With the rebirth of Brennan’s and the New Year at hand, the timing is right to revisit classic dishes that compose New Orleans’ culinary canon. There will always be straightforward plates of red beans and rice, bowls of gumbo and all the dishes of soul and history, but tradition isn’t impeded by progress … it’s inspired.
When Ralph Brennan took up the challenge of restoring the venerated grande dame Brennan's, it became the most anticipated opening of 2014. The day at last arrived in November, and jaws dropped to see the old girl lovingly and beautifully redone. Part of the redux includes newly installed executive chef Slade Rushing, whose menu is replete with food standards and a few pleasant surprises. Humble grits are now glammed up by crispy veal cheek grillades; scrambled eggs are of the duck persuasion, softly cooked and served with duck ham and red-eye jus. At lunch, Pompano en Papillote has become Pompano a la Plancha, with haricot verts, tomato confit, jumbo lump crab and a lemon-butter sauce.
Another French Quarter grand dame, Arnaud’s, recently retooled its menu as well. Chef Tommy DiGiovanni has turned red beans into an omelet filler, and added a smart vegetarian entree of baked mirliton stuffed with squash and eggplant tapenade. All throughout there are fresh touches—splashes of seasonal fruit gastriques with fowl, a hint of Herbsaint on potato-crusted fish and, at dessert, the Frozen Praline Souffle layers sponge cake with praline cream and caramel ganache.
Contemporary cooks in next-generation restaurants are also serving up beautiful bites of reinvented homey goodness. At Coquette, chef de cuisine Mason Hereford tweaks his gumbo with smoked pork, turnip greens and sweet potato salad or a soft-cooked egg and crispy pig ears. Chef Martha Wiggins at Sylvain turns black-eyed peas into crispy cakes set on a kale salad, which is tossed in a mushroom vinaigrette and garnished with curls of Parmigiano Reggiano. At Meauxbar, chef Kristen Essig reworks the Waldorf salad with crisp Mississippi apples, celery, grapes, a savory walnut-oat granola and lemon-Banyuls aioli.
Here's to reborn Crescent City classics and a delicious 2015!