Lost Restaurants of New Orleans

Aired Wednesday, November 28, 2001 at 7:00 p.m.

It’s no surprise that New Orleanians don’t just eat to live, but “live to eat!” Peggy Scott Laborde takes a bite out of some of the most well-known restaurants from the Crescent City’s recent past in Lost Restaurants of New Orleans.

Restaurant critics Tom Fitzmorris and Gene Bourg and Underground Gourmet Richard Collin provide interesting background and commentary on the local restaurant scene. Ann Maylie Bruce, Chef Austin Leslie, Tom Pittari, Jr. and Cherie Banos Schneider remember their families’ establishments – Maylie’s, T. Pittari’s, Corinne Dunbar’s and Chez Helene. Chef Leah Chase and New York Observer critic and former Baton Rouge resident Rex Reed discuss their favorite ‘eats’ and most memorable dishes from this city of delectable fare.

And favorite dishes are bountiful in this culinary adventure. The table is set with Maylie’s boiled beef brisket, lobster and wild game from T.Pittari’s, Lenfant’s “fried shrimp in pants,” liver l’orange from Jonathan, Masson’s Restaurant Francais’ almond torte, Corinne Dunbar’s Oysters Dunbar, red beans from Wise’s Cafeterias and – fried chicken from Jim’s Fried Chicken and Chez Helene.

The establishment of New Orleans as a busy port city and the arrival of immigrants from France, Spain, Africa, Germany, Italy, the Caribbean and other places greatly influenced the city’s many-flavored menu. As a result of the 1790s slave rebellion in Haiti, hordes of French colonists fled to New Orleans and opened restaurants.

One group opened Café de Réfugiés, which was the city’s first eatery. Later, boardinghouses served meals to their residents. One boardinghouse owner was Antoine Alciatore. Working with his Alsatian wife, his culinary efforts blossomed into Antoine’s Restaurant, which still is operated by their descendants.

One of the city’s most famous chefs was the renowned Madame Bégué. Remembered for her breakfast, which became a big hit during the 1884 Louisiana Cotton Exposition, Madame Bégué is immortalized in the 1946 film “Saratoga Trunk” with Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper.

Sicilian influence was evident with the opening of Turci’s – owned by former opera singers, Toney’s Spaghetti House, and Ruggiero’s. Montalbano’s Delicatessen was home to the “Roma Sandwich” and Solari’s was known for its foodstuffs stored in huge barrels and displayed in cases – cheeses, pickles, candied oranges, marzipan and other delectables.

Kolb’s was a New Orleans version of Old Bavaria, reflecting the German immigration during the 1800s. Beer steins and old country scenes comprised the décor, while an interesting mix of German and Creole dishes dominated the menu.

The enormous popularity of the musical South Pacific inspired the theme for the Bali Hai, a Polynesian restaurant at Pontchartrain Beach. Known for its Chinese and American dishes and potent rum drinks, Bali Hai was the place for prom dates in the 1960s.

For a different kind of romance, couples enjoyed The Rockery Inn, a Lakefront establishment with drive-up service or Lenfant’s on Canal.

LeRuth’s, Corinne Dunbar’s, Delmonico, The Caribbean Room at the Pontchartrain Hotel and Jonathan were a few of the fancier establishments.

For casual dining, people flocked to Martin’s Poor Boy Restaurant, Chez Helene, Buster Holmes, Meal-A-Minit, Wise’s Cafeteria and many more places. From the gourmet to the “down home,” locals and tourists have always benefited from this city’s love affair with food.

Produced and hosted by Peggy Scott Laborde. Associate producer is Aislinn Pares. Directed by Stephen Tyler. Original music composed by A.J. Loria. Major Funding provided by Whitney National Bank and the Producers Circle, a group of dedicated WYES supporters.