Casamentos is one of my favorite New Orleans institution restaurants. It’s been in the same spot on Magazine Street since 1919, and the old-school tile interior (easier to clean) hasn’t changed much since. Nor has the food: “oyster loaves,” made with buttered pan bread instead of the standard Leidenheimmer po-boy bread, are an institution here.
Me, I always get the fried seafood, the mixed seafood platter if someone is with me who is capable of sharing, since it’s largeish. The best fried shrimp in the whole world are on offer at Casamentos, with a feather-light cornmeal breading and a gentle treatment that ensures the meat squeaks delicately under your teeth. Then there’s slender strips of catfish, not too muddy, served with perfect, light-weight fried oysters. Crab claws, too: bite the end and scrape the meat off. Skip the fries, but that’s not the point.
They’ve added chargrilled oysters with parmesan and butter to the menu, and I fully salute this decision. Chargrilled oysters are one of man’s great inventions. Even better with some crackers or bread to soak up the juice. Waiting at Casamentos – and you will wait, as they don’t take reservations – is a pretty painless thing. Order a beer, sidle up to the bar. Get a dozen raw oysters and eat them standing up. They’ve always got the good fresh stuff. Gulf oysters are my favorite – I think they resonate with my gene pool, or something obscure like that. California oysters have never quite hit the spot.
I was back in New Orleans for the first time in a year when I stood outside Casamentos and waited for my parents and our friend Kevin to pull up in a taxi. It was just dark outside and Ms Mae’s bar next door was beginning to shamble into business. I drank an Abita outside and talked with a group of Latino guys who had just finished playing pick-up basketball across the street.
“Now, we’re gonna take care of you,” one dude with a white tank-top, sweaty armpits, and a beer assured me when I said I was waiting for my parents. “Ain’t nothing to worry about.”
We chatted briefly about Cambodia and clinked beers. In New Orleans, you just need to be standing still for a minute to make friends. I tell them I’ve come back from Cambodia recently, and people greet me like a returning native daughter. And of course, I’ve come back. Why wouldn’t I?
The street outside Casamentos smelled of warmish beer, garbage truck, and impending summer. Home again, home again.