New Orleans. That magical city where people come to lose themselves in creole cuisine and sway to live jazz that electrifies the soul. Nola is known to touch hearts but I never thought I’d leave my own behind until I visited Commander’s Palace.
The place is just magic. You feel it in your bones, you see it in the greeting from the hostess, you soak it up from the staff and the live jazz band, parading their way through the rooms. There is no truer definition of southern hospitality than what you will experience at Commander’s Palace. Forgive me for gushing, but what can I say? It’s entirely true.
As journalist Chris Rose said, “You can live in any city in America, but New Orleans is the only city that lives in you.”
Commander’s Palace is the embodiment of that sentiment. From the minute you walk through the door, you’re no longer a stranger but a welcome family member. I was lucky enough to visit during their infamous Sunday Jazz Brunch, which coincided with Father’s Day, and it was a spectacle of joy and warmth from the very start. For the uninitiated, dining at the Palace is a formal affair and you’re likely to find everyone in their Sunday best. It’s a fabulous reason to get dressed up!
Upon arrival I was immediately taken to a table in the old-world elegant main dining room where every table was brimming with balloons. A 3-piece band was making their way around the tables, trumpeting out those jazz beats. The atmosphere was enchanting and exciting.
From the moment I met my waiter, Troy, I felt like we’d known each other for years and that is precisely how Commander’s Palace likes it. He was quick to bring ice water and replaced my white napkin with a black one to match my dress. With a laugh and smile we were off to the races and what started as brunch ended up being a 3+ hour whirlwind affair.
Cocktails, Appetizers, and Endless Entertainment
I began with an amuse-bouche of blue crab with avocado on rye toast and The St. 75, a light, summery cocktail made with Tanqueray, St. Germain, lemon, simple syrup and basil. It was around this time that Troy came up to the table with a gleam in his eye and whipped out a small mardi gras umbrella from behind his back. Before I could say no (and who would?), I was parading around the restaurant behind the band, hoisting my umbrella, laughing with childish glee as I followed them in a classic Nola tradition, the ‘second line’. Miss Ella Brennan, the original proprietor and a true service industry pioneer, used to say, “I don’t want a restaurant where a jazz band can’t come marching through.”
After the second line, Miss Ella’s niece, Lally Brennan, came by to say hello and what a glamorous lady she is! She is the current co-proprietor of Commander’s and greeted nearly every table, proving herself another glowing beacon of southern hospitality and representative of the Brennan family name.
Entrées, Entrées, Entrées
Next was the BBQ Shrimp and Goat Cheese Grits, served with a crisp glass of rosé. The grits are something special because they don’t have that ‘gritty’ texture we all know. They are smooth and creamy, a result of being produced in one of the only mills that still uses a heavy stone to slowly grind them. Slower stone grinding=less heat=less friction=super fine grits. At this moment, Troy took a time out to teach me a little about the origins of Cajun and Creole. I won’t inundate you with the details but suffice it to say I have far more knowledge now than I did upon walking in the door. I will let you in on one secret though. The word ‘gumbo’? It’s African for ‘okra’, which is one of the most prominent components in creole cooking.
Hungry for more, the next course was prosecco poached crabmeat with butter and Sugarcane Lacquered Quail. These two were my favorites because the flavors were intense and rich, complimented further by the Chehalem Pinot Noir Troy paired them with. Both are highly recommended for a rich and unforgettable brunch with a creole twist. Commander’s Palace is located across the street from the historic Lafayette Cemetery and when Troy came to see what I thought of the dishes, I politely asked if I could just die here and be buried across the street…that’s how delicious the cuisine was.
Delicious Desserts and Fond Farewells
Nearing the end, Troy served up Commander’s three favorite treats for the finale. The Fudge Sheeba, Pecan Pie a la Mode and Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé, paired with Nocello, a delicious black walnut liqueur from Italy that I’d never had before. Each dessert presents something special. The pecan pie took me back to childhood and my mother’s Mississippi pecan pie she always makes during holidays. The bread pudding soufflé was a theatrical experience with warm whiskey sauce poured over the whole thing tableside and the texture was light as air. It was hard to choose a favorite but mine had to be the fudge sheeba because I am a devoted dark chocolate lover so the frozen dark chocolate Bavarian with crushed pecans, sea salt caramel and absinthe-white chocolate ganache was right on point.
About ready to burst, I thought I was done. Troy had my leftover sheeba (I couldn’t just leave it!) wrapped up to go and right when the adorable crustacean creation showed up, he also brought me the finishing move, some brandy milk punch. Luckily I was able to make room for the delicious drink which was surprisingly tasty—who knew cream and brandy go together so well?
Finally I gave Troy the signal that I could take no more and a strange sensation came over me. My brunch was at an end…and I didn’t want to leave. Troy, ever the gentleman, escorted me on his arm to the front door and I gave my final farewell look around at the grandiose decor and the smiling faces. I can’t wait until I can return to this Southern staple and be part of the family again but until then, I will gladly sing their praises to anyone who will listen.
For reservations visit www.commanderspalace.com or call 504.899.8221.
For additional information on the Brennan family history, we highly recommend watching ‘Commanding The Table’, streaming now on Netflix.