Dozen Best Bread Puddings
Bread pudding is the most distinctive and familiar dessert in New Orleans. It’s different from what’s found under that name in the rest of America, where it has the reputation as a poor person’s dessert. But made with the richness and complexity that we do here, it’s found in even the most expensive restaurants. And the cheapest ones, too–without a noticeable drop in goodness.
Bread pudding is so widespread on local menus that a list of the best dozen doesn’t even cover all the extroardinary versions–let alone the merely excellent or good. Making the judging even more difficult is that now to bread puddings are alike. I expect to hear from a lot of readers who believe that their own favorite shouldn’t have been left off the list. I tell you all now: you’re right. These are just the ones I look forward to trying again with lust in my heart.
1. Mr. B’s Bistro. French Quarter: 201 Royal. 504-523-2078. This is the lightest bread pudding around, with an incomparable flavor and a fine contrast between the center and the slivers of crust that always gets in there. Their secret is baking it at the very low temperature of 250 degrees for a couple of hours. A fine light sauce completes it.
2. Commander’s Palace. Garden District: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. The bread pudding soufflee premiered at Commander’s 100th anniversary dinner in 1980. I am very proud that I was there to be among the first to taste it. It’s baked light, then made almost cloudlike with an admixture of sweet meringue.
3. Bon Ton Cafe. CBD: 401 Magazine. 504-524-3386. The most alcoholic bread pudding imaginable, with a custardy sauce full of whiskey. It’s such a signature dish here that they have a special dish for serving it.
4. Ye Olde College Inn. Carrollton: 3016 S Carrollton Ave. 504-866-3683. Perhaps the most original bread pudding in town, it’s called a bread pudding poor boy. Although they do slip in some extra ingredients, what makes it deserving of the name (and inclusion on this list) is that the bread retains its shape, after being soaked in the custard and then deep-fried. I hate that last idea, but if nobody had told me that’s how it was prepared, I never would have guessed.
5. Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. French Quarter: 716 Iberville. 504-522-2467. They make their bread pudding with the sauce and flavor of bananas Foster, the cinnamon-and-run flaming dessert the Brennans invented decades ago.
6. Brigtsen’s. Riverbend: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610. Frank Brigtsen honors the wide range of bread pudding styles by having at least a half-dozen different takes on the dessert. Bananas and chocolate are frequent additives.
7. Todd Shaeffer’s. Slidell: 348 Robert Blvd. 985-649-9003. What makes this one distinctive is that it’s topped with baked meringue. But even if that were not true, this would be a spectacular pudding. Real reason why I think that: it’s almost identical to the pudding my mother made.
8. Palace Cafe. French Quarter: 605 Canal. 504-523-1661. The inventors of the much-imitated white chocolate bread pudding make one that makes your eyes cross with its richness.
9. Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. Their pudding bears my name, although it’s not my recipe. It is a great one, though, in a layered European style, with lots of cinnamon. Not enough custard lately, though.
10. Pascal’s Manale. Uptown: 1838 Napoleon Ave. 504-895-4877. A block of light, moist, custardy (it actually wiggles when you touch it), raisiny pudding, served in a bowl of a very sweet rum sauce. Like most dishes here, it’s old style.
11. Red Maple. Gretna: 1036 Lafayette. 504-367-0935. Even during the decades when the Red Maple was a mediocre steak house (it is now one of the best restaurants on the West Bank) it always served a superb, warm bread pudding was first-class. Still does.
12. Red Fish Grill. French Quarter: 115 Bourbon. 504-598-1200. This one is not really my style, but it must be included if only to keep the mail down. The Red Fish makes an intense, rich chocolate bread pudding.