New Orleans-style turtle soup is as unique to our cuisine as gumbo. Unlike the clear, consomme-like turtle soup eaten in most other places (including almost everywhere in Europe), Creole turtle soup is thick and almost a stew. The most widely-served style of turtle soup in the area is descended from the one at Commander’s Palace, which is distinctive in using as much veal shoulder as turtle and in including spinach as an ingredient. Good as that was, the soup formerly served at the now-extinct Brennan’s was the definitive version.
The toughest challenging in making turtle soup recipes is finding turtle meat. All the local species are now protected. The turtle meat in our soup now comes from Virginia, Kansas and Iowa, mostly. It is becoming rarer with each passing day. This is why many restaurants now make a mock turtle soup, usually with veal. (Two notable examples are the Bon Ton and Mandina’s, both highly celebrated among their fans.
It’s traditional to serve turtle soup with sherry at the table, but I’ve never liked the alcoholic taste and aroma of that. The sherry should be in the cooking pot, not added at the table. My saying so will not affect the classic presentation of turtle soup with a shot of sherry.
1. Commander’s Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. Certainly the best-known turtle soup in town, and–since the demise of Brennan’s on Royal Street–probably the best. The recipe here spread not only to the other Brennan restaurants, but most of the gourmet bistros of the 1980s. There’s spinach in it, among other things.
2. Cafe Adelaide. CBD: 300 Poydras St. 504-595-3305. Like many things here, this version recalls the cooking at Commander’s Palace in the 1980s. That included one of the great turtle soups, the recipe for which turns up here, at the Bourbon House, Dickie Brennan’s Steak House, the Palace Cafe and most other Brennan family restaurants.
3. Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. A little tomato, a lot of turtle meat, and a fine spice level.
4. Muriel’s. French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885. Another descendant of the Commander’s version, but very well made at that–enough so that the place is becoming famous for it.
5. Annunciation. Warehouse District & Center City: 1016 Annunciation. 504-568-0245. Chef and co-owner Steve Manning is one of the city’s best soupmakers, to the point that I never ask what the du jour is–I just get it. Or I get the turtle. Made in the old style, dense and arrestingly lusty, it may be the city’s best soup for a cold day.
6. Criollo. French Quarter: 214 Royal. 504-523-3341. This is one of the few dishes from the old restaurants of the Monteleone Hotel to make the jump into the hotel’s new, all-day restaurant Criollo. Dense, dark, full of complex flavors.
7. Court of Two Sisters. French Quarter: 613 Royal. 504-522-7273. An outstanding version of the old-fashioned turtle soup, with flavors of lemon, sherry, pepper, and turtle balancing each other out into a superb whole.
8. Porter & Luke. Metairie 1: Old Metairie: 1517 Metairie Road. 504-875-4555. Chef Vincent Manguno worked in a number of restaurants where he might have picked up his recipe for turtle soup. Suffice it to say that the version here is a great one, with enough pepper that you don’t need to add any.
9. Cafe 615 (Da Wabbit). Gretna: 615 Kepler. 504-365-1225. Surprisingly delicious for a place specializing in poor boys and seafood platters, The recipe is very old-fashioned, a good thing. More hard-boiled egg in here than one usually finds anymore.
10. Annadele Plantation. Covington: 71518 Chestnut St. 985-809-7669. Annadele’s kitchen won a prize for its turtle soup some years ago. That’s easy to figure. It remains the best version of the potage anywhere on the North Shore, with that peculiar piquancy that makes turtle soup different from its other dark-roux relatives.
11. Bon Ton Cafe. CBD: 401 Magazine. 504-524-3386. One of the famous versions, this old Cajun restaurant has gone with mock turtle soup for a long time, but it is much loved anyway. The large lemon component reveals its antiquity.
12. Austin’s. Metairie 3: Houma Blvd To Kenner Line: 5101 West Esplanade Ave. 504-888-5533. I’m pretty sure that Ed McIntyre’s restaurants (the two Mr. Ed’s, Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar, and this one) gets his soups from a commissary. This explains their consistency of goodness, with the turtle soup being the best example of that.