We're going through the different parts of Metro New Orleans, giving our top ten restaurants in each. It has been a while since our last tour, and that's because I felt I needed a better sampling of our next neighborhood, the 9th Ward and New Orleans East. Technically, New Orleans East is a part of the 9th Ward, but it is rarely referenced as such. For the past three months, I've feverishly tried to digest as many meals from the 9th Ward as I could. Mmmm, hmmmm, I had a good time doing it, finding places I had never heard of or seen mentioned.
The 9th Ward's borders for our purposes is strangely defined. So we can differentiate it from the bourgeoise and Bohemian Marigny and Bywater districts, we start at St. Claude Avenue on the south side. Franklin Avenue is the western border for a few blocks, then Franklin merges with Almonaster, which merges with Peoples Avenue. These streets make up the western border, and the border continues north on Peoples Ave all the way to Lake Pontchartrain. All of New Orleans East, all the way out to Irish Bayou and the Venetian Isles are part of the 9th. The entire lower 9th Ward is considered, which is everything boxed in between the Industrial Canal to the west, the MRGO to the north, the Mississippi River to the south, and the border with St. Bernard Parish to the east.
The 9th Ward's history is not unique in New Orleans. The land next to the river was elevated; it was the natural levee. The French settled the French Quarter section of the levee first. Then the Americans moved uptown against the river's current. By the 1840s, there wasn't too much high ground left in New Orleans. What was left uptown was likely too expensive for many newcomers. But the newcomers came anyway. The Irish, Italians, and Germans poured into the city hoping to find a better life here. Many settled in the 9th Ward. Perhaps it was here that the city's first hamburger was served by German immigrants. The Irish tended to be laborers, taking physical work wherever they could find it. The Germans tended to be craftsmen and mechanical workers. The Italians tended to be farmers. These are broad national surveys, but nonetheless, useful. At the same time Europeans were settling in the 9th Ward, former slaves were soon to be emancipated. Many left the fields for the city for the same reason as the immigrants. But the African Americans were in a far worse situation, and often had to settle for the back-o-town even in the 9th Ward. So while river-touching sub-neighborhoods like Holy Cross were predominantly European immigrant, the land farther from the river, and marshier, was settled by African Americans. This living pattern persisted into the 20th century. Image: http://media.nola.com/tpphotos/photo/2011/10/10158947-large.jpg
The 20th century brought major change to the 9th Ward, with the building of the Industrial Canal around 1920. This canal opened the river to the lake, providing many jobs, as well as promoting ship building in the neighborhood. This ship building industry would play an indispensable international role during World War II with the Higgins factory producing LCVP on the shores of the Industrial Canal. The canal, though, would have some negative socio-economic impacts. The waterway effectively cut off the lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish from the city. Though only a few hundred feet wide, this canal would later create great psychological and cultural divisions in the city. However, the 9th Ward has remained a vibrant cultural jewel in the Crescent City. Perhaps most important was Fats Domino, whose rock and blues became instrumental for the birth of Ska, the Jamaican precursor to reggae. Bob Marley's music was greatly influenced by Domino's rock-jazz-blues. A generation later, the rap world would be turned upside down by 9th Ward resident, Brian Birdman Williams, co-founder of Cash Money Records and discoverer of Lil' Wayne. Image: http://rapfix.mtv.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/bob_marley.jpg
Integration was not kind to the 9th Ward. Ruby Bridges was assaulted as she became the first African American student to matriculate at a historically white public school. Image: http://library.thinkquest.org/J0112391/Civil_Rights_Final_Copies/A0A5Q000.gif
This forced integration would speed up a process of white flight that had already begun several decades earlier. The G.I. Bill allowed returning WWII soldiers to get low interest home loans. New lands had been drained in the area now known as New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish. So land was cheap in these undeveloped lands, and those with the ability often did move out into these new lands. The process continued through the 1970s, as the Upper and Lower 9th Wards, separated by the Industrial Canal, became predominantly an African American neighborhood. Meanwhile New Orleans East became a white suburb, with a sliver along the western shore of the Industrial Canal of middle class African Americans, who also were taking flight to a new suburban area. New Orleans East would experience its own white flight in the 1990s, as inner city New Orleans Section 8 housing, such as the St. Thomas Development, was torn down and its residents displaced to new Section 8 housing in the East. Image: http://blog.nola.com/news_impact/2008/10/large_canalbridge.jpg
Hurricanes have taken their toll on this neighborhood. Betsey in 65 and Katrina in 05 were life-changing, and in many cases, sadly, life-ending, events. No New Orleans neighborhood has had a tougher history than the 9th Ward in the last fifty years. It has often been a neglected area, but one that tries and tries to return. Today, most of the 9th Ward is African American, and its food reflects that. However, in the 1980s, there was a huge influx of Vietnamese refugees who settled in New Orleans East, and built their own town, with the help of the Catholic Church. Their contributions have been profound even if nascent. The 9th Ward is one of the largest geographical neighborhoods in New Orleans, and in many ways, the most diverse. Image: http://www.pps.org/graphics/gpp/vietnamese_market2_large 10 BEST RESTAURANTS OF THE 9TH WARD 10. Cajun Joe's Seafood 9. Vucinovich 8. Easy Seafood 7. Dong Phuong 6. Pho Bang 5. Walker's BBQ 4. Brocato's Eat Dat 3. Cafe Trinh Quyen 2. Dish on Haynes 1. Castnet Seafood
This post was edited on 3/27 at 11:15 am