Ask a local ‘Where can I find the best food in New Orleans?’ and at least half of the responses will be ‘My house’ or ‘My mama’s/cousin’s/uncle’s place’ — not the name of a restaurant, but a native home cook’s kitchen, where authentic Creole, Cajun and Soul food is de rigeur. Brigtsen’s (pronounced BRITE-sens) might be the next best thing to getting a personal invite into a Louisianan’s home for dinner.
The restaurant is housed in a gracefully aged century-old cottage in the Riverbend neighborhood, and crossing the threshold feels like walking into someone’s home — particularly when you’re greeted so warmly at the door by Marna Brigtsen, the consummate, gracious host and wife of chef Frank Brigtsen. The tight cluster of dining rooms only adds to the restaurant’s intimate appeal: the rooms are so cozy (read: small) you’ll have no choice but to get neighborly with other diners. But close quarters makes it all the better for spying on other’s plates and asking for recommendations before ordering.
Brigtsen, who rose through the kitchen ranks under the guidance of chef-legend Paul Prudhomme in the late ’70s (first at Commander’s Palace and later at K-Paul’s), has honed his own trademark of our cuisine. The menu covers South Louisiana’s Cajun specialties like rabbit and andouille gumbo, roasted duck with cornbread dressing and blackened fish, but it’s heavier in New Orleans’ Creole classics, including Gulf fish piled with the requisite, buttery crab gratin and tournedos of beef in Marchand de Vin sauce enriched with tasso. Rabbit in any incarnation — paneed, in gumbo, a succulent tenderloin — is a house favorite.
Service generally goes one of two ways: familiar in a charming way, or familiar in an overly laissez-faire way. Longtime servers greet regulars by name, remember favorites, tease, and banter with guests the way we secretly love to be treated by seasoned diner waitresses. Sometimes, whether you’re a regular or not, that level of intimacy means forgotten orders, slow service, and feeling like you’re being pushy when you ask that sweet and cheeky waiter (again) for something as basic as a fork. But it’s service with a personality, which is a big part of the charm of dining at Brigtsen’s.
Brigtsen’s doesn’t dazzle with pomp and polish in the dining room or on the plate, and there are times when the restaurant’s upstanding reputation doesn’t jive with the actual experience. Yet Brigtsen’s holds an unquestionable place among the legends as a true New Orleans restaurant serving our food our way. Just like we do at home, only (sorry, mama/cousin/uncle) better.
Chef Frank Brigtsen serves up signature Creole and Cajun classics in the intimate dining rooms of a century-old cottage in the Riverbend neighborhood.