“Have you been to Antoine’s?”
Living in New Orleans, this is one of the most common questions put forth by gourmet-savvy friends who don’t reside here. Some of them have visited Antoine’s Restaurant and fallen for its irrepressible French-Creole cuisine; some of them just know the restaurant’s storied history and notable place in New Orleans’ (and the world’s) gastronomic lore. The latter group of friends can’t wait to get there; the former can’t wait to return.
History resides within (and on) Antoine’s walls.
Like the restaurant’s most famous invention, Oysters Rockefeller, the legend of Antoine’s is far-reaching. And since 1840, when Antoine’s first opened its doors, the restaurant has built a reputation that has spread from food-lovers out into popular culture: from films (including featured scenes in Oliver Stone’s film JFK as well as being name-checked by the character “Chef” in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) to literature (iconic Southern writer Francis Parkinson Keyes penned a murder mystery titled Dinner at Antoine’s) to the realm of cartoons (a 1951 Bugs Bunny classic, French Rarebit). If New Orleans is one of the most chronicled cities in the United States, Antoine’s is a character that so often appears in representations of NOLA and her food.
So what is it that makes Antoine’s so distinctive? Please forgive the cliché, but the experience of dining at Antoine’s is unforgettable, from the restaurant’s traditions, which stretch back five generations and continue today through descendants of the French-born founder Antoine Alciatore — making it the country’s oldest family-run restaurant — to the simple fact that history resides within (and on) Antoine’s walls.
But strip back everything, and it’s still the food that’s the core of Antoine’s identity.
The restaurant is the “grande dame” of that “very special cuisine that we serve in New Orleans,” says Rick Blount, Antoine’s CEO (and member of Antoine’s fifth generation). “It’s a wonderful blend of these old European cooking traditions and the abundance of phenomenal seafood and game that’s available in New Orleans.”
While this is far from the first big celebration in Antoine’s lifetime, turning 175 years old is worth a party. If you haven’t done so, reserve a table at Antoine’s and toast the grande dame.
Antoine’s Video Transcript
Fleurty Girl: To say that Antoine’s is the old guard of New Orleans cuisine is kind of an understatement. It was started way back in 1840, which makes it the oldest family-run-restaurant in the country. Whether you’re in the main dining room or one of the beautiful private spaces, the atmosphere here alone is worth the trip. And then there’s the food!
Rick Blount: Antoine’s is the grande dame of this very, very special cuisine we serve in New Orleans: Creole cuisine. It’s this wonderful blend of old European cooking traditions and the abundance of phenomenal seafood and game that’s available in New Orleans. The way we prepare the food, the sauces, the service style: we’ve tried to stay true to the original sort of style of Creole dining. We work really hard to figure out what [are] the right things to update, and what [are] the right things to leave sacrosanct and never touch.
FG: Every bite is that French Creole goodness, and the star of the show here at Antoine’s is their Oysters Rockefeller, which was invented right here in 1889.
RB: My family has created many, many, many dishes, but Rockefeller seems to be the one that’s been copied and played with around the world more than any of the other ones. And it’s a really fun dish. Although New Orleans and New Orleanians consumed a huge amount of oysters, the whole idea of baked oysters was sort of a novelty. This crazy sauce is sort of a bit of a secret, and we keep it that way. There are very few people who actually know all the steps that go into doing Oysters Rockefeller.
FG: Between lunch, dinner, and Sunday jazz brunch, you’ve got plenty of chances to see what Antoine’s is all about. I do suggest getting a reservation, though. I’m Fleurty Girl and that wraps up another edition of GoNOLA TV and we’ll see ya next time, darlin’.