Friday luncheon traditions are entrenched in New Orleans. Amongst professionals and the ladies who lunch, Uptown’s luncheon tradition is Commander’s Palace—since 1890. It still is. While the CBD traditional crowd may also focus on Galatoire’s, an upstart founded in 1905, the grandest of luncheons continue to be enjoyed daily under the moss-covered oaks where Washington joins Coliseum. Actually, the statement is true any day of the week. Weekends are reserved for Commander’s Brunch. Bourbon Milk Punch sets the pace.
Commander’s, famous since the turn of the century, became a Brennan’s restaurant in 1974. Much remains constant, although in recent years Ella, Dottie, Dick, and John Brennan passed the reins to cousins Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan. The residents of the Garden District still stroll to frequent the most elegant of historic restaurants and its Haute Creole Cuisine, as do I. The walls are still “Commander Blue.” The cocktails unequaled. Reservations are usually needed. Coats are still required. Martinis are still 25 cents.
My most recent trip included a lagniappe tasting of the Shrimp & Tasso Henican. Named after Brennan family friend and local attorney Joe Henican, the dish is wildly colorful and popular. An equally colorful plate of Wild Louisiana Shrimp arrived with Pickled Okra, Five Pepper Jelly, Tasso Ham, and a Crystal Hot Sauce Beurre Blanc. The gourmand periodical, Saveur, recognized the complex dish created by Jaime Shannon and featured the recipe:
My table sampled other classics. The Turtle Soup was Sherry-drizzled perfection. The Creole Gumbo’s rich dark base even more so. We feasted on the Smoked Redfish, Seafood Boil of Crawfish, Oysters, Wild Shrimp, and Classic Boiled Vegetables atop a Ravigote Cake surrounded by Creole Courtboullion. The dish was indeed an Haute version of the favorite Louisiana Seafood Boil.
The Caribbean Spiced Pork Tenderloin served on a Coconut & Cilantro Yucca Mash with Curry Glazed Carrots, Mango Hot Sauce, Crispy Plantains, and Tropical Trotter Jus was flavored depth-upon-flavor. Can a dish be too good? I thought so, made a small dent, and had it boxed to make room for the Ponchatoula Strawberry Shortcake. We still couldn’t finish the huge portion of Marinated Strawberries in Louisiana Sugarcane spooned over an airy Buttermilk Biscuit dusted with Powdered Sugar and dolloped in Chantilly Cream.
We also ordered Chef Tory’s Creole Luncheon, a $34 prix fixe that starts with a bowl of Creole Gumbo. A towering portion of Crispy Pecan Catfish follows. The entrée of Pecan Crusted Catfish Des Allemands over Crab Boil Creole Potato Salad and Creole Mustard Braised Cabbage and Mirlitons with Pickled Okra Aioli and NOLA BBQ Vinaigrette was intriguingly flavorful and the serving generous. Afterwards we enjoyed the perfectly high and light Creole Bread Pudding Souffle. Even more enjoyable was the accompanying table-side pomp. Servers arrived flourishing bowls and silver spoons. The pouring of the hot creamy Whiskey Sauce was accomplished in tandem for each guest. While executed with military precision, service is friendly and approachable. The staff at Commander’s always contribute to making luncheons there all the more special.
The restaurant’s accolades are as endless as its awards. Past chefs are a veritable culinary Hall of Fame including Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, and Jamie Shannon. During my visit Darren Porretto, the current Sous Chef, was in charge.
Current Executive Chef, Tory McPhail, has been at the helm since 2001. In 1999, the James Beard Foundation awarded Chef McPhail Best Chef of the Year; in 2002, Southeast Region: Rising Star Chef; and he recently won the James Beard Foundation Award for South: Best Chef, 2013. Chef McPhail’s other accolades include winning the 2009 Great American Seafood Cookoff and garnering Southern Living’s, “Best Splurge Restaurant in the South.” He has hosted his own television series, “Off The Menu” and was recently a guest judge on Bravo’s, “Top Chef.”
Chef Tory McPhail’s latest venture is a successful launch of gourmet, bottled sauces. McPhail states, “What I love about these is they have more flavor than the typical sauces you see in the grocery aisle. And they’re versatile. You can use them to marinate seafood or cook food right in the sauce. They’re also great salad dressings. All of these sauces were inspired by the springtime food I’ve cooked at Commander’s Palace for years now. This time of year everyone is thinking about spring break and about eating lighter. My sauces are right in line with that. I always say they’re ‘Creole spice for your island life.’ ”
McPhails’ trio of dressing/marinades/sauces are Coconut, Key Lime and Curry; Cilantro, Lime & Sea Salt; and Pineapple, Ginger & Cayenne. All are available at Rouses. I’m heading over to try to Pineapple on tonight’s Shrimp Grille.
Chef McPhail’s products and cookbook can also be purchased at his website: torymcphail.com.
1403 Washington Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70115
Kristine Froeba is a fourth generation Uptown girl whose varied background includes food and travel writing, celebrity ghost writing, public relations, social media management, fundraising, preservationist, reluctant tabloid hack, and litigation specialist. She describes herself as part foodie, part writer, part historian, historic renovation zealot, and full time dabbler.