Auld Lang Syne
A look back and some of the New Orleans restaurants that have closed
My wife sent me a link to a Times-Picayune story featuring photographs of 48 New Orleans restaurants that have closed.
The piece, by Todd Price, brought back a lot of memories for me, even if I only remember visiting about two thirds of the places mentioned. I won’t even try to discuss all of the places I remember, but I’ll do my best for a dozen or so.
Some, like Crazy Johnnie’s, are still fresh in my memory. I ate a lot of meals there with friends over the years and have a personal connection to the folks who ran it. I knew the chef who opened Cuvée, Richard Starr, and came to know the chef who put it on the map, Bob Iacovone, too. I first met Chef Isaac Toups when he was working there with Bob. Some of the best meals I’ve had in New Orleans were at Cuvée.
I prefer to remember Peristyle as it was when chef Anne Kearney was there, which is fondly. When Price wrote in 2016, Gabrielle had not yet re-opened after Katrina, so that’s at least one place that made a comeback.
I wish another restaurant that closed after the levee failures had done the same: Marisol, where every meal was an insane symphony of flavors conducted by chef Pete Vazquez. There has never been a more daring chef in New Orleans than Vazquez, whose menus changed so frequently the servers had to suffer whiplash. Chef Vazquez had a boundless curiosity for the cuisines of the world and the skill (or maybe just a fundamental understanding of food and cooking) to pull just about everything off. Vazquez has a lower-key but still eclectic gig now running the Appetite Repair Shop, in Algiers Point.
I remember the Pearl and Kolb’s, too. When I first started working downtown I ate at the Pearl at least once a week for the corned beef and cabbage, and continued to do so until the place became a ghost of itself in the years before it closed. At that point
I only got to eat at Kolb’s a few times; it closed the year I started practicing law, and as I understand it I never experienced it at its best. It was a beautiful place, though, and it’s a mystery that nothing of note has replaced it in that spot on St. Charles. I miss Kolb’s a lot more than I miss the Ruth’s Chris that closed on Broad. To be honest, I miss a lot of things more than I miss that Ruth’s Chris, particularly Crazy Johnnie’s. That’s just me, I suppose.
Uglesiche’s closed at the top of their game, and I have no idea why they couldn’t figure out a way to keep it going. They were printing money at that place – they could have charged far more than they did, but they didn’t. It’s almost as if they had integrity. I still miss it.
Crozier’s was the best restaurant in Metairie for a long time. I don’t think anything west of Bonnabel matches it to this day. Is that saying a whole hell of a lot? No, but it was a good restaurant in what was then a wasteland for fine-dining. It was not, however, as good as a restaurant that didn’t make this particular version of the list: Chez Daniel, on Metairie Road, was the best restaurant Metairie has ever seen. Chef Daniel Bonnot was a goddamn gem and apart from chef Rene Bajeux was the best French chef of the last 30 years to run a kitchen in the GNO. C’est vrai.
What really got my memories churning was the picture of Sclafani’s, which occupied a lot that’s now a veterinary clinic off North Causeway. I remember the parking lot being very hot and eating there with my parents and my grandparents. I’m told that they knew I was a gourmand at an early age because I liked the red snapper soup. I think I hid under the tables a lot, though that could also have been Masson’s. I hid under a lot of tables as a child and infrequently as an adult.
Price reports that Sclafani’s closed in 1987, and I have no reason to doubt him. It had been more than a few years since we’d eaten there by that time. More often when we’d eat out with my grandparents it was at Middendorf’s or, at my request, the Great Wall Chinese restaurant on Metairie Road (which is also long gone).
There are more restaurants in the 48 I could write about, but I am aged and weary and our puppy has likely ingested 2.5 mg. of melatonin meant for our daughter, which sums my life at the moment up quite nicely and provides an excellent excuse for me to stop reminiscing.
Let me know in the comments, of course, if there are now-closed restaurants you recall fondly, whether in that list or not.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.