Taking the Bait!

By John-Bryan Hopkins
MyRecipes-LiveBait-Image On a recent trip to New York City, I found myself searching for some semblance of home. And for me, home is anything that says The South. I love Manhattan—the lights, the sounds, and the smells, but like Dorothy says, “There’s no place like home.” In the shadow of the Flatiron Building, I see it: an old Coca-Cola sign with the words “Live Bait” scrolled across it. In the window, promises of beer and BBQ beckon. I can almost taste the sweet tea with a hint of lemon and smell the smoky spices in the air. As I cross the restaurant’s threshold, I’m struck by the authenticity. I feel like I am walking into my beloved Wintzell’s Oyster House in Mobile. Neon beer signs, bumper stickers, and old car tags—it’s all here. The only thing missing is the cigarette smoke (no great loss). As a kindly waitress led me to my table, I half-expected to hear a Southern accent. She wasn’t the real thing, but my drawl quickly assured her that my roots are planted below the Mason-Dixon line.

With a beer and sweet tea on its way, I set my sights on some down-home cooking. First to arrive were hush puppies and crab fritters with a spicy rémoulade. It’s hard to mess up fried cornmeal batter, so I wasn’t surprised when they proved to be very close to what I find at home.  The real test would be the BBQ. Just thinking about BBQ makes my mouth water and sends me back to Homewood, where you can smell Demetri’s from a mile away. Mouth watering, I ordered a pulled-pork plate with coleslaw. Unfortunately, the meat lacked that wonderful hickory flavor, and the BBQ sauce tasted as if it came straight from the bottle. The coleslaw was only OK. Not terrible, but just shy of home. Even though the BBQ didn’t transport me back to the South, the experience, atmosphere, and crab fritters made it well worth the stop. (I even took some fritters back to my hotel; they were that good.)

I am always intrigued by perceptions of my home when I’m far away from it. Live Bait is about as close to authentic as you can get in the Big Apple. After speaking with some of the staff and patrons, I found that the place is a guilty pleasure for a lot of New Yorkers. They love the food and the relaxed mood Live Bait projects. I guess it proves that not only can you find a little bit of home when you are out of town, but that most people appreciate a little Southern style—even in the big city.