The historic and classic Brennan’s serves a mesmerizing array of egg dishes such as poached on an artichoke with creamed spinach or atop Andouille Cajun sausage and Holland rusk. I enjoyed a hearty bowl of turtle soup spiked with white sherry, Brennan’s blackened redfish and fried okra, and topped it off with their signature dessert: Brennan’s Foster, a simple yet sumptuous blend of halved ripe bananas, a rich bourbon sauce, and vanilla ice cream. “We don’t deal with specials,” offers Executive Chef Lazone Randolph, who has worked with the restaurant for more than 40 years. “We serve food.”
Willie Mae’s Scotch House and Two-Sisters will be among your best sampling of back-a-town dining—authentic Southern food from a family-owned business in a neighborhood setting. Willie Mae’s fried chicken, prepared from a rich, seasoned batter, is often voted the best in New Orleans. But we decided that her three versions of fried pork chops, including a chicken-fried preparation, also win high marks.
At The New Orleans School of Cooking is where we learned firsthand how to make Chef Doris Finister’s favorite shrimp and okra dish. Chef Belton trusted us with his recipes for bread pudding with an intoxicating rum sauce and roux, the flour-based foundation for a variety of Creole dishes including a perfect gumbo.
Every Creole chef will tell you that they learned to cook in their home kitchens carefully watching a mother or grandmother. Belton, Finister, and Chef Kerry Seaton, a political science major now heading the menu and management at Willie Mae’s since the retirement of her great-grandmother, all recount similar stories. “Nobody had to tell you much,” says Chase, “you just watched.” Her grandson Edgar Chase IV and heir apparent agrees. He cut his teeth at the restaurant as a busboy, waiter, cashier, and dish washer before preparing meals. Today he is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Paris, which his grandmother will lovingly tease him about when he adds artistic finishes to a meal.
But it doesn’t matter how far a chef goes for training, the tradition of Creole cooking in New Orleans outweighs any instructions you might find in a book.
This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.