About a month ago, Mara's Homemade, a really wonderful and unique restaurant, closed its doors after 7 1/2 years. The owners of Mara's lost their lease, no longer able to afford the rent at their space on 6th Street between 1st and 2nd.
Mara's was an amazing place. It was a family restaurant, with Mara (the Chef) and her daughter serving and taking orders, Mara's husband acting as Maitre D at the front door, and Mara's son behind the bar (making some mighty strong Hurricanes). The food was delicious: authentic New Orleans and Southern fare with ingredients often shipped directly from Louisiana. There was a crawfish boil, smoked brisket, spicy blue crab, Louisiana oysters on the half shell and jambalaya. This was the real deal. And it wasn't only the food that made this place special--when you walked in the door, you became a part of the Mara's homemade family. We had many big, drunken celebration dinners at Mara's. There was really no place like it.
I went to Mara's for one last time a few days before the closing. As always, Mara's husband greeted me at the door and Mara's daughter led me to the table. I ordered the special of Blue Crabs in Spicy Boil with Stewed Collard Greens.
The crabs arrived on a big serving tray. I tore off the legs and cracked them open, pulling out the long strands of sweet, tender meat. It was so delicious. After about 20 minutes, I was left with 4 large crab bodies and a graveyard of pulverized crab legs. I stared blankly at the bodies as a terrifying realization swept over me: I had no idea what to do with the rest of the crab! Was there anything to eat in the heads? And if so, how do I get to it?
Very timidly, I whispered over to Mara's daughter as she walked by: "Um, excuse me. I know this is so embarrassing. But is there anything to EAT in there?"
"Of course!" She exclaimed. She pointed out a little flap conveniently located on the belly. I pulled it up and tugged--the bottom of the crab pulled off like a trap door, revealing a treasure trove of snowy white meat. I almost hugged Mara's daughter. Then I dug in.
Halfway through my second crab, I noticed that one of the people at the table next to ours was staring at me. I thought for sure it was because I was covered in crab. I was eating like a 2 year old. I sheepishly wiped my mouth with the back of my crab covered hand.
But then the guy spoke, laughing: "I see you're having trouble with that crab. Do you want me to show you how to eat it?"
He was just about to demonstrate the art of crab-destruction when Mara's daughter walked by again. "I'm sorry!" she said, "I didn't realize you were so new at this! Why don't you let me help you." Before I knew it, Mara's daughter had plunged her hands into my plate, picking up each crab (including the ones I had already dealt with) and expertly opening the trap door and exposing that dense and delicious pocket of meat. In seconds, she had opened every single one, leaving me a feast in her wake.
That's what Mara's homemade was all about. Eating delicious blue crab, hand cracked by your waitress, drinking a lethal Hurricane out of a gigantic glass, dousing collard greens with tangy vinegar, listening to awesome New Orleans jazz music. Mara's Homemade was one of a kind. I miss it already. (Luckily, they have since reopened in Syosset, NY. It may be a trek to get there. But believe me, it's worth it.)