When Worlds Collide
Before Chow, Baby can explain how putting a Copeland’s in Southlake Town Square’s Hilton Hotel violates the most basic laws of nature, it must first introduce a vocabulary word.
“Yat” – from the traditional greeting “Where y’at?,” meaning “How are you today?” – refers both to the predominant New Orleans dialect and to the main socioeconomic group that speaks it, which as socioeconomic groups go is fairly low on the ladder. But “Yat” also implies a state of mind: that what’s really important in life is pleasing the senses, preferably right this instant. Apply this to art, music, dancing, eating, anything but your day job (if you bother to have one), and you have the very culture of New Orleans.
For Yats, obesity, heart attacks, and bad skin are small prices to pay for eating huge quantities of delicious grease and sugar your whole life (which for many Yats isn’t a long time). Yat cuisine is your everyday New Orleans food: po-boys, red beans, gumbo, blackened dis-n-dat, deep-fried swimps and ersters, bread pudding, and the like. The Yat fast food is Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits, which Al Copeland founded in New Orleans in the 1970s.
In the 1980s Copeland launched Copeland’s, a mid-priced, sit-down restaurant chain featuring slightly dumbed-down versions of the foods Chow, Baby grew up (and grew out) on. It’s sort of a Yat Olive Garden. So the very idea of “Upscale Yat” boggles the mind. The self-proclaimed “Famous New Orleans Restaurant and Bar” at the Hilton certainly doesn’t look like any Yat hangout that Chow, Baby’s been to. On the classy hand, you’ve got the swanky Hilton lobby, then a fancy-lit bar, then a cushy dining room with a maitre d’, thick red drapes, a steakhouse hush, and Jonathan, who clearly has been through extensive perfect-waiter training. (His thumbs never touch the plates!) On the Yat hand, you have ridiculously huge portions of artery-clogging food. “Copeland’s Famous Fried Seafood Platter” ($21.99) wasn’t as spicy as at home, but the oysters, shrimp, crawfish tails, and catfish were beautifully golden-fried. How huge a portion, you ask? Well, after Chow, Baby and the beloved had eaten all we could, you couldn’t tell the platter had even been picked at.
Of course, we had other calorific stuff too. Shrimp and tasso pasta ($15.49) was a treat; the shrimp had been sautéed with the bits of heavily smoked Cajun ham, then tossed with Parmesan-creamy sauce and bowtie pasta. We ate almost half of that. And we had several bites of the eggplant pirogue (bonus vocabulary word: Cajuns and Yats say “pee-roe”; it’s like a canoe), boat-shaped breaded-and-fried eggplant smothered in cheese sauce and topped with shrimp ($16.49). Just as we were self-congratulating on stopping before we died a Yat death, Jonathan arrived with our Cheesecake Napoleon Bananas Foster ($6.99). Because you know, if cheesecake is fattening and cake is fattening, the only thing to do is sandwich them together and pour syrup on top. It was fabulous.
Yes, the food was fine, the prices were reasonable (the lunch menu is even cheaper), the service was fantastic, the chairs were comfortable. Chow, Baby is never going again. There’s the world of expensive napkins (investing for the long term) and the world of greasy fingers (living for today), and like sliders at a gourmet restaurant or hot wings at a formal wedding, some culture clashes simply offend the senses.
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