New Orleans, Louisiana is a place which overcomes adversity with grit and grueling fortitude; moving beyond the ravages of world wars, devastating storms and even prohibition. The heart and soul of New Orleans surmounts the insurmountable while maintaining cultural identity through tradition, customs and of course, the food.
Looking back at some of the dishes and drinks that remain timeless is appropriate for this Tricentennial retrospective. Although this is just a snapshot of New Orleans’s gastronomic creativity and traditional Creole and Cajun alchemy, the melting pot of cultural influences shines through in the tried, true and the new of New Orleans cuisine.
Celebrating 175 years is something unfathomable to many in the restaurant industry where most establishments crash and burn within the first year. Antoine Alciatoire established the 700 rue de St. Louis restaurant in 1868 and his enduring qualities of hospitality, service and superior food, having transcended the tumult of history, continue into the present day. There are certain local dishes that should be experienced in this Tricentennial year, and Antoine’s is home to many of them. Let’s begin with a solution to a French snail shortage in the 1800’s when Antoine’s son Jules faced a quandary over reinventing his father’s specialty dish of Snail Bourguignon. The answer came as a new dish conceived by sourcing local oysters, giving rise to the celebrated dish, Oysters Rockefeller. “The recipe is still a secret today,” says Lisa Blount, co-proprietor. “There is absolutely no spinach in the recipe but what greens are used in this highly sought-after dish continues to be closely guarded to this day, although many have tried to figure it out over the decades,” she adds.
Presently celebrating 100 years in business, Arnuad’s is a place that covers an entire city block. Lines of eager diners perpetually spill out onto Bourbon Street waiting for a table within this two-story French bistro-style restaurant. Guests can join in the celebration with their 100th anniversary Table d’Hôte menu, and then cap off the night with a fine cigar and premium classic cocktail at French 75.
Jean Galatoire established this location in 1905 and generations of family members have carried on the legacy of superb dining. Galatoire’s stands as a stalwart dining institution replete with gold fleur-de-lis patterned wall paper and quaint Parisian café tables, but it is the Shrimp Remoulade that will win your culinary heart.
Count Arnaud speculated that an Irishman could not work in the restaurant business, but Owen Brennan proved otherwise opening Owen Brennan’s Vieux Carre. After a move to the present Royal Street location, Brennan’s became the dining darling of the 20th century under the steady direction of dining Grand Dame, Ella Brennan.This is the place where Bananas Foster was birthed and bathed in flaming rum sauce becoming the most copied dessert of all time. Egg dishes are celebrated as creative takes on classics, such as Eggs Sardou and Eggs Hussarde. Chef Slade Rushing carries the Creole torch of taste and perfection with his balanced vibrant cuisine that has garnered him yet another James Beard nomination.
Over in the Garden District ubiquitous Commander’s Palace continues to command attention to the mystique of southern hospitality. Family members Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan’s attempts to propitiate the James Beard Foundation paid off in 2018 by being inducted into the Who’s Who of Food & Beverage, carrying on the family legacy of excellent Haute Creole Cuisine. Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse, the late Jamie Shannon and present Executive Chef, Tory McPhail all have thrived and arrived into their own culinary genius through the watchful eye of the late Ella Brennan.
New Orleans dining will always have its history, mystery and culinary nuances but it is the newcomers, the innovators that will carry the city into the future. Welcoming change while paying tribute to those who have persevered through the centuries is what New Orleans does best. Most aptly stated in the book Love Letter from New Orleans, “Diversity reigns –our culinary hodge-podge, we live life all in.”