Written by Tom Fitzmorris January 18, 2011 03:52 in

Extinct Restaurants

CBD: 1009 Poydras

Maylie's was a relict restaurant for decades before it closed. One of many restaurants adjacent to public markets around town, for the first half of its history its main customers were people who worked in the market. Tujague's was the most famous of these, and the only survivor in the species.) The market merchants began their days well before dawn, and knocked off around one in the afternoon. They had their big meal of the day then, and went home.

Maylie's was immediately adjacent to the Poydras Market--which stood in the wide neutral ground on its namesake street. Its customers bought tickets for dinner and then waited for the big bell to ring, calling them to long communal tables where the table d'hote dinner was served in big platters, family style.

By the time I got to Maylie's, in the early 1970s, the market was long gone. So was the restaurant's main building, a victim of street widening in the late 1950s. What remained was a two-story frame building with the bar, a sixty-seat dining room, and the kitchen on the first floor. The Maylie family lived upstairs. The trunk of an ancient wisteria just outside the entrance. The plant was a trademark, twisting its way around the building, covering its upstairs balcony with purple flowers every spring.

The loss of its main building was the beginning of the end for Maylie's. In its last decades, it was much diminished in spirit as well as size. Its old customers drifted away or died, and not many new customers took their places. Some nights nobody showed up for dinner at all. It didn't help that Willie Maylie--the owner and son of the founder--turned the place into a private club in the 1960s, for reasons we need not rehash. (That era ended in 1975.)

Nevertheless, diners who had a taste for history loved the place. The old table d'hote dinner remained, although it was now served in conventional restaurant portions. In 1974, its six courses sold for $6.50:

Deviled eggs remoulade
Soup of the day
Fish course
Boiled beef brisket with potatoes
Bread pudding

The eggs remoulade were wonderful, not only because the eggs and the sauce went together perfectly, but because the sauce was second in goodness only to Arnaud's.

Soup was another specialty at Maylie's. The restaurant made all the Creole classics I a very old style that was much brothier and lighter than is currently the vogue. Here was one of the two or three best turtle soups I ever ate. The seafood gumbo was first-class, and not afraid of using lots of okra. The vegetable soup was a byproduct of boiling of brisket. That stock makes as fine a vegetable soup as can be imagined.

The fish course in the table d'hote dinner often was a dish they misleadingly called "redfish vinaigrette." It was poached redfish served chilled, with a sauce that seemed to be a very light, very lemony mayonnaise with a lot of green onions. Not only was this good, but it was nearly the last such dish of its kind to be served hereabouts.

The boiled beef brisket was the house specialty, but it was just okay--never quite as good as Tujague's. They sliced it about a quarter-inch thick and sent it out with ketchup and horseradish on the side to make into a sauce.

Maylie's cook many other entrees, ranging from steaks to fried seafood to broiled chicken. At lunch, they ran one or two good, very inexpensive specials every day. Some of these were so old-fashioned it was hard to believe they were still making them. (Tripe stew, for example.)

The bread pudding, when it came right out of the oven, was one of the best I ever remember eating. Most of the time, it was a day or two or three old, and less good for it. It showed up with an eggy, yellow sauce, the likes of which I never saw before or since--but it was good, too.

Maylie's food was wildly inconsistent. Sometimes it was so far beyond fresh that it's amazing they had the gall to sell it. But sell it they did, even to their best customers.

As in most old New Orleans restaurants, Maylie's kitchen was staffed by of old black cooks who had been there for decades. Willie Maylie was also back there a lot, in his white shirt and bowtie. He was quite knowledgeable about Creole-French food, He knew from firsthand experience what the local cuisine was like fifty years earlier. His wife Anna May ran the dining room, sitting at one table in the corner smoking cigarettes and drinking cocktails through lunch and dinner. She was something of a socialite, and knew everybody in town.

Maylie's closed in 1983. It sat there crumbling for fifteen years. Then Smith and Wollensky, the New York steakhouse chain, bought the place and performed a first-class restoration in 1998. They installed as their chef Robert Bruce, the grandson of Willie and Anna May Maylie, who had a good career with the Brennans and elsewhere. Hurricane Katrina closed Smith and Wollensky, and the old Maylie's building once again went into suspended animation. At this writing, it is being renovated into a sports bar and restaurant.