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 Ruffins has made barbecue, red beans and other eats a fixture of his regular gigs, served up for free during set breaks.
Now, Ruffins has his own restaurant. Kermit's Treme Speakeasy Restaurant (1535 Basin St., 309-5828) opened just after the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, serving traditional New Orleans food and some Creole-style country dishes and also doubling as a music venue.
The restaurant is in a 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 performs with the Barbecue Swingers on Sundays and Mondays, and shows 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 the ambience is very casual. In fact, during the day, before the music starts, it feels more like a clubhouse than a restaurant. On a recent visit, the dining room was occupied by just a few people nursing beers and offering running commentary on cable news while waiting for the kitchen to prepare the day's batch of beans.
The menu is listed on a specials board and changes daily. Some of the mainstays are barbecue shrimp, fried chicken or fish, smothered cabbage, hot tamales and stewed rabbit, served with a pile of snap beans and mounds of gravy-soaked rice. Occasionally there's raccoon with grits. Portions are large, and prices are modest, with most dishes around $10. Tuesday features boiled seafood night, and vegetables, sausage and turkey necks are boiled with 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 opens daily at noon.