There’s No Place Like Galatoire’s
There is no restaurant in the world like Galatoire’s. There are other Creole restaurants of arguably equal merit, and each of those restaurants are unique as well. That we have restaurants like Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, Brennan’s, Tujague’s and Broussard’s is something we sometimes take for granted in New Orleans. By “we,” I mean, “some of you,” because I sure as hell don’t.
Some people will tell you that Galatoire’s is a place you go to see and be seen, and that the food is not all that good. Those people are either fools or people who don’t understand food. To be more charitable, it’s possible they’re fools who also don’t understand food. Because our grand Creole restaurants are not designed to change their menus with the whims of the Instagram world. God help us if they do, because we’d lose an essential element of what makes New Orleans great.
Galatoire’s is a place where you can look at the menu and order or you can ask your waiter what’s good and your waiter will tell you. Galatoire’s is also place – like several other Creole restaurants in town – where you can develop a relationship with a waiter and while that relationship may seem odd to folks from elsewhere, it’s not.
I haven’t looked at a menu at Galatoire’s in 20 years, I think. I know what they have and I know what I like. I order soufflé potatoes and fried eggplant to start. I sometimes order a salad or if I’m with a bunch of people I’ll just ask them to bring us a selection of appetizers, which usually means crabmeat maison, shrimp remoulade, and oysters en brochette.
I am a fan of pompano, and so when that’s available that’s normally what I get, but now and again I throw them a curveball and I’ll order chicken bonne femme or lamb chops or fried chicken or if I’m feeling a bit cheeky, sweetbreads Clemenceau.
One of the things I love about Galatoire’s is that I can order sweetbreads Clemenceau. There is no other city in this country where, if you walk in and ask if they will make you sweetbreads Clemencau, you will hear the answer, “yes.” None. If you walk into a restaurant anywhere else in this fine country and order anything a la Clemencau, they may be able to accommodate you, but probably not.
I remember a time when a certain food writer came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and dined at Galatoire’s and complained that he was served drum when he’d ordered redfish or snapper or some other fish. That little thumb of a man was on a mission to crap all over New Orleans and Galatoire’s was only one of his targets. He wrote that New Orleans food was not worth saving and he suggested that “Creoles” were an imaginary thing.
His article in GQ garnered the most letters to the editor that the magazine had gotten to that date, and I suspect that record hasn’t been broken. For his perfidy, he ended up with a cameo in the HBO series “Treme,” but he’s been proven wrong because New Orleans has only gotten better where food and restaurants are concerned.
Turns out we didn’t need someone from Philadelphia to tell us how to eat. Not least because Philadelphia is a place where people wouldn’t know good food if the good food walked up to them and introduced itself by saying, “hello, I am good food!” because in Philadelphia people like canned “cheese” on their steak sandwiches and nobody who has any sense of taste or propriety would eat canned cheese whether on a steak sandwich or otherwise. In fact, they can’t even spell it “cheese,” because it’s not cheese, it’s “cheez.” “whiz.” “Cheez-whiz.”
This is the part where I would make additional jokes about Philadelphia, but I swear to you I can’t find anything interesting enough about Philadelphia to mock. Their football team is mediocre, they have shit weather, they’re generally assholes and I think I speak for all of us when I say we wouldn’t live there if we were paid to live there.
But I digress.
I had lunch at Galatoire’s recently to celebrate a friend’s birthday. There were three of us. We started with soufflé potatoes and fried eggplant and I made my traditional slurry of powdered sugar and tabasco sauce for the latter and dipped into the Bearnaise sauce for the former.
I had lamb chops and we split orders of Lyonnaise potatoes and creamed spinach. We had a couple of cocktails, too. It was all delicious and we were not the only table in the place that was celebrating a birthday. We were, however, the only table celebrating a birthday that did not call for a celebration of the birthday with singing and cake. My friend had bread pudding for dessert and my other friend finished his cocktail and I finished my wine. We all left happy.
Which, if you think about it, is the best thing you can say about a restaurant.