by Ian McNulty
In Kermit Ruffins’ world, food and music go together like red beans and rice. The joy of New Orleans food figures prominently in the trumpeter’s music, his band is called the Barbecue Swingers and for many years now Ruffins’ has made barbecue, red beans and other eats a fixture of his regular gigs, served up for free to his fans at the set break.
Now, Ruffins’ has his own restaurant. Kermit's Treme Speakeasy Restaurant (1535 Basin St. 309-5828) opened just after Jazz Fest this spring, serving traditional New Orleans food and some Creole-style country dishes and also doubling as a music venue.
I admit that the first time I noticed the brightly-colored sign advertising this place along Basin Street I assumed it was just a set for an upcoming “Treme” episode. But walk inside and you’ll find a newly and handsomely renovated corner spot with terrazzo floors, a small bar and an even smaller stage with mic stands and a keyboard at the ready.
Kermit himself plays here with the Barbecue Swingers on Sundays and Mondays for shows that start early, around 6 p.m., and wrap up early too, usually around 7:30 p.m. There’s no cover, no smoking and dinner is served while the music plays.
Tables are set with flowers and candles but this place is very casual. In fact, during the day, before the music starts, it feels more like dropping by a clubhouse than visiting a conventional restaurant. On a recent visit, the dining room was occupied by just a few people lolling beers and providing a running commentary on the cable news broadcast while waiting for the kitchen to finish preparing the day’s batch of beans.
The menu is listed on a specials board and changes up daily. Some of the mainstays are BBQ shrimp, fried chicken or fish, hot tamales, smothered cabbage and stewed rabbit, served with a big pile of snap beans and mounds of gravy-soaked rice. Occasionally there's even raccoon with grits. Portions are large and prices are modest, with most dishes around $10. Tuesday is boiled seafood night with vegetables, sausages and turkey necks boiled up with the shellfish.
The bar has an assortment of bottled beers, basic cocktails and half-pints of booze served with mixers for neighborhood-style bottle service.
Kermit's Treme Speakeasy Restaurant is open daily starting at noon.
Kermit's Treme Speakeasy Restaurant
1535 Basin St. 309-5828