When I was six or seven my older brother and I were making our own droplines – one by two piece of lumber, fishing line, a sinker, bobber, hook and earthworms dug from under the slate tiles Dad laid beneath the gutter then we were off catching pan fish from the dock at “the lake.” I knew how to thread a worm onto a hook, wipe the castings onto my shorts and wiggle a fish off. I moved up to a bamboo pole and fished off the “forbidden bridge” that was for the rich folks who lived on the island. Then there was a dearth of fresh fish in my life until I met Bob and learned how to spin cast, and, better, use a fly rod.
I confess I have never cleaned a fish and peel my shrimp and crawfish myself only because I married into southern Louisiana, but I love the sort of restaurants that look as though the fish have been beheaded, gutted and fileted on the patron tables just before opening for the business day. And they all do serve fish, caught right out their back doors. So, for all I know, the tables could be scarred from filet knives, oiled with the fat from what we will eat later that night.
The first place we found was Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina, which isn’t strictly a dive, being part of the Taos Ski Valley complex, but their staff do look like they could gut the fish right at your table and you, too, if you don’t watch it. The outside looks deceptively respectable. Inside, it meets our requirements – inch thick scarred wood tables and benches, and a now aging staff and matching customers who ride Harleys their lawyer and medical practices buy. We pretend to be what we were, Dylan, Stones and Grateful Dead still play on the radio, we dress and play like we did “back in the day,” though we couldn’t afford then what we pay for now. After my hysterectomy, as I was dressed for discharge, my GYN walked in and I was wearing Tim’s shirt. Doc cracked up – he thought my T-shirt said Tim’s Spayed Dog Cantina. I’ve thought maybe they could do a special edition for women like me.
Years ago we spent the week of New Year’s on Sparky’s patio with visquine, wood stoves, well seasoned tuna and plenty of beer to keep us warm. The last time we were there, we were disappointed to see that the rough edges were not exactly gone but, well, cushioned, a reminder that the clientele is aging.
At least Fat Boy’s in Manchac is what it has always been (three tables and fried seafood) or was until Hurricane Isaac. My only visit included the whole Louisiana family of that particular generation – Cousin Al, Janie, Gail and my husband and our host son, Timour, from Belguim, who we thought needed an introduction to the Cajun version of French and Cousin Al who took us next door to the bait shop to introduce us to the first man who ever arrested him, his friend, the retired game warden.
Even when I’m in town, when others head for Starbucks, I’m at the downtown coffee shop with the pitted concrete floor, the fly swatter in the corner, the eclectic clientele (where they will tell you what meds they are on and you know without being told if their dose needs adjustment) and when I walk in, the barista has my order filled before I get to the counter.