What is 'Kosher/Cajun?'
September 24, 2021
So, here I am in New Orleans, Louisiana — NOLA. The Big Easy. This is where the people eat more fish than meat. This is where if it isn’t spicy it doesn’t pass muster. So, what’s a guy in search of a good bowl of chicken soup or, oy vey: Kosher cooking, to do?
Well, Thank God and providence and a good Yiddisha Kup, I found it. It’s a restaurant/grocery store/chochkie shop called: The Kosher Cajun.
The Kosher Cajun is the creaion of an Orthodox Southern Jew named Joel Brown and his family. New Orleans, Louisiana is not what you would call a Jewish Cultural Center. In a city of slightly over four hundred thirty thousand folks (never back to full population after Hurricane Katrina sixteen plus years ago) there are just over ten thousand Jews (that we know of).
Joel Brown is a true Southern Jew born in the deep south. He lived in a town so small there was no Jewish Community. Tough on Joel and family because he was a Devout Orthodox Jew, completely observant. And here he was with no Congregation, no Rabbi of any persuasion - a lonely Jew.
So, faced with this situation, what do we Jews do? We improvise. We question. We figure out. Prayer books and the Torah we have. So, that takes care of High Holy Days and Shabbat. Food? Joel and his family shipped it in — from New York, from Miami. You make do, right? Of course right.
Business took Joel Brown and his family to New Orleans. Ah — Ha! A Jewish Community. Since 1760, more or less. A Shul — thanks God. But — Kosher food? Sorry.
So, Joel turned to his “Foreign” contacts again. He bought what he needed for his family from contacts in New York, Miami and anywhere else Kosher food might be available. So, what do we Jews do? We talk. Joe told some friends how he managed to keep Kosher in this Kosher desert and he shared his story. Soon they asked: “Nu, Joel, can I ask y’all to order some stuff for me? I’ll pay you of course!”
So, word got out, more people asked and Joel bought and shipped. A second Orthodox Synagogue opened. More Jews came. The light bulb went off in Joel Brown’s head. He found a spot in the suburb of Metaire, the well-to-do suburb of New Orleans (think Winter Park, Westchester County, NY — Shaker Heights, etc.).
He brought goods in from New York, Miami and of course — Israel. It worked. But — what he had was like a Kosher Market which was fine — but the town (Greater NOLA) had only one Kosher Restaurant and it was packed most of the time. It was in the center of New Orleans proper, which is fine — but to those Jews hungering for a good corn beef sandwich in the suburbs? Oy vey.
So, of course Joel took the business to the next step: A Kosher restaurant! And of course it needed a name. One of the “adjustments” Joel made was to “invent” Kosher recipes for local favorites. Shrimp is big in New Orleans. I don’t have to tell you, shrimp was not on your Grandmother’s shopping list.
Joel and his staff found a fish that the local Kosher food mavins would accept which, while it looked like flounder it tasted kind of like shrimp. Especially if you seldom tasted the real thing.
It worked. He called it “Kosher Shrimp” and had (still has) yet another delicacy on the menu. This delicate balance works. Enough so he could name his new Deli “The Kosher Cajun”.
Our son Adam, who has lived in NOLA for over twenty five years (he manages a large booking and management agency in the music business) is who turned me on to the Kosher Cajun. Even brought me a small Challa one Friday. I had to see it for myself.
Yes, the corn beef sandwich is sensational, the chicken soup passes muster — and the customers?
It’s one of the reasons I go — especially during any Jewish holiday time. I like to order a Dr. Brown’s Celery Tonic or Root Beer, sit at a table and just what I call: watching the “Kibbitz.” This consists of sitting and listening to the conversation in the line to the cashier’s desk.
Example: “Well, hello, Max. Everything all right? Oh? Good! I didn’t see you at services last Friday night.”
Example: “Your daughter Deborah? She’s well? College? Already? Oy! How time flies.”
So, why write this story with all the turmoil in the world and Anti-Semitism and New Orleans recovering from yet another hurricane? Because, dear reader — you deserve a break. Go find a good Kosher deli (not easy). Sit down and order a corn beef sandwich. Add an Egg Cream if they got. No? Okay, a Dr. Browns. And listen to our people. They may no longer speak Yiddish, but they still love to Kibbitz. Nu? Don’t you?