The Return of West End (Sort Of)
While far from its former glory, there has been notable growth.
Bruning’s. Fitzgerald’s. Augie’s Delago. Maggie & Smitty’s. Swanson’s. Etcetera.
The main cluster of restaurants on Breakwater Drive at the parish line was once the culinary centerpiece of West End. Those were the days when the lakeshore played a big part in New Orleanians’ leisure time. The well-to do-cruised the water in their sloops, while shirtless ne’er-do-wells cruised the shoreline in their Camaro T-tops. At night, teenagers parked at the terminus of the roadway at the harbor entrance, known as the Point. At the opposite end of the Lakefront, kids squealed on the rides at Pontchartrain Beach.
Like Pontchartrain Beach, the old West End, once so alive, lives on only in memories. The former restaurant strip on Breakwater Drive is now a picture of desolation. Rotted pilings memorialize the restaurants they once supported like tombstones on the water. Bruning’s lasted for 170 years. But too many hurricanes too many times did too much damage.
And while as yet there is no sign of life in the western end of West End, the surrounding area has slowly but surely seen a resurgence in restaurants.
Not long after Katrina, the Landry’s Seafood chain planted its flag on the most prominent spot on Lakeshore Drive, which Bart’s Lighthouse Inn occupied during the heyday of West End. How could there not be a restaurant here? The views are among the best in New Orleans.
Down the road (or harbor inlet, depending on your mode of transport) are two relative newcomers, Brisbi’s and the Blue Crab both opened in 2013. Both offer dockside dining in brand-new buildings, and both serve seafood in the West End tradition. Of the two, the Blue Crab is the more casual and bustling; Brisbi’s the more decorous and placid.
The marina end of Pontchartrain Boulevard has welcomed a cluster of restaurants as well. Russell’s Marina Grill, in business for more than 30 years, is the anchor. The breakfast attracts a crowd, but the place is probably best known for its fried “Onion Mumm.” The West End area has for a long time had a Chinese restaurant or two (Imperial Garden, China Rose, Hong Kong). Ming’s, opened in 2014, is now filling that role. There’s also a sushi place, Wasabi.
Like Russell’s, Two Tony’s has been around awhile as well, but it previously occupied a spot in Bucktown that had the misfortune of being in the footprint of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ pump station construction site. It’s the sort of place families with children gravitate toward: If little Jimmy doesn’t want fried shrimp, surely he’ll eat meatballs and spaghetti.
Over on the Bucktown side of the area, old stalwarts like Deanie’s and R&O’s remain, although New Orleans Food & Spirits took over R&O’s spot after the latter moved next door. No shortage of seafood here.
But apparently you can never have enough seafood in Bucktown. In 2016, a new place, Station 6, took over the old Two Tony’s spot. The husband and wife who own it both come with chef-ly résumés. Alison Vega Knoll brought Vega Tapas (and tapas generally) to Old Metairie in the 1990s; Drew Knoll once donned the chef’s hat at Emeril’s Delmonico. The name, as you might imagine, comes from the pumping complex on the 17th Street Canal that connects Bucktown (Jefferson’s East End) to West End.
New restaurants may be on the way. Just up Lakeshore Drive from Landry’s is an old picnic shelter on levee district property. Billy Wright, who reopened Bud’s Broiler on City Park Avenue after Katrina, hopes to open a boiled seafood restaurant and coffee shop on the site, aptly named Billy Wright’s Olde New Orleans Boil House and Coffee House. The restaurant could open as early as spring 2017.
But all of this leads back to where it started: Will the heart of West End on Breakwater Drive ever come back?