Old Metairie: 94 Friedrichs Ave.
Two chefs at Commander’s Palace moved on at around the time Emeril took over the kitchen there, and wound up opening their own nouvelle-Creole bistro.
The restaurant was in a century-old two-story house just off Metairie Road, surrounded by enough trees to give it a genteel, affluent feeling. It was furnished simply but nicely, a gift from La Savoie, the French bistro that had come and gone before. During the brief time that Gambrill’s was open, it was like having a small, slightly retro Commander’s Palace in Old Metairie.
German-born Gerhard Brill was a classically-trained European-style chef who knew how to cook anything. He picked up the strongly local flavors installed at Commander’s by his predecessor Paul Prudhomme, and although he wasn’t strong as a dining-room personality his food was excellent.
Chef Gerhard was the creator of blackened redfish (a take on the way Commander’s had always cooked its steaks). He also created the bread pudding soufflee, serving it for the first time at Commander’s 100th anniversary in 1980. Steve Gamble was a much younger man, steeped in the same cooking traditions but also interested in some hip new ideas.
It seemed like a natural for the two chefs to get together, and it was. The menu they cooked up was a slightly odd mix for the time–although it would seem perfectly normal now. Chef Gerhard would turn out a flow of old classics like tournedos Rossini, veal a dozen different ways, and vividly fresh fish (he was a stickler for quality ingredients) with old-style, rich sauces.
Meanwhile, Steve Gamble liked to cook the dense, intense soups that were in vogue back then. (These were the times when crab and corn bisque with a pint of reduced cream ruled the soup world here.) But he also was good at slapping thick slabs of tuna into a pan to sear it, then to build a sauce in the pan with a mixture of citrus and Asian flavors. With peppercorns. It was all very good.
And then there were the unalloyed Commander’s dishes: blackened fish, panneed veal with fettuccine, trout with pecans, bread pudding soufflee. All of this was delivered with polish and consistency. At its peak, I had it rated four stars.
Unfortunately, Gambrill’s had to face some troublesome truths about running restaurants on Metairie Road. First, if you don’t live on Metairie Road, you’re not likely to travel that ancient highway either by car or in your mind. If you do, the thought will come up that you might catch one of those long trains that block Metairie Road, several times a day, even if you don’t have to cross those tracks to get to where you’re going.
Second, if you live in Old Metairie there’s a good chance you’re a member of the Metairie Country Club, where the dining room’s prices have always been a bargain. The club is the invisible competitor of any independent restaurant on Metairie Road.
When Chef Gerhard left the partnership to take over the food service at the Perdido Beach Resort, Steve kept the place going on his own. But it was too much in more ways than one, and within a year Gambrill’s closed. I hear from Steve now and then, but he’s moved to other interests. I don’t know whether Gerhard–who would be in his 70s or older now–is still with us.
The building was still a nice restaurant space, and it became an Italian-flavored café called Mali D’s. It only lasted a couple of years. A fire put an end to the old house a few years later, and that was that.