In a week that seemed to bring nothing but bad news comes this new sadness: The Verti Marte, the legendary grocery and takeout spot on Royal Street in the lower French Quarter, burned last night. (Pix of the destruction taken by French Quarter blogger Bigezbear here, here and here.)

"Real Food for Real People at Real Prices" was the motto, and that was the truth; if you lived in the Lower Quarter -- as I used to -- you depended on the Verti Marte for everything: take-out plate lunches and bags of chips, BC headache powders and Dr Pepper, Hubig's Pies and ice cream bars. It was the place you went to get a bottle of water on a hot day or a bottle of wine to carry across the street to Mona Lisa.

You never knew who you'd be pressed up against in the Verti Marte's impossibly crowded aisles: laborers and drag queens, wide-eyed visitors and crusty locals, rich folks and poor folks. Brad and Angelina bought smokes there and took their kids there for treats. I've waited on line there with Harry Shearer, Henri Schindler and Hoda Kotb (who was returning from a morning jog in pants so tight that every man in the store burst out laughing when she left). And behind the counter, nearly always, was Sam -- Sam, I've never learned your last name -- who had an Elvis quiff and the patience of a saint, no matter what was transpiring on the other side of his register.

And the food -- getting a butcher paper-and-masking taped po-boy or a Styrofoam container of entree-plus-two-sides from the deli workers was as quintessential a New Orleans experience as eating at Commander's or Dooky's. Who hasn't had an "All That Jazz" (ham, turkey AND shrimp, topped with "WOW" sauce) or my favorite, the "Royal Feast" ("cheese capped grilled and stacked roast beef, turkey & ham complimented with hot pepper cheese, black olives, grilled onions and our original "WOW Sauce")?

The phone at Verti Marte has been busy all morning, but one of our readers who's been over there sent us this Flickr photo set (it's heartbreaking). If there's any good news in this, it's this caption on one of his photos: "I talked to the owner and she said they will definitely rebuild. And she wouldn't give up the WOW sauce recipe."

Sam and our Verti Marte friends: if you need any help, you'll have hundreds of hungry friends waiting to lend a hand.