I’m not cooking gumbo for playwright Tennessee Williams. Instead, I’m taking him to The Gumbo Shop at 630 St. Peter, which happens to be right next door to 632½ St. Peter in New
Orleans’ French Quarter. That’s where he wrote most of A Streetcar Named Desire. He even borrowed the house number “632” for Stanley and Stella Kowalski’s fictional Elysian Fields address. Besides, letting Tennessee Williams order for himself will be much easier than narrowing down his culinary favorites. (Okay, call me lazy but read on).
Troy Gilbert wrote an entire book titled Dinner with Tennessee Williams: Recipes and Stories Inspired by America’s Southern Playwright. He begins with Williams’ favorite Galatoire’s meal of mustard greens with bacon fat, and then continues with recipes derived from Williams’ plays including street vendor tamales, Grilled Pork Medallions, Yam Croute and Pepper Jelly, Big Daddy’s Braised Double- Cut Pork Chops, Grilled Watermelon, Pickled Carrots, Grapes, and Romaine Salad with Watermelon Cracklin’s. And Williams liked grits, according to Literary Eats Cookbook which includes a grits recipe in his honor. In Argentina, Chef Dan Perlman, who runs a “closed door” restaurant in Buenos Aires, offered a Tennessee Williams evening menu featuring gumbo and sweet potatoes. Diane Holloway writes in Authors’ Favorite Recipes and Reflections on Food that Williams was fond of café au lait and croissants. Several cooking sites include recipes for his favorite lemon ice box pie. And, of course, Williams enjoyed alcohol — plenty of it — especially two New Orleans favorites – Ramos Gin Fizz and Brandy Alexander.
Since Williams called New Orleans his spiritual home and literally put New Orleans on the
literary map, I feel confident in selecting a restaurant next door to one the six (at least) places he lived in New Orleans. The two-story on St. Peter, according to Angela Carll’s Where Writers Wrote in New Orleans, rented for $150 a month, furnished; he lived in the townhouse from October 1946 to March 1947. Here he heard the rumble and rattle of the street car which inspired the title of his Pulitzer Prize winning play. Here, too, he transformed from Thomas Lanier Williams to “Tennessee” Williams. He wrote from the top-level writing room enjoying the skylight. The house still stands , right next to The Gumbo Shop.
Of course, all his New Orleans haunts are featured on tours now, or you can take a walking tour yourself through the Quarter to see where he wrote – 429 Royal St., 722 Toulouse, 727 Toulouse, 710 Orleans, and 1014 Dumaine. Here’s a terrific video of his last house on Dumaine filmed to promote the Tennessee Williams Festival. To see where he lived outside the Quarter, take the streetcar to the renovated Pontchartrain Hotel on 2031 St. Charles.
After your tour, if you’re hungry return to The Gumbo Shop, and if it’s hot, order a po-boy, in remembrance of A Streetcar Named Desire. The 1929 sandwich invention came as a result of the New Orleans streetcar conductors’ labor troubles—poor boys.