Domilise’s becomes a po-boy legend

Hidden in a quiet uptown neighborhood, with no windows, one small hand-painted sign, and wood paneling that defines the word “weathered,” stands one of the most unknown yet well-known sandwich shops in the big easy. At Domilise’s, on the corner of Annunciation and Bellecastle, you can have the best po boys in New Orleans, if you can find it.

The smell of fried seafood accosts you immediately upon entering. Several family members work contently behind the counter. Fresh baked French bread as long as a baseball bat protrudes from brown paper bags. Local shrimp and oysters are being fried by the handful until golden, and then meticulously stacked onto the bread, topped with shaved lettuce, pickles and mayo.

The small room is filled with memorabilia showing its age. Old beer cans, Barq’s root beer signs, Tabasco bottles, baby pictures, prom pictures of possibly the same people, and more wood paneling. In the corner, an old jukebox, most likely pumping out some Dr. John or Fats Domino. Most of the decor appears to have been there since they opened. In the back of the room, there is a door leading to the rest of the house, this is where the owner, Dorothy Domilise, or Dot, lives.

Dot and her husband Sam inherited the restaurant/house from Sam’s father, who opened the restaurant over 80 years ago. Sam died in 1981, and since then Dot has been the “Guardian of the Tradition.” Dot has lived in the house and operated the sandwich shop for almost 67 years. Without Dot, Domilise’s would most likely no longer exist. Thankfully, Dot has kept the tradition alive and plans on doing so forever.

Everyone that walks in the door is treated like family. Most of the customers are local uptowners. Many were brought to Domilise’s by their parents when they were kids, and now bring their kids. It’s not uncommon to see Dot conversing with multiple generations of one family, all in for a Saturday lunch together. It is obvious the customers mean a lot to Dot. She cried when some of her favorite students graduated and left New Orleans.

Dot has lived in New Orleans since 1943, and never plans on leaving. Dot grew up on a plantation in Southern Louisiana in the 20s. She met her husband Sam when she would visit her aunt and uncle in New Orleans. She later moved to New Orleans, and fell in love with the city. She plans on spending the rest of her life there.

That was before hurricane Katrina. In the early morning on August 29, 2005, hurricane Katrina made landfall on the gulf coast leaving a path of death and destruction forcing nearly half a million people out of their homes.

Dot was forced to evacuate to Alabama and then Franklin, LA where she grew up. Domilise’s was closed for months. She returned to find her restaurant and house much like her life at the time, in shambles.

Dot decided to stay and rebuild with the support of her family.

The smell of the rotting food in the coolers smelled like dead bodies according to Patti Domilise, Dot’s daughter-in-law, who now helps run the restaurant.

Many that has returned have said that one of the most horrifying parts of cleaning after Katrina was the smell of food that had been sitting for months without electricity. Despite the food funk, the family kept working every day towards reopening.

“Luckily, we didn’t have to do anything to the wood furniture,” said Dot. No doubt, the weathered furniture now better compliments the overall décor.

After replacing all the equipment and spending a lot of time cleaning mold, the restaurant was up and running again. Much like the rest of the city, things were starting to get back to normal.

Now, if you talk to a native, they will most likely tell you how well the city has recovered. The crime rate is down since Katrina, and the murder rate has dropped 15 percent.

Recently voted the greenest city in America, New Orleans has become the fastest growing city in the country as well. Thousands of evacuees and opportunistic investors have migrated to New Orleans each year since the storm. New construction is happening around every corner.

The city looks “maybe a little better now,” says Dot.

Most of the acclaimed restaurants have returned. Camellia Grill, another favorite among locals, was covered in hundreds of come-back-soon/we-miss-you post-it notes before it finally reopened its doors. Locals are loyal, and they take their food seriously.

In New Orleans, life is for enjoyment. This outlook on life played a large part in the decision by many to return. For Dot, it was an easy decision.

“There is no place like it,” said Dot. “It’s home.”

She never plans on leaving the city she loves again. Domilise’s business is as good as ever.

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~ by Anotherfoodbloghuh? on February 10, 2011.

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