Little Woods: 7816 Hayne Blvd.
Marshall Rodriguez could have told you why no restaurant ever successfully tried to duplicate Antoine’s. Because if he couldn’t do it, then nobody can.
Marshall was one of the best-liked of the old-line waiters at Antoine’s, tending to its table for the entire latter half of the twentieth century. He was everything you wanted in a regular waiter there. He knew all his customers’ preferences for everything, and had enough sway in the kitchen to get whatever they wanted. He was the personal waiter for enough regular customers of great prominence that he could make special things happen. And he was a Cajun, with that famous sense of humor. In the 1970s, he told me that waiting tables brought him a six-figure annual income–enough for him to own a few racehorses. No doubt a lot of his customers asked him for advice not only about appetizers and entrees but geldings and mares.
Marshall was so good at what he did that he and his wife decided they could open their own restaurant. They took over a large, columned mansion surrounded by large live oaks on Hayne Boulevard. It was a time when it looked as if New Orleans East might become another Metairie.
They named the place Marchal’s–Marshall’s real name. They pronounced it mar-SHALL’S, for added panache.
Almost everything about Marchal’s was borrowed from Antoine’s. Marshall hired a few cooks and waiters from there, and built a menu largely from the old restaurant’s best dishes. Omitted were the more peculiar, ancient dishes from Antoine’s 140-dish catalog. And it was in English, not the French in which Antoine’s menu was rendered in the 1970s.
One would imagine that the service at Marchal’s must have been very special, what with Marshall’s experience in the dining room and his many loyal customers making a waiter’s job lucrative from the outset. And that maybe the food wouldn’t be quite up to what it was at Antoine’s.
Oddly enough, things were the other way around. I recall that on my first visit to Marchal’s, I had to wait around about five minutes before anybody appeared at the door to so much as say hello. I was the first customer my waiter had ever served–not just here, but in his entire life.
But the food was good. My first meal (I vividly remember it, even after almost fifty years) was oysters Rockefeller, chicken Rochambeau, soufflee potatoes, and cherries jubilee–Antoine’s classics all. Everything was like it would have been on a good day at Antoine’s. It wasn’t only delicious, but tasted exactly the same as it would have at 713 St. Louis Street.
It turned out that Marshall spent moast of his time not waiting tables, but cooking. Like many great waiters (especially the Cajuns among them), he was quite a cook himself, and he knew all the recipes. Until its last months, eating here was always more than a little good. Were it not for Crozier’s, Marchal’s would have been the best restaurant in New Orleans East.
But without Marshall or somebody like him schmoozing the customers in the dining room, there was something missing. And, as atmospheric as Marchal’s was, it wasn’t Antoine’s. Marshall struggled on until he ran out of money, then closed the place. It was a good thing he did. New Orleans East was not going the way it was expected to go, and the population of potential customers for a restaurant at this price level was shrinking. And it was a long drive from anywhere else in the city.
Marshall returned to Antoine’s, and picked up right where he left off as one of the all-time greatest New Orleans waiters. He did that almost until he died, in 2012. The last time I saw him, he was still smiling and joking. If you asked him about Marchal’s, he’d say, “Thank God I got out of there.”
Marshall did a good job with Marshal’s erstwhile building, however. It hosted a succession of other restaurants until it was transformed into Southern Oaks Plantation, a first-class reception hall. Which it remains, even after the hurricane.
This article is revised from one in The Lost Restaurants of New Orleans,” by Peggy Scott Laborde and me, from Pelican Publishing Company. It’s available in bookstores throughout the area.