ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
New Orleans’s stock of century-old restaurants barely escaped a major loss last year. Tujague’s the second-oldest restaurant here, came close to a shuttering in a real-estate slippage. The fans of Tujague’s–many of whom hadn’t dined there in decades–rallied around the restaurant. The closing was averted at the last minute, and the whole story was reported widely. Part of it was the passing away of longtime owner Steven Latter, whose son Mark stepped in boldly.
For those of us actually interested in dining at Tujague’s, that’s where the story really begins. Mark made many changes in the restaurant. We didn’t know how much they were needed until they were done. The redecorating of the dining room and the quadrupling of the menu constitutes a great advance. Tujague’s future now seems assured.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
For those of us in love for local institutions, New Orleans without Tujague’s is unimaginable. As a result of having to imagine just that last year, a long-overdue reinvention brought more changes in a few months than in the previous 100 years. Yet, if you want it to be, dinner at Tujague’s remains a lot like whatever you might remember. At the same time, the new menu makes it much friendlier to those who don’t know its long, quirky story.
You can–and probably should–still order Tujague’s famous five-course table d’hote dinner. It’s an ancient form of the modern chef’s tasting menu, and a very good taste of old-style Creole cookery. But the kitchen’s repertoire has expanded by a factor of four throughout the menu at dinner. Lunch features the familiar platters (beans, poor boys, fried seafood). All of it hews closely to traditional French-Creole cookery, with a few modern touches. Some of these are spectacular–notably the crab and mushroom gnocchi, the new seafood dishes and a full brunch menu. But still on the menu after all these years: the famous boiled beef brisket and chicken bonne femme (the best dish in town for garlic lovers).
Tujague’s story reveals much about New Orleans life and business during its 158-year tenure. Beginning as a day’s-end communal eating house for workmen on the docks and in the French Market, it became the first New Orleans restaurant to get a boost from being in a restaurant row. Madame Begue’s–our city’s first celebrity chef–worked next door. Tujague’s later took over the Begue’s space and kept on serving fixed-price, family-style dinners for another hundred years. By the time Steven Latter took over in 1976, that dining format was impossibly antiquated. But he kept it for the sake of historical accuracy. It wasn’t until the events of 2013 that the modernization brought the place up to about 1985. Which is a good place.
Unlike the other grand old restaurants of the 1800s, Tujague’s is not and never has been fancy. Even its recent restoration left it looking more like an antique corner hangout than a venerable dining parlor. The redecoration brightened the room and added mirrors, adding dimension. Tiled floors, a high ceiling with church-style fixtures, and small display cabinets filled with thousands of small bottles of liqueurs complete the picture. The bar is a marvelous antique, much liked by French Quarter residents for their after-hours tipple.
Traditional Tujague’s Five-Course Table d’Hote Dinner
$23 above the price of any entree
Includes shrimp remoulade, soup, brisket appetizer, entree, dessert & coffee.
Spinach salad, fried oysters, blue cheese, spicy pecans, bacon vinaigrette
Tujague house salad
Seafood and andouille gumbo
»Soup du jour
Sesame crusted tuna, warm bean salad, chili glaze
»Bacon wrapped oysters en brochette, Creole meuniere
Shrimp Creole, grits cake
»»Seared jumbo lump crab cake, tricolor peppers, ravigote sauce
Fried green tomatoes, crabmeat and shrimp ravigote
»»Lump crabmeat and wild mushroom gnocchi
Bone-in veal chop
»Filet mignon (6 or 10 oz.)
Steak and chop sauces: Peppercorn Cognac, Abita root beer glaze, brandy mushroom, garlic bordelaise, compound butter du jour
Fresh Gulf fish du jour
»Soft shell crab
Seafood sauces: meuniere, lemon butter, amandine, maque choux, lump crabmeat ($7), sauteed shrimp ($5)
»Barbecue shrimp in the shell
Blackened shrimp alfredo, linguine
»Boiled beef brisket, Creole horseradish sauce
»Roasted airline chicken breast, white wine artichoke caper butter
»Red beans and rice
»Taste of New Orleans (crawfish étouffée, shrimp Creole, red beans and rice)
»Brisket, fried oyster, fried shrimp or soft shell crab poor boy
Most of the dinner menu is also available
»Tujague’s eggs benedict (traditional, with tasso)
»Eggs Sardou (artichoke, spinach, poached eggs, hollandaise
»Eggs Decatur (bacon potatoes, brisket hash, poached eggs, hollandaise
Bananas Foster lost bread
»Oysters benedict (fried oysters, tasso, hollandaise, biscuit)
FOR BEST RESULTS
Call for a reservation and specify that you’d like the chicken bonne femme, if you do. The fresh turkey dinners on Thanksgiving and Christmas are excellent.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
There is still a lot of renovation to be done to the old building. The main dining room can be very noisy when full. Climbing the steps to the private rooms upstairs is a challenge.
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 +1
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness -2
- Local Color +3
- Good view
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday dinner
- Open all holidays
- Good for children
- Reservations recommended