Two years ago, a pall fell upon New Orleans when Brennan’s, a treasured temple of French Creole cuisine and boozy breakfasts, abruptly closed its doors. Founded in 1956, the restaurant held indelible memories of milk punches, sherried turtle soup, and rum-soaked bananas Foster (a dish that Brennan’s invented) for generations of diners. But the founders’ sons, Ted and Owen “Pip” Brennan, had driven the family flagship into bankruptcy.
Truth be told, Brennan’s had lost some of its luster in the past decade, a casualty of misspending, family feuding, and self-cannibalism. (With nine Brennan family–owned restaurants in the French Quarter alone, the name had been diluted.) “Prior to the closing, Brennan’s was more or less a tourist trap for brunch,” says Brobson Lutz, a former Orleans Parish medical director, a French Quarter dining fixture, and a custodian of local color.
The building was nabbed in a sheriff’s auction by third-generation restaurateur Ralph Brennan. When Brennan’s reopened in November, it was front-page news. “It’s the biggest story in this town since Hurricane Katrina,” says James Carville, the political analyst and New Orleans local, adding that the building “is the best single piece of real estate in the city.”
Along with his business partner, Terry White, Ralph Brennan invested $20 million into renovating the pink stucco landmark, a sprawling late-1700s town house in the heart of the Quarter. (It’s said to be the costliest restaurant project in the history of New Orleans.) The ultimate mission for the revival, according to Ralph Brennan, is “to bring back the locals and the visitors will follow.”
Most critically, the owners installed in the kitchen a Mississippi-born 40-year-old chef, Slade Rushing, formerly of New Orleans’s highly regarded MiLa and New York’s Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar, to tweak the classics and create what Rushing characterizes as a “lighter, just-decadent-enough menu.”
The reaction has so far been overwhelmingly positive. “The food is off the charts,” raves Julia Reed, a local writer who has been eating at Brennan’s with her family since she was five. “We went recently, and there wasn’t one person at our eight-person table who wasn’t literally licking the plates.”
“A restaurant can never sit still,” says Ralph Brennan. “I want Brennan’s to return to its name meaning something, to endure at least another generation or two.”
Brennan’s is at 417 Rue Royal; 504-525-9711; brennansneworleans.com.