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Masson’s Restaurant Francais
West End: 7200 Pontchartrain Blvd.
1945-1990s

The original name was Masson’s Beach House, but when the first swarming of the gourmet bug was in the air in New Orleans, Ernie and Albert Masson figured they could play that game. They had traveled in Europe a bit and had a chef who was easily capable of producing what they called “provincial French cuisine.”

Masson’s was a big, rambling restaurant that looked elegant through the 1960s and 1970s. That was when, year after year, it won the Holiday Restaurant Award, the equivalent at the time of today’s DiRoNa and James Beard awards. The certificates covered the better part of the wall separating the main dining room from the bar, and they wanted to make sure that you knew it.

I wish I still had a copy of Masson’s menu from those days. There would be no better illustration of how far we’ve come. It was corny even in the 1970s (hopelessly so in the 1980s), but nobody (not even the Massons, I believe) knew this.

Or cared. Because, actually, Masson’s food was actually fairly good. It was what a French chef would have put out in those days. But we didn’t have many of those in Masson’s heyday, so who knew?

This is not to say that Masson’s had a hack for a chef. Robert Finley, who led the brigade for decades, was one of those old-school Creole chefs who knew it all. He taught a lot of it to chefs who are still working today.

Most of the menu was assembled into table d’hote dinners of four courses, which even as late as 1995 (not long before the place closed) were only about fifteen dollars complete. You started with a basket of peppery, hot breadsticks, a pleasant and unusual welcome.

The baked oysters were always good. Three kinds: Rockefeller, Bienville, and Beach House (I can’t remember what that last one was, only that they were good). They had a little casserole of artichokes and crabmeat that was rather delicious. The soups were always well made.

My first pick for an entree would be the fine rack of lamb, marinated and roasted to a juicy turn, eight chops wide. When’s the last time you were served a full rack of lamb? They sent it out with a natural jus and mint jelly, the latter of which you’d ignore if you knew anything.

As good as that was, the better part of the menu at Masson’s was seafood. They had the entire range, starting with fried platters that were only slightly fancier than the ones being slammed down around the corner in West End Park. But they had a lot of complicated dishes, too. Shrimp Robert, a major specialty, took the idea of shrimp Creole up two or three notches. A clever dish called surf and surf (you read that right) paired a broiled tropical lobster tail with a shrimp, oyster, and fish brochette. Broiled fish here was always good; stuffed fish and stuffed shrimp, less so.

Tt was almost a certainty that one would at least consider veal Oscar. Perhaps no dish better captured the imitation-Continental style that ruled upscale restaurants in the 1960s and 1970s. It was sauteed veal medaillions topped with crabmeat, flanked with asparagus, and covered with hollandaise sauce. It always sounded better than it was. Each element of the dish fought for supremacy with the others, and none of them won.

On the other hand, on more than one occasion I enjoyed a simple broiled chicken flowed over with bearnaise sauce. We don’t see that too often now, but I make it at home often, always with the memory of eating it at Masson’s in my mind.

For all that, the dish most people recall most vividly from Masson’s was a very strange dessert they called almond torte. Many claim to have loved it; I never did. A better dessert was the sabayon–a flowing custard flavored with Marsala, I think. And their bread pudding was good. I seem to recall that it had maraschino cherries in it. Or was that the millionaire’s pie?

One of the oddities of Masson’s is that it was one of only two restaurants here (the other was and is Antoine’s) that served sugar not in packets, but in bowls. But it wasn’t normal sugar. They used “party sugar,” whose grains were about the size of couscous and came in all the colors of the rainbow.

Masson’s went out of business in the early 1990s, then soon after reopened as Debbie Masson’s–a new business entirely, her father Albert said. (I heard rumblings of discontent about that from a number of suppliers.) The building was greatly in need of renovation, its floors sagging here and there. The food remained reasonably good, but the magic was gone. Holiday Magazine was gone, too–let alone its awards, which kept on coming every year for Masson’s to the very end. An era had closed, and Masson’s–a paragon of the old ways–did too.Masson’s Restaurant Francais
West End: 7200 Pontchartrain Blvd.
1945-1990s
[/title]
The original name was Masson’s Beach House, but when the first swarming of the gourmet bug was in the air in New Orleans, Ernie and Albert Masson figured they could play that game. They had traveled in Europe a bit and had a chef who was easily capable of producing what they called “provincial French cuisine.”

Masson’s was a big, rambling restaurant that looked elegant through the 1960s and 1970s. That was when, year after year, it won the Holiday Restaurant Award, the equivalent at the time of today’s DiRoNa and James Beard awards. The certificates covered the better part of the wall separating the main dining room from the bar, and they wanted to make sure that you knew it.

I wish I still had a copy of Masson’s menu from those days. There would be no better illustration of how far we’ve come. It was corny even in the 1970s (hopelessly so in the 1980s), but nobody (not even the Massons, I believe) knew this.

Or cared. Because, actually, Masson’s food was actually fairly good. It was what a French chef would have put out in those days. But we didn’t have many of those in Masson’s heyday, so who knew?

This is not to say that Masson’s had a hack for a chef. Robert Finley, who led the brigade for decades, was one of those old-school Creole chefs who knew it all. He taught a lot of it to chefs who are still working today.

Most of the menu was assembled into table d’hote dinners of four courses, which even as late as 1995 (not long before the place closed) were only about fifteen dollars complete. You started with a basket of peppery, hot breadsticks, a pleasant and unusual welcome.

The baked oysters were always good. Three kinds: Rockefeller, Bienville, and Beach House (I can’t remember what that last one was, only that they were good). They had a little casserole of artichokes and crabmeat that was rather delicious. The soups were always well made.

My first pick for an entree would be the fine rack of lamb, marinated and roasted to a juicy turn, eight chops wide. When’s the last time you were served a full rack of lamb? They sent it out with a natural jus and mint jelly, the latter of which you’d ignore if you knew anything.

As good as that was, the better part of the menu at Masson’s was seafood. They had the entire range, starting with fried platters that were only slightly fancier than the ones being slammed down around the corner in West End Park. But they had a lot of complicated dishes, too. Shrimp Robert, a major specialty, took the idea of shrimp Creole up two or three notches. A clever dish called surf and surf (you read that right) paired a broiled tropical lobster tail with a shrimp, oyster, and fish brochette. Broiled fish here was always good; stuffed fish and stuffed shrimp, less so.

Tt was almost a certainty that one would at least consider veal Oscar. Perhaps no dish better captured the imitation-Continental style that ruled upscale restaurants in the 1960s and 1970s. It was sauteed veal medaillions topped with crabmeat, flanked with asparagus, and covered with hollandaise sauce. It always sounded better than it was. Each element of the dish fought for supremacy with the others, and none of them won.

On the other hand, on more than one occasion I enjoyed a simple broiled chicken flowed over with bearnaise sauce. We don’t see that too often now, but I make it at home often, always with the memory of eating it at Masson’s in my mind.

For all that, the dish most people recall most vividly from Masson’s was a very strange dessert they called almond torte. Many claim to have loved it; I never did. A better dessert was the sabayon–a flowing custard flavored with Marsala, I think. And their bread pudding was good. I seem to recall that it had maraschino cherries in it. Or was that the millionaire’s pie?

One of the oddities of Masson’s is that it was one of only two restaurants here (the other was and is Antoine’s) that served sugar not in packets, but in bowls. But it wasn’t normal sugar. They used “party sugar,” whose grains were about the size of couscous and came in all the colors of the rainbow.

Masson’s went out of business in the early 1990s, then soon after reopened as Debbie Masson’s–a new business entirely, her father Albert said. (I heard rumblings of discontent about that from a number of suppliers.) The building was greatly in need of renovation, its floors sagging here and there. The food remained reasonably good, but the magic was gone. Holiday Magazine was gone, too–let alone its awards, which kept on coming every year for Masson’s to the very end. An era had closed, and Masson’s–a paragon of the old ways–did too.

9 Readers Commented

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  1. K c on December 10, 2015

    someone just posted on Facebook that a friend just bought a house and had old menu’s from masons. Lindsay Higgins posted in ain’t dere no more on Facebook.

  2. paul buchanan on December 15, 2015

    I remember going there in the mid-70s when I lived nearby on Lake Ave. The food was quite good and there was a semi-elegant ambience about it that I liked. Too bad it closed.

  3. Mrs.Thelma Grandson on January 12, 2016

    My mother and grandma both work there in the kitchen. I have plenty of great childhood memories of that place.

  4. Michael DeVincent on March 30, 2016

    I worked there as a busboy in the late ’80s. I loved the place – used to work a double shift on Sundays and it was a hopping place even then. I remember chef and Debbie and Albert, her dad. Loved the food, no matter how old school it was. Sad to learn that it’s gone. I found these old menus online. Still love New Orleans although I live in KC now.

    http://www.yesterdish.com/2015/04/08/crab-meat-robert/

  5. Dick ALEXANDER on April 20, 2016

    As an only child in the 60’s, I was lucky enough to be taken to fine dining restaurants at a young age. Masson’s Beach House was our “go to” fine dining restaurant out where we lived, if we didn’t feel like going into town to Moran’s, Commander’s or Arnauds. Our troika out by the lake was Masson’s for fine dining, Bart’s for seafood, and Hong Kong for Chinese. We went somewhere every Friday night while I was growing up….

    Memories…..

  6. Milton m masson on March 11, 2017

    I have a menue that Victor gave me when he treated Jane and me to a 7course dinner when we we were celebrating our honeymoon in June 1963. He was my cousin. My dad Milton M Masson Sr grew up in Algears in the early 1900’s

  7. Arthur Juneau on April 13, 2017

    I am dating the granddaughter of Albert Masson whom is Ms. Remy Masson. I have heard many storys of The Massons Beach House. She has one of the original copies of the recipe book. Many times I have told her it would be a grand idea to try to reopen the restraunt and maybe restore it to its former glory. We personally lack the resources it would take to do so, but there has to be investors that would like to see the restraunt make its come back.

    TOMMENT:
    It would be lovely to dine at Masson’s again, but I don’t believe that there are enough potential customers who remember the place. Also, if it made all of its old dishes, good as they were there would be very far outdated by the modern New Orleans palate. Sorry, but there’s not a lot of money to be made with nostalgia.–Tastefully yours,
    Tom Fitzmorris

  8. Leonardo on July 2, 2017

    I worked there in 1962 as an assistant waited, when I left Cuba alone, I was 14 but 6′ toll n Albert n Rita noticed but still give me a chance to work… longlife grateful. Today I am retired, with 3 wonderful kids, an attorney, a soprano and a very famous hair dresser. Masons was family to me n Mr Grady the Headwaiter help me much… tough me d difference between garbage n cabbage.
    I’ll will always remember all of them with gratitude.

    • ANGELA NICHOLSON on August 9, 2017

      I KNEW A YOUNG WAITER NAMED EDDIE HORVATH, HE HUNG OUT WITH A GUY NAMED BILLY. THEY USE TO COME INTO THE EMPRESS LOUNGE AFTER WORK AND I WAS WONDERING IF YOU KNEW HIM OR WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM. THIS WOULD BE IN 1967-1968.

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