The Grand Dames Continue to Grow
In an age where new and novel is king, the city’s coterie of century-old dining establishments continues to shine.
A native New Orleanian, Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.
While new restaurants open at an astounding rate, the New Orleans dining scene continues to be uniquely populated with an unprecedented number of eateries boasting a century or more of service. How do they continue to thrive locally, when nationally, 70% of restaurants close in the first five years of operation?
Antoine’s Celebrates With Something Shiny
This year, Antoine’s — New Orleans’ oldest restaurant and the oldest family-owned dining establishment in the nation — celebrates 180 years of continuous operation.
“Antoine’s is a testament to New Orleans and its legacy of culinary excellence,” said fifth-generation proprietor and CEO Rick Blount. “While Antoine’s may have been the originator of French Creole cooking in America, I think we can all agree it’s New Orleans that keeps restaurants like Antoine’s and so many others relevant to the national and international food scene.”
Blount is celebrating Antoine’s momentous achievement with the installation of a 21st-century elevator. Later this year, he plans to balance that modern accomplishment by uncorking a 19th-century cognac, the oldest in the family’s cellar, at a special celebration dinner.
Tujague’s Makes a Move
Mark Latter of Tujague’s, the second-oldest restaurant in New Orleans, is investing in the future of the 164-year-old restaurant in what he describes as an “act of preservation” by moving a few blocks up Decatur Street this fall. The decision, he said, was precipitated by the restrictions he faced as a tenant when it came to maintaining and upgrading the aging structure.
Latter promises the new address will not be too jarring for its clientele. “We intend to maintain all of Tujague’s traditions in surroundings that will be very familiar to our longtime customers.”
Creole Cuisine Joins The Century Club
The Ammari brothers of Creole Cuisine Concepts are newcomers to New Orleans’ centennial restaurant club. From a single daiquiri shop in Chalmette, opened in 1989, the company has grown and diversified to comprise 25 different concepts, including Broussard’s Restaurant, which celebrates a century in 2020. When the company acquired the historical building in 2014, CEO Marv Ammari uncovered what he described as “a diamond in the rough, with the true feel of classic New Orleans.” Following a $1 million-dollar-plus renovation, Broussard’s is poised to celebrate its centennial in classic Creole style.
Brennan Does Double Duty
The manner in which century-old restaurants are bought and sold in New Orleans is a fascinating topic. After observing the way Ralph Brennan restored Brennan’s Restaurant in 2015, the Impastato family approached him about purchasing their historic landmark, the Napoleon House the same year.
“I made a pledge to maintain the traditions that generations of the Impastato family put their heart and soul into,” said Brennan.
The addition of a shrimp poor boy to the existing menu is one of the most radical changes since the Napoleon House purchase, Brennan claims.
Pascal’s Manale Founders Bid Adieu
Last year, New Orleans’ second-oldest family-owned restaurant, Pascal’s Manale, changed ownership. Asked how his family placed a monetary value on their 106-year-old restaurant, Sandy DeFelice said, “It’s hard to factor in 100-plus years of business. We had to throw conventional thinking out the window and work it out with the seller.” Looking back on the decision, DeFelice said, “It was an honor and a privilege to be part of New Orleans’ historic restaurant scene.”
Commander’s Doesn’t Sweat the Small Stuff
At Commander’s Palace, historical designation doesn’t hold much weight with Ti Martin. At the time her family purchased the restaurant in 1969, it was believed that Commander’s dated back to 1880. In 2015, it was discovered that the restaurant was actually founded in 1893, pushing it from the third to the fourth oldest in the city. Ti and her cousin, Lally Brennan, celebrated by creating a cocktail they whimsically named “Oops!”
Martin doesn’t like to spend much time looking in the rearview mirror.
“Creole is all about evolving,” she said. “We’re not looking back. It’s all about what we’re doing now and what’s coming next.”
Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.