Berdou’s

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BERDOU’S
300 Monroe Street, Gretna.
1950s-1988.

The most unconventional way to enter the dining room of Berdou’s would have been to jump off the Mississippi River Bridge (the old one, the only one we had then) on the West Bank downslope. There it was, a few hundred feet straight down. I don’t think anybody tried it, but it was a good description of the location for non-West Bankers.

On the outside, Berdou’s looked like a neighborhood restaurant. The kind of place you’d go for a poor boy and a beer. Inside, it was a much more substantial restaurant. Ida Berdou presided over a dining room that maintained a strict dress code that surprised more than a few first-timers. Jeans–regardless of their expense–were forbidden, even for little kids.

Mrs. Berdou, who herself always seemed a bit overdressed, had a few other rules you needed to follow. She did not like late diners, and if you weren’t in the house by seven-thirty, you were just out of luck. She once told me that the extra butter the waiter had brought me at my request was too much cholesterol, and that I’d better watch it. (I was in my twenties at the time.)

Mrs. Berdou wasn’t being mean about all this. She just felt that she was running a civilized establishment, and she thought her customers would be better off if they stuck with her rules. Her husband George loved her for this, and chewed me out after I referred to her once on the radio as “the old lady at Berdou’s.”

George Berdou was the chef, and a great one. He worked in the kitchen at Galatoire’s for awhile before opening his own place. This is easy to believe, because the food at Berdou’s was from the same precinct of the Creole culinary world that Galatoire’s was.

Indeed, the food at Berdou’s was always surprising not only for its goodness but also for its ambitiousness. Its most famous specialty was pompano en papillote–pompano baked in a parchment bag, so complicated a preparation that not even Antoine’s makes it anymore. (The only place now offering the dish regularly is Borgne.)

Making this even more amazing was Berdou’s pricing. A review I wrote in 1977 shows pompano en papillote at all of four dollars. That’s a dinner price. A shrimp remoulade appetizer (a good one) was $1.50. Turtle soup or gumbo, a buck. Crabmeat Berdou, a great casserole with a satisfying tinge of garlic, was $4. Trout Marguery with a very well made sauce of shrimp and mushrooms, $4. Chicken Clemenceau, $3.50. Two broiled lamb chops (complete with those little paper things that looked like chef’s hats slipped over the bones) were $4.50. For two dollars more, they’d make the entree part of a four-course dinner.

The dining room wasn’t fancy, but it had all the elements for first-class dining: white tablecloths, silverware and decent china, the kind of wine list that old New Orleans restaurants had. (Also the funny little wine glasses, about the size of sherry glasses, with a knot in the stem. They had to be filled to the very top.)

In its prime in the 1960s and 1970s, a reservation was hard to come by at Berdou’s. Fortunately, they stayed open all afternoon, and those hours had food as good as at any other time. You might even catch one of the lunch specials. Mr. Berdou liked to field peas, for example, and featured them once a week.

Here’s a line in my 1977 review: “You wonder whether there will be a philanthropist who will jump in and change nothing should Mrs. Berdou ever decide to lay down her reservation book.” That proved to be Mr. Berdou, but even he was able to keep the place open only for a few more years after his beloved wife’s death. The neighborhood was in steep decline, and the decline of the oil business kicked the wind out of the West Bank economy. It hasn’t been open since, nor is there another restaurant here that even approximates what Berdou’s did for its customers.

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  1. RICK GEYER on September 25, 2014

    TOM,

    I only went there as a guest of Dr Peter Tufton the Westbank Dentist. It was like a west bank Galatoire’s and now I know why. A wonderful place that populated the New Orleans of our youth. I love your columns. Rick Geyer

  2. Dave Colvin on September 25, 2014

    Loved Berdou’s and miss it very much. we were We are West Bankers from way back and it was always a treat to get such great food. I have been looking for years for Berdou’s recipe for pompano en papillote. Do you have it or know where we can find it? I have tried this dish in a number of NOLA’s restaurants and have yet to find its equal anywhere if you can find it at all.

  3. David on September 25, 2014

    Loved Berdous. Don ‘t over coffee at lunch.. She would move you out.
    Knew we would be later for our reservation time, sent our daughter ahead of with roses from our yard. Worked!
    Pomano and turtle soup,have never had as good

  4. paul on September 26, 2014

    was a chemist at the molasses plant on river road. had many lunches at Berdou’s with the plant mgr. Loved their trout amandine. also tanqueray martini with a twist. wonder about those test results after lunch

  5. Charlotte Guidroz Cuccia on September 27, 2014

    Berdou’s only one and will never be another. That was my Uncle George and Aunt Ida’s Rest. Two of the most interesting ,good people that God blessed me ,to be born into the Berdou family . My Mom Josephine Berdou was one of George’s older sisters. George was one of 10 children and he was a twin ;her name was Georgette. I miss them all terribly. There all gone now . my Mom was the last and went to meet them all at the age of 98 yrs.young in 2009. I thank Uncle George for having me inherit maybe just a smigin” of his culinary expertise. Thanks for the wonderful article I think He would be proud and Ida Mae would approve.There most loving niece.

  6. Dianne on October 16, 2015

    Lunched often at Berdou’s early 1970’s. Worked at Gretna Library & what a treat it was every time! Loved the Brabant potatoes! Great memories. Thanks!

  7. John SNEVE on January 20, 2016

    Ate there many times during the mid to late 70’s. Had the best trout amandine I ever ate there. Mrs. Berdou’s tuned me up for eating too many crackers with my salad. Great place. Great memories.

  8. Gordon A. on March 4, 2016

    Amazing restaurant that was a centerpiece of my youth in Algiers. We ate there up to 3 time s a week. What other 11 year old had Pompano en Papillot as his favorite dish. There turtle soup was also to die for.

  9. Susan Tuttle on May 28, 2016

    Was taken there by my parents around 1966, when I was in high school. I had Chicken Chasseur and was hooked! We moved to California (Dad was transferred there when I was 16) and I remember trying to re-create that recipe for him when my mother was out of town. Never quite got it right and wish there was a Berdou’s cookbook so I could copy their recipe. There are other Chasseur recipes on the web so I’ll have to do what I can to come up with a facsimile of that memorable dish.

    • Tom Fitzmorris on May 29, 2016

      Hello, Susan. . .
      I don’t have the recipe from Berdou’s or remember that dish, but here is a recipe for chicken chasseur from a similar restaurant. Your palate has changed so much over the years that having the exact recipe would not bring you closer to what you remember.

      Chicken Chasseur

      “Chasseur” is French for “hunter.” So this dish has the flavor you’d expect from a cook who spent a lot of time prowling the woods. Mushrooms, for one thing, are in there. And the dish is simply prepared, because what hunter goes around making cream sauces? This dish comes from the kitchen of the old Delmonico’s, with a few updatings here and there.

      1 chicken, cut up
      1 cup flour
      1/2 tsp. salt
      1/4 tsp. pepper
      1/4 tsp. powdered thyme
      3 Tbs. olive oil
      4 cloves garlic, chopped
      1/2 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
      6 green onions, chopped
      1/4 cup dry white wine
      1/4 cup dry sherry
      1 Tbs. lemon juice

      8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
      1 Tbs. Worcestershire

      Preheat the over to 350 degrees.
      1. Combine the flour with the salt, pepper, and thyme. Dust the chicken pieces lightly with the seasoned flour.
      2. Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof skillet and cook the garlic, bell pepper, and green onions until the onions are limp. Add the chicken pieces and cook until lightly browned all over.
      3. Place the entire skillet into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, turning chicken once.
      4. When the juices from the thigh run clear when you prick it with a fork, remove the skillet from the oven. Remove chicken pieces and keep warm.
      5. Deglaze the pan with the wine, sherry, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat while scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring to distribute the ingredients.
      6. Add mushrooms and Worcestershire. Cook until mushrooms begin to turn tender. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Spoon pan contents over the chicken and serve.

      Serves two to four.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  10. Judy McLain on January 31, 2017

    Oh! Berdou’s. My family moved to Algiers in 1972 and this was our favorite place to eat. We went several times a month. I was 16 my first time there (I am 60 now) and have never forgotten the Pompano. I can still taste it in my head and still see the steam coming out of the parchment paper bag as it was cut open to reveal that glorious fish inside. I made a boyfriend take me there for my 18th birthday. Madame almost didn’t let us in even though we were dressed to her standards. When the boyfriend got up to go to the rest room she took the opportunity to tell me I was too nice a girl to be with “that boy.” Have to admit, he was a rascal. Four years later my groom took me to Berdou’s for our wedding dinner. To my surprise she remembered me and told me I had done better. She was right on that account as well.

  11. Ron Miller on August 25, 2017

    I just found this article when I went Internet searching for Berdou’s. I lived very nearby for one year in 73-74, so it was convenient to go at off-peak hours. I don’t recall having to wait to be seated there. The only individual item I recall from the menu was Crab Berdou, but it was worthy of the Berdou name. I got to Commander’s Palace, Antoine’s, Pascal Manali, etc., but my favorite was and remains the “little restaurant under the Bridge.” I’m quite sad to learn that I can never go back, but as the author pointed out, the neighborhood suffered terribly serious decline. Too bad the tradition couldn’t have been kept alive in a new location.

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