Famous Restaurant Returns to New Orleans

The Associated Press
Saturday, September 30, 2006; 8:27 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- On Sunday morning, another slice of life is scheduled to slide back into place as New Orleans slowly regains its cultural balance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Commander's Palace, a mainstay of haute Creole cuisine and elegant dining, has been closed since Katrina's wind and rain tore off sections of its roof and swamped its interior. The award-winning restaurant plans to reopen after 13 months and a $6 million renovation for a jazz brunch.

"It has been an amazing process," said Ti Martin who, with cousin Lally Brennan, manages the Garden District restaurant known as the training ground for chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.

Commander's reputation _ it has won three James Beard awards, the equivalent of the Oscar for restaurants _ remains strong. It has consistently been rated the city's most popular restaurant by the Zagat guide. This fall, Commander's will be listed in the Zagat survey, but will not be rated.

"We couldn't rate them, they weren't open," said Sharon Litwin, editor of Zagat's southern survey. "But they're not alone. There are several restaurants that we could only list because they're still closed from the hurricane. We've never had anything like this."

Commander's is the last of the city's old-line restaurants to return. The group, known for stately service and Creole cuisine for decades, includes Arnaud's, Antoine's, Broussard's, and Brennan's.

Just days before the scheduled reopening the restaurant was in creative chaos. Chairs were stacked atop each other, plastic covered the carpets, workers were painting, sawing and hammering, while in the kitchen, cooks were chopping, stirring and seasoning.

But everyone was confident that by Sunday, Commander's would again be pouring milk punch and dishing up eggs Creole, bread pudding souffle and turtle soup.

"We passed the health department inspection and the next day, for the first time in 13 months, food started coming into this building," chef Tory McPhail said. "I can't tell you how happy I am to be back here cooking again."

The building's famous turquoise, turreted exterior looks much the same as it has since 1880; the interior has been changed extensively.

Most of the building had to be gutted to the studs because of water damage and mold. Among the things lost were hand-painted murals.

In the kitchen, giant coolers had to be torn out once the rotted food was removed. More than 80 percent of the kitchen equipment had to be replaced.

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