G&E Courtyard Grill
It was only around for a few years, but the G&E introduced a lot of New Orleans diners to the pleasures of Tuscan Italian food–something so little-known around New Orleans at the time that it made a lasting impression.
The G&E occupied a narrow French Quarter building built in the late 1700s by the Ursuline nuns. Its front room was finished in travertine stone left over from the building of One Shell Square. It was illuminated by fixtures that looked reclaimed from a church. A passageway past the kitchen led to a small courtyard with an open grill and rotisserie, with spare but pretty gardens (growing fresh herbs as well as flowers) along the brick walls. Tables were set out there, too.
The G&E was named for Giuseppe and Elaynora Uddo, who in the early 1900s founded a New Orleans Italian food emporium that evolved into Progresso Foods. Their great-grandson Michael Uddo was a chef who had already made a name for himself at Bouligny, one of the first of the Creole bistros of the early 1980s. Michael opened the G&E with the idea of blending Italian country cooking with current New Orleans styles. The premises were perfect for that sort of thing, and the place was an immediate hit.
Michael’s twin brother Mark–also a chef, although his most recent job was as maitre d’ at Andrea’s–joined the business after its success became apparent. The two of them ran a tight,
consistent, innovative trattoria. Chickens and ducks were always on the rotisserie, tuna puttanesca and other fish on the grill, and oysters baking in the oven with prosciutto and cornbread. Michael made oyster Rockefeller soup popular (he may even have invented it). There was spicy cheese ravioli, penne with Italian lamb sausage, and dozens of other ideas from Michael’s fertile imagination. Mark, a good wine guy, built a list of offbeat bottles that went perfectly with the food.
It was all terrific. Then the lease ran out. The landlord, observing what tremendous business was being done, raised the rent to such an extreme that Michael believed it would not be possible to turn a profit. So he closed the place.
Michael and Mark have each surfaced again and again in the years since. But the magic of the G&E was never recaptured. New Orleans had not had such a restaurant before, and hasn’t had one since. You’d have to go to Tuscany to find its like.