ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Broussard’s has a legitimate claim to the soubriquet of grand dame restaurant, which puts it in the same category as Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s and Brennan’s. That has certainly been true since the magnificent rebuilding of the restaurant in 1974, but it was highly thought of since the day in 1920 when it first appeared. With the century birthday in the foreseeable future, Broussard’s owners in the last three years are making much of it–particularly with a $19.20 three-course dinner, available every evening. That is good enough in terms both of edibility and value for the dollar that the place ought to have a line outside the door.
The reason it doesn’t is that Broussard’s has two long-running problems that even the best chefs and management have found hard to overcome. The first is parking. Although several options exist within three blocks, that’s not quite close enough. Nothing would improve Broussard’s customer count more than valet parking at the front door. The other issue is the memory of inconsistency during the last ten years or so. There have been three chefs since the current owners took over, and each of them changed the menu drastically.
The reason I’m writing today is that Chef Neal Swidler seems not only to be well in control, but also has a firm grasp of classic Creole-French and contemporary Louisiana flavors. It’s just hip enough to attract younger diners–to say nothing of the affordability of the menu. And getting younger diners is what a restaurant with this one’s history must work hardest to obtain.
Chef Neal’s cooking style is in that easy-to-love mix of familiar favorites with adventuresome use of fresh, unusual, local ingredients and adventuresome cooking techniques. His most interesting move is in changing one or two small details in a recipe to come up with something that seems very new. Lightening up the sauce in the crab au gratin and getting rid of the cheese, for example, actually improves the classic.
Broussard’s was founded in 1920. During the blossoming of tourism following World War II it flourished, although by the 1960s it was a bit run down and antiquated in its cooking. Because of the several changes of ownership, it never attracted the following that the others did. A major renovation in 1974 by Charles Gresham–a legend among local restaurant designers–rebuilt it into one of the city’s most beautiful restaurants. Chef Gunter Preuss–a Berlin native who came to New Orleans to create the Fairmont’s Sazerac restaurant in 1965, then operated the Versailles for two decades–bought Broussard’s late 1900s and ran it for almost thirty years. The owner now is the Creole Cuisine Concepts group, which also owns another dozen restaurants around town, most ly in the French Quarter.
Broussard’s occupies one of the handsomest restaurants in the city. The big front dining room is a bit dated, but the bar and the dining room that gives onto the large courtyard has an immediate casual appeal. It has a good story, too. That space once was the stables for the old mansion’s horses in the 1800s. The tiled vestibule just inside the entrance sports a demonstration kitchen where the flaming desserts are made.
The $19.20 three-course special is worth a look. It starts with a straightforward soup or a salad. But then it reworks the great old dish chicken Pontalba, roasting the chicken and topping it with an aioli in lieu of the classic bearnaise, and scattering the whole dish with brabant potatoes.
The herb-crusted crabmeat gratinee extracts the big lumps of crabmeat from the standard melted cheese. In its place is a sort of crab broth tightened up with herbal bread crumbs. This is the best new Broussard’s dish at the moment.
Two shrimp dishes. One is the popular adaptation of barbecue shrimp into shrimp and grits. The other is shrimp toast–a little taste of China in the French Quarter.
The seafood entrees vary greatly as the markets turn. Trout amandine might be a different fish, but it’s the familiar array of toasty, buttery flavors.
You can get duck two ways, both excellent. One is a shiny-skilled breast with duck hush puppies. The other is a variation on the old standby duc a l’orange.
From the butcher shop comes a filet with crabmeat and the much better grilled, thick pork chop with a honey-mustard glaze.
Desserts are confected in the house, and are agreeably small.
FOR BEST RESULTS
The three-course daily table d’hote dinner is the best dining strategy. Don’t be spooked if the restaurant is sparsely populated. It’s too big for the local regulars, and when no big convention is in town it may not fill. Know that the Friday lunch is off from June through September.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
One of these days, they will have to figure out a parking arrangement that is more convenient. Having to walk three blocks keeps many locals from coming.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +2
- Value +2
- Wine & Bar +1
- Local Color +3
- Live music some nights
- Outdoor tables, drinks only
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday dinner
- Open some holidays
- Reservations honored promptly