10 Years Gone
Remembering restaurants that disappeared with Katrina
Memories are long in this town, and that goes for restaurants as much as anything else. I never had a chance to dine at Anything Goes, Bali Ha’i, Chez Helene, Eddie’s, Fitzgerald’s, Kolb’s, LeRuth’s or T. Pittari’s, but I can tell you where they were and why people remember them. File under: “Is not there anymore.”
A decade ago, Katrina swung her scythe across the New Orleans restaurant field. Restaurants had closed their doors as the disaster approached, thinking they’d be back to flip on the lights in a week. But there were some remarkable casualties.
Barrow’s Shady Inn off Earhart Boulevard was an icon in Hollygrove and part of the Creole-soul pantheon in New Orleans. Some argued it had the best catfish in town, if not the universe, and Bill Barrow’s restaurant fried its fillets to perfection for more than half a century.
Bruning’s was the oldest of the batch; it opened the year before Abraham Lincoln was elected president. It was also, in a sense, the first to die. Situated on the lakefront at West End, it was the hurricane, rather than faulty levees, that blew it to bits.
The late Chef Gerard Crozier ran Chateaubriand on Carrollton and Bienville. The place married the grand feeling of appeasement that comes with a good steak to the elegance and refinement of Crozier’s French cuisine. Crozier had been a fixture on the restaurant scene for decades, with eponymous restaurants in New Orleans and Metairie.
Right around the corner from Chateaubriand, in a former church on the corner of Iberville and North Scott streets, was Christian’s. A spinoff of Galatoire’s, it was owned by a scion of the family and helmed by a former Galatoire’s chef. It brought Mid-City cuisine to its zenith.
Restaurant Mandich was one of those quietly great neighborhood restaurants. Located on St. Claude Avenue in the upper Ninth Ward (aka Bywater), it had the sort of feel that a sophisticated transplant to the area today would laud as “authentic.” It was, in short, a regular New Orleans restaurant.
Some people might prefer to spit upon the grave of the original Ruth’s Chris steakhouse on North Broad Street, where it had a nearly 80-year run. Almost immediately after the levees broke in 2005, the Ruth’s Chris corporate empire relocated its national headquarters from New Orleans to Orlando. Passers-by saw a giant sign posted on the abandoned corner of Broad and Orleans. It read: “Remember: When the bodies from Katrina were still being collected, when we needed faith and heroism, Ruth’s Chris fled.” Ow.
Founded in the 1940s, Weaver’s on Navarre Avenue was one of Lakeview’s oldest institutions, and it looked the part. With its old-timey décor, it had virtually everything you wanted in a poor-boy joint – with roast beef gravy on top.
For me, two dead restaurants hold unusual meaning.
Purple Roses sold Vietnamese pho in the erstwhile Chinatown near the intersection of Tulane and Loyola avenues. One day in October 2002, a buddy of mine – who went on to become a prominent food critic in town – shot me an email at lunchtime, asking to meet at Purple Roses. When we arrived at the counter, I noticed a lovely girl in line behind me. After lunch, I went up to say hello to her. “I like your shirt” were my first words to the future mother of our children. (Don’t laugh. It worked.)
Two and a half years passed, and that girl and I were having dinner at Indigo. The restaurant overlooked a garden next to the ancient Benachi Mansion on Bayou Road. Indigo transported you to another, more romantic time. This is what I was banking on as I slid an engagement ring across the tablecloth.
A few months later, the levees broke.
Peter Reichard is a native New Orleanian who has written about the life and times of the city for more than 20 years, including as a former newspaper editor and business journalist.