by Edward J. Branley, ©1994. Used by permission.
I guess it's appropriate in a way that Buster Holmes died on a Monday. Monday is red beans and rice day in New Orleans, and that is the dish that Chef Buster was most famous for. Buster Holmes' Bar and Restaurant, which was located on the corner of Orleans and Burgundy in the Quarter was a classic Creole/soul food place -- turnip greens, pork chops, roast garlic chicken, and of course, red beans and rice.
Most lunch counters in New Orleans still serve red beans and rice on Mondays. This tradition goes back a long way. Red beans take a long time to prepare, so many families ate them on Monday so that mom could start them on Sunday and do them right. The smell of red beans cooking would completely permeate neighborhoods. Our instant-food culture has changed this in terms of home cooking habits, but we New Orleanians still love our red beans.
Buster Holmes' Bar and Restaurant wasn't anything to brag about. Like many New Orleans restaurants, little money was spent on atmosphere. It's one of those places, like the Hummingbird, Clover Grill, etc., whose looks (hopefully) would scare off tourists, leaving the place for the locals. One thing Buster Holmes' had going for it was that it was a soul food place that wasn't located in or next to a housing project. This gave it a larger following among white folks than other places as good or better. We would go to Buster Holmes' for lunch back while attending UNO, then walk down to Angelo Brocato's (back in the days when it was located on Ursuline Street) for cannolis and lemon ice. My favorite was red beans and rice with a pork chop.
Chef Buster retired in the early '80s ('81, I think). He sold his name and the name of the restaurant to a company that tried to start a chain of fast-food restaurants based on his red beans. I don't know the full history of why that venture failed, but it did give Al Copeland of Popeye's the inspiration to add red beans and rice to the menu at Popeye's. If you're travelling on the Earhart Expressway from Metairie to Uptown and you smell red beans cooking as you head towards New Orleans, you're not imagining things. The Copeland Enterprises main commisary is located off of Earhart, and that's where they prepare all of the red beans for the Popeye's in the metro area. The sensation is akin to passing a coffee plant or a bread bakery.
There are several places to get good red beans in New Orleans. Even the Picadilly Cafeteria chain does good red beans. Some places that immediately come to mind as Monday special places are the Commerce Restaurant (Camp and Baronne in the CBD), Mother's (Poydras and Tchopitoulas), Ye Olde College Inn (S. Carrollton near Earhart), and the new Mr. Ed's in Bucktown. Of course, you can always pick up an order of red beans and rice at Popeye's any day of the week. It may be a fast-food chain, but red beans are one of those dishes that do well when made in quantity, so Popeye's version is quite good. (In fact, a reader's poll in Gambit a few years back chose Popeye's red beans as being the best in the city.) A two piece dinner with red beans is one of the best lunches in New Orleans.
I'm working at home today, so I think I'll put a pot of red beans on the stove today. It's not Monday, but I can't think of a better way to honor Chef Buster.
-- Ed Branley, March 1, 1994
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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)