The New Orleans restaurant scene has experienced a spectacular rebirth in the last decade across the board, especially at the high-end grand-scale side of that spectrum with R’evolution, Couvant, Cavan, Meril, Jack Rose, Tableau and others, but none are more impressive than the total transformation of the beloved Brennan’s Restaurant. Before partners Terry White and Ralph Brennan took over the enterprise, Brennan’s had gone into a tailspin that led to a sudden closing in the summer of 2013 that sent shockwaves throughout the restaurant community. After an extensive renovation costing upwards of 20 million dollars, Brennan’s reopened in late 2014 with Mississippi native Slade Rushing as their executive chef. Rushing has brilliantly re-imagined and elevated the classic Creole cuisine as well as creating a few dishes of his own.
Taking cues from Commander’s Palace, Arnaud’s and Antoine’s, Brennan’s new layout completely dazzles beginning with the Roost Bar that leads to the opulent Chanteclair Room with black and white checkerboard tiles, plush grasshopper-green banquettes and a wraparound tableau of whimsically themed carnival murals. Ample light pours in from the adjacent courtyard, which is used for receptions and outdoor dining (as well as being a home for the famous turtles that gallivant in the fountains and ponds). There are six additional dining rooms, including the lavishly appointed King’s and Queen’s Rooms, which replicate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and the impressive Wine Room that features newly unearthed exposed brick showcasing the original structure built in 1795, and a massive 16 feet by 3 feet wide table carved out of single cypress tree. It is abundantly clear that wherever you are at Brennan’s, you are in the lap of luxury and are there to be pampered, pleased and impressed.
The Brennan experience begins with the “Eye Openers” menu of classic cocktail offerings such as a Caribbean Milk Punch and Cajun Bloody Mary. But the cocktail menu also offers French 417, which is enhanced by Aperol and pomegranate liquor, or perhaps an appealing banana daiquiri with spiced rum and almond. The wines by the glass offerings cover the gamut, even offering Dom Pérignon by the glass, a truly classy touch.
For nearly seven decades Brennan’s was a bastion of the Creole cuisine canon, but lost its luster before it shuttered its doors. A major part of the renovation and overhaul took place in the kitchen, and finding the perfect fit for the chef to revamp the entire enterprise. Executive Chef Slade Rushing has deep Delta roots and a passion for Creole cuisine imbued in him since childhood, as his parents were both gourmets. After several ventures with his chef partner and wife Allison Vines-Rushing, in Manhattan, and locally at Longbranch and MiLa, Rushing accepted the greatest challenge of his career, taking over the helm at Brennan’s. He has successfully updated, and elevated, the quality of Brennan’s menu with items such as the Eggs Benedict, using housemade English muffins, and featuring house–coffee-cured Canadian bacon and elsewhere replacing BBQ shrimp with lobster to achieve a sublime, and satisfying, result. Similarly, the Tian of Crab appetizer reinterprets the standard crab salad with flourishes of mint remoulade, topped with a savory tomato concasse and a jalapeño-tomato gelée. Baked oysters finished with smoked chili butter and a Manchego crust were outstanding. The sweet potato zeppole with orange-bourbon glaze, sprinkled with powdered sugar, presents a novel twist on the venerable beignet. Weekend brunches also include the added attraction of live jazz from a band that makes the rounds.
Of course, the selection of popular egg dishes made “Breakfast at Brennan’s” an internationally recognized destination, and they do not disappoint. Alongside enduring classics such Eggs Hussarde, Owen, Benedict and Sardou, Eggs Cardinal is a luxurious combination of shrimp boudin, lobster and spinach, topped with black truffle hollandaise. Steak Diane is also offered for a fabulous tableside presentation with roasted carrots, and eggs cooked however the guest prefers. Our favorite was a delight from Rushing’s early hunting days: fried Mississippi rabbit, creamed collards, over-easy eggs and pickled pork jus—absolutely incredible!
The dinner menu simply jumps off the page with a full roster of selections such as Chicken Fried Sweetbreads with truffle grits and bacon sherry jus, Shrimp Creole Kimchi, Osso Buco, and several game items: Satsuma Lacquered Duck, Roasted Pheasant, and Grilled Venison Backstrap with chestnut beignets and dried cherry sauce.
Desserts have always been part of the show at Brennan’s and of course Bananas Foster and flambéed crepes are still prepared tableside by members of the service team. The Black Forest Cake gets star treatment, presented as a dark chocolate–crusted black cherry mousse bombe with chocolate “soil” and sautéed cherries—it’s ridiculously good. The big hit though, was the Chocolate Entremet, which included a coffee ganache and buttermilk ice cream—a symphonic ending to a superior dining experience.
Brennan’s Restaurant, 417 Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70130. 504-525-9711. Open for breakfast Monday – Friday 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Dinner from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.