Anthony Bourdain shocked the world when he hung himself a few weeks back. But fame, money, and brilliance — nothing, in fact — is a match for the curse of clinical depression. When it carries you to its darkest spaces, reason is extinguished. There is nothing but pain, which is as real as any crippling pain that can affect the body. You want to end the pain. Dying isn’t the point.
Bourdain was a strange character and had a sense of humor, so I don’t think he’d mind my saying that we both took the only antidepressant that works: Popeyes fried chicken. I have loved it for most of the 30 years I’ve reviewed food. I confess I enjoyed annoying foodies by frequently chronicling my experience at the Popeyes on Boulevard in Midtown, where the service is comically awful.
The super-crunchy, spicy fried chicken is best accompanied with red beans and rice that are seriously as good as you’ll find at any “real” Cajun restaurant. The biscuits are fat, flaky, buttery, and love to be swabbed with honey. Try the mac and cheese. Bourdain loved it, but I find it pretty meh. You abdicate all rights to complain if you do not follow one rule: You must check your order before you leave, even if people are honking at you in the drive-through lane. They fuck up my order easily 25 percent of the time.
Bourdain’s thing was exploring the link between food and culture and he knew that epic taste doesn’t have to be expensive. Cheap eateries have always been my thing. Here are a few other recommendations:
El Rey del Taco
This place is great fun and is open really late. I won’t lie: Despite the name — “king of the taco” — there are better tacos in the city, but El Rey has a huge menu that is great for people in the mood to experiment with authentic Mexican fare. Be careful with the grilled jalapenos. Merely licking one caused my friend Frank so much psychosomatic trauma that he has yet to heal after three years.
5258 Buford Hwy
Eats makes everyone’s list. The jerk chicken is better than you’ll find at many Jamaican restaurants, and you get to pair it with yo’ mama’s veggies. I get the collards, black-eyed peas, and the whole sweet potato. There’s also pasta.
600 Ponce de Leon
This tiny Latin café is, duh, all about fruit – mixed in large cups, blended into smoothies, and tossed in salads. There are also fantastic sandwiches, including the city’s best grilled-cheese. The owner is the descendant of Mexican orchard owners and a graphic designer. No, your fruit is not psychedelic. The place just really looks that way.
590 Auburn Ave
Chef Liu Ri’s restaurant is worth a drive, wherever you live. He was quite famous in China and his sublime cuisine spans three regional styles, including spicy Sichuan. I have rarely tasted food — especially not at this low price — with so many layers of startling flavor. It’s been over a year since I’ve visited, but I still yearn for that perfectly knifed block of pork belly in a dark sauce based on an earthy wine. Go!
3940 Buford Hwy
And, please, if you are suffering depression, find help. Talk to a therapist. Talk to a friend. Talk to a pastor. Call a hotline. If substance abuse is involved, go to AA or NA. (I’ll convene a meeting at Popeyes.) If you are depressed and own a gun, I beg you: Give it to a friend for safekeeping.