Extinct Restaurants

* * *
Stephen & Martin
Uptown: 4141 St. Charles Avenue

Stephen & Martin had two lives. The first was as a neighborhood cafĂ© in the same category as Mandina’s or Pascal’s Manale. It was in an old building that seemed not to have been designed as a restaurant. It was a maze, and rare among New Orleans casual eateries in having both upstairs and downstairs dining rooms.

Its kitchen could send you anything from oysters Rockefeller to a poor boy sandwich to fried chicken. The prices were low, and the place was busy all the time, well into the wee hours of the morning. Stephen & Martin’s slogan was “The Next Best to Eating In Your Home,” which always sounded like faint praise.

Then, in 1975, the place was sold to the owners of Forty-One Forty-One, a sleek, chic new bar on the corner in front of Stephen & Martin’s. (It replaced a popular Uptown boite called Ched’s.) The new owners decided to chuck the whole Stephen & Martin’s concept. A deep renovation was designed by Charles Gresham (previous work: Brennan’s, Broussard’s, and Commander’s Palace). It created a lofty entrance atrium, flanked by a wine rack so tall the waiters had to climb to reach some of the bottles. The design was contemporary, with a suggestion of Art Deco.

Everything else about the restaurant was rejiggered too. Manager Tim Gannon hired younger, more casual waitresses, put in a real wine list, raised prices, and created a much more engaging, hip scene.

The chef was Ron Sciortino. He had worked at LeRuth’s, and for his mother’s catering company. He had a free hand and took advantage of it. The result was the forerunner of the gourmet Creole bistro, which would shortly become the most pervasive kind of restaurant in town. As it still is.

Chef Ronnie’s dishes weren’t wildly innovative by today’s standards. But they seemed that way then. He brushed up everything, gave it a new edge. I remember that the gumbo, the barbecue shrimp, the baked oysters, and the fish were more along the lines of what we would later eat at places like Mr. B’s (still three years from opening) than what we were being served in other restaurants.

It was a tremendous success, and for a few years it was tough to get a table. Then Sciortino left (he ultimately took over his family’s Sno-Wizard business, which he still runs). Gannon departed to open Bouligny. (In ten years, he would co-found the Outback Steakhouse).

A contingent of Manale’s expatriates came in and turned Stephen & Martin into a slightly polished version of that restaurant. When the bistros started popping up all over Uptown in the early 1980s, it was nearly forgotten that Stephen & Martin had been the prototype of the genre.

Stephen & Martin’s settled into a desultory groove. After a few changes of ownership it became the very dull Cannon’s. Which itself sold out to New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Company. The end.

This is one of 122 reviews of fondly-remembered but extinct restaurants from Lost Restaurants Of New Orleans, just published by Pelican. It’s available in bookstores all around town, and full of photos, graphics, menus, and memorabilia.

5 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. You have some of your facts wrong. The original Stephen & Martin was at 1613 Milan street behind Cheds Lounge. It was opened by two brothers in law, Steve Grilletta and Clarence Martin. Martin later went on to open Martin’s on Upperline street with his wife Ester. Stephen & Martin never had an up stairs. In the early 70’s the owner Steve Grilletta, had saved up enough to up date the kitchen and actually move the men’s bathroom out of the kitchen. It was a beautiful commercial kitchen. Within the next year or so Steve had a stroke and never returned. His wife at the time sold it, the business name and property for 100,000 to the owners of Cheds.
    I know all this because Steve was my father and growing up I always thought I would be a restaurant owner someday.
    I hope you will correct your information.

    • Tom Fitzmorris on July 28, 2014

      Since the article on Stephen & Martin’s came out a few years ago, you are the fourth person claiming inside information from the several generations of owners. All have found a few errors, but in some cases the corrections corrected another correction. No two people involved in the place seem to have exactly the same story. The article is based on reviews I wrote in 1974 (old Stephen and Martin) and 1977 (the new, very different place). I distinctly remember eating upstairs at least once, but apparently I am mixing that up with something else.

      Other than that, I don’t see anything else in your comments that I have wrong. Remember that this article is about not just the old, original restaurant of the 1940s-1970s, but even more about the new one, which is also extinct. And the new place definitely had an upstairs: three or four steps from the front dining room to the kitchen and the rooms in the back.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  2. marsha on January 28, 2015

    This was my dad, Stephen, and Uncle Martin (actually his 1st cousin) favorite place to eat so I remember it fondly. Still have a plastic cup but don’t know from which era. Would definitely venture a guess it was from the 2nd one.

  3. Beany Macgregor on June 2, 2016

    Who cares about upstairs or downstairs or who remembers what? Stephen & Martin was the place to be. I should know, I was the Executive Chef there after Ronnie. Working alongside Tim Gannon, Fitz, Martin Radosta, Frank & S.J. , and Charlie! What a Blast! I eventually moved on to bigger and better things, well, maybe better. Many fond memories of customers and staff alike. Still miss it today. Chef Beany Macgregor

    • Tutt esquerre on May 6, 2017

      Yo Beany,in the words of Art Neville,”Tell it like it is”.Yea you right.S&M was one of a kind.A place that could be in the top 5 best restaurants in NOLA if open now,I still remember it well and thank y’all for giving me the opportunity to work there,and where else could you work on the line with the present day chef of Antoine’s Michael Regua.