Nobody understands Creole cooking better than Leah Chase, who built her restaurant into one of the country's most famous. For half a century, this has been the Galatoire's of the African American community, and the place where everyone--including Presidents and every other kind of celebrity--goes for the cooking of the Creoles of color. New Orleans cooking crosses racial lines without really acknowledging them, uniting rather than dividing the community.
Edgar "Dooky" Chase was a musician who opened a bar and cafe in 1940. His son (also called Dooky) expanded it in the late 1940s with the help of his wife Leah. She already had a career as a chef in some French Quarter restaurants, and was determined to at least equal them in her own place. She would do this by sticking to the cuisine she grew up with. Dooky Chase quickly became the leading restaurant in the African-American-Creole community. By the 1980s, it had expanded into two adjacent shotgun cottages with a handsome dining space that drew as many visitors as locals. Leah Chase by then had a national reputation--she speaks as well as she cooks. She wrote three good cookbooks. But Hurricane Katrina broke her restaurant, and it took years to get it back going at all. Leah was in her eighties, but she kept at it. Dooky's is not yet back to what it used to be (in terms of hours, anyway), and it concentrates its efforts on a daily lunch buffet.
It's a neat place: a pair of old houses have been turned into an airy dining room with some colored-grass panels that tell interesting tales from the New Orleans neighborhoods. They serve dinner only sporadically, but stay open after lunch service for take-outs until seven.
The ultimate experience here is coming on on Holy Thursday for gumbo z'herbes, the unique gumbo of greens. It fills the restaurant every year.