Ode to Commander's Palace
Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Many years ago I fell in love with Commander's Palace, Ella Brennan's iconic restaurant in the garden district of New Orleans. It was a combination of the aqua mansion, the convivial atmosphere, the unsurpassed service, the romance and yes, the star of the show, the food. Being much younger and less traveled, I am certain I was more easily impressed on my first visit. However, my husband and I have visited several times since and most recently just this Mother's Day. I was delighted to find Commander's still living up to its previous high standards. Miss Ella, who died in 2018, would be very proud of its continuing excellence in the hands of her daughter, Ti Adelaide Martin and her niece, Lally Brennan.
On my earlier visits I knew little about Ella Brennan, or Miss Ella, which is what she preferred to be called. Now however, I have developed deep respect for her. Born in New Orleans, she was a female restauranteur when it was a man's world. In fact, the bank pulled the loan it had made to Ella and her uncle for a restaurant, upon his unexpected death. The reason: they wouldn't loan the money to a restaurant headed by a female. Miss Ella persevered, found financing without the bank's help and built Commander's Palace into a destination. Seldom do hotels or restaurants rise to the occasion of a destination in my mind, but Commander's is that for me
Many have said that Miss Ella had a knack for bringing out the best in the people she worked with and she has certainly groomed amazing chefs in her Commander's Palace kitchen. She brought Paul Prudhomme into her French Creole restaurant when cajun was likely a four letter word in New Oreans. Her instincts were good and it worked though many thought it would not. I must confess to standing in line in the year 1984 at my local book store to have Prudhomme sign his new cookbook. I had a green star on my cheek from his New Oreans Restaurant K Paul, having just returned from a New Orleans visit where I had eaten all my vegetables at his restaurant.
The next chef in this kitchen was Emeril Lagasse who needs no introductions, Jamie Shannon who died in 2001, and now Tory McPhail. All four executive chefs have been acclaimed as some of America's best and sometimes, the world's best.
The restaurant has earned numerous accolades including James Beard Foundation Awards including Outstanding Restaurant, Outstanding Service, Outstanding Chef for both Shannon and McPhail, and a Lifetime Achievement Award for Ella Brennan 2009. It has also been a Wine Spectator's Grand Award Winner each year since 2012. It makes many lists including the South's Best Restaurant by Southern Living, and the list goes on and on. You can check it out here: https://www.commanderspalace.com/accolades/awards
I couldn't decide between a starter of their famous turtle soup and this salad of blueberries, brandied cherries, blue cheese and granola, so I had both, and both were delicious.
Both my husband and I had the pecan crusted Gulf fish which was so good with an insanely delicious sauce. Corn provided a delicious sweet counterpoint. So so good.
My son opted for the quail, which he lauded with equal enthusiasm.
The Brennan family created Bananas Foster which was based on a recipe that Miss Ella's mom cooked at home for the family. It has now become a standard and delicious desert in New Orleans. Of course I had to have desert. Bananas Foster were prepared table side by our excellent waiter Randy. Service remains outstanding at this restaurant. No matter how large your party, everyone's entree hits the table at the exact same time. I am intrigued by their magnificent choreography. Merely refilling the water glasses is not up to par, for the ice will have melted somewhat, and we are in the south and ice is important. So mid meal, fresh glasses with fresh ice and water are delivered to the patrons. I think you get the idea.
My son happily enjoyed their signature desert, bread pudding soufflé.
I muse on the often quoted remarks of Miss Ella, that she wouldn't have a restaurant where a marching band couldn't come marching through. And to that I say, Commander's Palace still embodies Miss Ella's pizzaz and the chicory coffee is as delicious as I remember.
I thank my guys for taking me back to an all time favorite spot, Commander's Palace for a wonderful Mother's Day Dinner. Until next time...