Celebrating over 180 years of culinary tradition, Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans holds the distinction as the city’s oldest restaurant.
Located at 713 St. Louis Street in the historic French Quarter, it is also reportedly the oldest continually operating restaurant in the country, as well as the largest, featuring 14 distinctive dining rooms of varying sizes, themes, flavor, and flair. Together, the restaurant is a unique combination of history, charm, and is the standard bearer for traditional French Creole culinary traditions in America.
In each distinctive dining room you will find memorabilia, artifacts, and other items representing numerous eras in history such as crowns, scepters, fine paintings, glassware, vintage dinnerware, gowns, and cookbooks, among other items.
If the walls could talk, you’d have a front row seat for the conversations held between the countless “Who’s Who” of America who have feasted amid the splendor here, from celebrities, to singers, U.S. Presidents, and world leaders. Pope John Paul II even graced one of the tables here, which speaks to the restaurant’s global reputation.
Three of the private rooms bear the names of Carnival krewes – Rex, Proteus, and Twelfth Night Revelers, with the bar named after the Krewe of Hermes.
The 1840 Room replicates a fashionable dining room from the era of the restaurant’s founding and is also a museum of sorts, housing a Parisian cookbook circa 1659, and the restaurant’s antique silver duck press, among other treasures. Portraits of successive generations of the Alciatore family also dot the room and add to the richness of the warm, red interior.
The Japanese Room was originally designed with Oriental motifs and décor popular at the turn of the century, down to the hand-painted walls and ceilings. Many large banquets were held there until December 7, 1941, when it was closed for 43 years after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was reopened in 1984 and renovated in 2015.
The Mystery Room acquired its name from Prohibition. During that time, select patrons would go through a secret door in the ladies’ restroom into a speak-easy behind it, and exit with a coffee cup of alcohol in spite of the laws. The protocol phrase to describe its origin was, “It’s a mystery to me.”
The Tabasco Room—appropriately painted “Tabasco” red—is the last-named room at Antoine’s and was renamed after one of the restaurant’s most distinguished customers and community leaders, Paul McIlhenny of the famous hot sauce family.
Yet for all of the restaurant’s delightful “ostentatiousness,” Antoine’s is warm and welcoming and has something to offer everyone, from those who happened by in shorts and flip-flops, to those who come dressed in formal ball gowns and coat and tie as if on their way to the opera. And, for the upscale high-quality food that they serve, it is affordable for even “the common man.”
For the Love of Food
Born in France in 1822, Antoine Alciatore came to the New World at the age of 18 aiming to establish a business of his own, and after arriving in New Orleans in 1840, he opened a pension – a boarding house and restaurant in the French Quarter – that was simply to be known as “Antoine’s.”
In ill health by 1874, Alciatore returned to France, where he died, their son Jules taking over as an apprentice and running the restaurant for six years before traveling to France, where he served in the great kitchens of Paris, Strasbourg, and Marseilles. After returning to the city many years later, he assumes the helm of the powerhouse “House of Antoine.”
Jules’ genius was in the kitchen, where he invented Oysters Rockefeller, so named after Standard Oil Founder John D. Rockefeller, for the richness of the sauce. While its namesake reportedly despised its title, Oysters Rockefeller is widely considered one of the greatest culinary creations of all time, with the recipe remaining a closely guarded secret.
Jules was succeeded by one of his three children, Roy, who followed in his father’s footsteps and led the restaurant for almost 40 years through some of the country’s most difficult times, including Prohibition and World War II, until his death in 1972.
His legacy includes the invention of famous dishes such as Oysters Foch and Eggs Sardou, as well as the creation of several of its famous dining rooms and their white tablecloth décor.
Dining Excellence Since 1840
The cuisine at Antoine’s is, in a word, Divine.
Consider starting, well, it goes without saying, with the Oysters Rockefeller and/or any of their other outstanding oyster dishes, or the Crevettes Remoulade - boiled Louisiana shrimp served cold in Antoine's unique remoulade dressing. The Chair de Crabes Ravigote made with lump crabmeat and served cold in a delightfully seasoned dressing is outstanding as well.
The paneéd veal topped with lump crabmeat and mushrooms is one of my favorites, and honorable mentions go to the sautéed crab cakes with creamy Creole horseradish sauce, and the Louisiana gumbo with blue crabs, oysters, and gulf shrimp.
Antoine’s just may have some of the best soups in the city, including their crawfish or shrimp bisque, alligator soup – a twist on the classic turtle soup – their classic seafood gumbo, French onion soup, and occasional autumn soup.
When you get to desert, if you’re devilish enough to step out of your usual culinary comfort zone and try something new from the menu, then you can definitely handle the Café Brulot Diabolique (Devilishly Burned Coffee).
Created in the late 1800s, it is essentially Antoine’s version of this hot spiced coffee drink made with cinnamon sticks, lemon peel, sugar, whole cloves, brandy and of course, black coffee. The secret is really the presentation, each ingredient masterfully combined at your table and set ablaze—the waiter then sprinkling the flames around the tablecloth before artfully pouring the concoction into delicate demitasse cups. Even for non-coffee drinkers like myself, it is a delight!
Another longtime Antoine’s tradition is the historic longevity of its staff (the Pandemic of 2020 notwithstanding) from the kitchen to the bar, wait staff, bussers, and others. Moreover, close to 50% of the employees are related somehow – fathers and sons, husbands and wives, nieces, etc., and every generation has built on the previous one in their own unique way.
One word of warning, or a strong suggestion, is that whenever you visit (and no matter what you’re wearing), plan to really savor the experience here.
You would really miss out on a great deal of the ambience, historic richness, impeccable service, and fusion of love and flavors by only staying for the typical rushed one-hour American meal. Antoine’s is to be savored, for hours, allowing yourself to be infused with it’s all enveloping elements that truly make it one of the most iconic dining experiences in the nation, if not the world.
Read on for more exciting aspects of The Big Easy!