Diary: 11/14/2018: Chilled Into Bon Ton Café. Here comes a story you may have read here before, although it appears only once a year. The date varies, relying on the weather. Which, for the past few days and next couple of weeks, has and will be windy, rainy, and colder than the current season has been.
The story recalls an equally dark, freezing, windy day on which I shuffled as rapidly as I could to get out of the shivery weather. It was sometime in the November of 1974, ten years before the World’s Fair was due to open, and some twenty years before the Warehouse District would emerge from the rough industrial area I was walking through on this night.
A few weeks earlier, I was hired as the editor-in-chief of New Orleans Magazine. I was twenty-three, and this was a fantastic boost in my career. I was working long days to assemble a new style for the magazine, a major local publication which it still is. I had not yet had dinner. I recall that the wind blew swirling pieces of paper around as I walked through the littered streets. Pretty desolate.
Then I found myself walking across the entrance of a familiar building. On either side were flickering gaslights. I stopped and looked into the busy dining room of the Bon Ton Café. It offered a warmth that seemed very welcome at this moment. Joe David III, the owner of my magazine, was a regular customer here, and we often met there for lunch. I escaped from the desolation, entered, and sat down at a red-and-white checkered table.
I don’t remember what I ate that night, but I’m sure it was a lot like what I had at the Bon Ton yesterday. Crawfish jambalaya, oysters Alvin (with a brown butter sauce), cauliflower, and rice. The menu was a little sparse, with neither soft-shell crabs (it’s too late in the fall for those) or speckled trout (in season, but off the menu). I was greeted by name by about half the dining room staff. They weren’t very busy, but it was only about six in the evening. But the warmth was there.
As the evening progressed, tables filled with out-of-town people coming from some meeting or other in the Convention Center. A lot of them go to the Bon Ton, the third-oldest restaurant in New Orleans (after Antoine’s and Tujague’s, and before Commander’s Palace). I show up once a year: the day most like today. And here, for about the thirtieth time, I was again. See you there next winter. Or you’ll read about it here.
Bon Ton Cafe. CBD: 401 Magazine. 504-524-3386.
Scroll Down For Our Guide To The 40 Best Restaurants For Dining On Thanksgiving
Alligator Creole-Italian Style
This dish takes advantage of the resemblance alligator tail meat has–in texture, color, and weight–to baby white veal. The hardest part of this dish is finding the alligator. If you can’t, you can use veal, pork loin, or even chicken. Oddly enough, the best side dish for this is buttered stone-ground grits.
- 1 lb. alligator tail meat, sliced across the grain, 1/4 inch thick
- All-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. white pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1/2 bulb fennel, chopped
- 1 28-oz. can Italian plum tomatoes, with 1/2 cup of the juice
- 4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
1. Dust the alligator cutlets very lightly with flour and a little salt and white pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet to just shy of smoking temperature and sauté the cutlets about a minute on each side. Remove from the skillet and keep warm.
2. In the remaining olive oil, sauté the onion, bell pepper, celery, fennel, and parsley until tender. Chop the tomatoes and add them to the skillet with the tomato juice, parsley, cayenne, lemon juice, and white wine. Bring to a simmer.
3. Return the alligator cutlets to the pan and cook them in the sauce for two or three minutes. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve with lots of sauce and hot buttered grits on the side.
November 15, 2017
Thanksgiving: Nov. 23
Christmas: Dec. 25
Eat Club @ Roosevelt. Nov. 28.
New Year’s Eve: December 31
New Orleans Restaurant Anniversaries
Cafe Giovanni opened today in 1991. Chef Duke Locicero partnered with “Mr. John” Santopadre in a new kind of Italian trattoria, in a block of Decatur Street that was in the throes of a renaissance. Among Cafe Giovanni’s many signatures is a group of opera-quality singers who perform many nights a week. The food was lusty, original, and as New Orleans in its flavors as it is Italian. Duke closed the restaurant after the difficult summer of 2017. He is now managing N’ Tini’s in Mandeville, where a combination of Duke’s food with the specialties of N’ Tini’s blends into a nice mix. .
On this date in 2001, Zeke Unangst opened a seafood restaurant, Zeke’s, on Metairie Road. Zeke had been running the dining room at his brother’s place, the now-gone West End Cafe. Zeke and his restaurant were riding high until Hurricane Katrina. Then a freak succession of infections that started while he was evacuated took his life two months after the storm. He was just in his forties. His restaurant re-opened briefly after the storm, but then closed and reopened a couple times more under new names. It is now Porter & Luke’s.
Who will bite for the notion that today we should celebrate National Raisin Bran Day? I like raisin bran, but it deserves a day of celebration about as much as Phillips-head screws do.
It is also said to be National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. That makes good sense, because it’s a week and a half until Thanksgiving, and you need room in your refrigerator for the defrosting turkey. And space for all the semi-prepared dishes before the dinner, and leftovers after. What do you need that slice of pizza from three weeks ago for, anyway? And that empty plastic container–what’s it doing in the refrigerator? The same thing as that empty carton of cream, is what. Clean out your refrigerator!
Banana Lake is in central Florida, forty-one miles east of Tampa. That part of Florida is riddled with lakes of all sizes, as well as banana trees. The latter explains the name. Banana Lake isn’t shaped like its namesake, but is a rectangle about a half-mile on a side. There’s also a Little Banana Lake, just east of the main body. Banana Lake is the northern boundary of Highland City, a large new collection of residential neighborhoods. A bunch of restaurants are about a mile and a half east on the lake, on US 98.
Annals Of Fast Food
The first location of Wendy’s opened today in Columbus, Ohio. The year was 1969, and the manager was Wendy’s father, Dave Thomas. Wendy’s pioneered the drive-through window and a much more expensive hamburger. From a taste perspective, any advantage it has is minuscule. Their claim to serve hamburgers hot off the grill is made possible by cooking the burgers at such a low temperature that they get a terrible texture. You may eat all of mine. After a long slump, Wendy’s was bought by the same outfit that runs Hardee’s and Arby’s.
porchetta, [por-KET-tah], Italian, n.–Also spelled “porketta” in this country. It’s served in slices, either as an entree or–when sliced thin–as a panino (sandwich). The exterior usually has a modest layer of fat that gets crisp in the oven. The stuffing not only sends its flavor into the meat, but emits steam as it cooks and makes the meat very tender and moist. The stuffing varies from cook to cook, but garlic is essential, with fennel right behind it in popularity. The cut of pork can be loin, pork butt, or even a whole small pig–the latter requiring great deftness on the part of the cook. Porchetta is a classic dish in the Lazio and Umbria regions of Italy, where it’s sometimes sold from trucks in the cities. It has begun getting popular again in America.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
There’s nothing that makes a drink look more appealing than clear ice cubes, but your icemaker probably makes them cloudy. Next time you invite people over for cocktails, boil some water in a very clean pot, let it cool, and freeze it in an ice tray. Voila! Clear cubes.
Music To Dine Formally (Formerly) By
Annunzio Mantovani was born today in 1905. Recording under his last name alone, Mantovani became the king of instrumental background music in the late 1950s into the 1970s. It became known as “elevator music,” but it was very widely played by Muzak in restaurants, office lobbies, and shopping malls. The sound was dominated by large string sections, sounding almost classical but playing familiar songs. Radio stations playing the likes of Mantovani’s music were very popular for over a decade, going out of style in the 1970s. The advent of satellite radio brought the Mantovani style back in style. At least a little.
Felix Frankfurter, U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1939 till 1962, was born on this date in 1882 (in Vienna, Austria). . . Another national political figure, Senator Howard Baker, was born today in 1925. . . And another baker, Sara Josephine Baker, a physician who greatly improved health care for babies and children in New York, was a baby herself today in 1873. . . William Fries, who recorded the CB radio trucker song Convoy under the name C.W. McCall, was born today in 1928. . . Clyde McPhatter was born today in 1938. He’s the falsetto voice on the Drifters’ version of White Christmas.
Words To Eat By
“My son would walk to the refrigerator-freezer and fling both doors open and stand there until the hairs in his nose iced up. After surveying $200 worth of food in varying shapes and forms, he would declare loudly, ‘There’s nothing to eat!'”–Erma Bombeck.
Words To Drink By
“A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.”–Lawrence Durrell, referring to olives.
Thanksgiving is not the busiest day in the year for restaurants, but it is the time when things have a way of becoming most frantic. It’s also a day in which finding a reservation is most difficult. Calling ahead months is a very good idea, particularly if you’re planning on having Thanksgiving dinner with many family members and friends. Tables in famous restaurants are also hard to nail down. Finally, if what you want from the restaurant is a big feast, it’s essential to make your reservation in, say, September or earlier.
There is an escape if you still don’t have a reservation a few days ahead of Turkey Day. When you call a few says or hours before dinner time, laugh to show that you understand how dear Thanksgiving tables are, then ask whether there are any last-minute cancellations you can fill. That works even for the toughest seats.
The Thanksgiving experience is is different from other meals in other ways. Buffets–which have almost disappeared from fine dining in recent years–have a way of popping up in many restaurants. Most of these are high-end hotels. If you go that route, know that it will be much more expensive than what you remember from years ago. It may even go higher than $100.
On the other hand, Thanksgiving has a way of inspiring restaurants to create special menus that may be surprising. Three courses for $around 50 have been common in recent years. And there are always children’s menus.
All that said, here is my list of the forty best restaurants for Thanksgiving in 2018. Enjoy!
Andrea’s. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583. Special menu: three courses, $40. Regular menu also available. 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Annadele Plantation. Covington: 71518 Chestnut St. 985-809-7669. Three courses from a special menu, $48, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. A special four-course menu for $47, with a mix of traditional Thanksgiving dishes and Arnaud’s specialties.
Bistreaux. French Quarter: 1001 Toulouse St. 504-586-8000.
Borgne. CBD: 601 Loyola Ave (Hyatt Regency Hotel). 504-613-3860. A special four-course menu, plus a limited regular menu.
Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon. 504-522-0111. Regular menu and Thanksgiving specials, entrees $26-32.
Brennan’s. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711.
Broussard’s. French Quarter: 819 Conti. 504-581-3866. An especially beautiful setting, with the courtyard open.
Chophouse. CBD: 322 Magazine St. 504-522-7902. This high-end steakhouse is promoting its steaks as an alternative to the standard turkey dinner. If that appeals to you, there they are. Handsome place.
Commander’s Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. Special menu. Very likely already to be sold out.
Compere Lapin. CBD: 535 Tchoupitoulas. 504-599-2119.
Criollo. French Quarter: 214 Royal. 504-523-3341. The new restaurant in the Monteleone Hotel serves its second Thanksgiving. It’s a handsome restaurant with an imaginative, current New Orleans-style menu.
Crystal Room. CBD: Le Pavillon Hotel, 901 Poydras. 504-581-3111. Buffet, a bit less expensive than in the other hotels, and for that reason fills up early. Food is good as buffets go.
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. French Quarter: 716 Iberville. 504-522-2467. Regular dinner menu and Thanksgiving specials, 3-9 p.m.
Five Happiness. A Chinese restaurant on Thanksgiving Day? Yes. What happens here is that people who either missed the turkey dinner or already had one earlier in the day. Five Happiness is open into the evening for those people, and is very busy.) Mid-City: 3605 S Carrollton. 504-482-3935.
Fleming’s Steak House. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3064 N. Causeway Blvd.. 504-799-0335.
Latil’s Landing. River Parishes: In Houmas House Plantation. 225-473-9380. This is the grand restaurant in Houmas House Plantation, on the River Road, halfway from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Buffet, noon-4 p.m. $55, $25 children.
Lebanon’s Cafe. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200.
Lüke. CBD: 333 St Charles Ave. 504-378-2840. John Besh’s most popular restaurant. Special menu.
M Bistro. French Quarter: 921 Canal. 504-524-1331. The flagship dining room of the Ritz-Carlton offers a high-end buffet 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Maple Street Cafe. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 7623 Maple. 504-314-9003. Both locations, special menu. Three courses, $25, $13 children. under 12. Noon-7 p.m.
Mr. B’s Bistro. French Quarter: 201 Royal. 504-523-2078. Special menu, featuring free-range turkeys. Noon-8 p.m.
Muriel’s. French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Special menu, three courses, $45.
Palace Cafe. French Quarter: 605 Canal. 504-523-1661. Regular menu with Thanksgiving specials (entrees $26-42), 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Ralph’s On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000. Very substantial special menu, three courses $46-54.
Red Fish Grill. French Quarter: 115 Bourbon. 504-598-1200. Buffet 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., $47, kids $15, under 6 free. It’s not an enormous hotel-style buffet, but the food is fresh and distinctly Creole. Lots going on for the kids.
Restaurant des Familles. Marrero To Lafitte: 7163 Barataria Blvd. 504-689-7834. Way out on the bayou twenty minutes from downtown, and quite an environment. Special menu.
Rib Room. French Quarter: 621 St Louis St83. 504-529-7045. Special menu. four courses, $37-51. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
Roosevelt Hotel. CBD: 123 Baronne. The Roosevelt Hotel serves Thanksgiving dinner in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, the grandest and largest space in the hotel. In addition to the buffet, there are several other action stations cooking to order. On a smaller scale, the hotel’s Fountain Lounge will also be open.
Roux On Orleans. French Quarter: 717 Orleans (Bourbon Orleans Hotel). 504-571-4604. The restaurant of the Bourbon Orleans, a block in back of St. Louis Cathedral. Buffet from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Adults $59, tax and tip included (!).
Royal Sonesta Ballroom. French Quarter: 300 Bourbon. 504-553-2278. Now that R’evolution is the main dining room at the Sonesta, the holidays bring forth special arrangements. The buffet you remember from the days of Begue’s is now in the hotel’s big ballroom. $75 is the price; $35 6-12 years, free under that. Seatings begin at 10:30 a.m., with the final seating at 1:30 p.m.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3633 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-3600. Thanksgiving specials ($40, complete dinner) and regular menu, both locations. Noon-8 p.m.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. CBD: 525 Fulton St. 504-587-7099. Thanksgiving specials ($40, complete dinner) and regular menu, both locations. Noon-8 p.m.
Tujague’s. French Quarter: 823 Decatur. 504-525-8676. Usual table d’hote dinner, with fresh turkey and other Thanksgiving dishes, about $40. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Vacherie. French Quarter: 827 1/2 Toulouse St. 504-207-4532. This boutique hotel in the French Quarter (it’s where Louis XVI used to be) hase continually expanded the reach and goodness of its restaurant, particularly on holidays. Thanksgiving brings a buffet from noon until 4 p.m. The price is $39 adults, $18 children.
Windsor Court Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier. 504-522-1994. Special menu, four courses, $95. It’s offered all day long: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.