Huîtres Variées

Earlier this month, I posted a brief reflection on John Howard Griffin. Often my mind floats back to his seminal book Black Like Me, nudged there by something I see, or hear, or smell – the language of the book is simple but evocative, and I have read it so often that many paragraphs are always close to the surface of my memory.

One such bit comes to mind when I think of New Orleans, which I have never visited but once, briefly, of an early morning while driving from Los Angeles to Key West in the summer of 1972. I stopped in at a little greasy spoon for breakfast, somewhere close to Interstate 10, possibly in the midst of the area destroyed by Katrina, but far from the French Quarter, which I know of only by hearsay and the Disney-esque reproductions that one sees from time to time.

Griffin wrote, “At Broussard’s, I had supper in a superb courtyard under the stars – huîtres variées, green salad, white wine and coffee; the same meal I had there in past years. I saw everything – the lanterns, the trees, the candlelit tables, the little fountain, as though I were looking through a fine camera lens. Surrounded by elegant waiters, elegant people and elegant food, I thought of other parts of town wher I would live in days to come. Was there a place in new Orleans where a Negro could buy huîtres variées?1

While I speak fluent French, I have never encountered that phrase except in Griffin’s book. I began to wonder what huîtres variées were, because I love seafood (drooling now at the thought of oyster stew and steamed clams at Joseph’s Original Cap’n Cat Clam Bar in Franklinville, NJ, or a huge plate of mixed shellfish eaten at a lakeside restaurant in Torcy, France) and because I would love to try them in honor of Griffin’s life and work. Yet the only hits on the Internet lead back to the book itself or are oblique references; no restaurant seemed to offer the specific dish, except an old menu from Ben Gross restaurant in 1966, horribly misspelled as huîtres variées cheaudes et frôids, and the Grand Hôtel de Maubeuge, on the French border close to Belgium.

I had more luck when I looked up Broussard’s – they’re still there, and it does look like a lovely place to dine.

Copyright photo viewable here.

Broussard’s courtyard by day

The dinner menu at one point offered oysters as a specialty:

Definitely oysters, and prepared in various ways. So if I were a betting man, I’d say that Griffin had something like the Gulf Oyster 2-2-2, and simply chose to give it a French name, or else back in 1961 they had something similar on the menu. Sadly, the dinner menu has changed somewhat and these are no longer featured. Perhaps a seasonal change? I’ll have to keep my eyes open in the spring and summer.

Unless someone can dig up a menu from Broussard’s of that era, we may never know. What I do know is this: I gotta get me down to New Orleans.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

1Griffin, John Howard, Black Like Me, Signet Books, 1960, p. 11

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