Before I went on my recent 5C’s excursion, I must confess, I hadn’t been to the place for a good 10 years. My absence had nothing to do with the food — it still kicks, big time — and everything to do with graduating from college and moving out of my parents’ house in the early ’80s. I’d been wandering the L.A. universe since then, trying on careers like ill-fitting hats, moving in and out of various corners of the county sprawl. In the process I had sorely neglected my home base of Inglewood/Crenshaw — I came around faithfully enough but started driving past everything, like a visitor.
The 5C’s is about as home-base for me as it gets. It’s a nicely souped-up New Orleans fish market that’s been owned by the same family, the Castilles (hence the C’s), since it opened in 1970. It happened to be my grandmother Elzina’s favorite place to dine out — no small distinction, since my grandmother was maybe 5 foot even, 100 pounds, and a notoriously birdlike eater who rarely voiced preferences for any restaurant. On fish-Friday evenings, my grandmother, my parents, me and perhaps a sibling or two trekked down to the restaurant at 54th Street and Second Avenue, in the southeast stretch of the Crenshaw district, to partake of snapper, oyster loaf, shrimp loaf and many other dishes New Orleans. Not to crow, but my family is about the livest New Orleans connection in town; all the generations before me on both my parents’ sides hail from the Crescent City, and the 5C’s is its reincarnated heart in L.A., evidence that the parish of the South was left behind, but not entirely lost. I loved the 5C’s; modest as the place was, I luxuriated in it, soaked it up like warmed wedges of French bread soaked up butter. Seafood places were de rigueur for Elzina, but I was a local creature who delighted in not only the food, but the red-vinyl booths, the screen door, the ceiling fan battling the close, fish-suffused air — markers of a South that, despite all the history and stories I’d heard, was more myth to me than anything.
Little about the place has changed, but what has changed is for the better. The lobby is big and airy and brick-colored. I stepped up to the takeout window, where a chef in a white paper cap immediately drawled something to the effect of, Darlin’, you’re a sight for sore eyes. I gave him a big smile and put in my order for catfish fillets. The dining room is refurbished, the result of a year and a half of remodeling completed last year — bigger booths, newer tables, a sleek television mounted on one wall. The screen door is there, though it’s augmented by an iron grate. Homer Castille, recently retired from the Sheriff’s Department, runs the place now with his brother, Saleh. Their father, one of the original five founding C’s, died in 1990; a cousin who was instrumental in running the restaurant for about 20 years moved back to New Orleans last year. But the Castilles keep the restaurant very much a family place by always having relatives in their employ — Homer’s son, a niece, a cousin. The 5C’s still turns out nonpareil Louisiana specialties like butterflied shrimp and filé gumbo and hot sausage, though the fish, with its flavorful meat and finely ground crust of cornmeal and spice, is worth making a special trip for. I made it (barely 15 minutes from my current corner of the city, I must admit) and took my order home. There I had a family meal with my younger sister; we gorged on catfish, hushpuppies, potato salad (slightly creamy, the only way I like it) and French bread. It was Tuesday instead of Friday, and I was home, not Home. But Elzina lived. 2329 W. 54th St.; (323) 298-9313.