Photo Story: A Genteel Meal

I lived in New Orleans once, back in the¬†halcyon days when I was young enough to bar tend until four in the morning and ride my Vespa scooter through the silent night to home – or to another bar for a last drink and something to eat at places that stayed open until dawn. I knew where to go for the best oysters – down the street at Bonaparte’s where the shucker sat at one of those New Orleans windows that opens all the way to the floor and offered fresh oysters from a huge iced barrel all day long–and all night; the best gumbo – down on winding Tchoupitoulas Street where the smoky bar served those of us who were workers of the night, and yes, some were hookers. I wasn’t. Just a lowly bartender. And coffee? You could get great chicory coffee anywhere, usually with fresh, hot beignets at just about any hour. I knew about Commander’s Palace. It was a landmark, but most of the clientele were old and genteel. Neither of which I was.Then there was a hurricane; and then New Orleans rebuilt; and then, well, then I finally got old enough to eat at Commander’s Palace and my husband wanted to see New Orleans.

Here’s the story of a Commander’s Palace visit – at least the food. You can look up the history on the web. It was built, as a restaurant, in 1880, so it has a colorful past.

Commander's Palace5 It also has a colorful present. I don’t know if it’s always been blue like this, but it was blue when I lived a few blocks away in the 1980s.

Commander's Palace3We were taken up the wide staircase to an upstairs room. Taking a photo of the chandelier above our heads was impractical – we were seated in an intimate room of nine tables with windows onto the front street, but it had the same look as the room beyond and all the waiters were formally dressed.

Commander's Palace1Commander’s Palace is justly famous for its 25 cent lunch-time martinis. We had cosmopolitans. It seemed appropriate. But you can only have two. They used to be unlimited, but some years back, a more-than-two (or even four) martini gentleman upchucked at the table. Not what one does at Commander’s Palace. Ergo: New Rule.

Commander's Palace2I’d ordered gumbo along the road to New Orleans but none were right. The Creole Gumbo at the Palace was perfect. Absolutely perfect. The yellow puffy things are soft cornbread dumplings – the perfect (again perfect) counterpoint to creole spices. And the crawfish were…perfect. The crawfish are the little pieces of tails; the big one on top a gulf shrimp.

Commander's Palace4Creole Bread Pudding Souffl√© with warm whiskey cream. Oh. My. Goodness. Each order is made from scratch so it can’t be a last minute decision. It has to be a plan. Twenty minutes to prepare. And that’s if it’s not busy. If you go, you must have it. You might not be crazy about creole seasonings or even cosmopolitans, but you must have the bread pudding. It comes to the table all puffed up and hot, and the waiter takes a silver spoon, breaks open the top, and pours in the whiskey sauce.

Welcome to New Orleans…ya’ll come down. (But not during Mardi Gras or St. Patrick’s Day or Jazz Festival or New Years Eve…waaaaaay too many people acting like the two-too-many martini guy a few years back at Commander’s Palace.)

Trust me; I bar tended through them all.