What Makes This List Unique?
True Culinary heroes! As we commemorate the tenth anniversary of Katrina on this day August 29, 2015, I wanted to honor those chefs and restauranteurs who went above and beyond serving others. Not only did the list below help our city recover, they also championed our fishermen and our seafood with the media and at events working with the Louisiana Seafood Board.
They didn’t just promote our product, they helped to keep 8 generations of fishing families alive preserving our rich culture.
NOTE: To survive the highly competitive restaurant market in New Orleans, you can’t be just good. You have to be awesome. Pre-Katrina, we had less than 800 restaurants. Today, we have over 1,400 restaurants in a town of just 340k people.
The TOP Seafood Restaurants in New Orleans
Let me first honor the long standing restaurants: Antoines (1840), Arnauds (1918), and Galatoire’s (1905). Each of them serve the iconic dishes known to the Crescent City: Oyster Rockefeller, Shrimp Remoulade, and Trout Almondine. Blue crab can top just about any dish as it has for generations at these institutions.
The Brennan families have a stable of amazing restaurants in New Orleans. Starting with the original Brennan’s on Royal Street – Ralph Brennan just completed a magnificent renovation bringing the restaurant known for the famous “Breakfast at Brennan’s” back to its full glory. Chef Chris Montero and Chef Haley Bitterman make certain excellence happens every day. Or visit Chef Tory McPhail at Commander’s Palace. He won the 2009 Great American Seafood Cook Off and the Louisiana Seafood Cook Off.
The first event I ever did in my seafood career was with a restauranteur named Dickie Brennan and Chef Gus Martin. Meeting Dickie for the first time was when I realized what the hospitality business was really all about. Not only does his team honor our seafood, the fishermen and even the local farmers at The Palace Cafe, he and all of his cousins that own the Brennan family of restaurants set the Gold standard for hospitality. I would sincerely argue that at an international level. Don’t miss Mr. B’s.
Chef Lea Chase needs no introduction to the food world. At 90 years old, to this day she reigns over creole cuisine served up at Dooky Chase’s. My Grandpa’s drugstore was around the corner from her place growing up as a child…this is New Orleans cooking at the core growing up with it.
Chef Paul Prudhomme, originally from Opelousas, Louisiana, made Blackened Redfish famous starting the whole cajun craze the world knows today. After getting his start at Commander’s Palace in the 70’s, he opened K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen transforming America’s cooking.
Drago’s – Tommy Cvitanovich created the “The Single Best Bite of Food in New Orleans” according to City Eats in 2012. We are talking about the charbroiled oyster that changed the way we all now eat oysters. I agree wholeheartedly with City Eats. I also call it “The Most Famous Bite of Seafood – Anywhere!” Not to mention following Katrina, Tommy and his friends served over 75,000 meals to community in dire need – for free. Recently his family was honored with the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience’s Ella Brennan Award for their service to our community.
If you want the coldest raw oysters, visit the coolest cats behind any oyster bar in America. Make sure to ask for Michael Broadway, aka Hollywood, and Stormin’ Norman at the World Famous ACME Oyster House in the French Quarter. These cats traveled year after year with us to DC following Katrina to help the cause telling our story to Congress helping our fishermen. Michael Rodrigue’s stella team has been huge advocates for years for our city and our seafood.
The first Great American Seafood Cook Off Chef winner is a Marine which we love to honor – once a Marine always a Marine – Chef John Besh of Restaurant August who earned the very first title of King of American Seafood in 2004. He won cooking a spectacular fish called Tripletail. He also served red beans and rice to thousands following Katrina. Today, John has his own PBS show.
Chef Brian Landry serves as executive chef at Borgne and resurrected a childhood favorite his mom cooked for his dad called Oysters Spaghetti. Brian’s mentor was his mom. She taught him very well. Before starting at Borgne, Brian sharpened his skills as the Executive Chef at Galotoire’s and then served as the Seafood Board’s hired gun full time during a very critical crisis moment in 2010. Chef Brian earned the title King of Louisiana Seafood.
Following the national cook-off one year, we brought the President’s Cabinet members from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, to GW Finns. They enthusiastically let Chef Tenny Flynn know, “That was the best fish ever!”
Chef John Folse and famed Chef Rick Tramanto from Chicago recruited the winner of the 2010 Louisiana Seafood Cook- Off, Chef Chris Lusk, to open Restaurant Revolution paying homage to many of the classic cultural dishes across our state including Turtle Soup. Make sure to see the main dining room with the pictorial history of cultures that influenced the cuisine New Orleans is famous for.
Chef Frank Brigtsen of Brigtsen’s Restaurant is not only a terrific seafood chef, he’s been a long standing advocate for our seafood communities. Four words with Brightsen’s – soft shell blue crabs…and whatever else is in season…
Chef Susan Spicer’s imprint on our food community is a must with Bayona. Like so many of our chefs, she was recently inducted into the James Beard Foundation.
Chef Donald Link moved from his hometown in Lafayette bringing his authentic cajun roots with him. He has peppered the Warehouse District with a number of restaurants; most recently he opened Peche Seafood Grill…it’s packed, loud, fun and fantastic…
Chef Emeril Lagasse started at Commander’s Palace with Chef Paul Prudomme as his mentor. He bought an institution a number of years back called Del Monico’s. Like many of his namesake restaurants, Louisiana seafood is center of the plate. Emeril has done maybe an event or two to working with our seafood…
Chef Greg Reggio, a protégée of Al Copland Sr., founder of Popeye’s and Copland’s Restaurants, keeps the Louisiana culture at the forefront every seafood season with his own chain of restaurants called Zea’s and his unique style…make sure to try his Asian Oysters! Holy Cow! He serves them up every year at the DC Mardi Gras….a huge hit of the event…
Speaking of Asian inspired cuisine, Chef Diana Chauvin of LeThai Uptown blends cultures which is what New Orleans is all about be it gumbo or noodle soup…her last name is the same as one of our famous fishing villages near Houma, La….no wonder she’s so good with seafood…
Cafe Giovanni – If you love authentic Italian food, Chef Duke LoCicero is the master. He proudly serves up one of the best shrimp dishes in the city; try his Voodoo Shrimp. If you’re a car nut and he’s in the kitchen when you visit, ask him to show you his Mac Daddy Caddy photos… it’s in character with everything else…you’ll understand when you get there…
Pascale Manale’s has been an uptown favorite for decades and created the original barbecue shrimp. Enjoy a cold dozen before you’re seated at their famous and very intimate oyster bar.
The Creole Cuisine Restaurant Group has played a major role in the city coming back preserving another stable of New Orleans iconic restaurants. Most recently they hired Chef Neal Swidler to run the newly renovated Broussard’s in the French Quarter.
Last but not least, This one is very special.
Cafe Reconcile. This isn’t your normal restaurant. This was the special vision of Father Harry S. Thompson, SJ. He left a legacy for helping at risk youth in our city after he served as President of Jesuit High School for many years.
Under Glen Arementrout’s direction, Cafe Reconcile trains 16- 22 years olds in their real world restaurant providing them overall job skills training. Not only is Cafe Reconcile recognized as a national model for providing hope to the youth in our city, Cafe Reconcile also supports the restaurant community at large helping to fill the need for qualified and skilled restaurant labor. The meals will remind you of your Grandmas home cooking and for a terrific cause.
Louisiana Seafood Chefs were the genesis for Mission Chefs
Shall We Take a Culinary Tour Outside New Orleans?
Right across the Orleans parish line there is a small fishing village called Bucktown by Lake Pontchatrain. There you will find Deanie’s Seafood. Make sure you get the seafood platter. You can walk to the side of the restaurant and buy retail to go as well.
Over the years, we’ve lost many of the old school seafood institutions along Lake Pontchatrain (i.e. Fitzgeralds, Brunings) due to hurricanes . Recently, the Blue Crab opened resurrecting the old school way of eating seafood overlooking Lake Pontchatrian. More importantly, the food is authentic to what the locals grew up with.
If you’re looking for authentic Northern Italian cuisine, make sure to visit Andrea’s Restaurant in Metairie. Chef Andrea Apuzzo is originally from the Isle of Capri in Italy. He mastered blending our seafood with his incredibly rich heritage.
Looking to grab one last bite before heading to the airport? Harbor Seafood and Oyster Bar and their retail store Fisherman’s Cove are only 7 minutes from the airport in Kenner, La. Harbor Seafood is more of a hole in the wall joint that the locals are happy to wait for hours to get in. Their retail shop ships seafood all day, every day across the US.
24 miles. That’s how long the Causeway Bridge is across Lake Pontchatrain. My wife and I gladly make the trip over to visit Chefs Keith and Nealy Frentz, the proud owners of Lola in Covington, La – a charming small USA town. Keith and Nealy were the first couple to win a Louisiana Seafood Cook Off being crowned King and Queen of Louisiana Seafood in 2012. They met while working together at Brennan’s, after Katrina they went on their own to start something special with Lola.
Chef’s Horst and Karen Pfeifer closed Bella Luna in New Orleans, a white table cloth restaurant, after Katrina caused much damage. They moved on to purchase and keep Manchac, Louisiana’s landmark restaurant called Middendorf’s traditions alive. Middendorf’s is best know for their thin sliced catfish and fresh seafood given they sit directly on Lake Maurepaus in-between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It’s in the middle of nowhere – the locals from 100 miles around know exactly where they are.
Terrrebone Parish is the heart of seafood processing in our state. You name it, millions of pounds of oysters, shrimp, crabs, fish, etc are landed and processed in this slice of the world. In Houma, which is part of Terrebone Parish, there is a special place called Christiano’s – needless to say they serve up some of the freshest seafood. Tip, make reservations in advance.
As you begin to enter Baton Rouge heading west from New Orleans, visit Ruffino’s. Chef Peter Sclafani is a native of New Orleans that grew up in the now closed and iconic Sclafani’s Restaurant. It was the first white table cloth restaurant to open in Metairie just outside New Orleans. Chef Peter learned from his father and grandfather. His business partner Ruffin Rodrigue, a former LSU lineman, has created a museum of LSU paraphernalia to keep his guests entertained for hours. Given Rodrigue’s heritage and Peter’s lineage, you end up with a high end, white table cloth sports restaurant that fuses Italian roots with creole cuisne. Chef Peter also carries forward many of the traditional recipes from his grandfather’s restaurant keeping those amazing family recipes alive.
Have you ever seen a crab praying? Juban’s has long been the fine dining establishment in Baton Rouge. Their Hallelujah Crab is a must. Along with just about any other seafood dish they prepare.
Just north of Baton Rouge in New Roads, Louisiana, you will find the second consecutive couple to win the Louisiana Seafood Cook Off in 2013. We never dreamt that would ever happen twice. It wasn’t long before Chefs Cody and Sam Carrol opened Hot Tails practically straight out of culinary school in 2010. They are aggressive and have an unreal passion for our culture to say the least. Their food has been called “Hardcore South Louisiana Cuisine.”
As we head out of Baton Rouge to real Cajun Country we find an entire new influence of food. By the way and for the record, New Orleans is not cajun. New Orleans’ heritage is creole.
On a personal note, my family was strongly influenced by both cajun and creole influences. My mom’s dad, my grandfather who was known to the shrimp industry as Mr Vic., ran the largest shrimp cannery in America just outside New Orleans. He dedicated his entire life to our shrimpers serving over 50 years with the same company! That side of the family was French with the last name Blereau. My dad’s side of the family’s German roots tie back to the heart of Cajun Country in a small town called Grand Coteau, right outside of Lafayettte.
Just down the street from my family’s roots in French Louisiana, you will find another town called Lafayette and the best place around to try alligator. Visit Biker Bob, the owner of Prejean’s which is considered the world’s first Cajun themed restaurant built on his family’s farmland in 1980. While he was working in California as a young man, he noticed how the Mexican restaurants would capture the culture of Mexico. This planted a seed and a dream that inspired him to move back home an open his own restaurant that paid the proper tribute to his Cajun heritage. The rest is history.
On the other side of Lafayette reigns another cajun restaurant called Randol’s Seafood Restaurant that got it’s start as a crayfish processing plant. Frank Randol found his best customer for his crawfish when he decided to open his own restaurant to serve all the crawfish he had been peeling for others. To this day he still harvests crawfish and blue crabs to process for Randol’s and others. If you love to dance, you’re guaranteed a good time…check out the dance floor.
If you’re looking for fine dining in Cajun Country, visit Chef Holly Goetting at Charlie G’s in Lafayette. She’s a master with Louisiana seafood. Chef Holy left Louisiana to go sharpen her culinary skills in Penobscot Bay, Maine and Vail, Colorado only to be drawn back to her roots in Lafayette. Their loss, our gain.
Last but certainly not least, we travel up to North Louisiana. Chef Cory Barr was the executive Chef of Sage in Shreveport when he won the title, King of Louisiana Seafood in 2011. With the notoriety and exposure winning the Louisiana Seafood Cook Off under his belt, he moved on shortly after to open his first restaurant in Monoe, Louisiana called Restaurant Cotton. He then won Chopped on Food Network. For a chef who calls Monroe, “The Center of the Universe,” he spends an in-proportionate amount of time fishing out of Plaquemines Parish, five hours south – or if you’re looking at a map, the bottom of the boot that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico below New Orleans. He knows seafood first hand catching it first hand. Like so many of our amazing chefs, he’s been a fantastic ambassador for Louisiana’s cuisine and our culture.
***Many of the chefs and restauranteurs listed above own multiple restaurants under different names or even the same name with a few locations in Louisiana and out of state. To keep the list from turning into a novel, I simply listed only one per chef or restauranteur in bold. There are so many other amazing chefs and restaurateurs we only wish we could have had time to partner with….this list again represents those we had the opportunity to work with very closely providing an insiders perspective.