Broussard's has a legitimate claim to the sobriquet of grand dame restaurant, which puts it in the same category as Antoine's, Galatoire's, Arnaud's and Brennan's. That has certainly been true since the magnificent rebuilding of the restaurant in 1974, but it was highly thought of since the day in 1920 when it first appeared. With the century birthday in the foreseeable future, Broussard's owners in the last three years are making much of it--particularly with a $19.20 three-course dinner, available every evening. That is good enough in terms both of edibility and value for the dollar that the place ought to have a line outside the door. The reason it doesn't is that Broussard's has two long-running problems that even the best chefs and management have found hard to overcome. The first is parking. Although several options exist within three blocks, that's not quite close enough. Nothing would improve Broussard's customer count more than valet parking at the front door. The other issue is the memory of inconsistency during the last ten years or so. There have been three chefs since the current owners took over, and each of them changed the menu drastically. The reason I'm writing today is that Chef Neal Swidler seems not only to be well in control, but also has a firm grasp of classic Creole-French and contemporary Louisiana flavors. It's just hip enough to attract younger diners--to say nothing of the affordability of the menu. And getting younger diners is what a restaurant with this one's history must work hardest to obtain.
Broussard's was founded in 1920. During the blossoming of tourism following World War II it flourished, although by the 1960s it was a bit run down and antiquated in its cooking. Because of the several changes of ownership, it never attracted the following that the others did. A major renovation in 1974 by Charles Gresham--a legend among local restaurant designers--rebuilt it into one of the city's most beautiful restaurants. Chef Gunter Preuss--a Berlin native who came to New Orleans to create the Fairmont's Sazerac restaurant in 1965, then operated the Versailles for two decades--bought Broussard's late 1900s and ran it for almost thirty years. The owner now is the Creole Cuisine Concepts group, which also owns another dozen restaurants around town, most ly in the French Quarter.
Broussard's occupies one of the handsomest restaurants in the city. The big front dining room is a bit dated, but the bar and the dining room that gives onto the large courtyard has an immediate casual appeal. It has a good story, too. That space once was the stables for the old mansion's horses in the 1800s. The tiled vestibule just inside the entrance sports a demonstration kitchen where the flaming desserts are made.
The three-course daily table d'hote dinner is the best dining strategy. Don't be spooked if the restaurant is sparsely populated. It's too big for the local regulars, and when no big convention is in town it may not fill. Know that the Friday lunch is off from June through September.