Dinner at Antoine's, Circa 1938

By Patricia B. Mitchell.

In 1938 the New Orleans City Guide was compiled and edited by workers in the New Orleans division of the Federal Writers' Project of Louisiana. That book was one of several guides compiled by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The New Orleans guidebook is a fascinating look at New Orleans life in the 1930's, before the days of extensive air conditioning, casinos, and high prices (and also obviously before the horrific levee breaks of 2005). The following entry for Antoine's stimulates the mind and the salivary glands.

Antoine's, 713 St. Louis St., proprietor, Roy Alciatore, open 11 A.M. to 10:30 P.M. Make reservations in advance. À la carte service only, with minimum charge of $1 per person. Private rooms for dining and for banquets. A representative meal can be had from $3 to $3.50 per person.

This old restaurant, with its tall, gabled roof, wrought-iron balconies, and mellow lighting, possesses an air of quiet distinction. Almost a hundred years old, it has become widely known both here and abroad for the perfection of its cuisine.

Antoine Alciatore, founder of the restaurant, was born in Marseilles, France, and had already acquired skill as a chef before coming to New Orleans in 1840. By 1876, with his establishment in the present building, he was ranked as a leading restaurateur.

The interior of the rsetaurant is quaintly old-fashioned, and is both lighted and heated from antique gas chandeliers in the ceiling. No jazz music breaks on the diner's ears; as one of its proprietors was wont to insist: “The aroma of good food and the tinkle of wine glasses is music enough.”

What to eat at Antoine's? There is so much that is excellent one becomes slightly confused, as did Will Rogers: “Why, listen, they got a soup they herded around in front of me that was crawfish boiled in white wine and aromatic herbs. Why, they got tortoise-shell terrapin that is served in its own shell. Omelette souflée historiee! Say, they make all of them out of golden pheasants' eggs.” The two dishes invented by the restaurant which have won greatest fame are the huitres en coquille à la Rockefeller (oysters Rockefeller) and pompano en papillote (pompano cooked in a paper bag with a particularly luscious sauce); no other restaurant has been quite able to equal them on these dishes. Antoine's is also noted for its bisque d'écrevisses à la cardinal (crayfish bisque), poulet chanteclair (chicken marinated in red wine before cooking), and omelette soufflée, a superb dessert.

Antoine's “mystery room” (so called because of a famous picture which originally hung there) is a most popular place for intimate dinners, and on its walls are testimonials from prominent guests. There one will find Calvin Coolidge's laconic “With appreciation” and Taft's flourishing signature. But perhaps Irvin S. Cobb's comment is the most characteristic: “Once upon a time, being seduced by certain poetic words of Thackeray, I made a special trip to a certain café in Paris to eat bouillabaisse. I found it distinctly worth while. Later I went to Marseilles, the home of this dish, and there ate it again and found it better. And then I came back to America and ate it at Antoine's in New Orleans and found it best of all.”