Antoine’s Celebrates 180 Years of Culinary Excellence
Iconic New Orleans Restaurant Is Oldest Family-Owned Eatery in America
NEW ORLEANS (press release) – Antoine’s – an icon and a standard bearer for traditional French Creole culinary traditions in America – will commemorate its 180th anniversary this year with special events, menus and celebrations inside the walls of its fabled French Quarter dining rooms. The legendary New Orleans restaurant is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in America, the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller, and remains owned by the same family that founded it nearly two centuries ago.
“Antoine’s is a testament to New Orleans and its legacy of culinary excellence. New Orleans has one of most respected and revered culinary scenes in the world, and we very much want this year to serve as a celebration of this rich, city-wide heritage,” said fifth generation CEO and Proprietor Rick Blount. “While Antoine’s may have been the originator of French Creole cooking in America, I think we can all agree it’s New Orleans that keeps restaurants like Antoine’s and so many others relevant to the national and international food scene, now and as we look to the future.”
“Antoine’s and other old guard restaurants in the French Quarter keep the city’s culinary traditions relevant and we need to keep celebrating what they do to make New Orleans the greatest culinary destination in America,” said Mark Romig, SVP/Chief Marketing Officer, New Orleans & Company. “People from all over the world continue to visit our city in record numbers each year, and that keeps communicating our message to the world that our great food is something everyone must experience.”
A 180-Year History
Born in France in 1822, Antoine Alciatore came to the New World at the age of 18 aiming to establish a business of his own, and after arriving in New Orleans in 1840, he opened a pension – a boarding house and restaurant in the French Quarter – that was simply to be known as “Antoine’s.”
In ill health by 1877, Alciatore returned to France, where he died and was buried. Under Antoine’s wife’s tutelage, their son Jules served as an apprentice, eventually learning enough to purchase the business and head the House of Antoine. His genius was in the kitchen, where he invented Oysters Rockefeller, so named after Standard Oil Founder John D. Rockefeller, for the richness of the sauce. While its namesake reportedly despised its title, Oysters Rockefeller is widely considered one of the greatest culinary creations of all time, with the recipe remaining a closely guarded secret. The restaurant will celebrate its 4th annual National Oysters Rockefeller Day on Friday, Jan. 10.
Jules was succeeded by one of his three children, Roy, who followed in his father’s footsteps and led the restaurant for almost 40 years through some of the country’s most difficult times, including Prohibition and World War II, until his death in 1972. His legacy includes the invention of famous dishes such as Oysters Foch and Eggs Sardou, as well as the creation of several of its famous dining rooms and their white tablecloth décor. Roy’s vision and meticulous management of the restaurant solidified the international culinary stature of Antoine’s and firmly established it as a dining destination unto itself.
Roy’s nephews became the fourth generation of the family to head the restaurant, and in 1975, Roy’s son, Roy Jr., became proprietor and served until 1984. He was followed by his cousin, Bernard “Randy” Guste, who managed Antoine’s until 2004. In 2005, Rick Blount, Roy Alciatore’s grandson, became proprietor and CEO, and he has led the institution through Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and the city’s post-storm recovery, the restaurant’s 175th anniversary and the official culinary celebration for the Tricentennial of New Orleans. “New Orleans Tricentennial Dinner – A Night 300 Years in the Making” featured cuisine and cocktails from a dozen of New Orleans’ most acclaimed chefs and mixologists who represented the pillars of the city’s culinary heritage, including French, Spanish, Italian, African, Caribbean and Cajun traditions.
Dining at Antoine’s
Antoine’s legacy is a storied one, and countless world leaders and celebrities have dined there. Lining the walls are photographs of the rich and famous who have feasted amid the splendor including Franklin Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II, the Rolling Stones, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Kate Hudson, Jimmy Buffett, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby to name only a few.
Last year Antoine’s welcomed its newest executive chef, Rich Lee, who stepped into the role that Executive Chef Michael Regua held for 47 years before retiring. With much experience in high-volume cooking and a passion for French-Creole cuisine, Chef Lee quickly mastered Antoine’s classic dishes and has added fresh new options that diners expect to see on the menu today, including seasonal salads. New Executive Sous Chef J.D. Eubanks joined Chef Lee at the command of the famous kitchen this year.
“I am honored to continue the next chapter of Antoine’s legacy as executive chef. To serve at the helm of this legendary restaurant is a dream come true for me, as it would be for any chef,” said Chef Lee. “It was incredibly important to me that we continue Antoine’s tradition of French-Creole fine dining while also working to establish some new features, menu items and specials as we continue to evolve as a restaurant. I look forward to exceeding our patrons’ expectations whether its their first Carnival experience or their 50th visit here.”
Another longtime Antoine’s tradition is the historic longevity of its wait staff. Loyal customers of Antoine’s often have a designated waiter, and it is not uncommon for a member of the staff to wait on many generations of the same family. In July of 2017, Antoine’s longest-tenured waiter, Sterling Constant, celebrated his 50th anniversary with the restaurant where he continues to work today.
“Few people work for 50 years in total, and it’s almost unheard of to have an entire 50-year career at one place,” said Blount. “But at a restaurant like Antoine’s, Sterling’s career makes sense. It fits right into our legacy and success, and he – and all of our wait staff – are a special part of that.”
Antoine’s features 14 dining rooms of varying sizes and themes, all steeped in history. Three of the private rooms bear the names of Carnival krewes – Rex, Proteus and Twelfth Night Revelers, with the bar named after the Krewe of Hermes. The walls are adorned with photos of Mardi Gras royalty and memorabilia, including crowns and scepters from many years long past. Antoine’s will be adding a new Carnival Krewe room upstairs later this year which will be formally announced closer to its scheduled completion this fall.
The long and narrow wine cellar, which Wine Spectator recently recognized with its coveted Award of Excellence, measures 165 feet long, seven feet wide and holds approximately 25,000 bottles when fully stocked. It is a legendary space and can be viewed from a small window on Royal Street. It has been lovingly and creatively restocked since 2005, when power outages from Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent heat ruined every bottle in inventory. This year will also bring the uncorking of the cellar’s oldest bottle of liquor – a cognac from the late 1800’s – at a planned 180th anniversary celebration.
“Surviving 180 years is significant for any business, and we hope the city and its visitors take this opportunity to celebrate New Orleans’ unique culture,” said Blount. “We are honored to be a part of this great American city and to represent our restaurants and the city’s culinary heritage.”
From its humble beginnings in 1840, Antoine’s has endured under the Alciatore family’s direction for five generations, helping make New Orleans one of the great dining centers of the world. The name has become synonymous with fine dining, and no visit to New Orleans should exclude a meal there.