So have you heard the one about the Irish barman who opened a Creole restaurant in New Orleans on the dare of a French Count? It sounds like a tall tale, but it is the true story of the beginning of the Brennan family restaurant empire. Goaded by his friend and restaurateur “Count” Arnaud Cazenave (see: Arnaud’s), Owen Edward Brennan, then the owner of the Old Absinthe House bar, opened Owen Brennan’s French and Creole Restaurant on Bourbon Street in 1946. (The restaurant moved into its current location on Royal Street as Brennan’s in 1956.) By all accounts, Brennan was a charmer and the consummate host, and the restaurant had a strong following of wealthy locals and Hollywood royalty from the very beginning.
Although the restaurant established its reputation on classic Creole dishes like turtle soup, shrimp Creole and crabs Bernaise, Brennan’s is most famous for its weekend brunch. In traditional New Orleans fashion, a Brennan’s brunch starts with brandy milk punch and must involve poached eggs and Hollandaise in any which way of the restaurant’s signature styles, like Hussarde (Canadian bacon, Marchand de Vin sauce), Portuguese (in pastry shells with sautéed tomato and shallot) or with fried oysters.
Brennan’s has also contributed its own innovative dishes to the city’s culinary lexicon, including Eggs Hussarde. The most famous Brennan’s creation is Bananas Foster, bananas flambéed in a caramel sauce and served with ice cream. (The dessert is so popular, the restaurant peels 35,000 pounds of bananas every year to make it.)
Today, the restaurant suffers from the historic New Orleans restaurant syndrome of coasting on the coattails of its own fame. Despite Brennan’s famously picturesque courtyard and worldwide reputation as a New Orleans institution, the restaurant feels a bit worn out and the quality of the food has slipped, although you wouldn’t know it by the lines of visitors queued up outside. Travelers seeking the quintessential New Orleans brunch experience would still do well to visit Brennan’s lovely, lush courtyard, but keep in mind you’re paying a steep price for a tradition that has seen better days.
The Brennan family's restaurant legacy started with this French Quarter institution, where signature dishes like Bananas Foster and the legendary Jazz brunch still draw crowds.