New Orleans in 1999
It's throw-back time, again. Today I'm thinking of two visits, to Nola's iconic Brennan's on Royal Street.
The first visit was during Spring Break, 22 years ago. Heidi and Scott were 12 and 9 and they weren't exactly thrilled about French and Creole dining. They also weren't excited to stop and pose for this photo, when we were out for a stroll.
But the next day, they warmed up to the idea of dressing up and going to a festive brunch at Brennan's. I have no photos of our outing, but I ran across a journal write up. It amuses me.
"After watching some turtles in the courtyard pond, we were seated... all around us, people were being served flaming dishes and mimosas... Heidi frowned into her menu, pouting that she didn't see sausage or bacon anywhere... Scott was just as grumpy, since he was hoping for a Denny's-type of breakfast... Before long we eased into the blissful feast, with 35-dollar Eggs Benedicts and 5-dollar glasses of milk... The kids split a 15-dollar omelet (at the kind waiter's suggestion) and then he brought them a surprise. Strawberries & Cream Blintzes... Don and I lingered over a Bloody Bulls and then we all feasted on Bananas Foster and Chocolate Suicide."
The kids still laugh about their first trip to Nola, before they learned to adore the charm and adventure of New Orleans dining.
Brennan's in 2019
Don and I made our second visit to Brennan's, in 2019. It was 2 days before Christmas. I'm not sure what my expression is all about.
Don and I had gone to New Orleans, to escape the quiet holiday. With both kids married and living in California and Oregon, the house felt too empty. We decided to hit the road and spend a few days enjoying festive decorations, music, food & drink in Nola.
A Cookbook Inspired Visit
We didn't have dinner reservations on December 23rd, but we stopped at Brennan's anyway. I was carrying my vintage cookbook in my purse... the cookbook that sometimes leads to amusing conversations with people. The cookbook featured a recipe from Brennan's, so who knows?
We headed inside to the Roost Bar. Maybe someone in the bar would enjoy an encounter with 2 Texans and a cookbook. (This is the kind of thing that our kids would not have put up with, 22 years ago!)
Drinks at the Bar
We snagged 2 seats at the bar and ordered. A Sazerac for Don and a French 75 for me. We were patient since our bartender was bombarded with orders.
Feeling festive, I struck up a conversation with the woman who dined alone at the bar. She hunkered over her meal and complained about the bad service. She griped about the cold weather. She couldn't believe that my husband and I would actually want to come to New Orleans for Christmas. "I'm from Southern California." She moped. "You can't believe how hard it is to be here for work, when I could be in California." I insisted that I actually could imagine, since I once lived in Laguna Beach. I made some suggestions about how she could cheer up and enjoy Nola... Then, finally she paid her bill and walked away, taking her little black raincloud with her!
There was zero chance that Raincloud Woman would care about the cookbook, so I waited until she was gone to pull it out. I thought about showing the featured recipe to our bartender. He might be amused by the recipe for Broiled Squab Turkey.
But he was handling a lot of orders. He did happen to mention that he'd just moved to Nola, 2 months before. He probably had little interest in being bothered with a vintage cookbook, or questions about the history of Brennan's.
Then I spotted this gentleman, greeting customers. He didn't appear to be too busy, so I caught his eye and asked if he knew whether Brennan's served Broiled Squab Turkey these days. I didn't capture him laughing in my photo, but he did laugh. Andrew was properly amused by the recipe and book.
We had a fun chat with Andrew about the history of Brennan's. The business (originally on Bourbon Street) was founded by Owen Brennan in 1946. About 10 years later, the biz relocated to this 2-story French Quarter mansion on Royal Street. The mansion has a much longer history, since it was built in 1795.
Then and Now
I wonder about this historic building, when it was brand new in 1795. Was it painted? It looks orange in this cookbook illustration from 1956.It looks pink, now. Who were the people who lived here, when it was a residence? Who were the people who died here? There are stories...
I did a little hunting on the internet and found this old photo, below. It was taken long before Brennan's opened.
I'm so glad we stopped in for a fun and quick Roost Bar visit. We didn't really have a dining adventure, but we did manage a brief cookbook encounter.
Next time, I want food and I want stories. I want to find out about the ghosts that have haunted the place for centuries. Mostly I want to eat Bananas Foster again! I didn't realize 22 years ago, that this flaming dessert was first created for Owen Brennan's restaurant, using a family recipe!
Cheers for that!
Don's Seafood & Steak House
For a long time, Don and I have wanted to stop in, for a bite at Don's.
I always remind Don that it's his restaurant and we need to stop. If they had a restaurant named Beth's, I wouldn't wait 20 years to check it out.
We've also been eager to have a Don's experience, because the fine eatery is featured in our vintage cookbook.
We were staying in Lafayette last February, so we decided to give Don's a try!
The corner restaurant was just a 2-minute drive from our inn, so we drove over to check it out in the afternoon. It was quiet and deserted, with a few barricades, left over from the parades. I cracked open the cookbook to compare the illustration of Don's. I could see the corner entrance and some of the old glass block. Lots had been covered with shutters. Funny... the watercolor image showed a Mardi Gras parade!
Lamps and Neon
The old building looked a little weary in the bright sunshine, but I could see that things would be glowing in a few hours.
There were lots of "gas lights" and a few unlit neon messages. One said "Since 1934". I believe the French-Acadian restaurant opened as Don's Beer Parlor, in 1934
I spotted a few beads, left over from the Mardi Gras festivities. I spotted a sign, that mentioned the Landry brothers, Don, Ashby and Willie. At one time all 3 had a part in this business, which was combined with Willie's grocery store.
Don and I arrived for dinner at about 7. It was actually fairly busy at that time, so I waited till later to snap some photos.
I was a little unclear, which part was original in 1934. There had obviously been some expansion and a bit of remodeling.
The main dining area, was filling up steadily, with folks coming from evening mass, on Ash Wednesday.
But the bar had a loud TV and the wrong ambience. We headed back towards the arched entrance, into the oddly bright and quiet, dining room.
Brick and Photos
The dining room had a retro Super Club feel to it, with white table cloths and black napkins. There had been a little updating, with enlarged photos, mounted on the brick walls.
I love a restaurant that spotlights their history. I'm sure all the photos had good stories, but I just guessed at them. Our server was very busy. I only asked about the man in the suit and glasses.
Frenchy was a well-loved employee of Don's for over 45 years. Her rode his bike to work, into his late seventies.
One of the restaurant's refurbished rooms is named for Frenchy. I love stories like that!
Don and I were seated beneath a few fishing photos, then we dug into our menus.
The menu cover had black and white photo, of Don's. I'm guessing in the 1960's.
We opened to a colorful page, with cocktail suggestions. Our Cajun fiddler, at the B & B had recommended the very powerful, Don's Old Fashion. The drinks that came in Don's glasses, looked mighty inviting!
Don with Don's Old Fashion
I of course had to get a photo of Don with his glass. I'm afraid I failed to capture his cocktail very well. There was a lot going on in that drink! I enjoyed the sugar-stick-stir-er!
I usually only like a Bloody Mary at a brunch, but I went all out. It came with pickled okra, a green bean and olives on a pink sword! That was a meal in itself. Both drinks were powerful and packed with flavor. I couldn't finish... but that's just me.
I went for the Cajun Casserole, which was a combo of shrimp and crabmeat dressing and eggplant. My baked potato was the size of small animal! All good!
Don worked on his Crawfish Half & Half, with fried and Etouffee. Both meals were huge and filling and tasty.
We watched the tables empty and finally we were the only ones left.
Gina and the Cookbook
Things were finally relaxed enough to chat with Gina, our super upbeat server.
We waited a while until Gina's work eased up a bit, then I pulled out the book. I pointed to the Crawfish Etouffee recipe. She leaned in and gave the page a good look, before she reared back with a laugh. "Where did you get this?"
Sharing and Posing
Gina rewarded us with the perfect reaction. She asked if she could borrow the book to show others in the kitchen. That's always a good sign.
She disappeared for a bit, then returned, grinning with the book. We chatted a while, before Gina and Don did a little posing for my camera.
A Good Night at Don's
The staff couldn't have been sweeter. We had slowed things down with our cookbook and a couple of purchases... Don's cocktail glasses were for sale, at $5. each.
As we headed towards the doors, some lingering staff wished us well and thanked us for coming. I'm pretty sure we were the only non-locals on Ash Wednesday. We certainly were the only diners who brought a show-and-tell item.
A fun little Dining and Cookbook Adventure, for sure!
Christmas Eve Brunch in Nola
We wandered from our hotel in the French Quarter and arrived at the iconic restaurant on Royal Street, at 10:30.
I was excited to finally visit the Royal Street restaurant. The building has been here for 132 years, but it wasn't always a restaurant.
The French, townhouse-style building was first home to the Cavalier family. In 1886 the house and street level store was purchased and two sisters from an aristocratic Creole family, opened up a fine notions shop.
When we entered the restaurant on Christmas Eve morning, it was hard to picture the space, back in the day.
Emma and Bertha would have displayed imported gowns and perfumes in their shop.
I wonder where the arched doorway would have led, before it was turned into bar seating?
I'm sure the brick fireplace kept the shop cozy on cold mornings. On pleasant days, the sisters would have escorted their special guests, back to the courtyard for cakes and tea.
It was nice to arrive before the things got too busy. The staff was cheery and relaxed, inviting us to take a look around and decide if we wanted to eat in, or out.
The famous courtyard is the largest in New Orleans. It looked inviting with its wishing well and fountains. But it was a tiny bit chilly on that December morning.
Royal Court and Grand Marquis
I found more dining areas upstairs and in the front of the building.
They weren't serving in the formal spaces, but it was fun to see all the chandeliers and white tablecloths. The Fein Family has owned and run the restaurant since 1963.
I'm how these spaces were used before then. The Sisters closed shop in the early 1900's. I believe the building has been serving food and drink since the 1920's.
Back downstairs, we peeked in the Terrace Dining Room. It looked inviting, with a jazz trio and large windows, overlooking the courtyard.
The dining room was bright and airy, but the green garden colors lured us outside.
Table by the Fountain
The air was cool, but we warmed up with coffee. Chicory! We knew we were in New Orleans.
Our waiter Mario, kept the coffee coming. He said he'd only been at The Court for 2 years, but he had worked at another famous nearby restaurant for 42 years. "You were hired as a baby?" I asked. He laughed and said he started working at Brennan's, at age 12.
It was nice to be some of the first guests to hit the buffet. What a wonderful spread!
First I took a good look at all the options in the inviting, black and white serving area. There was an Eggs Benedict station and a meat carving station.
There were Creole favorites, like turtle soup and crawfish pasta.
Best of all, there were lots of Christmas sweets and pieces of Christmas King Cake!
Feasting in the Courtyard
While Don and I feasted, I waited for the right moment to share a little something with Mario.
When there seemed to be a lull in activity, I pulled the old Ford Motor Cookbook from my bag.
"Does this recipe look familiar?" I asked. Mario took a long look at the old book from 1959. He laughed at the courtyard image, that accompanied the recipe for Shrimp Au Gratin. "Where is this from!"
Yay! I love adding a cookbook adventure to an already fun meal. It almost always gets a good reaction, but I had been a little concerned about sharing on a busy holiday. Mario showed the book to a couple other waiters, then he happily agreed to pose with us. So fun!
We finished up and wished Mario a Merry Christmas.
Instead of heading out through the old house, we exited through the back of the courtyard. We passed through a gate, that seemed to match the wrought iron in the cookbook illustration.
How have these separate buildings been used over the years? Did many buildings share the courtyard equally? I left with so many questions about this old place.
Cheers to three generations of Feins, for keeping this restaurant running on Royal Street for so many years. Cheers to Emma and Bertha! It was a fun dining adventure!
Lunch Near the Great River Road
It's been 4 years since we stopped for lunch at the Creole House. But the memories linger and it's time for a quick recall.
Road Side Dining
A few Octobers ago, Don and I were headed with "the kids" to tour the Whitney Plantation. Before crossing the Mississippi River, we drove through the small town of Paulina. Pop. 1,178. The Creole House, with porch and swing, looked like our best bet for lunch.
Dark Wood and Dark Doors
There was a tavern feel to the cozy building. There were Saints flags and banners and an area where live music happened, in the later hours. I was especially curious about the thick, rounded doors, on one wall.
Surrounded in Wood
Victoria brought our menus and I struggled to understand her Cajun accent. I wanted to ask more questions about the building, which looked old, with pine walls and ceiling. But I was having a hard enough time, just communicating about food.
While our orders cooked, I explored. I loved the red windows that peeked into the kitchen. I should have counted the fleur de lis decor, since I spotted the first, on the roof.
Fire Place and Christmas Tree
The far end of the dining room looked very festive with a cozy fireplace and a Christmas tree... even though it was October. It looked like the inside of an old house and I wanted to know more.
The Rounded Doors
We chatted while awaiting our food and Victoria refilled waters. I asked about the wonderful doors, that looked like they should have been in a castle somewhere. She just said they separated the dining room and the bar.
I wimped out and ordered a cheeseburger and salad, which was fine. But Scott and Chali played it right and ordered the big platter of fried shrimp, fish and oysters with onion rings, biscuit and a bowl of seafood gumbo. That's the way to do it!
At the Counter
While checking out at the counter, I managed to have a quick chat with Victoria. I didn't learn anything more about the curious building or the restaurant's history, but I learned about the wooden, pyramid decoration near the bubble gum machines. Victoria lit up, when I inquired!
Bonfires on the Levee Tradition
I believe this is pretty much what Victoria said... Every Christmas Eve, wooden structures line the levee. Locals gather to celebrate with friends, family and food, as the structures are lit. She said she'd grown up with the tradition and had fond memories. "The kids love it!" She smiled and added shyly, that she'd been a part of the pageant last year. I'm guessing that would be the Miss Festival of the Bonfires Pageant... but I'm not sure.
So I learned a little something fun. We'll have to return some evening and enjoy some live music in the cozy Creole House. Better yet, we'll come on Christmas Eve and sneak a peek at the glowing levee!
Nola Stop in January
Don and I finished up our January road trip with stop at my brother and sister-in-law's, in New Orleans. They already had Mardi Gras decor on the porch. We celebrated our reunion on Friday night, with Sazeracs!
Off to Middendorf's
On Saturday, we were up for a little Louisiana food adventure. We steered away from the French Quarter and drove about 40 miles northwest to Manchac, for a catfish feast. We pulled off of old US-51 and spotted a mighty worn restaurant, with "80+ Years" written on the roof.
A New Look
Luckily, just next door was a fresh looking building, with bright red doors and windows.
Decorations and a View
I have no photos of our cute room and table, but here is one of our window view. We could see the bridge we had just crossed, over Pass Manchac.
We read a little history in our menu about the hurricanes that have flooded the iconic restaurant, that Josie and Louis Middendorf opened in 1934. The Middendorf family still owned the restaurant until a year after Hurricane Katrina. Luckily they passed along Josie's recipes for Original Thin Fried Catfish, to the new owners!
I am not a big fan of catfish, but I'm a huge fan of trying regional specialties! I actually really enjoyed the catfish, but have little to compare it to. The fried shrimp was yummy and the soupy, pickle-topped slaw was too!
Our table also enjoyed some turtle soup and broiled shrimp. We were all pretty amused by the big, 20-cent price jump, for ordering broiled over fried!
A trip to the restroom added a little entertainment. The gator door handle was mighty fine! Then I spent some time looking at old photos in the hallway.
Middendorf's survived Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, but took in 4 feet of water, with Ike in 2008.
These photos from 2012, show the old Middendorf's building and the newer one, where we ate. Issac was 200 miles away in 2012, but the storm surge caused more flooding and damage.
Ponchatoula - Strawberry Capital of the World
We were too full for dessert when we finished our platters of catfish. We headed over to Ponchtoula for a little antique shopping. We could have made our feast day complete, if only the Strawberry Capital of the World... had some strawberry desserts for us! We found none.
Actually we didn't really look for any strawberry desserts. We were saving our appetites for this fabulous King Cake, back at the house. My sister-in-law made sure to pick this up from their fave king cake baker! It was indeed fabulous!
What a wonderful catfish and king cake day!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.