Extinct Restaurants

Lakeview: 5236 Canal Boulevard

Lenfant’s had three lives, each different from the others. Louis Lenfant and his family opened the restaurant just before World War II, and established it as what in New Orleans-speak would have been called a “modren” place. The place had a unique look, with curved corners not just inside, but outside, too. Neon tubes wrapped around the facade. Historian Ned Hemard calls the look “Streamline Moderne,” noting the resemblance of Lenfant’s to the rides at the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, built around the same time.

Cover of 1982 NOMenu.The restaurant’s logo (displayed in neon, of course) was another distinctive icon. A lobster dressed in a tuxedo stood upright with a napkin over one claw. The fact that Lenfant’s didn’t often serve lobster never seemed to be questioned. Perhaps it was a crawfish. That would have made more sense, since Lenfant’s was famous for its crawfish bisque.

But of all the memories of Lenfant’s, the one that lives on most pervasively was its parking lot. It was bigger than it needed to be. And it was adjacent to one of the many cemeteries in the neighborhood. No lights in a cemetery; no prying eyes. For many years, it was the place you went on a date to get a little dinner, and then to make out. Although the memory is fading now, for a very long time after Lenfant’s stopped serving in its parking lot, a mention of the place would inevitably recall romantic interludes in that shell-covered expanse.

I wasn’t old enough to have participated in that pleasure. My Baby Boom generation of Orleanians has a different association with Lenfant’s. It was where you went to eat after a funeral. Or right before All Saints’ Day, when your family went to the cemetery to dress up the tomb of loved ones.

Lenfant’s menu was enormous and almost laughably cheap. A copy of a specials sheet I had until Katrina stole it list about twenty entrees, complete with salad or soup and vegetables, for less than a dollar fifty. Most of it was homestyle cookery, with a clear influence of the just-past Depression. Although a lot of this was good enough, it was clear that Lenfant’s wasn’t trying to serve the best food in town. Nobody ever accused the place of that.

After the war, Lenfant’s became a very popular venue for private parties—everything from wedding receptions to Rotary Club meetings. It seemed to me that they were more involved with those than with a la carte business in the 1960s and 1970s.

Louis Lenfant retired in 1975, and sold Lenfant’s to Joe Fein, Sr., the owner of the Court of Two Sisters. Fein—who was no more interested in multiple guidebook stars than Lenfant had been–modernized the menu but kept Lenfant’s going as before, continuing the emphasis on catering.

That phase didn’t last long. In the 1982 economic downturn, Fein closed the restaurant. It sat empty for a few years. Then it was Joe Marcello’s turn. The former owner of the burned-down Elmwood Plantation saw Lenfant’s as a prime spot for a revival. In 1984 he renovated the building thoroughly, keeping streamlined look while modernizing it quite a bit. What came out of the work was a striking restaurant.

He also had a memorable chef. Tom Cowman, who was looking for a gig after Jonathan closed. Chef Tom and Mr. Joe were not a logical team. They were sort of like Leonard Bernstein and Louis Prima–both great, but in very different ways. Joe knew what he wanted on the menu, and Chef Tom cooked it. But Joe questioned a lot of Chef Tom’s flights of fancy.

One that the chef got away with was the serving of popovers at the table as soon as guests sat down. The popovers, looking like oversize muffins, eggy and hollow in the middle, were hot and buttery and wonderful.

The Marcello edition of Lenfant’s was the all-time culinary peak for the restaurant. But it got caught in a tangle that would choke it to death. The city wanted to rebuild the busy intersection of Canal Street, Canal Boulevard, and City Park Avenue, for drainage and other issues. Lenfant’s was inside the work area. Having all the access streets torn up was bad, but Joe Marcello just gritted his teeth and prepared to ride it out.

But one day during the digging a workman pulled up human bones. Not a big surprise; this part of town had been used as a cemetery for well over a century. But it brought work to a halt for months.

That was too much for Lenfant’s, and in 1988 it shut down. After languishing for a few years, the great old streamlined building was torn down to make room for–ironically enough–a funeral home. The big parking lot came in handy for that, it with a very different mood from that of the old days.

11 Readers Commented

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  1. Pat Bachemin on May 30, 2014

    Thanks for the wonderful trip down memory lane and the review of this beloved place. My family visited there often. I have many fond memories. The only exception to your article is that I remember the food as being wonderful and still miss it and L’Enfant’s in general.

    • Nicole Lenfant on November 6, 2014

      hi my name is Nicole Lenfant and my papa worked at Lenfant’s and i wish i could have tried the food and one day when i am older maby I will be able to rebuild Lenfant’s seance i am truly a Lenfant.

  2. William C. Bradshaw on September 10, 2015

    Don’t remember specifically how many times I was there……….. or why………

    but it must have been a really great place in the late 1950s. All I remember now

    is having been there and enjoyed it.

  3. Leslie on November 23, 2015

    I miss Lenfant’s so much. We used to go weekly for many years. How can I get the recipe for the French dressing?

  4. Jay Hakes on February 21, 2016

    Historians seem to have forgotten that Jimmy Carter held a fundraising dinner for his presidential campaign at Lenfant’s in 1975. It’s not the only restaurant in our fair city to host a future president, but there can’t be very many.

  5. Gayle Varsel on January 4, 2017

    Love, love, loved, Lenfants. Food was excellent, ambience great, totally professional staff and just all round fantastic experience. Miss it immensely. Wish I had a recipe for the sauce they served with the lobster at my brothers wedding reception. Never have tasted anything as wonderful since then (Feb1969)

  6. Nancy on January 9, 2017

    My family ate at L’Enfant’s many times as I was growing up. My aunt & uncle had their wedding reception there & I enjoyed my first glass of champagne at age 12.

  7. Trista Bringier Byrd on February 13, 2017

    My family ate at Lenfant’s all the time and my father and uncle frequented the bar, every day for over 25 yrs. The best bartender was Pep according to them. He could really make a martini!
    I had my wedding reception there in the building next door in 1971. What a party!
    The food was great, especially the Remoulade Sauce- no one made it better in New Orleans. Wish I had the recipe. Makes me sad that it is gone.

    All I remember about Lenfant’s remoulade is that it was reddish brown. Knowing that, however, is enough for me to pass along a recipe that I think will please you:

    Red Remoulade Sauce:
    1/2 cup chili sauce (bottled) or ketchup
    1/2 cup Creole mustard
    1 Tbs. paprika
    1/2 tsp. salt
    2 Tbs. lemon juice
    1/4 tsp. Tabasco
    1/2 tsp. pureed garlic
    1/2 cup green onion tops, finely sliced
    1 cup vegetable olive oil

    In a bowl, mix everything except the oil. Add the oil in a thin stream while whisking. When finished, taste the sauce and add Creole mustard, ketchup or Tabasco to your taste.

  8. Rosalind Lenfant Rowell on June 18, 2017

    Trista, I remember your father and uncle I believe, Pops and Elgie, also the bartender Pep back when I was a little girl. My father was Snow and my grandfather John Lenfant was one of the 4 brothers who owned Lenfant’s. The remoulade sauce was like no other and in answer to the other comments above, I too wish I knew how to make their French dressing and the white sauce that you dipped the lobster bites in.

  9. Lisa Gowen on August 10, 2017

    My mom and dad met at Lenfant’s and became good friends with Carmel and Jay , my sister later married one of their son’s Jerry with a big reception at Lenfant’s and my mom and dad are in the mausoleum behind Lenfant’s. I even rode out a hurricane or two in the ballroom. Good memories

  10. Diana on October 3, 2017

    In 1965 my husband proposed to me at Lenfants, so it holds some very fond memories for us.