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Grappling With Barbecue
Barbecue is lately turning up all over New Orleans, not historically a strong barbecue town. Ernie Ladd's Big Cat Throw-Down BBQ (529 S. Broad St., 821-7866), a bright yellow walk-up shed across from the Orleans Parish courthouse, opened early in January. Ladd, who lives in Franklin according to manager Tiffany Cortes, is a former professional football player and wrestler. The 6-foot-9, 320-pound Ladd played for the Baltimore Colts and Kansas City Chiefs and wrestled such WWF greats such as Junkyard Dog and Andre the Giant. Ladd's barbecue ("It's pretty much his recipe," says Cortes) is slow-smoked over pecan wood on the premises twice a day. For $7.99, the three-meat combo is one of the best deals going. The pork ribs are convincingly smoky and tender (but not too much); the pulled pork I tried was slightly dry and brittle but nevertheless quite good considering the swift service and price. The house barbecue sauce, a "private recipe," is equally sweet and vinegary, touched with tomato but thankfully not a catsup wannabe. Ernie Ladd's is currently open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There's free parking in the rear.


Big Time
Kermit's Swinging B.B.Q. Platter at Big Shirley's (1500 Esplanade Ave., 301-9704), a month-old Treme restaurant, is dedicated to barbecue buff, jazz musician and neighbor Kermit Ruffins. Managing owner Michael Dummett specifically endorses the ribs: "The bones twist right off the meat." Dummett's mother is the restaurant's namesake. "Her thing was the love you got as much as the food you received, and that's what I'm trying to bring to the restaurant," explains Dummett. Chef Robert Holmes, who has cooked all over New Orleans, including at Cafe Degas and Emeril's, carries out Big Shirley's legacy in the kitchen. Besides barbecue, his menu is a mix of soul food (stewed and fried chicken), New Orleans staples (jambalaya and gumbo) and contemporary salads and sandwiches (grilled chicken Cobb salad). Of the open, brick-and-stone space, Dummett says, "I tried to bring SoHo to New Orleans." Customers are already wrangling over the premium window tables. Big Shirley's is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday; brunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday.

Road Trip
Food enthusiasts prompted by warmer weather and post-Mardi Gras antsiness might consider heading out to Sunday's Louisiana Heritage Day at Larose Regional Park in Larose, La. For information, call 985-693-7355 or visit www.mobiletel.com/bayoucivicclub and click on Festivals.

This week's column powered by homemade Sicilian fig and sesame cookies, purchased at Guillory's Grocery & Meat Market in Metairie. -- Roahen

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