With its traffic light commas, U-turn clauses and fender bender parentheticals (!#?*!!), the 2-mile band of pavement that runs between I-10 and Lake Pontchartrain in Kenner can work the nerves like a run-on sentence. Or so I hear. For a food forager, riding Williams Boulevard is a yellow brick road that doesn't stop at the Emerald City but goes all the way around the world.
I discovered green tea mochi ice cream during my first spree at Asian Gourmet Market, which was the last time I ventured out to this culturally rich boulevard without a cooler. Product additions (jasmine Jell-O!) and an expanded produce section (lychees!) narrow the aisles further with each visit, but the market somehow maintains boot-camp order. Potstickers and green bean popsicles stand at attention within side-by-side vertical freezers. Pickled daikon and preserved bamboo bask in the hygienic glow of refrigerated shelving, while whole mackerel and opaque squid chill on crushed ice.
It takes discipline to leave Asian Gourmet with space in the cooler, and it likewise aches to bypass a snack at Yutaro, the adjacent Japanese restaurant where stoic female cooks create noodle bowls pretty enough to sit for portraits. My current favorite is a wintry stew involving strapping, pencil-thick udon noodles in a mustard-yellow curry gravy, nibbles of beef suspended throughout, wilted greens and a hard-cooked egg hovering on the surface.
Meanwhile, six lanes over, Mr. Gyros always sounds a little too ordinary, considering the effort it takes to get out here. Yet I've enjoyed more crisp Greek salads rife with soft feta cheese and awash in garlic-intensive jaziki sauce than probably anything else on this strip. It also has the area's definitive moussaka.
Maxim is visible from just beyond Mr. Gyros, its sign's imposing block letters a blood-red summons from Georgia Avenue. Novelist and food forager Poppy Z Brite, who turned me onto this Eastern European restaurant, heralded one of her own evenings at Maxim as good enough for fiction. The building's former identity, as El Patio, lingers surreally in the decor; dazzling borscht is dazzling borscht whether you're gazing upon a fresco of bucolic Mexico or sitting in the center of St. Petersburg's Palace Square. A related market, Eastern European Delicacy, is just a pelmini toss away. Norma's Sweets Bakery, an outpost for Central American pastries, cinnamon-rich rice pudding, decorated sheet cakes and fantastic foil-wrapped Honduran tamales made by "some lady who brings them in," also hunkers down on Georgia Avenue.
Cruising further lakeward, I submit a quiet namaste to the short-lived Peacock Indian restaurant, which has been razed and replaced with a trailer housing a bank. Soon enough Kenner Supermarket surfaces, quick to salvage spirits with the breathtaking beef short ribs in its carniceria, iced frescos naturales like tamarindo and horchata, and bowls of sopa de caracol, a coconut-conch soup redolent of the islands with starchy lumps of yuca and green banana.
Each call to this part of Kenner uncovers fresh sanguinity. Once it was the five-spice-seasoned frog legs at Asian Super Buffet. Last month, Kased Brothers Halal Meat market appeared out my passenger window to reveal exactly what this neighborhood has been missing: a Palestinian butcher!
An old man with soft blue eyes and a stick of smoldering incense in each fist directed me through his grocery's short aisles to the meat counter, which answers cravings for just about any part of a lamb or a goat. This man and his family raise the animals on a farm in Mississippi, then make fresh coldcuts there and ... . A ruckus outside interrupted his story as his wife and a troupe of grandsons unloaded from one vehicle and his son pulled up in a refrigerator truck beside them. It took two butchers to haul several whole sides of newly butchered calf inside. Shucks. I had already filled the cooler.
I usually motor to the end of Williams Boulevard, beyond the pony stables and the lonely Circle K, before looping back toward I-10 and grabbing a pupusa or three at La Macarena. This bitsy storefront restaurant was the site of my first multi-course Salvadoran feast: griddle-browned pupusas, refried black beans, fried yucca con chicharron, roasted turkey on a French roll, garlic prawns with saffron rice, fresh tamarind and blackberry juices. It was also in La Macarena that I first overheard a proud local calling his Kenner "K-Town." I think it has a worldly ring.
- Cheryl Gerber
- Asian Super Buffet is just one stop on the international food tour that is Williams Boulevard.