Though it was still called ‘breakfast,’ what we now think of as ‘brunch’ was first served by Elizabeth Kettering Dutrey Begue, a.k.a Madame Begue. She arrived in New Orleans in 1854 from her native Bavaria at the age of 22 to join her brother, a French Market butcher. A skilled cook, Elizabeth observed that her brother and his butcher friends were famished by midmorning after toiling at the market from predawn. To satisfy them, at 11 a.m. each day she began offering lavish meals of many courses in a room upstairs from the coffeehouse across from the butchers’ market. Eggs were a staple on the decidedly European menu, and wine accompanied every course.
The late Dick Brennan Sr. hit pay dirt when he evolved the meal in the 1970s by employing a jazz trio to serenade post-church tourist diners in an effort to lure them from the French Quarter to the fledgling Commander’s Palace. Despite the lively new background soundtrack, the offerings on the menu remained clearly identifiable as European in heritage.
Contemporary brunch menus are all over the map. Eggs still provide a stalwart backbone, but the predictability ends there. At Johnny Sanchez the eponymous house Benedict marries up beef cheek barbacoa with roasted corn sope and Valentina Hollandaise ($17) and the smoked Mangalista pork grillades arrive with poached eggs and jalapeño grits laden with Cotija cheese ($17). Equally exotic side dishes include frijoles charros, Mexican street corn and Epazote rice ($5).
Chef Nina Compton recently started offering brunch on Saturdays and Sundays at Compère Lapin, her Warehouse District hotspot, and there’s no sign of French-Creole here either. Instead meals begin with small plate offerings ($7) of avocado toast with radishes and peppers and shrimp with coconut curry and tostones before moving on to heartier selections ($14) of goat Bolognese with potato gnocchi; ricotta pancakes with smoked cane syrup; and chicken and smoked mushroom hash. Thriftily priced ($4) sweet selections include chia seed and coconut pudding with fresh berries. Unlimited Pimm’s Cups are available ($30).
My father and his fraternity brothers used to frequent Phillip’s when they were students at Tulane University. My friends and I used to favor Philip’s for its jukebox and lax approach to checking IDs. It was just a neighborhood joint with bar food as an afterthought.
These days the clapboard exterior and glowing red neon sign remain unchanged, but the familiarity ends as soon as you open the door.
A massive face-lift created an upscale and sophisticated gathering spot with soft ambient lighting and deep cushions invite lingering. General Manager Jason Warrington also serves as chef, and his menu includes inspired choices such as prosciutto and pear pizza ($12.95) with a base of fig spread and a scatter of goat cheese; and his razor-thin shoestring frites ($3.95) are tossed with zesty Parmesan and ribbons of fresh basil.
Theme days are a thing at Philip’s, and Wednesday evenings find Warrington manning the courtyard grill for the evening’s $24.95 filet mignon meal that includes a glass of wine, a specialty cocktail or a seasonal beer; a salad (recently watermelon and tomato with diced red onions, lemon zest, feta and a fig balsamic reduction); and two sides (Parmesan and Romano creamed spinach, quinoa and kale, garlic smashed potatoes, and creamy house-made mac and cheese).
He is back at the fire on Thursdays cooking up fillings for Taco Night that may include sirloin tips, grilled potato, chorizo, pulled pork, fried fish, chicken, shrimp and quinoa and beans. The cover price at the door is $5 for all the tacos and house-made salsa you want. Double margaritas, sangria and watermelon mojitos are also $5 and Mexican beers are 2 for 1.
Bacon & Bourbon prevail on Fridays with $5 bourbon-based specialty cocktails and $7 bacon-centric small plates.
“It so good to see customers from years ago rediscovering the place,” Warrington says. “We have a lot going on here at Philip’s. It’s not your parents’ Philip’s anymore!”
Compère Lapin, in the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, 535 Tchoupitoulas St., 599-2119, CompereLapin.com
Phillips Bar & Restaurant, 733 Cherokee St., 865-1155, PhillipsBar.com
Johnny Sanchez, 930 Poydras St., 304-6615, JohnnySanchezRestaurant.com