The culinary experience at Brigtsen’s is living testament to the late great Chef Paul Prudhomme’s profound legacy. Chef Frank Brigtsen was an integral part of Prudhomme’s revolutionary, game-changing impact on our distinct cuisine both at Commander’s Palace, where he served as sous chef, and later at K-Paul’s where he was part of the legendary team that included chefs Jan Bierbaum and Greg Sonnier, to name a few.
Before Prudhomme entered the fray, the old-line Creole French restaurants of New Orleans essentially served interchangeable menus that were tried and true classics dating back over a century. Prudhomme’s early life experience growing up with a dozen siblings on a farm in Opelousas imbued in him a deep appreciation of farm-fresh local ingredients from the land, sea and air including crawfish, duck, Tasso ham, andouille sausage, molasses, pecans, and recipes and cooking techniques that he learned in his mother’s kitchen. Although best remembered for his legendary blackened dishes—particularly redfish—it was much more than that. Prudhomme’s ascension successfully integrated Cajun country-style cooking into the Creole cannon that redefined the cuisine forever. In 1986, Frank and Marna Brigtsen opened up a modest-sized restaurant in the Riverbend part of Uptown that featured several intimate dining rooms adorned with local art. From its inception, Brigtsen’s immediately was lauded as one of the city’s finest dining establishments ranked right up there with LeRuth’s, Galatoire’s, Antoine’s, Gautreau’s and Commander’s Palace.
At Brigtsen’s, a full roster of Creole classics are on the menu: seafood okra gumbo with andouille sausage, BBQ shrimp with calas (Creole rice fritters), fried Des Allemands catfish, broiled Gulf fish with crabmeat, and even veal Parmesan—the hallmarks of a great neighborhood restaurant. But there are also dozens of signature creations that Brigtsen’s legion of loyal diners clamor for, such as his decadently creamy bisque made with pureed butternut squash and shrimp. Other delicious favorites are the appetizer of rabbit tenderloin with Parmesan and andouille sausage grit cakes, spinach, and Creole mustard sauce; shrimp remoulade garnished with mirliton corn relish, guacamole, and served with deviled eggs; and fried soft shell crab with a deeply flavorful meunière sauce studded with roasted pecans.
Highlights from the entree selections are a wonderful roasted duck with cherry sauce and dirty rice, and a generously portioned pork chop smothered in debris sauce and accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes. I still remember the first time I tasted Frank Brigtsen’s blackened yellowfin tuna with smoked corn sauce, one of the most delicious dished I’ve ever had. It’s still on the menu and served with red bean salsa and roasted red pepper sour cream. But the showstopper is “The Shell Beach Diet” seafood platter with grilled redfish and chanterelle mushrooms; baked scallops LeRuth with shrimp, crab, chanterelle and leeks; shrimp cornbread; stuffed shrimp with seafood eggplant dressing; and crabmeat with tomato-basil concasse—truly a tour de force!
Desserts are serious business at Brigtsen’s and are not to be missed. The pecan pie with caramel sauce is unmatched in this town, and the same could be said for the tres leches cake with strawberries and the café au lait crème brûlée. We also love the lemon ice box crème brûlée and the banana bread pudding.
A huge part of what makes Brigtsen’s so memorable is the service— hospitable, professional and personable. This begins with the reservation process where most likely you will engage with an actual person and have a conversation regarding preferences and availability. The small rooms adorned with photographs, and paintings of flowers, food, and local topography are a big part of the charm of the restaurant, that strives to make the guest feel as if they are dining in the home of a beloved friend that knows how to cook and entertain in style. I couldn’t help notice that dining rooms were filled with entertainment legends that were holding court and having a grand time. We were taken great care of by service industry legend (and singer) Jane Harvey Brown—so attentive and charming. Above all, beyond the accolades and James Beard Awards bestowed upon Brigtsen’s, this is one of the quintessential classic neighborhood restaurants of New Orleans, and one of the few where the celebrity chef actually still prepares every dish that leaves the kitchen. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Frank Brigtsen is not an empire builder. His mission is not only to cook and serve guests at Brigtsen’s but to teach. He’s worked for decades at culinary institutions inspiring professional chefs and enthusiastic home chefs. Giving back and contributing to the community is a big part of Frank Brigtsen’s philosophy, which supports the Second Harvest food bank and the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.
We are fortunate to have a special place like Brigtsen’s in New Orleans.