Extinct Restaurants

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Corinne Dunbar’s
Lee Circle Area: 1716 St. Charles Avenue (Later 1617).
1935-1987

All memorable restaurants are unique in some way. Corinne Dunbar’s–about which I am still asked after more than two decades since it served its final meal–was unique in a way that itself was unique. Its story is one of the most interesting ever told by a New Orleans restaurant.

Corinne Dunbar opened her restaurant in the grand parlor of her own home in the middle of the Great Depression. Her husband had died, and his food distribution business was failing. Corinne was a cultured member of New Orleans society, and she didn’t want that life to end. So she brought her skills as a hostess to bear in the service of dinner to whomever was willing to pay for the pleasure.

Corinne Dunbar served her customers as if they were guests at a party in her home. Everyone arrived at the same time, was greeted by a maid and a butler, and seated in one of the Belle Epoque-style parlors. Then the set menu of the night was served to every guest. Guests paid discreetly on the way in, preserving the illusion all the way through the evening.

This idea was so engaging that a reservation at Corinne Dunbar’s became the toughest to secure anywhere in town. This was especially true in the decade following World War II, when gourmets flocked to New Orleans for a taste of Europe. (Europe itself was out of business at the time.) Dunbar’s was declared by a wide range of famous people to be the best restaurant in New Orleans, and perhaps in the entire world.

It wasn’t. Not, at least, if you were primarily interested in the goodness of the food you ate. Although it does seem that Corinne Dunbar’s chefs in its prime years could cook with the best of them, the creative flow had stopped long before I was able to get there.

At the death of Corinne Dunbar in 1947, her daughter took over but altered nothing. The restaurant changed hands again (although still within the family) in 1956. Jimmy Plauche was the final owner. He is best remembered for moving the restaurant a block away to a somewhat larger but just as authentically Creole mansion. He also instituted the sale of alcoholic beverages at Dunbar’s for the first time.

The local customers (although not the tourists) drifted away in the 1960s, a decline accelerated by reviews from Richard Collin in 1970. Few restaurants received commentary as harsh as Collin dealt Corinne Dunbar’s, which he thought was outmoded, corny, and tasteless. The invective was so strong that Plauche ran retaliatory ads in the newspaper. They didn’t name Collin, but it was clear who the ads’ target was.

Nevertheless, Corinne Dunbar’s managed to hang onto shreds of its reputation for good cooking because of a single dish. Oysters Dunbar was a unique appetizer involving artichokes, mushrooms, and bread crumbs. Even Collin admitted it was delicious. And, unlike most of the ever-changing menu, it was available every night. Dunbar’s was also famous for gumbo z’herbes–the gumbo made with more greens than anything else. Indeed, it was one of the few restaurants that kept that dish alive into a new generation of eaters.

If Corinne Dunbar’s were resurrected as it was in its glory days (the building is still there, ready for service), it’s hard to imagine that even its most avid fans would go there much. It was just chugging along when it closed in the late 1980s. By that time the gourmet bistros had taken over, and old-fashioned formality was waning fast. But past diners who didn’t have to see that happen carry nothing but golden memories of the restaurant where you dined as if you were in an old, formerly wealthy friend’s home.


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  1. Court Libey on December 21, 2014

    I was a Dallas resident and traveled frequently to NO on business. My first meal at Corrine Dunbar’s in 1963 was memorable. At the 7:30 seating, the dining room was full and the number of tables assured that one didn’t have much elbow room. As the “huitres Dunbar” was served, a rather loud voice came from over my shoulder. I turned to look and there was Al Hirt, just two tables away. I figured if a prominent NO musician ate at Corinne Dunbar’s, it must offer excellent food. I wasn’t disappointed and returned for many wonderful meals in later years.

  2. dan on December 24, 2014

    i lived and breathed richard and rima collin and the new orleans underground gourmet and their cookbook when i lived in nola 67-71, but i object to his harsh reviews of c.b. i am preparing oysters dunbar tomorrow for christmas. cheers to corinne, richard, rima and austin leslie, and the food of the big easy. best in the world. formality will return soon. people can only be bohemians and uncultured for so long. the pendulum swings.

  3. Dave Schaffer, MD on March 7, 2015

    Years ago I had the pleasure of eating at Corinne Dunbar’s. One of the dishes that I loved was the oyster stew. My memory says it was served with artichoke leaves which were used as spoons to scoop up the stew. I’ve looked at your oyster recipes but can only find ones that have the artichokes in the stew itself. If my memory is correct, is it possible to get that recipe? Thank you.
    Dr. Schaffer

    TOMMENT:
    I don’t remember that. I have two recipes, both of which are good. Nothing stopping you from adding the artichoke leaves from a steamed artichoke.

    Go to

    nomenu.com

    Then click on Recipes. The two recipes (oysters Corinne and oysters Dunbar) can be reached from either index–A-Z or by main ingredient.

    Tastefully yours,
    Tom Fitzmorris

    • Michelle on June 30, 2017

      Dr. Schaffer…as a child from about 1956 on my parents and I would go to N.O. yearly to the AMA convention and two weeks of eating. My remembrance was the dish was “Oysters Bienville” served in a small ramekin surrounded by the artichoke leaves which we’d dip in the sauce. Look in the N.O. Restaurant cookbook or La Bouche Creole. I always remember that dish.

  4. Don on March 7, 2015

    Do you have the recipie for Oysters Dunbar?

    TOMMENT:
    I have two recipes, both claiming to be authentic, both good. Go to

    nomenu.com

    Then click on Recipes. The recipe can be reached from either index–A-Z or by main ingredient.

    Tastefully yours,
    Tom Fitzmorris

  5. Bob Donald on July 6, 2015

    Prior to closing, I went to NOLA with my sales exec Gene Carrigan. It was a cold night, and when the cab driver dropped us off, there were no lights on at the front of the place. Gene said “Donald. You have brought me to a cat house … THATS CLOSED”. Undaunted, we approached. Knocked. Were shown in. The warm ceramic spools of the fire warmed us up along with a nice bourbon drink. A most memorable meal. Gene has long since passed on. I was hoping Corinne Dunbar’s was open. Alas, it is not. Sad. But a most memorable place.

  6. M. Kay Allen on July 14, 2015

    I had the pleasure of enjoying a delightful meal at this unique restaurant, compliments of one of the representatives that called on me where I worked in Surgery. He and his wife were very gracious hosts and I shall never forget the occasion. I wondered how Corinne Dunbar’s Restaurant fared in Hurricane Katrina. I prayed that it survived and was still open. This north Louisiana resident loves the food of New Orleans and truly regret the closing of a real gem.

  7. Joann Larsen on August 23, 2015

    How sad. I’m crushed. We went to the Chicago Bears Super Bowl game and accidentally were directed to Corrine Dunbar’s. For years I have telling people about it and many of them enjoyed it as much as we did. It has been a while since someone I know went to NO. This summer friends said they were going and then emailed me the terrible news. I don’t care what any critic has to say. That was one of the most memorable meals we ever had

  8. Dennis on February 8, 2016

    In December of 1985, I had the pleasure of dining there. It was the most elegant and refined
    dining experience I had ever experienced. To make it even more special, I was there on my birthday with my fiance . It made a unique impression on me – I still have copies of the menus !
    30 years later, I’m browsing the Internet to find the address of the “finest Creole restaurant in New Orleans”. My daughter is on vacation there and she’s heard me rave about it for years. So sad, I’ll have to tel her it is just a memory. But a very special one at that.

  9. My wife Georgia, and I dined at Coninne Dunbar’s in the old Southern Mansion.I do recall that we had to make our reservations several days ahead of our dining there. There was no cash register anywhere in sight. We were met at the very elegant entrance and escorted to a very nice table as if we were special guests of the Dunbar family. There was ONE meat serving for the night we were there, and it was roast DUCK…Very GOOD….It was however an EIGHT COURSE meal with all the extras..We were treated NOT as if we were customers, but as GUESTS both when entering and when leaving. Sad to say, but we may not see that kind of elegance again..

  10. Tom Ebeling on November 10, 2017

    I named my third child after this restaurant. I only spelled it wrong. She is named Corrine. Still remember the best experience in NO. Have considered NO as my second favorite city next to my hom, Chicago. Great people, food and best of times.

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