NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Restaurants in any other city are just places to eat, but in New Orleans the neighborhood joint is a way of life. In the days following Hurricane Katrina, the delicious food and rich atmosphere of New Orleans restaurants would be an unlikely anchor for recovery in many neighborhoods.
In Lakeview, beyond the 17th Street Canal, when the levee failed that Monday morning in 2005 and floodwaters swamped the neighborhood, many questioned whether the area would ever come back.
But not Sandy Patterson, owner of Dixie Chicken and Ribs.
"I always had hope."
Patterson has owned the restaurant on Harrison and Argonne for 15 years, specializing in Southern home cooking. When the storm hit, her business sat beneath several feet of Katrina's floodwaters.
"It was about 10 feet. it was above the ceiling."
Patterson faced a decision about whether or not to reopen. "Well i said i'm going to bite the bullet and come back and do my best. and hopefully my customers will come back. and everything will be close to the way that it was." But reopening the doors proved to be a tough task. "I had to get in the place-- everything was forced from the water toward the front of the building and i could barely get through the door so i actually had to kick it down."
To get the business back up and running she needed help, and immediately enlisted her old friend, head cook Angie Edmond.
"Yeah she came to my house. she came to Metairie and came and got me. (and said) come to work we need to open back up."
Edmond now presides over a kitchen that whips up a wide variety of southern favorites including homemade gumbo, catfish, and of course fried chicken and ribs.
Describing her menu, Edmond declares "hamburgers, fish, shrimp oysters... whatever they like. this is Dixie Chicken and Ribs. Just like Burger King, you can have whatever you like!"
Edmond's devotion to her friend and boss, Sandy, is obvious.
"I'll do anything for her anything...anything! We're like sisters, really...we're like sisters.
It's a sisterhood that could overcome any obstacle, including the wrath of a devastating hurricane. Loyal patrons couldn't be happier.
In a town with a wide variety of friend chicken, customers say Dixie's stands out above the rest.
Edmond says the secret goes beyond the recipe. "This is family. They love us. That's what keeps them coming back. All of them. This is their home away from home."
The same could be said of Lakeview Harbor, a neighborhood burger joint across Harrison, which has served fresh hamburgers to Lakeview customers since the early 1990's.
Co-owner Shawn Toups says once Katrina hit, the task to rebuild was daunting.
"I pulled the front door open and I looked in--and was amazed and how powerful the water was. Where stuff was...where it was before. Refrigerator upside down. Our draft beer box under the bar was on top of the bar."
Toups reopened his restaurant in February of 2006 with very little fanfare. but a crowd was waiting.
"We opened without telling anybody but still we had a line out the door. It was amazing just how many people, word of mouth... Facebook, MySpace...anything back then they got the word out. we were packed it was pretty insane for the first two weeks...that first night i think we sold 540 burgers."
Cook Dartania Etienne explains what makes the Lakeview Harbor burgers so tasty. "We cut our meat every day. Every morning like two boxes of beef. We cut the fat off it make sure it's legit"
Etienne grew up in the lower ninth ward, one of the areas which sustained the worst of Katrina's flooding. He moved to Texas after Katrina. His heart called him back, when he found out his mother had cancer. He took a job running the grill in 2009 to be close to her before she passed away. "Hey I do the best that I got to do. Try to make the customers happy satisfied...Hey I got to get money in my pocket at the same time."
Toups says Lakeview's burgers are a staple of the menu, but they offer much more.
"We have pizza we have shrimp we have fried oysters fried catfish and all that..but during lent we are still a hamburger place."
and Lakeview Harbor remains a favorite for generations.
Toups says many of the customers who came to the restaurant as kids, now have kids of their own.
The generational love for eating is not limited to the patrons,
At Koz's restaurant Po-boys and Seafood on Harrison, good food runs in the family.
Max Gruenig operates the Lakeview sandwich shop, which has quickly become a neighborhood favorite.
"My Dad says sometimes but there's not a lot of people known by one name...all you have to do is say Koz and people know who it is. So he said let's go with that and the rest is history."
Gruenig's father, known simply to friends and customers as "Koz" owned the famed Po-Boy Bakery in Gentilly before Katrina forced him out.
When max opened the family sandwich shop on Harrison avenue in 2009---he says he was welcomed home with open arms.
"From us being in Gentilly for so long... it's almost like we're never really gone for that long. it was four years we didn't have a store. I mean, three years we didn't have a store in the city, Just having people come in happy to see that you're back in orleans parish, back close has been great."
Gruenig says his customers are so close, they've become family.
"it's kind of like cheers, without the beer".
At Koz's, you never leave hungry. Gruenig says the massive shrimp and roast beef po-boys are big sellers.
"Roast beef is home cooked, the same as we've been cooking it for 50 years. Those po-boys are definitely sellers, but we sell plates. Red beans on Monday is your staple, we have your new orleans staples. Wednesdays is white beans and sausage and fried chicken."
10 years after Katrina, the restaurants along Harrison Avenue have persevered and thrived, by serving hearty meals to a city that's proven it's "all heart."
Lakeview is proof, New Orleans is alive and cooking, beyond Katrina.