It may seem as though Acme Oyster and Seafood House Restaurant (724 Iberville St., 522-5973; 7306 Lakeshore Drive, 282-9200; 519 E. Boston St., Covington, 898-0667) has been around since a bear or some other wild animal first showed humans how to pry open an oyster shell and let the mollusk-turned-delicacy slide down their throat. The popular eatery hasn't been around quite that long, but it is an almost 100-year-old institution beloved by locals and tourists alike.
The restaurant first opened in 1910 as The Acme Cafe, predominantly a sandwich shop, on Royal Street. It moved into an 1814 building on Iberville Street in 1924 after a fire destroyed the original location. The main restaurant has been there ever since, although others have opened on the lakefront, in Covington, at Louis Armstrong International Airport and in San Destin, Fla.
"The secret (to Acme's success) is that we serve good, New Orleans seafood and the way we present it, which is in a fun, unintimidating atmosphere," says Ben Hennington, marketing director for Acme. The French Quarter location remains a magnet for tourists who have heard of the restaurant through national media and travel guides as well as locals who grew up eating there. "It's a fun atmosphere," Hennington says. "We've got everything from suits to tank tops."
Some of the charm is derived from watching shuckers pry open tightly closed oyster shells, cut the bivalves from their anchored spots and re-present them in an open half shell. But there also are other favorite local dishes available, such as red beans and rice, gumbo, jambalaya, po-boys and more.
"In the late fifties and early seventies, we served corned beef sandwiches and raw oysters but were also a sandwich shop," Hennington says. "Things have changed somewhat over the years. We're now a restaurant that offers New Orleans cuisine ... New Orleans comfort food."
On the lakefront and in Covington, the menu also has expanded to include specialty salads, such as a Creole tomato, Vidalia onion and crabmeat salad; a crispy catfish salad; shrimp Creole pasta; and a housemade chicken wrap to suit the taste of regulars in those areas. Future adventures at the restaurants, owned by Mike Rodrigue, include the Acme Oyster Trio: a sampling of fried oyster specialties including garlic oysters, oysters remoulade and Buffalo oysters, inspired by the spices normally applied to chicken wings.
At the French Quarter restaurant, the menu remains fairly consistent. One exception is the addition of Cajun Sushi, which is deep-fried shrimp or oysters served on a green-onion infused sticky rice patty and served with Tabasco soy sauce with wasabi and, of course, chop sticks. "It's been a huge success," Hennington says. "It's a little play on what's hot in the market."
Acme also has gained national attention with its World Oyster Eating Championships, which were covered by several national media outlets during French Quarter Festival. The title was won by Boyd "the Hammer" Vulot of Hammond, who downed 18 dozen oysters. "(Competitive eating) is supposedly one of the fastest growing sports in the country," Hennington says. "We got international coverage and put New Orleans in the spotlight for international eating ... just like New York is famous for eating hot dogs." The World Hot Dog Eating Championship will be held at Coney Island in New York on July 4.
Acme now is preparing for its 100th anniversary in 2010 and is currently considering expanding company operations to markets outside New Orleans. The company also plans to expand its Internet sales of T-shirts and other logo merchandise to include food products.
The Hospitality Business
University of New Orleans students now can earn a Master of Science degree in hospitality and tourism management, with enrollment beginning in the fall semester. The new degree, approved earlier this year by the Louisiana Board of Regents, will be offered through the College of Business Administration's Lester E. Kabacoff School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism.
A Marketing Advantage
New Orleans tourism is being given a boost by Travelers Advantage (www.travelersadvantage.com; 800-458-1028), a service that provides its members with travel discounts and cash-back incentives, which has chosen the Crescent City as an outstanding destination in its Rediscovering America program.
Under the program, Travelers Advantage presents a weekend getaway itinerary on its Web site that highlights places to visit and sights to see in New Orleans. It also provides Web links, where possible, to the attractions mentioned. The discount travel company worked with the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation to compile the itinerary and collect images to include in the marketing piece, which includes mentions of Napoleon House, the National D-Day Museum, the Old U.S. Mint, the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar, Contemporary Arts Center, Audubon Zoo, Camellia Grill, Preservation Hall, Mardi Gras World, Mid City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl and a slew of other historic and popular destinations in the area.
Travelers Advantage offers its members savings on air travel, car rental, cruises and hotel accommodations and cash-back bonuses for travel booked through the service. It offers a three-month trial membership for $1 and a yearlong membership for $89.99.
- Shucker Paul Curry shows how to force a shell to release New Orleans' favorite mollusk for raw oysters on the half-shell at Acme Oyster House.