Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Grandpère and I went to eat at Oncale's Restaurant in Chackbay today. He had a yen for crawfish etouffée. I like my own crawfish etoufée recipe the best, and I told him that, but he retorted, "Well, you never cook it any more." Fair enough.
Anna Oncale, the proprietor of the restaurant, is 83 years old, and still does the cooking and works the tables. Her picture is above.
Behind the restaurant is a large dance hall that was once a foot-stomping place back in the day, however the glory days are past. Anna showed us a framed copy of this article by David Jacobs in The Daily Comet, which tells of those days:
But Anna Oncale, 82, who said she founded the place with her late husband, Herbert, 60 years ago, remembers when patrons came from as far away as Grand Isle and Morgan City to dance, drink and, sometimes, get a bit rowdy.
“We had dances here for 31 years,” she said Thursday, standing near her empty wooden dance floor ringed with tables sporting plastic tablecloths. “Once we had 600 people here. Some of them had to stand outside.”
They had dances every weekend. She said New Orleans legend Irma Thomas performed there, but most, like the Bel-Airs and Billy Wray & Show Band Royale, are long forgotton. But the beer was cold, and there weren’t all that many entertainment options at the time.
They had a few bouncers, and Oncale herself would wield a big stick from time to time with folks who had one, or two or six, too many.
“You had to have something happening, or you wouldn’t have a crowd,” she said. “One might want to hit the other one, so you had to stop them. They would come back in holding each other by the neck.”
But she said they were mostly well-behaved, and the patrons in her many photographs don’t look like ruffians. The pictures are undated, with black-and-white shots of men in hats and ties and women in ankle-length dresses giving way to color photos of less-formal customers with shaggy hair.
Quite a few folks who grew up around here have told us that they met their spouses at Oncale's. The dance hall is a sight to behold. It's still in good shape, with its large wooden dance floor intact. The juke-box with the old songs on it still stands in the hall. It's a shame that it's not used any more.
She said she has turned down an offer of $100,000 for her building, which features several rooms, including her living quarters in the back. The numerous antiques, like the dusty piano, the clock over the bar featuring the Budweiser clydesdales, and more heavy furniture than she could possibly use, might be worth thousands to collectors as well.
MadPriest, if you are around, I think you would have loved the place in your - ahem - younger days.
Before Katrina, tour groups from New Orleans would stop and eat at the restaurant, but the tourist trade has dried up. While we were there, only two others were at lunch.
Chackbay and Choupic are small communities up the road from us. Just in case you don't know, choupic is also a fish. I have never eaten it, but folks around here fish for it and eat it.
I remember hearing that the fish must be cooked while it's fresh, so I Googled around and found this recipe at Landing Big Fish, which I thought was informal and amusing. It includes this cautionary advice:
...also try to fillet the fish fresh, that way the meat does not turn to "cotton". After you have cut the slab off lay it on a pan and try to pull out any loose scales. Don't worry if you don't get them all just watch out for them when eating.