As locals, we tend to frown upon tourist traps, regarding many places in our city as tacky and undesirable. (Think Bourbon Street.) But some of the tourist-friendly venues enjoy healthy local reputations. We’re somewhat at a loss when discussing classic New Orleans restaurants such as Commander’s Palace, Brennan’s and Ralph’s on the Park. Many still appreciate the traditional New Orleans cuisine and elegant ambiance, but a large contingent of locals shy away, leery of tourists, especially on weekends and holidays. Locals can go years without ever stepping foot in any of the Brennan family’s restaurants. Over time people forget why these restaurants rose to fame in the first place—their southern charm is a distant memory of white tablecloths and polished silver.
I must admit that I, too, participated in this group neglect. Unless a friend from out of town was visiting, I would avoid the Brennan empire like the plague. When I thought of Brennan’s and Commander’s all I could think of was over-crowded hostess stands and loud dining rooms. I recalled the flaming bananas foster trick and Commander’s Banjo Band at their jazz brunch; two things that first had me falling in love with the city now rang of farce, cheap spectacle at which tourists may ooh and ahh, fodder for postcards.
This all changed when my friend introduced me to a whole new concept: “staycationing.” Like vacations, staycations are all about fun activities and relaxation. If you happen to be “staying” here, they’re all about Preservation Hall, the French Market, swamp tours, ghost tours, buggy rides and, of course fine, dining.
And so it was that, after years of neglecting Commander’s Palace, a classic restaurant that I once loved, I decided to give it a second chance. The last time I had dined at Commander’s I made the mistake of bringing out-of-towners to the jazz brunch on a particularly busy Saturday afternoon. The dining room was overwhelmingly crowded and the band an awkward 6 inches away from my face. This time, I revised my strategy.
After years of hearing about their incredible 25-cent martini special I knew I had to try it for myself. For those who do not already know about this spectacular deal, groove on this: Every weekday from 11:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., Commander’s serves up any style martini for a quarter.
A martini. For a quarter.
Outside of the drink deal, their lunch special also includes two-course, prix fixe meals starting at $16. When I dined there for lunch recently I had a fabulous dish made up of slow cooked pork and a rather large fried crawfish boudin ball. Everything I ate was phenomenal, and a great bargain.
More importantly, the atmosphere was just right. Lunch during the middle of the week in a hot New Orleans summer apparently does not draw many tourists out to the Garden District (who would’ve thought?). Absent the madding crowd, the dining room was peaceful and elegant again, and the service was wonderful.
Altogether it was truly a lovely experience. The food was delicious, the atmosphere relaxing, the service friendly, and the meal affordable. I have a new appreciation for this old favorite. Whether you’re a regular for Sunday dinner, or you haven’t been since Christmas of 2002, I highly recommend trying out their Lunch special, I don’t think you’ll regret it. Staycation well done.
For reservations call (504) 899-8221 or go to their website.