From Brennan’s to Commander’s Palace: A Brief History
In this video Ella Brennan and her family reminisce about the history of their quintessential New Orleans restaurants Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace, both run by the Brennan Family since the 1940’s. For recipes and more videos, visit Saveur.com.
Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
Of New Orleans’ historic grande dame restaurants, and there are a few, Commander’s Palace, built in 1880 in a stunning Victorian house, is the one that isn’t just banking on its storied reputation. The kitchen has produced New Orleans legends, from Paul Prudhomme to Emeril Lagasse, and today showcases the food from future culinary rock star Tory McPhail. The space suffered severe damage during Hurricane Katrina but was successfully refurbished and reopened in October 2006.
The guidebooks will report that brunch is popular, and it is, but that’s not the time to go. Head over there for an elegant dinner of haute Creole dishes like Louisiana crawfish gnocchi, pecan-crusted Gulf fish and tenderloin of fire-spiced pork.
Nestled in the middle of the Garden District stands this turquoise and white Victorian fantasy of a building, complete with turrets, columns, and gingerbread.
Since 1880, Commander’s Palace has been a New Orleans landmark known for the award-winning quality of its food and many commodious dining rooms. The history of this famous restaurant offers a glimpse into New Orleans’ antebellum past. In the early 1880’s, when Louisiana officially joined the nation, eager young Anglo-Saxons flocked to this promising territory to make their fortunes. Since the Vieux Carré was the stronghold of the proud Creoles, these “Americans” (as they were defined by the Creoles) sought a residential section of their own. Thus was born the Garden District, with its stately Greek Revival homes and quiet, tree lined streets.
Here in the Garden District George W. Cable entertained Mark Twain; here Jefferson Davis spent his last days. And here, in 1880, Emile Commander established the only restaurant patronized by the distinguished neighborhood families. He chose the corner of Washington Avenue and Coliseum Street, a site that had been in turn, part of the J.F.E. Livaudais Plantation and the faubourg of Lafayette. In 1854 it was engulfed by the city of New Orleans and by 1900 Commander’s Palace was attracting gourmets from all over the world.
Under different management in the twenties its reputation was somewhat spicier, however. Riverboat captains frequented it and sporting gentlemen met with beautiful women for a rendezvous in the private dining room upstairs. Downstairs however, the main dining room (with its separate entrance) was maintained in impeccable respectability for family meals after church and family gatherings of all sorts.
In 1944, Frank and Elinor Moran bought Commander’s Palace, refurbished it and carried on its tradition of excellence with an expanded menu including many recipes still used.
When Ella, Dottie, Dick and John Brennan took over personal supervision of the restaurant in 1974, they began to give the splendid old landmark a new look. It was decided to design rooms and settings indoors which complemented and enhanced the lovely outdoor setting, so the decor was planned for a bright, casual airiness. Walls were torn out and replaced with walls of glass, trellises were handmade for the Garden Room and paintings were commissioned for each room to complement and accent its particular color and design.
Particular attention was paid to the heart and soul of the restaurant kitchen and the dishes created there. Commander’s cuisine reflects the best of the city, both Creole and American heritages as well as dishes of Commander’s own creating. Seafood, meats, fruits and vegetables; everything is as fresh as it possibly can be.