The historic and classic Brennanâ€™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, Brennanâ€™s blackened redfish and fried okra, and topped it off with their signature dessert: Brennanâ€™s Foster, a simple yet sumptuous blend of halved ripe bananas, a rich bourbon sauce, and vanilla ice cream. â€śWe donâ€™t deal with specials,â€ť offers Executive Chef Lazone Randolph, who has worked with the restaurant for more than 40 years. â€śWe serve food.â€ť
Willie Maeâ€™s Scotch House and Two-Sisters will be among your best sampling of back-a-town diningâ€”authentic Southern food from a family-owned business in a neighborhood setting. Willie Maeâ€™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 Finisterâ€™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 Maeâ€™s since the retirement of her great-grandmother, all recount similar stories. â€śNobody had to tell you much,â€ť says Chase, â€śyou just watched.â€ť 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 doesnâ€™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.