In 1840 New Orleans was
still battling outbreaks of yellow fever, malaria and smallpox. Primitive sanitation contributed to epidemics, as did the highly transient population that had doubled the city’s residents in the previous decade. Horse-drawn carriages rattled about cobblestone streets, and Bayou St. John, the New Basin Canal and the river were jammed with crafts.
It was into this environment that 18-year-old Antoine Alciatore Antoine Alciatore arrived from France to open his pension on St. Louis Street, just one block from the spot it occupies today. French was the language of the land, and flickering natural gas fixtures and candlelight would have illuminated the dining rooms. Antoine’s remains, in its 175th year, the oldest continuously operating, family-owned restaurant in the country.
Antoine’s son, Jules Alciatore, invented Oysters Rockefeller in 1899, naming it (to the reported dismay of its namesake) for Standard Oil Founder John D. Rockefeller for the richness of the sauce. Subsequent generations have also left their marks. Jules’ son, Roy, is credited with the invention of both Oysters Foch (for the World War I hero, General Marshall Foch) and Eggs Sardou (named for Victorien Sardou, a famous French 19th century dramatist, who was a guest). Jules was also responsible for the creation of many of the novel dining rooms. Now the Mystery Room, during Prohibition it was a speakeasy and was accessed through a door in the foyer of the ladies’ room.
Long time chef Michael Regua’s new menu, unveiled in January, includes new dishes such as Veal Rosellini (veal chop with a decadent truffle sauce). Throughout 2015, a number of classics that have been off the menu for years, such as Duck Paradis (duck breast with port wine and white grape reduction), and Oysters Ellis (in a dark Colbert sauce with sherry and mushrooms), will move back into circulation.
There is also a commemorative anniversary menu that includes courses of classics: soufflé potatoes, seafood gumbo, a trio of appetizers, a choice of entrées – filet of pompano topped with jumbo lump crabmeat or a filet Mignon with Marchand du Vin sauce – and a dessert selection of bread pudding or chocolate mousse.
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum recently unveiled an Antoine’s Exhibition of artifacts related to the restaurant’s history and legacy. Chef Regua will cook at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York in the spring and will host Delmonico’s chef in New Orleans in October. He will also preside over a dinner at the James Beard House in New York on April 2. This special dinner will fall one day prior to the actual 175th anniversary of Antoine’s founding on April 3, 1840.
Whether you live on a parade route or simply frequent one during our greatest season of excess, there are a few places that can make your season flow more smoothly.
Martin Wine Cellar has finally reopened its flagship with an expanded dining area and enhanced catering and take-out options. Company coming for a parade? Dash out in the early afternoon and secure a tub of Martin’s new Bleu Cheese and Pimento Dip, some pinwheels or finger sandwiches, duck eggrolls and crab cakes and plunk it down on the sideboard with some paper plates and a pile of napkins before the crowds arrive.
If partaking of Family Gras in Metairie, Mr. Gyro’s is tucked away in a quiet corner off of Severn, and the portions are big enough to share. Try the refreshing Greek salad topped with thinly shaved gyro meat and the greaseless and airy fried eggplant.
Looking for a place to chill out off the St. Charles route? Being an upscale chain, Houston’s has efficient service down to a science. The food is always consistently fresh and flavorful, and they incorporate local seafood and produce into their offerings. The Oysters St. Charles (fried and served on the half shell with creamed spinach and aioli) and the large, inventive salads are worthy of local favor, even during Carnival.
Antoine’s, 713 St. Louis Street, 581-4442, Antoines.com
Houston’s, 1755 St. Charles Ave., 524-1578, hillstone.com/restaurants/houstons
Martin Wine Cellar, 3827 Baronne St., 899-7411, MartinWine.com
Mr. Gyro’s, 3363 Severn Ave., Metairie, 833-9228, MrGyros.org