Ten Best Weather-Terminated Restaurants
Restaurants can cease to exist for a lot of reasons. At this time of year (I’m writing this as we wait for Hurricane Isaac), I recall great eateries whose ends were brought about by bad weather. The culprit that brought about most of these sorry ends was, of course, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. So many that two or three more lists could be made of them. But there were others.
1. Christian’s. Mid-City: 1973-2005.. . Because Christian’s most prominent characteristic was that it was inside an antique church, its successor–Redemption–is seen by many as a rebirth. Good as Redemption is, there will never be another Christian’s. Chris Ansel–a descendent of the founder of Galatoire’s and the manager of that restaurant for a time–opened Christian’s in Metairie with partner Henry Bergeron. It hit the big time when it moved into the church. The building’s utilities were badly damaged by Katrina flooding, and it never returned.
2. T. Pittari’s. Broadmoor: 1899-1983. . T. Pittari’s remains, almost thirty years after it closed, one of New Orleans’s best remembered restaurants. It pioneered live Maine lobster here, and was also famous for serving wild game. It had a long history, but reached its peak in the 1950s through the 1980s on South Claiborne Avenue. But a combination of redevelopment downtown and subtle weather changes brought a series of disastrous, rain-caused floods at their location. The May 3, 1978 flood was the first and worst of a series that put a couple of feet of water in Pittari’s dining rooms on at least three occasions. The Sewerage and Water Board began a major rebuilding of the drainage system in that very low-lying part of town. But it took years to build. And when the April 13, 1983 flood did it again to Pittari’s, Tom Pittari threw up his hands, shut the place down, and moved it to Mandeville, where it lasted only a short time before becoming a very interesting historical note.
3. Bruning’s. West End: 1859-2005. . The oldest restaurant in West End Park, Bruning’s had the distinction of being destroyed by hurricanes twice. Hurricane Georges (the Euro-Hurricane) didn’t do great damage to the city, but it did push the level of Lake Pontchartrain so high that the waves beat the raised restaurant from underneath and did tremendous damage. While waiting for an insurance settlement that’s still pending, fourth-generation owner Sam Urrate moved his operation to the shore. That’s where Bruning’s was when Katrina blew everything away from West End Park, barely leaving a stick on a stick. Officially, Bruning’s has not come to an end, but it has no been in business since August 29, 2005.
4. Mandich. Downtown: 1922-2005. . Katrina put some water into Restaurant Mandich, one of the best-loved neighborhood restaurants anywhere in town. It wasn’t too deep, however, and it probably could have gone on without a tremendous renovation. However, the timing was right for owners Joel and Lloyd English, who decided that this was the perfect moment to retire. And that was that. They sold the building, and it’s now a small grocery store. We will keep talking about it for many years.
5. Ruth’s Chris Steak House On Broad Street. Mid-City: 1944-2005. . Although it wasn’t the original Broad Street location of Chris’s Steak House–the place that Ruth Fertel bought and added her name to in the 1960s–most New Orleanians considered the Ruth’s Chris on North Broad at Orleans to be sacred soil. A lot of locals were furious that the new corporate owners of the chain moved Ruth’s headquarters to Florida, but to me it was more galling that they let the Broad Street restaurant go after Katrina floods messed it up totally. Then and now, the move strikes me as completely dumb.
6. Chateaubriand Steakhouse. Mid-City: 2001-2005. . A case could be made that Gerard Crozier was the most skillful French chef ever to have worked in New Orleans. His little bistros–first in New Orleans East, later in Metairie–were superb. He retired in the 1990s, but came back to open Chateaubriand. And that’s when everything went wrong. First 9/11 depressed his new business, followed by a street shutdown for the new streetcar line, then a leap in beef prices. When Katrina put two feet of water into the restaurant. he and his wife Eveline retired again. Gerard died suddenly in 2009. He was not quite sixty-four.
7. La Cuisine. Lakeview: 1965-2005. . La Cuisine was in decline when Katrina hit and put it out of business. The food was as good as ever, but the customers were old and getting older, which a scares away younger customers. That’s a hard problem to solve, and my conversations with the owner, Randy Unsworth, lead me to believe that he was at least a little relieved. The end came in a way that only Katrina could have executed: the whole place filled with water to the roof, everything floated, and when it all came down to earth it was so jumbled up that it was nearly impossible to get inside.
8. Sam’s Place. Broadmoor: 1937-1983. . Sam’s Place was really Veronica’s Place by the time I got there, in the 1970s. Veronica the widow of Sam Batinich, who ran a seafood restaurant with Croatian roots–like Drago’s (whose owners were like relatives) and Bozo’s. It was in a triangular block of side streets. You had to live there to find your way into it. Veronica kept the door locked, only admitting people she knew. There were other eccentricities. The food was great, however. What brought the place to an end was a series of major rain-caused floods in the late 1978s and early 1980s–the same ones that removed T. Pittari’s from the map.
9. Smith And Wollensky. CBD: 1998-2005. . A highly successful chain of top-end steakhouses in the New York style, Smith and Wollensky’s short career was bracketed by hurricanes. Its opening night had to be postponed, because it was scheduled on the date that Hurricane Georges swept through town. (See Bruning’s.) It struggled along for eight years until Katrina, after which it failed to reopen. By that time, S&W had become quite good, and a lot of locals had put it into their rotation. But the place wasn’t pulling the numbers corporate was used to seeing, so they may have been happy to get out of town. It’s Walk-Ons now.
10. Henderson’s. New Orleans East: 1950s-1965. . Henderson’s was a combination grocery store and restaurant in a location so difficult to get to that it was known only to its neighbors. It was one of the many camps on stilts over Lake Pontchartrain in Little Woods. The only way you could get there was to leave your car at the junction of Hayne Boulevard and Paris Road, and walk about a quarter-mile up the railroad tracks. Or by boat. Other camp owners and renters would come in for a beer or a sandwich. They had two great old jukeboxes–the kind that bubbled. And a deck looking out into the lake. Like many other camps along the shore, it was wiped out by Hurricane Betsy.