Vaucresson Café Creole
French Quarter: 624 Bourbon Street
In the 1960s and early 1970s, the first waves of the Baby Boom generation began exploring the French Quarter without their parents. These were also the years of the Summer of Love and an expansion of bohemianism among young adults who grew up in the suburbs. They found the French Quarter scene and its attendant funkiness a pleasing contrast to their parents’ worlds.
That new customer base would grow until the French Quarter began to tilt emphatically in the direction of tourist tastes.Until then, however, casual restaurants catering to locals visiting (or living in) the French Quarter found their fortunes swing upward.
Vaucresson’s Café Creole was an exemplar of the genre. Owned by an African-Creole family with New Orleans roots going back generations, it served a menu of home-style Creole dishes that would not be adopted by mainstream restaurants for another decade or more. It seems hard to believe now, but in that era panneed veal and jambalaya were rarely encountered in any kind of restaurant. That combination was the signature dish at Vaucresson’s.
That was before the Cajun influence grew as strong as it is now. The jambalaya was red, not brown, with tomato and shrimp as its main flavors. The seafood-okra gumbo was light in texture but big in flavor.
The restaurant’s environment was undiluted New Orleans. Its entrance was a carriageway on Bourbon Street. It was a couple of doors from the only intersection in town where live jazz clubs–usually with their doors open, to woo passers-by–were on all four corners. The music quickened your step into the restaurant, where you could dine in a big, dark dining room with windows onto Bourbon Street, or a courtyard at the end of the carriageway.
The most pleasant meal of all here was a late breakfast. It featured not only the standards of that meal, but Creole classics like calas (fried rice cakes) and grits and grillades. In the 1970s, both those dishes were threatened with distinction, with only Vaucresson’s and its around-the-corner neighbor the Coffee Pot keeping them alive.
Finding its way into many of the Café Creole’s dishes was a big homemade hot link sausage called chaurice. Red with pepper, its flavor was so intense that a bite would make you stop and pay attention. It was served with breakfasts, in omelettes, with red beans–all over the menu.
Although Vaucresson’s Café Creole is gone for a generation and a half now, its chaurice lives on–as we are reminded at several festivals this time of year. The Vaucresson family still makes the sausage, and turns up at the Jazz Festival and the French Quarter Festival (to name two of many places) to serve it.
The Café Creole is now the dining room of Pat O’Brien’s famous bar, whose main courtyard backs up to the one where we ate chaurice and jambalaya at Vaucresson’s during a memorable era.