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Antoine’s Restaurant

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Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans is a unique combination of history, charm and excellent French-Creole cuisine. And, it’s easy to see why some say it’s like a museum, and has been named to the Southern Food & Beverage Museum’s National Culinary Heritage Register.

Celebrating 175 Years of Culinary Tradition in 2015, Antoine’s Restaurant holds the distinction as the oldest continually operating restaurant in nation.

Not only is Antoine’s, located at 713 St. Louis Street in the historic French Quarter, the oldest restaurant in the city and recognized as a standard bearer for traditional French Creole culinary traditions in America, but it is also the largest, featuring 14 distinctive dining rooms of varying sizes, themes, flavor and flair, yet all steeped in history.

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In each you will find memorabilia, artifacts, and other items representing numerous eras in history such as crowns, scepters, fine paintings, glassware, vintage dinnerware, gowns and cookbooks, among other items.

If the walls could talk, you’d have a front row seat for the conversations held between the countless who’s who of America who have feasted amid the splendor here from celebrities, to singers, U.S. Presidents, and world leaders. Pope John Paul II even graced one of the tables here, which speaks to the restaurant’s global reputation.

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Three of the private rooms bear the names of Carnival krewes – Rex, Proteus and Twelfth Night Revelers, with the bar named after the Krewe of Hermes.

The 1840 Room replicates a fashionable dining room from the era of the restaurant’s founding and is also a museum of sorts, housing a Parisian cookbook circa 1659, and the restaurant’s antique silver duck press, among other treasures. Portraits of successive generations of the Alciatore family also dot the room and add to the richness of the warm, red interior.

The Japanese Room was originally designed with Oriental motifs and décor popular at the turn of the century, down to the hand-painted walls and ceilings. Many large banquets were held there until December 7, 1941, when it was closed for 43 years after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was reopened in 1984, and renovated in 2015.

The Mystery Room acquired its name from Prohibition. During that time, select patrons would go through a secret door in the ladies’ restroom into a speak-easy behind it, and exit with a coffee cup of alcohol in spite of the laws. The protocol phrase to describe its origin was, “It’s a mystery to me.”

The Tabasco Room—appropriately painted “Tabasco” red—is the last named room at Antoine’s, and was recently renamed after one of the restaurant’s most distinguished customers and community leaders, Paul McIlhenny of the famous hot sauce family.

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Yet for all of the restaurant’s delightful “ostentatiousness,” Antoine’s is warm and welcoming and has something to offer everyone, from those who happened by in shorts and flip-flops, to those who come dressed in formal ball gowns and coat and tie as if on their way to the opera. And, for the upscale high quality food that they serve, it is affordable for even “the common man.” 

For the Love of Food

Born in France in 1822, Antoine Alciatore came to the New World at the age of 18 aiming to establish a business of his own, and after arriving in New Orleans in 1840, he opened a pension – a boarding house and restaurant in the French Quarter – that was simply to be known as “Antoine’s.” 

In ill health by 1874, Alciatore returned to France, where he died, their son Jules taking over as an apprentice and running the restaurant for six years before traveling to France, where he served in the great kitchens of Paris, Strasbourg and Marseilles. After returning to the city many years later, he assumes the helm of the powerhouse “House of Antoine.”

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Jules’ genius was in the kitchen, where he invented Oysters Rockefeller, so named after Standard Oil Founder John D. Rockefeller, for the richness of the sauce. While its namesake reportedly despised its title, Oysters Rockefeller is widely considered one of the greatest culinary creations of all time, with the recipe remaining a closely guarded secret.

Jules was succeeded by one of his three children, Roy, who followed in his father’s footsteps and led the restaurant for almost 40 years through some of the country’s most difficult times, including Prohibition and World War II, until his death in 1972.

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His legacy includes the invention of famous dishes such as Oysters Foch and Eggs Sardou, as well as the creation of several of its famous dining rooms and their white tablecloth décor.

Roy’s nephews became the fourth generation of the family to head the restaurant, and in 1975, Roy’s son, Roy Jr., became proprietor and served until 1984. He was followed by his cousin, Bernard “Randy” Guste, who managed Antoine’s until 2004. In 2005, Rick Blount, Roy Alciatore’s grandson, became proprietor and CEO, and he has led the institution ever since.

Dining Excellence Since 1840

The cuisine at Antoine’s is, in a word, Divine.

Consider starting, well, it goes without saying, with the Oysters Rockefeller and/or any of their other outstanding oyster dishes, or the Crevettes Remoulade – boiled Louisiana shrimp served cold in Antoine’s unique remoulade dressing. The Chair de Crabes Ravigote made with lump crabmeat and served cold in a delightfully seasoned dressing is outstanding as well.

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The paneéd veal topped with lump crabmeat and mushrooms is one of my favorites, and honorable mentions go to the sautéed crab cakes with creamy Creole horseradish sauce, and the Louisiana gumbo with blue crabs, oysters and gulf shrimp.

Antoine’s just may have some of the best soups in the city, including their crawfish or shrimp bisque, alligator soup – a twist on the classic turtle soup – their classic seafood gumbo, French onion soup, and occasional autumn soup.

When you get to desert, if you’re devilish enough to step out of your usual culinary comfort zone and try something new from the menu, then you can definitely handle the Café Brulot Diabolique (Devilishly Burned Coffee).

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Created in the late 1800s, it is essentially Antoine’s version of this hot spiced coffee drink made with cinnamon sticks, lemon peel, sugar, whole cloves, brandy and of course, black coffee. The secret is really the presentation, each ingredient masterfully combined at your table and set ablaze—the waiter then sprinkling the flames around the tablecloth before artfully pouring the concoction into delicate demitasse cups. Even for non-coffee drinkers like myself, it was a delight!

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Another longtime Antoine’s tradition is the historic longevity of its staff (between 150 and 165 depending on the season), from the kitchen, to the bar, wait staff, bussers and others. Chef Michael Regua has been at the helm for an unheard of, particularly in the restaurant business, over 42 years. Moreover, close to 50% of the employees are related somehow – fathers and sons, husbands and wives, nieces, etc. One of Rick Blount’s favorite catchphrases is “Nepotism is everywhere!” Yet he is quick to add, that every generation has built on the previous one in their own unique way.

One word of warning, or a strong suggestion, is that whenever you visit (and no matter what you’re wearing), plan to really savor the experience here.

You would really miss out on a great deal of the ambience, historic richness, impeccable service, and fusion of love and flavors by only staying for the typical rushed one-hour American meal. Antoine’s is to be savored, for hours, allowing yourself to be infused with it’s all enveloping elements that truly make it one of the most iconic dining experiences in the nation, if not the world.

504.581.4422, www.antoines.com

Still Hungry?

Eat your way through The Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

Check out A Veggie and Vegan in New Orleans.

How about a Brunch Munch Around New Orleans?

This is not your Mother’s Restaurant!

 

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