The Pizza Kings of New Orleans: How pizzerias like Turtle Bay helped rebuild the Big Easy
PMQ: Melanie Addington
n the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert made a bold proposition. Attempting to restore New Orleans—replete with poverty, corruption and racial division—to its original state “doesn’t make sense to me,” Hastert said, adding, “It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed.”
Hastert wasn’t the only one who felt that way. For months after the hurricane, pundits of all political stripes argued against rebuilding the “sunken city.” Fortunately, those who loved New Orleans weren’t listening. They were too busy hammering nails and repainting walls, bringing their ravaged hometown—warts and all—back to bustling life. And leading the way were enterprising pizzeria operators and chefs who set out to not only rebuild the city but to put their own unique spin on New Orleans cuisine.
On Freret Street alone, two pizzerias have helped transform a once-abandoned neighborhood into a trendy shopping and dining area. And other highly successful pizzerias have sprung up across the city, from the French Quarter to the Bywater District, spurring a renaissance that has revived the area while helping to preserve what makes New Orleans so special.
PMQ recently took a trip down to The Big Easy to check out the pizza scene and chat with many of the city’s top pizzaioli. What we discovered was a thriving culinary subculture that hasn’t been given its due—New Orleans isn’t just about gumbo and beignets anymore. And the city’s pizza boom mirrors a nationwide trend toward locally sourced ingredients, artisan styles, fast-casual convenience and even the use of crowdsourcing to finance a pizzaiolo’s dreams.