by Cheryl Baehr
So about those "famous red beans & rice" on the menu at Evangeline's Bistro and Music House (512 North Euclid Avenue; 314-367-3644)...
Needless to say, Don Bailey didn't just pull the recipe out of a cookbook. According to the owner, the recipe was gifted to him by a "little, old Southern lady" in a Baton Rouge food line. Bailey's tale is epic: Hurricane Katrina, a through-the-night drive to New Orleans, National Guardsmen and his Trojan horse-style break into the city. It's fantastic, really, but Bailey doesn't feel comfortable talking about it. "I don't want people thinking I used a tragic event to sell a business," he says. "I never really wanted recognition for it."
We will spare Bailey most of the details of his awesome tale, but the abridged version finds the restaurateur in Baton Rouge, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As Bailey puts it, he didn't really know how he was going to help, but he knew he had to get to Louisiana.
"I have so many friends in New Orleans. I have been going down there for years to play music and know so many people there."
Bailey ended up in Baton Rouge, cooking on a food line in a church parking lot, and struck up a friendship with one of the storm victims. As Bailey tells it, the woman was a regular visitor to the food line. "We got to talking and ended up having many long conversations about everything, the food, music, the storm, the swamp, everything. One day, she came back and handed me an old yellow piece of legal-sized paper." Bailey could tell that she had been hanging onto it for a long time and wanted to give it to him as a token of gratitude. "She said it was Louis Armstrong's recipe for red beans and rice. It was his absolute favorite dish, and this was his personal recipe. I couldn't believe it."
We asked Bailey if he can send us a picture of that dog-eared recipe and we'll post it if he finds it. It's an amazing tale, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. Head to Evangeline's for happy hour, and maybe he'll tell you all about it, over a plate of red beans and rice, of course.