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Legends Of New Orleans Dining by Tom Fitzmorris

Posted on: April 5th, 2012 by fcasio No Comments

By Tom Fitzmorris

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“Legends Of New Orleans Dining
In 1910 on this date, one of the most important New Orleans restaurateurs of all time was born. Thirty-six years later, Owen Edward Brennan* founded Brennan’s. He was later joined in the business by his siblings Adelaide, John, Ella**, Dick, and Dottie, and then by his sons Pip, Ted, and Jimmy Brennan. What came out of that combination was a style of grand dining that dominated the high end of the scale for decades. In its evolved form, it still does.

Owen E. Brennan’s first business was the Absinthe House, which he opened in 1943. He was a congenial host, and the place became a celebrated hangout. A running joke was that people would go to the Absinthe House to complain about Arnaud’s. Owen duly reported this to his friend Count Arnaud Cazenave. Count Arnaud came back with a fateful challenge: “If you think you can do it better, why don’t you open a restaurant yourself? No Irishman can serve French food!”

Owen leased the Vieux Carre Restaurant (across the street from both the Absinthe House and Arnaud’s) and opened Owen Brennan’s French & Creole Restaurant***. Brennan’s was a success from the outset. Its freewheeling style–calling the food French cooking, but serving whatever sounded good to the customers–changed the way first-class dining rooms operated. It did so well that the landlord insisted on a piece of the business when the lease came up for renewal. Owen told him to stick it, and found a new location on Royal Street***.

A few months before the new Brennan’s was to open, Owen attended a dinner of La Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a gourmet society of which he was a member, at Antoine’s. He ate and drank well. He died in his sleep that night. He was only 45. He left a legacy of hospitality that lives on in all the Brennan restaurants, and those owned by people who worked in them. I wish I had met him.”


Original Absinthe House on Bourbon Street

Brennan’s of Houston Notes:

* Owen Jr. was Alex Brennan-Martin’s uncle. He and his father, Owen Sr., (Alex’s Grandfather) jointly owned The Absinthe House and founded the original Brennan’s.

** Miss Ella is Alex Brennan-Martin’s mother who still idolizes to this day her brother Owen.

*** Brennan’s of Houston was founded in 1967 and has been a part of the Commander’s Family of Restaurants since 1973 when Ella and her brothers & sisters separated over different business philosophies from the widow of Owen E. Brennan, Jr. and her son’s who now run the only Brennan’s of New Orleans.

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