Crawfish And Okra And Grits Oh My!

In October of 2001, a month after the tragedy at The World Trade Center, the financial district of Manhattan was a ghost town and my buddy Martin Kay was about to get married. Attempting to feed two birds with one piece of bread (I really dislike the other more ubiquitous “two birds…one stone” expression), we planned a bachelor party dinner at a restaurant near Liberty Street. Marty would get the celebration, the restaurant would get the business. Everyone would benefit.

Fast-forward almost a decade and this country is in the wake of another kind of disaster. The nastiness that spewed from BP’s oil spill in the Gulf region left a mess that is still felt by many restaurants specializing in Cajun and New Orleans style dishes. We’ve become wary of seafood from that area and probably for good reason. Down goes business and up goes problems for the families who own these businesses. Now the truth is that regulations are too strict to allow any kind of contamination into the world and there is more than one place to find shrimp. But we the fearful don’t always act sensibly. We the fearful balk. We stay at home and watch the news. We go to Maine for crustaceans (not that that’s a bad thing at all), head north for the winter.

If you know anything at all about Gulf Coast cooking in the metropolitan area, you probably have already heard of Mara’s Homemade, the little family-owned restaurant in the East Village. You probably have heard about the crawfish boils and lobster rolls, the authentic ingredients and the long wait time on orders because everything is prepared fresh. Maybe you’ve tasted the irresistible char-grilled oysters on the half shell or straight-from-Louisiana alligator bites. Or maybe it’s the po boys, the jambalaya or the hurricanes that have gotten your attention. Perhaps it’s the Saints games in HD.

But what you may not have heard about is that Mara’s Homemade, and other restaurants specializing in southern Creole and Cajun cuisine, have seen more than a little decline in business these days. They’re tough and they would never show it, but they can use a few new fans or old friends. That’s one bird. This article…well…it’s the piece of bread in the aforementioned analogy. Roll it up, put it in your pocket and bring along a bird of your own. Mara’s got a table waiting for you.

alan semerdjian

Alan Semerdjian is a writer, musician, English teacher, and occasional visual artist. Besides LI Pulse, his work has appeared in Newsday, Adbusters, Chain, The Lyric Review and numerous other print and online publications, anthologies, and chapbooks. His first full-length book of poetry is In the Architecture of Bone (Genpop Books 2009). You can visit him digitally at and find out about his music at