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Caesar Salad Competition: Easy being green

Posted on: October 14th, 2015 by fcasio
Posted in News
Published 1:22 pm, Monday, October 12, 2015

Creative Caesar salad (Southern Creole Caesar with collard greens, crispy sweet potatoes and tasso ham gravy dressing) from Brennan's Houston at the annual Caesar Salad Competition held Oct. 9 at the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College. Photo: Greg Morago

Creative Caesar salad (Southern Creole Caesar with collard greens, crispy sweet potatoes and tasso ham gravy dressing) from Brennan’s Houston at the annual Caesar Salad Competition held Oct. 9 at the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College.

Caesar salad might be the most popular restaurant salad in the country. And while there’s a traditional Caesar profile familiar to most diners, there’s also a wild side to the romaine/parmesan/anchovy mash-up.

Both were celebrated at the annual Caesar Salad Competition held Oct. 9 at the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College where 25 area restaurants competed in classic and creative Caesar categories.

El Meson Restaurant, 2425 University, was named best classic Caesar by a panel of food judges, while most creative Caesar (a Creole inspired salad) went To Brennan’s Houston, 3300 Smith. Brennan’s also took the people’s choice award, while best Caesar presentation went to the San Luis Resort, Galveston.

Proceeds from the event went to the Food & Beverage Managers Association’s educational endowments.

10 Best Restaurants in Midtown Houston

Posted on: October 13th, 2015 by fcasio
Posted in News

Original Post Here>>>

By Phaedra Cook

Monday, October 12, 2015

Honorable Mention: Fluff Bake Bar, 314 Gray

Fluff Bake Bar is more of a bakery than a restaurant but it’s a must-visit Midtown establishment. There’s a small but surprisingly astute wine program and the staff can help guide guests to good choices for pairing with desserts. Even people who don’t have a sweet tooth should still drop by for the outstanding charcuterie platter. A recent example included spicy ‘nduja (a luscious, spreadable sausage), chunky goat mortadella studded through with pistachios,loukaniki, a cured Greek sausage and several cheeses from the Houston Dairymaids, including Casatica di Bufala (soft cheese made of Italian water buffalo milk), Chiriboga Blue and Cabot cloth-wrapped cheddar.

Hopefully you do have a sweet tooth, though, because it would just be a shame to not be in the mood for pastry chef Rebecca Masson’s chocolatey Veruca Salt cake (named “Best Cake” for Best of Houston 2015), oaty Hobnobs or her insane(ly delicious) Couch Potato cookies with potato chips, chocolate chips, pretzel bits and corn flakes all held together with marshmallow.

Honorable Mention: Spec’s Deli, 2410 Smith

The Spec's deli counter has been getting Houston workers back to their offices on time with thick, hearty sandwiches like this muffaletta for years.

The Spec’s deli counter has been getting Houston workers back to their offices on time with thick, hearty sandwiches like this muffaletta for years.

Spec’s deli counter has been a boon to harried workers for years and its big sandwiches, piled high with meats, cheeses and veggies, are good values, too. The Lucky Lucy ($7.50) is like a Reuben but with both pastrami and corned beef—in other words, a sandwich that has achieved its higher purpose. For vegetarians, there’s The Rabbit ($6.99) with grilled eggplant, squash, zucchini, roasted red peppers, sprouts, feta and pesto on toasted focccia. They’re known for their burgers, too, such as the Smoke & Pepper burger with cheddar cheese, pepper bacon and bacon aioli with lettuce, tomato and red onion. For a sweet snack afterward, don’t fail to check out the huge aisle of fancy chocolate bars. Bonus: you can restock your booze cabinet while grabbing lunch and that’s a perk that you’ll never get at Subway or Which Wich.

10. (Tie) Pho Saigon, 2808 Milam / Thien An Sandwiches, 2611 San Jacinto

Pho Tai Nam Gau from no-frills Pho Saigon on Milam. The pho is really good and service is fast.

Pho Tai Nam Gau from no-frills Pho Saigon on Milam. The pho is really good and service is fast.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Which of these popular casual Vietnamese spots to select depends on what’s desired. People who don’t have a lot of time on their lunch hour should head to no-frills Pho Saigon. On rainy or cold days, Houstonians queue up for a own comforting bowl full of broth, thin rice noodles and beef spiked to taste with hoisin and Sriracha. The people who run it are total pros at getting people seated and served quickly. The pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), cha gio (Vietnamese-style eggrolls) and cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) are all just great. Service can be brusk but they’ll get you back to the office quickly.

Thien An Sandwiches used to be in a small, modest strip center location but relocated several months ago to a bigger, stand-alone building with an ample parking lot. The name alludes to the great banh mi, but it also dishes out good bowls of pho. It’s a nicer setting than Pho Saigon, but service can be slow.

9. The Breakfast Klub, 3711 Travis

The "Katfish" & Grits at The Breakfast Klub

The “Katfish” & Grits at The Breakfast Klub

Going to The Breakfast Klub can be a communal experience. It’s far more than just getting some grub. There’s often a line on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but so what? Staff members walk up and down the lines greeting guests and handing out menus and there’s nothing wrong with striking up a conversation with a fellow Houstonian. Once inside, order at the register, grab a cup of above-average coffee and hunker down over a soul-satisfying plate of either spicy chicken wings and a giant, Belgian waffle or the acclaimed catfish and grits. They serve lunch, too, so don’t hesitate to explore the other menu options. These are just the famous ones.

8. Artisans, 3201 Louisiana

Artisans is ideal for business lunches during the day and dates at night.

Artisans is ideal for business lunches during the day and dates at night.
Photo by Troy Fields

Artisans, the classy French restaurant endeavor by chefs Jacques Fox and David Denis, as well as sommelier Sylvain Denis, is a perfect place for a business lunch during the day. At night, it’s equally suited as a romantic date spot. The interior is fun and impressive, with a vast open kitchen and counter seating that allows diners to watch all of the work that goes into the artfully plated meals. Spend a little with the three-course business meals for $29 or a lot by splurging on Petrossian caviar with blinis and Champagne for $120. The six-course tasting menu with wine pairings is actually a good value at $139 for a decadent, celebratory meal.

7. Damian’s Cucina Italiana, 3011 Smith

10 Best Restaurants In Midtown Houston

Photo by Jack Thompson

6. Jinya Ramen, 3201 Louisiana

The Tonkotsu Black at JINYA Ramen in Midtown

The Tonkotsu Black at JINYA Ramen in Midtown

JINYA Ramen, which started making waves in the Houston area with its outstanding, complex ramen with a location in Webster, is one of the restaurants that filled in a big deficit in places to eat late at night in Midtown. There are many kinds of ramen available here: tonkotsu, miso, chicken and even a vegetarian option, but the fried dumplings and rice bowls with various meaty toppings are also delightful. The craft beer and sake lists are small but it’s not hard to find a good pairing.

4. Ibiza, 2450 Louisiana #300

Ibiza is an outstanding yet understated Spanish restaurant that does a wonderful job using excellent ingredients and uncomplicated preparations like the Simply Grilled Fish.

Ibiza is an outstanding yet understated Spanish restaurant that does a wonderful job using excellent ingredients and uncomplicated preparations like the Simply Grilled Fish.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

Ibiza is the restaurant that put chef Charles Clark in the national spotlight and set him along the restaurateur path along with business partner Grant Cooper. (The duo also own Coppa Osteria, SaltAir, Punk’s Simple Southern Cusine and other endeavors with corporate executive chef Brandi Key having a big role in the direction of the cuisine these days.) Ibiza has a nice patio and when the weather’s good, inspired cuisine like La Plancha Style Octopus with Chorizo and Piquillo Peppers stuff with pulled pork and topped with Alabama white barbecue sauce tastes mighty fine indeed. People with hearty appetites will meet their match in the Braised Pork Osso Buco with Bleu Cheese and Bacon Mashed Potatoes.

4. Weights + Measures, 2808 Caroline

The Carrot Pizza at Weights + Measures has been an overwhelming favorite among guests (and critics).

The Carrot Pizza at Weights + Measures has been an overwhelming favorite among guests (and critics).

Weights + Measures is an ambitious project that serves diners from early in the morning until late in the evening. In the mornings, it’s a great stop for doughnuts and pastries from the in-house Slow Dough Bake Shop and people who aren’t rushing to work can have a sit-down breakfast inside the restaurant proper. Next is casual lunch service with burger and sandwich options as the afternoon fades into happy hour. As night falls, it’s time for dinner and this is where Weights + Measures really pulls the stops out. Dive into a four-course meal here starting with something as simple as chicken liver and toast or as elaborate as wood grilled mortadella with a balsamic reduction, pistachio crunch and a fried egg. The Lacquered Duck Breast is a customer favorite, as are the piping hot “Doughknots” with cardamom and honey. It’s also become a reliable stop for late-night cocktails.

3. Holley’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 3201 Louisiana

If this friendly man offers you a big tray of oysters, you say yes.

If this friendly man offers you a big tray of oysters, you say yes.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Chef Mark Holley spent a long time working for the Brennan family so it shouldn’t be surprising that his fare has a New Orleans vibe. That’s not his only inspiration, though. Holley’s has been an opportunity for him to branch out and reach for inspiration ranging from the low country to Asian cuisine. The LH Gumbo may very well be the best in Houston and yet warming, spicy Koonce’s Peanut Soup could give it a run for the money. For dinner, the Blackened Grouper with Carolina Gold rice, creamer peas, Kimchi-seasoned greens and ham hock pot liquor is strongly recommended but a couple dining together will delight in the amazing presentation of the Thai-Style Fried Snapper for two. Do not miss the coconut cake, unless you are allergic, in which case we feel very sorry for you.

2. Oporto Fooding House, 125 West Gray #500

Oporto Fooding House & Wine

Oporto Fooding House & Wine
Photo by Troy Fields

Oporto was the Houston Press “Best New Restaurant” choice for Best Of Houston 2015. It’s at the end of a somewhat triangular building in Midtown, so the front is narrower than the back, but they made the best out of an awkward design situation. It’s gorgeous inside—dark, sexy and classy. Owned by husband and wife team Rick Di Virgilio and chef Shiva Patel-Di Virgilio, Oporto is like an equivalent love match between their earlier endeavors — the original Oporto and Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen. Have a casual meal at the bar or bring friends and indulge in a multi-course dinner. The seafood-heavy menu includes croquetas de bacalhau (salted cod croquettes), polvo com batatas (charred octopus) and littleneck clams bathed in white wine sauce. There’s a wine list spanning the world from Portugal to Chile that makes it almost too easy to find a splendid pairing.

1. Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith

Hunter's Duck at Brennan's Of Houston

Hunter’s Duck at Brennan’s Of Houston
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Brennan’s of Houston opened in 1967 and to this day it is still considered a very special place to go to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. The business crowd loves the sumptuous Creole-inspired lunches and tiny dollar martinis at lunchtime and a visit doesn’t seem complete without a bowl of the famous Turtle Soup. The restaurant, which had to be rebuilt after a fire during Hurricane Ike, features several elegant private dining rooms perfect for any celebration. Chef Danny Trace doesn’t allow this old Houston classic to become staid, though, relying on a true farm-to-table program (as in, he actually sources directly from local farmers and ranchers) and international cuisines to inspire new seasonal dishes. The casual crowd delights in happy hour at the bar and on the patio with small bites and drink specials. Houston legends Carl Walker (former chef and now general manager) and longtime head bartender Richard Middleton are still responsible for steering the ship and teaching the young ones a thing or two.

7 Must-Try Gumbos for the Cajun Wanna Be

Posted on: October 12th, 2015 by fcasio
Posted in News

Original Post Here>>>

Considering Houston’s close proximity to the Gulf, there’s no shortage of good seafood inside the city’s culinary scene. Gumbo is one of the most iconic seafood creole dishes you’ll find along the south coast. So we put together a list of some of Houston’s best takes on this seafood stew.

88 Boiling

Brennan’s of Houston

Brennan’s of Houston, the 1967 beloved Houston landmark, is famous for its Texas Creole-inspired menu with longtime favorites like shrimp étouffée and their legendary Bananas Foster. When it comes to gumbo, Louisiana transplant Chef Danny Trace puts a Texan twist on the dish with creations like tabasco smoked pheasant and sausage gumbo, hunter’s gumbo with duck, rabbit, venison, andouille, and creole seafood gumbo made with crab, shrimp, and oysters.


Rainbow Lodge

Featuring contemporary Gulf Coast regional cuisine, the Rainbow Lodge has received national acclaim for both its menu and wine cellar. Executive Chef Jimmy Mitchell’s duck and andouille gumbo is highly regarded among in the Houston culinary scene. Rainbow Lodge has also won Wine Spectator magazine’s “Award for Excellence” for 10 consecutive years.

BB's Cafe

Gumbo Bar

Definitely the go-to spot for gumbo on Galveston Island, Gumbo Bar also serves up great salads, and po-boys. Made when you order, you know you are getting the freshest meal. Try the Mumbo Gumbo filled with shrimp, crab, oyster, chicken, sausage, and prime rib. Be sure you get some garlic bread for dipping. Not in the mood for gumbo? Ha-ha very funny, no one ever gets tired of gumbo!

The Cajun Kitchen

Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar

Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar takes its gumbo very seriously. The oyster bar serves up its creole creation in a massive bowl topped with fried oysters and fried okra, unlike any other gumbo in town. To wash it down, grab one of over 20 local beers and an extensive cocktail menu. Liberty Kitchen sits in the heart of one of the most popular restaurant intersections in the Heights neighborhood of Houston.

The Cajun Stop

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

Cousin Pappadeaux was an old Cajun relative of H.D. Pappas, a Greek immigrant who traveled to America in 1897 and opened numerous restaurants in Texas and beyond. A wise Cajun cook, Cousin Pappadeaux taught H.D. the magic and mystery of Cajun cooking. Today, Pappadeaux serves up the freshest seafood and Louisiana-style favorites like blackened opelousas filet, crawfish & shrimp fondeaux and their signature seafood gumbo.


Goode Company Seafood

This bustling seafood emporium is cleverly built into a novelty railroad car. The diverse menu of Texas Gulf Coast, Mexico, and Louisiana culinary influences appeals to the masses. Their gumbo is split into shrimp, crab, or both with a hefty portion of oysters. Also on the menu, expect accomplished frying (oyster po’boys, stuffed crab, shrimp) but equally fine mesquite grilling.

Rajun Cajun

Gumbo Jeaux’s

Texas flavor meets Lousiana creole at Gumbo Jeaux’s. The Cajun restaurant, which opened its first Houston location near IAH Airport in 2010, has developed a faithful following among north Houston residents. At Gumbo Jeaux’s guests can expect a range of wallet-friendly options in a laid-back, family-friendly space. The counter service restaurant tempts regulars with its catfish trout plate that comes topped in gumbo, crawfish tacos and crawfish etouffee, but there’s plenty for non-seafood lovers to choose from, too.

Ceasar Salad Competition Winners

Posted on: October 9th, 2015 by fcasio
Posted in Award, Event

Friday, October 9th was the 31st Annual Caesar Salad Competition. Each year, the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College organizes the competition inviting Houston’s best culinary experts to duke it out for the 1) Best Presentation 2) Classic Caesar 3) Most Creative 4) Consumer’s Choice.

This year, Executive Sous Chef Javier U. Lopez and team presented a Southern Creole Caesar with collard greens, crispy sweet potatoes and tasso ham gravy dressing taking home both the Most Creative and People’s Choice Awards.

Cauliflower and Brie Bisque (recipe)

Posted on: September 28th, 2015 by fcasio
Posted in recipe

This is one of the most requested soup recipes.



  • 2 Head Cauliflower
  • 2 each shallots
  • 3 cloves peeled garlic
  • 1/2 lb. butter
  • 1/2 Gallon milk
  • 1 qt heavy cream
  • 1 small wheel brie, without rind
  • 1 cup blond roux
  • to taste salt and white pepper


  1. Remove any green leaves from cauliflower and cut into large florets
  2. Begin by sweating garlic and shallots in butter, and then add cauliflower
  3. Once thoroughly sweated, add both cream and milk and bring to a simmer for 30 minutes
  4. Add brie and blond roux while stirring vigorously to incorporate
  5. Season to taste
  6. Blend the soup well in a high-speed blender and pass (if desired) through a fine mesh sieve

Duck Hunting Adventures

Posted on: September 15th, 2015 by fcasio
Posted in Family

When duck season arrives each year, Chef Danny is prepared. His passion for hunting fuses effortlessly with his prowess in the kitchen as he creates innovative dishes highlighting the game. The recent purchase of a new oven designed specifically for roasting duck was a welcome addition to the Brennan’s of Houston kitchen repertoire, and has expanded the possibilities for cooking with this flavorful protein.

Take a look at Chef Danny Trace’s hunting adventures:


Danny Trace _ Duck Hunt - 2014

Duck Hunt with Jimmy Evans

Chef Danny with Jimmy Evans ready for some Duck

Chef Danny with Jimmy Evans ready for some Duck

Look at some of the past culinary duck adventures:

Old Fashioned Duck at Brennan's of Houston

Old Fashioned Duck at Brennan’s of Houston

And, if you can’t tell…the whole team is passionate about duck!

The Gang at the end of the season - Duck Season 2014

The gang at the end of the season (L to R): Carl Walker, Alex Brennan-Martin and Danny Trace

About Rusun Thomas

Posted on: September 9th, 2015 by fcasio
Posted in Uncategorized

By Claire Ebow

Captain Rusun Thomas

Captain: Rusun Thomas

What Year did you start working at Brennan’s?


What is your favorite Brennan’s entree? (past or present)

We used to have a lamb chop dish. It was served with a sweet potato brabant and creamed spinach. The Colorado Lamb Chops!

What is the most important lesson you have learned working at Brennan’s?

I’ve learned that everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes I catch myself getting upset at others, from the top to the bottom and I have to realize everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes. It helps me to be more level-headed, understanding and reasonable about my expectations.

What do you like to do on your off days?

Workout, relax and spend time with my kids.

Share a special Brennan’s memory:

There are so many but I think my most special memory was when we re-opened in 2010. It was like finally coming back home.


Posted on: September 8th, 2015 by fcasio
Posted in Uncategorized

Originally from Culintro

August 10, 2015 | By Carey Jones

Welcome to our series “Dished,” in which we ask the chefs behind some of the most creative dishes out there to explain the inspiration behind their inventions. This week, we’re talking to executive chef Danny Trace of iconic Texas restaurant Brennan’s of Houston about his Texas Creole-inspired Peking Duck recipe.

What was your inspiration for the Creole-style Peking duck?  When looking at grills and smokers — all fairly common in Houston and Texas — we came across the website for the Town pig roasting oven. We thought we wanted to serve whole pigs for the table, but then we found out you could roast ducks in the oven as well, and got this idea that we wanted to do a Peking-style duck dish. So Carl (the GM) and I went to New York to try to find the best Peking Duck, and we ended up at Buddakan. We tasted their dish and came back to Houston to try to make our own version.

Tell us a bit about the classic Peking duck preparation methods, and how yours differ.  We use the same general techniques, such as blowing the skin away from the meat to get the crispy skin, we just use Creole ingredients and flavors as opposed to Chinese. We toyed around with different sugars, and now we alternate between using honey and sorghum, and we blanch the ducks in a honey citrus syrup. We stuff the ducks and let them air dry, and then we roast them in the oven.

Tell us about all the components of the finished dish.  Depending on what’s in season, we tweak the components. It’s always served over a fried rice; sometimes it’s crawfish, right now it’s blue crab, it could be duck, rabbit, etc. We also top it with an Old Fashioned Duck Sauce, which is kind of like a L’Orange sauce, but made with elements of an Old Fashioned—Bulleit bourbon, citrus, a bit of bitters. Then we garnish with mirlitons,  duck cracklin’, citrus salad, and a quail egg.

Cakes of Crustaceans (recipe)

Posted on: August 25th, 2015 by fcasio
Posted in Uncategorized

Republished from MyTable Magazine.

There is something irresistible about this elegant and slightly sinful treat that we typically save for a restaurant visit. But why not make crabcakes at home when Gulf blue crab season is at its peak? It’s easy as 1-2-3: Mounds of fresh sweet crab, a subtle matrix of seasoning that enhance the crab and just the right sauce. Here are two recipes from notable Houston chefs along with professional tips for crafting the ultimate crabcake.

Cakes of Crustaceans

How New Orleans’ drinking and dining scene helped rebuild and reinvent the city

Posted on: August 24th, 2015 by fcasio
Posted in Uncategorized

Republished from Houston Chronicle.

August 20, 2015

Patrons and waitstaff at Commanders Palace in New Orleans second line through the dining room on August 2, 2015. Photo: Edmund D. Fountain, For The Chronicle / Edmund D. Fountain

NEW ORLEANS — In a city shaped by generations-in-the-making food-ways, Monday is red beans and rice day.

The tradition stems from pre-washing-machine times, when housewives would do laundry by hand while leaving a pot of red beans to cook on the stove all day. Today, smoky red beans still simmer away in kitchens throughout the Big Easy on Mondays.

At the time, Besh had just paid off investors in his elegant Restaurant August in the Central Business District. Though August was spared flooding, the James Beard Award-winning chef couldn’t immediately return there. Still, he wanted to help. So, he and his friends — including culinary star Alon Shaya — set out on flat-bottom boats to do what he does best: feed people. The easiest meal to make was one of the city’s most iconic dishes.

“The first batch of red beans and rice I cooked was in a Walmart parking lot on Tchoupitoulas,” Besh recalls. “It was the first time I ever fed a person who was truly hungry. Oh, I’ve fed hungry people before, but never people who were so hungry and had everything taken away from them. That changed my life.”

He also fed soldiers and relief workers — anyone who showed up. It’s been said Besh fed New Orleans until it could learn to feed itself again.

Chef John Besh at his Restaurant August in New Orleans on August 6, 2015. Photo: Edmund D. Fountain, For The Chronicle / Edmund D. Fountain

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain, For The Chronicle

Chef John Besh at his Restaurant August in New Orleans on August 6, 2015.

Besh doesn’t like to dwell Katrina. But when he does, he sees the good it brought out in people. He thinks about the struggle of a city brought to its knees learning to walk again. He thinks about how food helped New Orleans heal.

“I literally saw this city not just reborn but revitalized one little dish at a time. Food and service brought us back.”


Any observation of the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina must consider how crucial the hospitality industry is to New Orleans, a city whose legacy is associated with — and whose economy is greatly affected by — restaurants, jazz clubs and bars.

“In terms of tourism, it’s food, music and attractions,” says Wendy Waren, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Restaurant Association. “But food is always the first thing people say about New Orleans. They’re coming here to eat.”

Even more so now. Before Katrina, the city had about 800 full-service restaurants in its tourism corridors, says J. Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. Today there are more than 1,400. Tourism spending is expected to pump more than $7 billion into the local economy this year, Perry says, up from $4.3 billion in the 12 months prior to the storm.

If restaurants and bars have long played an integral part of the city machine, they assumed an even more vital role in rebuilding the city in the days, months and years after Katrina made landfall along the Louisiana and Mississippi state line on Aug. 29, 2005, as a strong Category 3 hurricane.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says Katrina was the single-most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history. It resulted in 1,833 deaths in five states, with Louisiana suffering the greatest loss of 1,577 lives. It caused $108 billion in damages and displaced more than 1 million people in the Gulf region.

And it left one of the country’s most beloved tourist destinations in ruins. Storm surges led to levee breaches that resulted in tens of billions of gallons of water spilling into a city of which half lies below sea level. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed and countless businesses devastated. Tens of thousands of people fled. Those who stayed witnessed mayhem and soul-scarring devastation.

But when the sun came out after the storm, so did the will to survive.


A shelf mounted on the wall shows the height of the floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina at Finn McCool's Irish pub in Mid City. Photo: Edmund D. Fountain, For The Chronicle / Edmund D. Fountain

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain, For The Chronicle

A shelf mounted on the wall shows the height of the floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina at Finn McCool’s Irish pub in Mid City.

Pauline Patterson points to a wall inside Finn McCool’s, which she owns with her husband, Stephen Patterson. A moldy, discolored line — “a scar,” she calls it — serves as a painful reminder of the levee breach that deposited six feet of dirty water in the Irish pub.

The Pattersons returned six weeks after evacuating to find their Mid-City bar in shambles. “It looked like Armageddon, I’m not kidding,” Patterson says. Nothing that wasn’t anchored down was in its former place. Bar wells and refrigerators lay where the waters tossed them. Chairs and tables were strewn about as if a massive bar fight had taken place. The place was broken into and picked clean, divested of its cigarettes and alcohol.

“I would have ransacked it too,” says Patterson, familiar with the desperation at the time.
The first day the couple started picking up the pieces, about two dozen customers showed up to help. She hadn’t asked for the assistance, it just appeared. If she didn’t know it before, she certainly realized it that day in October: Her bar was “a beacon.”

“The thing with New Orleans people is they love to sit around the dinner table and talk about their lives. After Katrina they couldn’t do that. They had no tables, forks or knives,” says Patterson who, like her husband, is from Belfast, Ireland. They came to New Orleans in the 1990s, working as professional bartenders before buying Finn McCool’s in 2002.

The bar finally got its electricity restored on March 1, 2006, which gave the Pattersons time to plan a proper reopening party for St. Patrick’s Day. Countless beers were set out on their new bar top, a length of varnished Pecky Cypress — a gift from one of their most devoted customers, who bought the wood with his FEMA relief money.

Patterson knows her bar served as much more than a place for a pint in her neighborhood’s post-Katrina life. It was a community touchstone for neighbors laboring to get back to normal.”The bitterness took a long time to release,” she says. “But it gave me more love for the people around me. It definitely forged a bond among us. We know we’re strong. I saw what we have in us.”


Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Photo: DAVID J. PHILLIP, Associated Press

Photo: DAVID J. PHILLIP, Associated Press

Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

That determination was evident throughout New Orleans’ tourism corridors. It was clear that in order for the city to get back on its feet, restaurants, bars and hotels had to reopen as quickly as possible.

Two weeks after the storm, the French Quarter had its power restored, recalls restaurateur Ralph Brennan, whose Red Fish Grill was among the first to reopen in the Vieux Carre. “Those areas of the city that weren’t heavily damaged had to come back and come back fast,” Brennan says. “One of the smartest things Mayor (Ray) Nagin did was try to reopen parts of the city that weren’t damaged.”

Those areas included the French Quarter and most of the Central Business District. The Marigny, Bywater and Garden districts also were spared.

“People started coming back,” Brennan says. “Residents started coming back. They’d come to lunch or dinner. There was a lot of hugging and kissing going on. Each of us has a Katrina story, and they’re all different.”

But in some ways they’re all the same. They all share a theme of reconnecting, re-establishing, rebuilding.

“Any place that was open — it didn’t matter what it was and if they were serving one item on paper plates with canned soft drinks — everyone flocked to it,” says Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, a trade event that focuses on the importance of the drinking culture in New Orleans. “That’s how we communicate here, by eating and drinking.”

Tuennerman is especially proud of the people who have made New Orleans a spirits paradise with new and better bars in the past decade. “Because of them there’s diversity in bars and there’s more opportunity for people to work here. Katrina brought people back to the city they loved and helped rebuild it.”


One of those people was Neal Bodenheimer.

Born and raised in New Orleans, Neal Bodenheimer had spent six pre-Katrina years in New York bartending and wondering how he was going to afford to continue living there. Then the hurricane came. He moved back in 2006, driven by a sense of obligation. “I felt a calling to come back. I felt I needed to be here,” he says. “My place was in New Orleans.”

It was also the perfect time to realize his dream of owning a bar. By 2008 he and his business partner, Matthew Kohnke, had secured a century-old former fire station on Freret Street in Uptown. Before the hurricane, Freret Street was down on its luck. Immediately afterward it was worse: The area suffered moderate to heavy flooding.

“Matt loved Freret Street even before the storm,” Bodenheimer says. “We knew the city wanted to see Freret work. We also knew that in order to get a building up and running there you were really going to have to invest. That’s the story of New Orleans post Katrina: In order to rehab a building, it took so much money. You couldn’t just wing it. We were two young guys without a lot of money. But we wanted to own something.

When Cure opened in 2009 it ushered in a new era of craft cocktail expertise in 
      a city that is historically bound to the cocktail. It also sparked the 
      revitalization of Freret Street, now a thriving thoroughfare of hip 
      restaurants, bars, retail and live music.      Photo: Kevin O'Mara

Photo: Kevin O’Mara

When Cure opened in 2009 it ushered in a new era of craft cocktail expertise in a city that is historically bound to the cocktail. It also sparked the revitalization of Freret Street, now a thriving thoroughfare of hip restaurants, bars, retail and live music.

When their bar, Cure, opened in 2009 it ushered in a new era of craft cocktail expertise in a city that is historically bound to the cocktail. It also sparked the revitalization of Freret Street, now a thriving thoroughfare of hip restaurants, bars, retail and live music.

It’s a great example of how newcomers and returning New Orleaneans brought fresh ideas to a city that had traditionally resisted reinvention.

“We had a lot of ideas coming from outside intermingling with native ideas. Katrina moved the needle to progress,” Bodenheimer says. “The city needed to look to the future in order to survive. New Orleans as a city could not have become a better city without that destruction. It basically shook up the establishment. And that’s always a good thing.”


Chanteclair Room at Brennan's, New Orleans. Photo: Brennan's / Brennan's

Photo: Brennan’s

Chanteclair Room at Brennan’s, New Orleans.

Change is inevitable, says Elizabeth Pearce, a local cocktail historian, writer and tourist guide. “Change sometimes screws people over, and change can also benefit people. But New Orleans is a city that historically doesn’t like change.”

Indeed, the city cheered major comebacks of beloved institutions crippled by Katrina, Pearce says. Lines went down the block when Café Du Monde reopened in the French Quarter. When Angelo Brocato’s Ice Cream & Confectionary reopened in Mid-City after being severely damaged, it was a cause for celebration. Ditto the opening of other Mid-City businesses like Mandina’s, Liuzza’s Restaurant & Bar and Parkway Bakery & Tavern.

But as much as people wanted New Orleans to get back to normal, it was also clear the city would never be the same again.

“People went back to their favorite restaurants because for two hours they could forget about the Sheetrock, the mold and the insurance,” Pearce says. “You could recall your life before and believe you could re-create it again. It gave you hope.”

But, she adds, “You couldn’t really re-create. You could only create something new.”

And it’s the new that most excites Ti Adelaide Martin, co-owner with her cousin Lally Brennan of the historical Commander’s Palace restaurant. After Katrina, Martin says, the city saw incredible changes. They came from outside: Volunteers, entrepreneurs, business speculators and a generation of young people made their way to New Orleans. “Instead of a brain drain, we had a brain gain,” says the restaurateur who, along with her brother Alex Brennan-Martin and cousin Lally, also ownsBrennan’s of Houston. “My favorite thing of all is what’s happened with entrepreneurship. This town is a hotbed of entrepreneurship. It’s unbelievable.”

Change also came from inside, from the very people who were left and determined to pick up the pieces. “We turned this city around,” Martin says. “It’s a better city today. And we did it ourselves. We fixed it all.”


If not all, New Orleans certainly has fixed much of it, especially the all-important cogs of hospitality and tourism. Ten years after Katrina, the city’s hospitality industry hasn’t just rebounded, it’s surpassed pre-hurricane days.

In addition to the new restaurants, hotels are on the upswing. The metropolitan area now has more than 38,000 hotel rooms, about 850 more than before Katrina. More are in the works, including a 234-room Ace Hotel scheduled to debut in the Warehouse District mid-2016, and a 350-room Four Seasons in the former World Trade Center building at the foot of Canal Street, pegged for a 2018.

“It’s a rather astonishing economic recovery story that illustrates the power of travel and tourism, especially in a city like New Orleans where the economy is very much based on the culture, travel, events and conventions,” says Perry, the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s president. “There’s no question that the economics of New Orleans and the re-creation of the tax base was all driven by the hospitality industry.”

And Houston is fueling that economic turnaround. “Our number one tourism feeder base in the entire nation is Houston, Texas,” Martin says. “I’ve said this often: While the government didn’t come help so much, particularly at the beginning, American citizens came, especially Houstonians. No city has been better than Houston was to New Orleans. Houston came and helped, took people in. Never has one city in the history of the world been better to another. And I promise you, New Orleaneans know.”

While Houston provided a good shoulder for New Orleans to lean on, it was the city’s own collective gumption that got it going again. “We felt like it was the mission of our lives. How often do you have a major American city completely wrecked like the way we were?” Perry says. “For all of us that were part of this coming back, it was a work of incredible love. For us, it was the work of a lifetime.”

Perry says he recently visited with the legendary Ella Brennan, considered the queen of New Orleans cuisine, and mentioned what he called the good old days before Katrina. “She said, ‘Let me tell you something. The good old days are right now,’ ” he recalls.

She’s probably right, he says. “We’ll look back at now as the golden period. All that New Orleans is most associated with — jazz clubs, restaurants, bars — all of that came roaring back. It not only brought the tourism economy back, it gave faith to the locals that the city’s soul and core were still intact.”


2015 marks 10 years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Photo: Richard Nowitz, Photographer / ©2012 Nowitz Photography

Photo: Richard Nowitz, Photographer

2015 marks 10 years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

Elvis Byrd, is part of that core. A bus driver for the New Orleans Airport Shuttle, is one of the first local faces tourists see when they land in the Big Easy.

It’s his duty, he said, to make a good first impression. Not for him, for New Orleans. “It’s all about the people coming here and enjoying the city, eating the very special food, and having a good time,” he says.

He considers himself fortunate because his house didn’t flood. But Katrina shuttered his employer, forcing him to move to Oklahoma for eight months to find work. When he came back he was part of the city’s economic and emotional recovery. He’s proud of that.

“This city is better than it was before,” Byrd says. “If you drive around the city you see a lot of construction and a lot of new buildings and houses being put up.”

He calls New Orleans a city of survivors: “We have resiliency.”

His voice is among the choir singing about a new New Orleans.

It’s the voice of returning son Neal Bodenheimer: “We’ve been able to show the world what a special city it is. My goal is to make New Orleans a better city, and it will be until my last breath.”

It’s the voice of Louisiana native John Besh: “When I look back at 10 years, there’s something to celebrate. It’s something that should inspire any other American city that has been hit by tragedy. It’s a lesson on how passion can overcome something so devastating.”

And it’s the voice of émigré Pauline Patterson, whose Finn McCool’s bar bounced back so well that she and her husband were able to buy another bar, Treo. They’re planning “a massive” party to mark the Katrina anniversary, she says. No disrespect for the death and destruction, the party will celebrate life — the blood, sweat and tears it took to rebuild.

That scar on the wall she couldn’t stand? In the back of the bar toward the kitchen, she placed a long shelf on the wall at the exact height of the water line.

“So if it ever happens again,” she says, “we’ll have a place to put our beer.”