New Orleans has earned its reputation as a city that loves any excuse for a party, but there’s a wide gulf between the stereotypical Bourbon Street beads and flesh experience and the devilish debauchery that our citizens participate in as a matter of birthright. Commander’s Palace is that rare place where the reputation and reality are in sync. When there’s an occasion to celebrate, whether you’re a visitor marking an anniversary or a lifelong regular hosting a daughter’s bridal shower luncheon, you head for this palatial Victorian mansion and its labyrinth of dining rooms.
Commander’s Palace was established in 1880 by Emile Commander and changed hands several times before Ella, Dottie, Dick and John Brennan took over operations and redesigned the sprawling restaurant in 1974.
The family has a genetic gift for entertaining. The dining rooms are polished and make full use of the lush courtyard setting, and service is formal but fun, down to the spectacular ballet of waiters who surround a table to serve diners in unison. But the atmosphere is anything but buttoned-down. In fact, it’s downright bubbly – more fun dining than fine dining. (The .25-cent martini special during weekday lunch service might have something to do with it.)
Menu-wise, proper respect is paid to dishes that multiple generations of diners remember, like the famous turtle soup, the Creole gumbo du jour, creamy poached oysters in pastry, and the justifiably famous bread pudding soufflé, a cloud made of caramelized sugar, cinnamon and bourbon. The Saturday and Sunday Jazz brunches are still legendary, and require a round of brandy milk punch and an order of eggs Sardou.
The restaurant does lean on nostalgic dishes and sentimental reputation, but like the great lineage of chefs who have passed through the kitchen (including Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse), executive chef Tory McPhail keeps this glamorous, old line Creole restaurant relevant by putting his own stamp on the menu. Charred chilies and wild mushrooms accompany Creole seasoned shrimp and grits enriched with goat cheese. Smoky, chili-infused sweet potato hash makes an exotic bed for paneed Gulf fish and lump crabmeat. Brunch eggs couchon de lait offers a South Louisiana take on eggs benedict: poached eggs and slow-cooked pork pushed over the edge with lustrous bourbon-bacon fat hollandaise. Like the restaurant itself, it’s the kind of dishes that inspire a feeling of giddy indulgence, but shows just enough restraint to make it all proper. This is the enduring magic of Commander’s Palace: it is a restaurant capable of pulling off serious dining, but still revels in the lively, over-the-top joy of true Southern hospitality.
This world-famous Creole restaurant celebrates the city's culinary heritage with unrivaled Southern hospitality and executive chef Tory McPhail's signature touch that turns time-honored dishes into fresh, new New Orleans fare.