ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The most interesting and best news from the restaurant beat in the past several years has been the revival of Brennan’s on Royal Street. For those of us who thrive on first-class dining, it was a dramatic dream come true. What was left of the descendants of Owen Brennan lost control of the original Brennan’s, which then went bankrupt. Then Ralph Brennan (Owen’s nephew) and a well-moneyed partner took over the building and the business. They spent well over $20 million restoring both, and reopened with a legitimate claim to have reunited the Brennan family and what Brennan’s customers considered “the real Brennan’s.”
For those who just tuned in to the fifty-year-old saga, what we have here is the return of a family-owned restaurant which, to a great extent, created the grand New Orleans restaurant as we now know it. At the same time, it brought back from a long-running torpor the uniquely pleasant restaurant that was Brennan’s in its heyday, one that set the standards now widely copied at every level: food, service and environment. This is especially welcome in the pink-walled restaurant in the center of the French Quarter, the one that turned breakfast into a major celebration every day.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Brennan’s importance to the New Orleans dining scene is not entirely appreciated by locals, who watched the place lean in the 2000s toward the touristy side, with prices to match. However, that didn’t stop the regulars from coming in. . . well, regularly. Breakfast at Brennan’s never ceased to be wonderful. And more than a few recipes continued to be curated by Brennan’s old-time chefs. Even during the few years leading up to the rebooting phase, people showed up at the front door to dine. In the New Age of the restaurant, the whole bottle of allure got shook up into an entirely new approach to the classics.
Chef Slade Rushing, who had been making a name for himself in a run of adventuresome restaurants, nabbed the main chef job and immediately set out on a course that would see most of the old dishes perish, to be replaced by brilliant new versions through most of the menu. However, old dishes that were clearly distinctive were kept whole–even the famous Filet Stanley, the city’s best steak-and-banana dish. Some former essays were just rebuilt using current ingredients from name-brand sources. Unlike most long-running restaurants, Brennan’s cannot be accused of being behind the times.
The history of Brennan’s–especially the part that began with the split of the family from 1973 through 2104–makes for complicated and painful reading, and has little effect on the current restaurant. In the split, the sons of founder Owen Brennan had a disagreement with their aunts and uncles as to the future direction of the restaurant. The brothers, owning a majority of the business, claimed it for their own and spun off the six other locations to Owen Brennan’s brothers and sisters. The older generation wound up at Commander’s Palace, where they would repeat the brilliant success they’d experienced on Royal Street. Brennan’s began to fall apart after Katrina, when one thing led to another until the place couldn’t go on. Then Ralph appeared on the scene, to outstanding result.
Brennan’s building is old even by French Quarter standards, with parts of it having been built in the 1700s. It was famously occupied by Paul Morphy, the world champion chess player, New Orleans native, and Drew Brees of his day. The renovation of Brennan’s took two years and kept a layout that suggests a residential past. Most of these–even the ones upstairs–give onto a courtyard where now one can not only have a cocktail, but also have a full dinner–unless the space is in use for a wedding or business meeting. No two rooms look the same, and most of them don’t look the way they did before the restoration. Every part of the place is magnificent in clean, modern tones. The service staff is well trained, but one wishes there were a few more old guys taking orders and adding character.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Louisiana seafood filé gumbo
Brennan’s oyster soup
Egg yolk carpaccio, grilled shrimp, andouille vinaigrette
Roasted Gulf oysters, smoked chili butter
New Orleans barbecue lobster
Grapefruit brulee, Luxardo cherries, creme anglais
Baked apple, oatmeal pecan raisin crumble, créme fraíche
Strawberries & cream, housemade yogurt panna cotta, pecans
Rock shrimp remoulade, citrus vinaigrette
Jackson salad: quail eggs, bacon, blue cheese & French dressings
Truffled burrata & asparagus toast
Eggs Hussarde: housemade English muffins, coffee cured Canadian bacon, hollandaise, marchand de vin sauce
Eggs Sardou: crispy artichokes, Parmesan creamed spinach, choron sauce
Eggs Nouvelle: cream-poached eggs, crab, spiced cauliflower
Crawfish Omelette: porcini mushrooms, parmesan, watercress
Eggs Owen: Red wine-braised short rib debris, potatoes, hollandaise, marchand de vin sauce
Black truffle soft-scrambled eggs prepared tableside: Perigord black truffles, duck eggs, créme fraíche, toasted brioche
Eggs Cardinal: shrimp boudin, spinach, lobster cardinale, black truffle hollandaise
Frittata Carbonara: spaghetti, bacon, eggs, bacon jus
Creole Spiced Shrimp Salad: hearts of palm, avocado, cherry tomatoes, lime dressing
Pecan Crusted Redfish: Cassoulet of spring vegetables, parsley root purée, vermouth vin blanc sauce
Vanilla Scented French Toast: strawberry-rhubarb compote, housemade granola
Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin: Farro jambalaya, shiitake mushroom jus
Corned Beef Hash Crepinette: Pastrami short rib, house-smoked brisket hash, Mississippi comeback sauce, sunny-side up eggs
Steak & Eggs, Japanese Kobe beef, Osetra caviar, egg yolk, Robuchon potatoes
Rabbit Rushing: Fried Mississippi rabbit, creamed collards, eggs over easy, pickled pork jus
Soft-Shell Crab Chartres: Flash-fried Louisiana jumbo soft-shell crab, Canadian bacon, poached eggs, caper-dill hollandaise
Gulf Shrimp & Green Tomato Salad: Creole spiced shrimp, shaved fennel, fried green tomato, lemonette dressing
Smoked Steak Tartare: Duck yolk, fermented mustard greens, spiced crème fraîche
Roasted Oysters: Smoked chili butter, Manchego crust
New Orleans Barbecue Lobster: Creole spiced butter, lemon confit, toasted Bellegarde baguette
Octopus a la Creole: San Marzano tomatoes, Creole Country chaurice sausage, Spanish olives, fresh herbs
Grilled Foie Gras: grilled Hudson Valley foie gras, sweet potato purée, candied pecans
Pan Roasted Veal Sweetbreads: black truffle grits, bacon lardons, sherry bacon jus
Duo of lamb Mirabeau, fava beans, braised daikon radish, lamb-fat bearnaise
Sazerac Rye Whiskey Lacquered Duck, glazed asparagus, baby turnips, cipollini onions
Redfish Amandine: Marcona almonds, haricots verts, preserved lemon butter
Filet of Beef Stanley: Parmesan herb-roasted bananas, porcini mushrooms, horseradish yogurt, sauce Perigourdine
Nigella Seared Tuna: black onion-seed crusted Gulf tuna, potato rosti, Brussels sprouts, zingara sauce
Bacon Roasted Pork Tenderloin: pork tenderloin, Beeler’s bacon, endive gratin, apple jus
Poisson Blangé: Slow-baked Gulf fish, butter poached lobster knuckle, oysters and shrimp, fennel-potato purée, herbsaint nage
Pan-roasted Young French Chicken: Fingerling potato, scallion, haricot verts, crawfish jus
Georgia Cheddar Risotto: cheddar cheese, smoked maitake mushrooms, collard green purée, brown butter sauce
Shrimp & Grits: Gulf Shrimp Bolognese, creamy grits agnolotti, Tuscan kale
Bananas Foster: bananas, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, rum,
vanilla bean ice cream, flambéed tableside.
Ponchatoula Strawberry Crêpes Fitzgerald: Lemon cheese-filled crêpes, Ponchatoula strawberries and Luxardo, flambéed tableside
Hibiscus Poached Pear: Cinnamon & nutmeg ice cream, mulled wine-infused dried fruit, candied almonds and whipped Brie
Tahitian Vanilla Créme Brûlée
Praline Bread Pudding: rye whiskey anglaise, chantilly cream
Cheese Plate: chef’s selection of cheeses, spiced toasted pecans, local honey
FOR BEST RESULTS
Everybody has his favorite room at Brennan’s. Mine is the one that opens to reveal the State Supreme Court building across the street. In the old place, it was the kitchen.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
As deft as Slade Rushing is, a person of my generation yearns for some of the mild funkiness the dining rooms, cooking, and service that Brennan’s once had. But that will work itself out over the years.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +3
- Consistency +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +3
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +3
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open some holidays
- Reservations recommended
Stuffed Baby Artichokes @ Vincent’s
Baby artichokes are so small that you can eat them entirely, stem and leaves and teeny soft spines and all. The stuffing at Vincent’s is more like a heavy coating, with bread crumbs, herbs, and garlic. Surrounding them are slices of prosciutto and parmesan cheese. Fantastic! When we discovered this at the Uptown Vincent’s, even my daughter–not one to try new dishes often–loved it at first taste. A great appetizer, large enough to split.
Vincent’s. Riverbend: 7839 St Charles Ave. 504-866-9313.
||Metairie: 4411 Chastant St. 885-2984.This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.