I’ve been a patron of chef Adolfo Garcia since he opened Rio Mar in New Orleans way back in 2000. I routinely told friends visiting that the good cook was putting out the best ceviche in the city, and he had a tiny, hot muffaletta on the menu that was the best in town.
I still have fever dreams about that sandwich in spite of the fact that it was roughly 1/10th the size of the world-beater at Terranova Bros. Superette.
Garcia opened Primitivo back in the Spring of this year and local eaters and critics have been foaming at the mouth at the kitchen’s output ever since. This happens when you have men with skills cooking meat over fire and serving cold draft beer to go with it.
Primitivo in a weird way is a linear descendant of Podner’s, the old Central City smokehouse that had a half-century run til Katrina flat shut it down.
Before the lynch mob forms let me explain.
If you want a restaurant to succeed you need to be prepared to serve your neighbors. That’s what Podner’s did; wrestling saucy spare-ribs out of aluminum steam pans and selling them cheap to the folks who lived within walking distance.
And that’s what Primitivo is doing too. At $1.50 a bone you can have a decent meal here for under $5. Tack a cold pint of beer on and you still get out for under $10.
If you’re a high roller or wooing your buddy’s floozy aunt who’s in town for the weekend you can shell out nearly $60 for a big steak too. The economics of scale are at work here.
Woody the barman is on his game. The minute I sit down he tell me about the dirt cheap ribs and also explains the rest of the happy hour deals. I order a glass of Brown Shugga Ale and am promptly delivered a full pint of this beast.
At nearly 10% alcohol I realize pacing will be important at Primitivo.
I’ve got more eating to do later so I limit my rib order to a brace of three.
The ribs come, like Podner’s, fully sauced and sliding right off the bone. Unlike Podner’s, the sauce is a mustard-base. I ask the barman about this and he tells me that the cooks change it up all the time.
If you’ve ever eaten barbecue around Columbia, South Carolina you’ll be familiar with this style of sauce. I’ve never seen it served in New Orleans where sweet, tomato-based concoctions are the order of the day.
I was cracking open Heinekens for an elderly Black man the other day in Central City where I work. We were talking about the changing nature of the neighborhood and he said as far as he was concerned it couldn’t happen fast enough. He told me about a gambling house around the corner where the girls were ‘selling cat’ and you might catch a bullet if you won too much money.
As new businesses continue to open in Faubourg Livaudais (boundaries: Felicity Street, 9th Street, the Mississippi and Lasalle) I wonder how the long-term residents will react? If you can establish a niche on your menu where regular folks can grab a few barbecue ribs or a big bowl of Ya-Ka-Mein without breaking the bank something tells me you’ll do just fine.
If you muscle out the blue collar residents with nothing but high dollar cuisine then you may go down on the ash-heap of other restaurants that came into blue collar neighborhoods and flamed out.
Feed the people. All the people.
1800 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd
New Orleans, LA
Hours of operation
Monday 11:30 AM – 10:00 PM
Tuesday 11:30 AM – 10:00 PM
Wednesday 11:30 AM – 10:00 PM
Thursday 11:30 AM – 10:00 PM
Friday 11:30 AM – 10:00 PM
Saturday 5:00 – 10:00 PM