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Where Y’Eat: How Old New Orleans Restaurant Write New Chapters in the Pandemic

Historic Napoleon House restaurant in the French Quarter.
Ian McNulty
Historic Napoleon House restaurant in the French Quarter.

Historic restaurants will always have a certain allure for tourists, but within the city, these old places can be landmarks of a very New Orleans type - repositories of personal traditions, shared memories and long relationships entwined with our food and our way of life here.

They may be sprawling monuments of Old World elegance or ramshackle joints. New Orleans needs them all.

The pandemic brought questions of how places prized for continuity and history could change to get through this chapter of world history.

Some emergency tactics have emerged as permanent parts of the operation. For instance Central Grocery and Napoleon House each started national shipping, sending muffalettas by mail to satisfy far flung cravings and keep people working here.

Some added different ways for local customers to connect. Commander’s Palace built a whole separate shop for takeout and family style meals that’s now a permanent part of the Garden District restaurant.

For some restaurants it was time to press ahead with changes already in the works. Tujague’s relocated up Decatur Street. Dooky Chase’s reopened with a new menu that the next generation here developed by drawing flavors from the long history of this temple to Creole flavor.

At Antoine‘s Restaurant, the very oldest, an unprecedentedly long hiatus led to a revamped menu with ever so slightly more modern touches that still qualify as a big deal here. There’s a burger at lunch now. At Antoine’s. Need I say more?

The key at these and so many other legacy restaurants is that they haven’t done this alone. The forced separation of the pandemic made a lot of us think about the ways we connect, and the history of the city and its food told through irreplaceable old restaurants is one of them.

Restaurants with long histories have been writing new chapters, and the people who value them and support them have been right there on the same page.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.