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Commander's Palace (NOLA, Garden District)


Jason Perlow
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From reading this particular article, it appears that the damage to the traditional French Quarter landmark restaurants is not as bad as I had first assumed. The best lines in the piece?
Once you have lived in or even visited New Orleans, it steals part of your heart. How many other cities in the country have the word "beloved" placed in front of it, as is often the case with this place? It is a place that feeds the soul as much as the stomach. It is a place that smells like Mom's kitchen, where people greet each other with a hello and then, almost always, "Where'd ya eat?"

New Orleans once fed my soul, and my daughter's who went to Tulane, and, it now appears, will again! Thanks, TAPrice!

That may well be true, they may be ready to open soon. But it takes a hell of a lot more than a chef and willing diners to serve a meal in a restaurant.

Let's use a dish of Redfish topped with shrimp something or other as an example. I am sure that I will skip some steps, please feel free to add your own.

First, you need a guy to catch the fish:

This will involve a boat, nets, ice, fuel, and decent water

Then, after the guy gets all of the stuff to catch the fish he has to go catch the fish. Assuming that he has a good day, he will need to go sell the fish to a fish guy.

Once the fish guy buys the fish, he will have to haul it to New Orleans on a road and across a bridge (it's the only way in, for those of you that are too dense to have put that together this week). The fish guy will take it to a restaurant directly or to a dealer, but for now, we'll just say directly.

At the restaurant, someone will need to pull out his giant ring of keys and go look at the fish in the back of the truck and make sure that it's fresh-healthy eyes, good looking gills, slime still on fish, etc. and then pay the guy. Once he is paid, the back door guy will take it to a cooler, or in most cases, directly to some guys who are fileting fish somewhere in the bowels of the back of the kitchen. Once fileted, it will go into a tub of ice and be put in a cooler, awaiting that evening's diners..

Now, as the evening arrives, we have to have a whole nother cast of players. We will have a couple of tourists dining at a white table cloth restaurant:

First of all, the tourists will have flown into the airport, caught a cab, and gone to their very nice downtown hotel. They will have gone out strolling in the afternoon, had a couple of beverages and discussed how much they love New Orleans and what an interesting city it is. Then they will have gone back to their hotel and taken a hot shower, perhaps entertained themselves in the clean sheets in the well made up room, and gotten dressed. On their way out, the doorman calls them another cab and they ride uptown, marvelling at beautiful St Charles Ave, the streetcars, and the mansions. Once they arrive at the restaurant, a whole host of players enter the scene.

There will be doormen, hostesses or hosts, maitre d's, bartenders, backwaiters, busboys, and a waiter or waiters, depending on the service chart.

In the kitchen, when the tourists order the fish, there may be as many as twenty people involved in the prep and service of everything that goes into getting it out. Once the diners have enjoyed it, it goes back to the dishroom, where dishwashers clean up everything with soap, water, machinery and brushes, ultimately washing all of it down the drain and into the public sewer.

They will them leave a generous tip on the tab, thank everyone, and stroll out into the night , never realizing how many people were involved in their meal, from the airport to the dishroom.

I have left out dozens of people and dozens of micro situations, but I can tell you that even if the water is gone, the national guard is gone, and the places are all shiny clean, it will be a while before a decent meal can be served here. Those people that you were watching on TV? The ones with no way out, on rooftops and in boats and wading in water that is so nasty it's hard to imagine how they can do it? Those are the people who clean your rooms and your fish, drive your cabs, open your doors, prep your salads, wash your dishes, operate the sewage and water systems. This city, or your city, for that matter, can't operate without them and this city won't be back until some accomodation is made for them, long before you tourists start showing up again.

The interesting thing is that, bizarrely, one of the most interesting things that is likely to result from this is an upsurge in tourism in New Orleans as so many people have remembered how much they have loved their past visits (not to mention the many of us that have only had their love for their home reconfirmed) and will want to return as soon as possible.

It's important to remember that this is not, and never has been, Disneyland. New Orleans is not make believe. It's real and it's the way that it is because of the people and the port. Without those two things, we wouldn't even be here. But until you can get on a plane and come, keep in mind that much of this "federal help" will be going to get an infrastructure back that has to be in place before you can ever have a Pimm's Cup at Napoleon House or an Oysters Rockefeller at Galitoire's or even a snoball at Hansen's.

A fun game would be to go through this and list how many services and how many people are involved in one piece of fish. You don't ever think of it until you don't have it, believe me. I have a young man up here today that I picked up yesterday who has had basically nothing but eggs and Tang for three days, supplemented by some canned black beans and some cheese. He was so happy when we went ino Ryan's (a better than average, but not great, buffet place in the South) last night on the way home. He has great manners, but it was like watching a starving waif last night, he ate like a horse. I was happy for him, and all the while I couldn't help but think how lucky we all are. Really, really lucky.

Lecture over, back to your regularly scheduled programming

RIP Gatemouth. We'll miss you.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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That may well be true, they may be ready to open soon. But it takes a hell of a lot more than a chef and willing diners to serve a meal in  a restaurant.

(...)I can tell you that even if the water is gone, the national guard is gone, and the places are all shiny clean, it will be a while before a decent meal can be served here. Those people that you were watching on TV? The ones with no way out, on rooftops and in boats and wading in water that is so nasty it's hard to imagine how they can do it? Those are the people who clean your rooms and your fish, drive your cabs, open your doors, prep your salads, wash your dishes, operate the sewage and water systems. This city, or your city, for that matter, can't operate without them and this city won't be back until some accomodation is made for them, long before you tourists start showing up again.

The interesting thing is that, bizarrely, one of the most interesting things that is likely to result from this is an upsurge in tourism in New Orleans as so many people have remembered how much they have loved their past visits (not to mention the many of us that have only had their love for their home reconfirmed) and will want to return as soon as possible.

It's important to remember that this is not, and never has been, Disneyland. New Orleans is not make believe. It's real and it's the way that it is because of the people and the port. Without those two things, we wouldn't even be here. But until you can get on a plane and come, keep in mind that much of this "federal help" will be going to get an infrastructure back that has to be in place before you can ever have a Pimm's Cup at Napoleon House or an Oysters Rockefeller at Galitoire's or even a snoball at Hansen's. (...)

A beautiful essay, Brooks. But I often wonder whether reminders such as this one will have the desired effect on the "haves", who often seem to regard the "have-nots" or "have-lesses" as insignificant in the grander scheme of things.

Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting item as its "A-hed" (the fourth column on the front page, so named for the three-quarter-box rule over its headline; this is usually a lighter story). It was about the wealthy New Orleanians whose lives have been relatively undisrupted by the hurricane, and some of whom remain in their Uptown homes, living off generator power, helicopters landing in Audubon Park bearing supplies, and hired guards to keep the would-be looters at bay.

Some of these members of the local power elite, it appears, already have a post-hurricane vision for New Orleans, and the city they envision rising from the flood is not the one that existed before it. Sure, they're saying that they don't intend for the current ethnic/racial balance to be upended, but -- if the story is to be believed -- not only do they want better municipal services, something which I imagine most of their fellow New Orleanians also would like, but they would like to see a lot fewer poor people in town. The article did not state this bluntly, but it seemed to me as if this group sees the hurricane as a golden opportunity to gentrify the Crescent City.

In which case, they would destroy the city in order to save it and turn it into a mere simulation of itself--the very thing you railed against in your post above.

One of the things that remains in my head from the summer I spent in the city in 1978 is not only its enormous charm and its infectious spirit, but also its pervasive poverty. A left turn off the outbound St. Charles streetcar puts you in some of the most fabulous affluent urban neighborhoods in the country; a right turn puts you in urban hardscrabble. I suspect that this state of affairs existed well before 1978, and I also suspect that some of the things that make New Orleans unique and memorable arise--or arose--from the cultures of the very communities that made up that urban hardscrabble.

I've read some stories lately that suggest that these same areas are now a lot more dangerous than I remember them in 1978. (Could I safely get off the Desire-Florida bus to wait for the Louisa-Pontchartrain Park bus late at night now the way I did then?) I too would want to see those neighborhoods be made safe again, and I suspect it could be done without having to eliminate their residents.

This may be a moot question, as usually, once the very poor leave an area, they are ill-equipped to return. But if it isn't, I would be very chary of any effort to rebuild the city by wiping them off the map completely.

Please forgive my extended journey away from the dinner table. But it's hard for me to separate food from the rest of the place. (Not to mention that at the time, I was a "poor" college kid selling dictionairies door-to-door, and thus spent hardly any time in the better restaurants. I did catch a jazz set at Preservation Hall--a true museum piece, eat a delicious po' boy--well, several dozen of them--at a place on Magazine Street just below the Garden District, and receive my introduction to America's best fast food, Popeye's fried chicken, while there, though. Joy in New Orleans can be found at just about every price point.)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Brooks:

I am hardly going to disagree with what you have written. But, (there's always a BUT, isn't there?) there are a LOT of out-of-town folks there right now. Police from all over the country, including NYPD, as well as fire fighters and military of all stripes. I get the impression that the established, and relatively undamaged, restaurants (like K Paul's) are gearing up to feed these people, knowing that MREs can't compare with the cuisine of the region. How else to start maintaining what's been most famous and well-loved about NOLA? The people needed to do this, as you have so well outlined, will be there. Too many of them just haven't wanted to leave. And, as long as they as feeding the troops, so to speak, nobody is going to get in their way. There seems to be a lot of opportunity for those who are obeying the "All Hands On Deck" atmosphere. God, I hope so.

Barbara

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I have various thoughts but don't want to pull this thread too far off course, so I'll only ask whether many of the restaurant jobs you're talking about were done by undocumented immigrants, as is the case in many kitchens in New York, for example. I guess I'd also make the point that if there are jobs, people who need jobs and are willing to work those jobs will come and get them. Whether they'll all be the same people as before is another matter.

Some cities have significantly reduced crime in poor neighborhoods without evicting all the poor people, but since that really isn't about food, I'll refrain from further comment on it. :wink:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I have various thoughts but don't want to pull this thread too far off course, so I'll only ask whether many of the restaurant jobs you're talking about were done by undocumented immigrants, as is the case in many kitchens in New York, for example. I guess I'd also make the point that if there are jobs, people who need jobs and are willing to work those jobs will come and get them. Whether they'll all be the same people as before is another matter.

Some cities have significantly reduced crime in poor neighborhoods without evicting all the poor people, but since that really isn't about food, I'll refrain from further comment on it. :wink:

from my personal experience, most of these jobs were preformed by low paid Blacks and Vietnamese. Some of them had worked at the same place for many years, proud of the work they did. And this included some of the high end hotels. I am sure there were probably some undocumented immigrants but they were a definite minority, unlike where I live now. Here, most of the kitchens in town run on the back of hispanics, both documented and undocumented.

Edited by joiei (log)

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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Brooks:

I am hardly going to disagree with what you have written.  But, (there's always a BUT, isn't there?) there are a LOT of out-of-town folks there right now.

  I get the impression that the established, and relatively undamaged,  restaurants (like K Paul's) are gearing up to feed these people, knowing that MREs can't compare with the cuisine of the region. 

The people needed to do this, as you have so well outlined, will be there.  Too many of them just haven't wanted to leave. 

Barbara

Barbara,

Perhaps you should re-read the whole post that Brooks outlined. I am not sure you understand the scope of what it takes to run a restaurant.

There are no fisherman with boats to catch the seafood.

If the fisherman could catch the seafood, there are no seafood distributors to deliver the seafood.

The polluted waters have really damaged the availability of fresh shrimp, fish and most of all, oysters.

Sysco cannot pull up in a giant truck with the daily delivery of cans of tomato sauce, jars of olives, cases of cayenne pepper or bags of flour.

There are no liquor distributors working right now: Glazer or Republic or your friendly wine purveyer cannot process orders or put it in a delivery truck to fill your order. Who will sell it to you? Most of the salespeople are not sitting around New Orleans.

There are no (or maybe a couple) line cooks sitting around waiting to jump back in the kitchen.

There are no waiters that can sit around living off of a savings account for the next few months until their restaurant opens.

The linen company is probably not open, so napkins and tablecloths cannot be washed. Even if you use paper napkins, where will you get them?

That doesn't leave us with much except for MRE's. I wish it was the opposite, but remember what it takes to run a restaurant, then multiply it by 10,000, and that's what it takes to run a city. It's not as easy as it looks.

-Kevin

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Kevin:

I did read and understand both Brooks' post and yours. I didn't make myself clear, obviously. While everything you say is true, my point is that to underestimate the desire that people have to get their businesses and lives up and running is a mistake. Yes, the local fishing fleet is ruined and many of those will take their insurance settlements and go elsewhere or do something else. Just as many food workers are dislocated (some are here in DC and the local restaurant industry is doing some serious outreach to place them in local establishments), along with all the people needed to do what needs doing as you outlined above, I have no doubt that a way will be found.

I say this after reading about Paul Prudhomme and his plans. I think he has the wherewithall to put out the word about what he needs and I don't doubt that people will respond. There are people around the country who want to do something to get New Orleans back to some semblance of its former self, only better--people who didn't lose everything and are considering a sojourn down that way and maybe a new start for themselves. Yes, this certainly qualifies as a "Rosy Scenario", but I'm betting time will show that this will happen in less time than now seems possible.

Barbara

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  • 1 year later...

It's funny how things work out sometimes. I was doing a google search a minute ago for "New York Christmas Eve Restaurants" and came across this thread. I haven't read any of this in over a year for a number of reasons, primarily because after a year of disaster, death, disheartenment, displacement, divorce, and close to financial ruin (though, in fairness, some really great things have happened to me besides all of this awfulness) I just don't like to go back and read my post storm diatribes-here on eGullet or anywhere else that they were appearing last September.

But, as I ran across it and saw my name in the threads, I went back and read the comments-both my own and the ones that followed.

What struck me as I read (aside from thought of my own deadly accurate :wink: portrayal of what would probably be (and turned out to be) one of the biggest stoppers in getting this place on it's feet) this was how practical my comments were. Not too much emotion, just kind of reporting on things as I saw them. It seems like so long ago.

I can't do that anymore-even when I get paid to do it (and happily that's more and more these days)-I, and almost everyone else writing from this base-has become unable to take a dispassionate, practical view of things. It hurts too much and we are all too emotionally involved. It's too big of a mess and apparently too big of a job.

I live in what is, and will remain, one of the most interesting places on Earth and certainly one of the most interesting places in North America. We aren't like you. We know that. Even now, with all of this mess and all of our many uninformed but highly vocal critics watching our every move, well, we're still not like you. We are still, right now, looking for a bright side, a colorful side, a tasty side of this thing and when we occasionally find it we take an amount of joy in that find that many, many-most-people just can't quite understand.

How many towns do you regularly hear phrases like, "I went to a GREAT funeral the other day!" ? It's like that here. We're looking for the fun even when someone is ten toes up on their way to the cremation station (hat tip to Mac). How many towns have restaurants that, by hook or by crook, manage to open up, literally, while much of the city is underwater while those same operators are busy for many hours of the day cooking tens of thousands of meals for rescue and recovery workers? Not many. Maybe, probably, not any (which is a damned good thing-no one here would wish any of this on their worst enemy).

We aren't like you. That's worked against us in many ways and we know that. Contrary to what many of you might think, one of the things that we are not is stupid. We live here, in many cases famously below sea level, because this is where our families and our friends are and in almost as many cases, because we can't imagine, or don't want to imagine, living anywhere else. We live here because we can still get better oysters and fish fresher and cheaper than you can, because we have a pretty good shot, on any given day, of having live music come by our house in the form of a celebratory parade or, oddly to many of you, a celebratory funeral. We live somewhere that, even though it's clearly an unprecedented mess brought on by a storm, a failure of the levees, and a failure of local, state, and national leaders, is still, in our mind anyway, better than where you live. We're proud of the place inspite of what we all know are many, many deep seeded and historical problems that are going to take years to overcome-if they can be at all. We live here-LIVE being the active word in that phrase.

My friend, Keith Keller, aka Fred Flames, used to say that we live in a place with a very high quality of life and a very low standard of living. He was right, God rest his soul (Fred died last week of a heart attack brought on by the stress of renovating his property), and now we are faced with many choices that we probably would not have ever been faced with were it now for the storm and the levee failures. I hope that we, our leaders and us as individuals, make the right ones. It's too late to make many more mistakes.

As this is about Commander's Palace, I will say that they are working on it. It was damaged far more badly than anyone in this thread realized last November and has basically had to be completely rebuilt (though that is not an entirely bad thing-it was about time). The word is that it will reopen on Saturday, September 30th. I think that's still true as I write this. It will be very good to have them back. There is a dearth of cheap Martinis and bread pudding souffle in this town and it will be good to finally have enough of both available at all times.

Come see us. Have some fun. Go home and tell your friends-tell them that you can have some fun here and eat some great food here-also tell them that there is much work that needs to be done and those people down there in New Orleans, they really know how to treat volunteers. Bring your Sunday go to meeting clothes and go get a good meal at August, or Emerils, or Bayona, or Herbsaint-then get up in the morning and put on some clothes that you have no intention of ever being able to wear again and go help one of the organizations gutting houses. You won't ever forget either experience, but I'll bet you money that the memory of that house you tear apart will stay with you longer than John Besh's Gnocchi and Truffles. The truffles are good, but the help, the labor, is infinitely better. Ask anyone who has had both-including Besh.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Brooks, thank you for validating why my Advanced French students will be in the Home Ec room next week learning how to make Leah Chase's gumbo z'herbes and then charging our faculty a modest amount for a great lunch. We'll be sending the money to Ms. Chase herself to go towards the rebuilding of her landmark restaurant.

“The secret of good cooking is, first, having a love of it… If you’re convinced that cooking is drudgery, you’re never going to be good at it, and you might as well warm up something frozen.”

~ James Beard

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Brooks, thank you for validating why my Advanced French students will be in the Home Ec room next week learning how to make Leah Chase's gumbo z'herbes and then charging our faculty a modest amount for a great lunch. We'll be sending the money to Ms. Chase herself to go towards the rebuilding of her landmark restaurant.

You should make bread pudding for dessert. Hell, make Mrs. Chase's. It's dead simple, cheap to make, and delicious.

Bread Pudding ala Dooky Chase

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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You should make bread pudding for dessert. Hell, make Mrs. Chase's. It's dead simple, cheap to make, and delicious.

Thanks. I think we will. :wink:

“The secret of good cooking is, first, having a love of it… If you’re convinced that cooking is drudgery, you’re never going to be good at it, and you might as well warm up something frozen.”

~ James Beard

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I wound up in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago. Hadn't been there in quite a few years, but it was amazing to see. Of course, not everywhere is doing OK, or even getting better. They still close some of the bridges on the Interstate down from time to time (ask me how I know...), traffic sucks almost as bad as I remember it, but the food is still there. The spirit is there too, a little battered and deep fried, but it is there. The people who are moving into Nawlins now (!) are paying big bucks for houses that still have FEMA trailers in the front yard. THAT is the kind of city New Orleans is. People, despite the everything that has happened, still want to be a part of it. Even if they are after a quick buck. I need to take up roofing. I could retire.

One of the signs of familiarity and comfort that I was looking for was Commander's. That big ol blue building, even though I knew it was out of commission, was going to be a welcome sight. Alas, after driving the streets for a while, I realized that that big house with the big blue tarp completely covering it was the thing I was looking for. I am so glad it will be reopening. I guess that means I will have to take another trip back to see it in it's glory. Magazine Street was hopping, and Harrah's was busy, but I want to see that building. It's the only thing that will do. Cafe Du Monde (though I didn't have time to stop), The Superdome, and the other landmarks I wanted to see were fine, but it's still not quite right without Commander's.

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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Make your reservations now. Commander's Palace opens up this Sunday, October 1, for brunch and will be open from there on out on their old schedule (dinner every night, lunch Monday through Friday, and brunch on Sat. and Sun.).

Welcome back.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Really great post on the Gumbo Pages giving a pretty detailed description of friends and family night last Saturday.

I'm going for lunch on Friday and dinner on Sunday and I am greatly looking forward to it.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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  • 1 month later...
Brooks, thank you for validating why my Advanced French students will be in the Home Ec room next week learning how to make Leah Chase's gumbo z'herbes and then charging our faculty a modest amount for a great lunch. We'll be sending the money to Ms. Chase herself to go towards the rebuilding of her landmark restaurant.

You should make bread pudding for dessert. Hell, make Mrs. Chase's. It's dead simple, cheap to make, and delicious.

Bread Pudding ala Dooky Chase

I just want to thank you again for suggesting the bread pudding. We did indeed have our lunch and we raised about $300. My husband and I are going to be in New Orleans for Thanksgiving and plan to hand over the money then. I'm proud of my kids and they are proud of their modest deed.

That said, we're looking forward to spending Thanksgiving Day at the track (I so hope the bread pudding is the way I remember it) and we've made reservations on Fri. night at August. My husband made Thanksgiving night (not the buffet, I think) reservations at the New Orleans Grill at Windsor Court. I can't seem to find any new reviews, and I know that there is a new chef. Any word?

And, lest you think that we are only in for the high-end stuff, we will spend way too much time at Cooter Browns and Fahy's; eat too many oysters at Felix's if it's open... and if not, we'll have 'em fried at Casimento's.

What I do want to know, though, is if Elizabeth's is open? I have been trying to recreate her praline bacon and it is NOT the same.

Can't wait to come to town,

S.

“The secret of good cooking is, first, having a love of it… If you’re convinced that cooking is drudgery, you’re never going to be good at it, and you might as well warm up something frozen.”

~ James Beard

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I believe Elizabeth's is open, or at least it appears to be when I've driven past recently. 

Really well said there Brooks, by the way.  Really well said.

Elizabeth's is open and has been for a while-they've even opened up the upstairs for your dining and billiard playing pleasure.

I'm glad that you liked the bread pudding. It's a good one. Those "Creole Faeries" can really cook.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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