The French Quarter is known not only for its music but its restaurants—as we often tell visitors, just follow your nose!
One of the most famous restaurateurs—dubbed the “doyenne of brunch” by the Chicago Tribune —passed away May 31st at the age of 92. Ella Brennan was one of six children born to Owen and Nellie Brennan and certainly influenced the introduction of Creole/Cajun cuisine to the dining world.
She and a few of her siblings hired Paul Prudhomme to create an exciting menu at Commander’s Palace. Although not in the Quarter it is easy to visit in the Garden district via taxi or trolley. When Chef Prudhomme left to start his own restaurant, she hired another soon-to-be- star, Emeril Lagasse. When Chef Lagasse left to seek his own celebrity fame, Creole/Cajun food was in the recipe spotlight in magazines, television, and internet sites.
Visiting any of the many Brennan family restaurants in the Quarter is always a special treat and always our first recommendation. There are also several restaurants in other parts of the city and in the downtown/central business district.
We do try to get out of the Quarter to visit Commander’s Palace at least once each trip. On one occasion we were escorted through the kitchen to a lovely patio area. After our delicious meal we asked if we could stop to observe the various stations on the way back to the front entrance. It was nephew Brad Brennan that accompanied us, had the chef explain a procedure, demonstrate a technique, and autograph a poster/menu for us. The service is exquisite and as in all the Brennan family restaurants, the wait staff is knowledgeable, friendly, and a significant part of the experience. The famous 25 cent martinis only add to the pleasure. A reasonably priced three-course lunch is featured daily and will provide a paired sampling of the fare. The restaurant itself has many rooms all beautifully appointed.
In the French Quarter, the other three cousins—Ralph, Cindy, and Dickie, Jr.—along with other family members less mentioned in the advertising materials—are at the helm of our favorite spots. Some locations are more casual than others but all are a worthwhile destination. Within a few blocks near Bourbon and Iberville are the Palace Café, Red Fish (oysters with hollandaise for starters), Bourbon House (oysters any way), The Steakhouse, Mr. B’s (barbecue shrimp, a must) and SoBou. A few blocks further you will find the beautiful, re-opened (2014) Brennan’s on Royal and the recently acquired Napoleon House on Chartres. It is one of the many historic bars/restaurants in the Quarter and was purchased from the Impastato family who owned it for over 100 years. Enjoy the iconic Pimm’s Cup with a muffaletta while listening to classical music and opera.
Adjacent to the La Petite Theatre and at the corner of Jackson Square is Tableau with wonderful breakfasts and brunch items. Try the incredible Turtle or French Onion soup and other specialties. A corner table on the first floor or second floor balcony will provide lots of people watching as it overlooks the many characters that inhabit the Square—brass bands, artists, mimes, tarot readers, wedding parties, magicians, and other instrumentalists.
In addition to any regularly scheduled Traditional Jazz Sunday Brunches, many of their restaurants showcase local musicians during other days or evenings.
Miss Ella left a wonderful legacy and a tradition of fine dining, fun dining, and festive celebrations centered on food, friends, and family. I never got to meet her but her influence is truly a significant part of the French Quarter mystique and is apparent in the many places that herald her family name.
Shelly Gallichio is a Real Estate Associate Broker in Tucson, Arizona, and despite growing up in Chicago, fell in love with the clarinet and the New Orleans sound at the age of three.