license plate on an old VW bug, back in the day.
I must have posed a comical figure as I schlepped from Harlem to the East Village on my crutches. A staunch critic of those who make pretend New Orleans food I knew I had to get it right. My comments on the bread alone would subject me to well deserved criticism if I did not get Leidenheimer bread trucked up to New York.
I worked the phones madly, texting Arthur with the updates. I was doing it for both of us. On those crutches I negotiated a kitchen, met with vendors and began the process of curing the hams and bacon.
Awtha's roast brisket po boy was built to the delight of my tasters, giving me the opportunity to tell him about the sandwich.
New Orleans is food, it is part of our culture and our lives.
It is home.
My wish is to have Nawlinz popping up all over the word with authentic ingredients.
Wherever Arthur goes I want him to see home.