New Orleans, La. – When the Saints are marching these days, it seems like people all over the New Orleans area are munching in stride.
Saints mania is on display everywhere around our community, and it's making an imprint on the way locals here eat as well. Take the enthusiasm of the Who Dat Nation -- the giddy anticipation leading to Saints games and the abandon with which fans throw themselves into the day -- and add south Louisiana endemic passion for food and the results are predictably over the top. It's fostering some momentous game day meals, it drives highly-personal food rituals and it even inspires edible tributes to the home team.
From his tailgating spot outside the Superdome, veteran local cop Steve Harrell and his friends prepare casual feasts of Creole soul flavor before every home game, often drawing astounded admiration from fans of the visiting team who pass by and spot the red beans, the pasta jambalaya, the ribs and the gumbo cooking up around this corral of pick-ups and camp chairs.
Uptown resident Robert Johnston stokes one food ritual that could be classified as an edible grudge. For years he's made a Cajun-style jambalaya for game days, and during the sorrowful tenure of Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks and head coach Jim Haslett this dish earned the moniker "Dammit Aaron Jambalaya," because he had so many occasions to holler just that at Brooks' follies on the fied. He's thought of changing the name in light of the team's new-found glory, but decided it's important to remember the bad old days too.
Things are kept a little more up to date at the Warehouse District sushi restaurant Rock-n-Sake. Here, sushi chef Dirk Dantin names a specialty role for the Saints player he thinks made the biggest impact each week, leading to creations like "Vilma's viciously delicious roll" for the quarterback-crushing linebacker Jonathan Vilma and the "pick six Porter roll" for our opportunistic, intercepting cornerback Tracy Porter.
Some Saints fans are even convinced that what they cook, eat or serve on game day has some mystic influence on the team's performance.
Saints fan Matthew Gresham discovered what he believes is momentum-changing spinach dip, which can be ordered from Uptown's Fat Harry's bar just once per game and must be carefully timed to affect the maximum impact on game flow.
Meanwhile, Tommy Cvitanovich, owner of Drago's Seafood Restaurant, is determined that Saints players should eat his restaurant's signature charbroiled oysters whenever they prepare for upcoming games. So, just as he did last year, he dispatches a trailer-mounted grill to the team's training facility each Friday to serve the Saints. The supply of Louisiana oysters has been tenuous since the BP oil disaster upended the Gulf seafood industry, but Cvitanovich say's he'd let his restaurant run short of oysters before he lets the Saints go without. Breaking that tradition, he fears, could be unlucky.
What will it take for the New Orleans Saints to regain the heights of glory they reached last season? In addition to the conventional answers -- training, coaching, play calling and a solid dose of luck - for some fans, part of the answer is clearly on the table.