We were headed to dinner at Antoine’s when we passed through Jackson Square, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and I heard a young woman telling her family, “I am not compromising my principles for a family photo!” She was objecting to their request to pose next to the statue of Andrew Jackson that stood in the center of the square. “He was a slave owner!”
Jackson was the owner of the largest contingent of slaves in his corner of Tennessee/Mississippi and an ardent anti-abolitionist. But he was also the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, when he led the defense of the city against the British during the War of 1812. So while Confederate monuments have been taken down in New Orleans, Jackson rides on in Jackson Square.
The young woman compromised by being the one taking the photo as the rest of the family lined up under the statue.
New Orleans is, next to DC, my favorite US city. It’s dirty, smelly and tacky, but also historic and alluring. It has a gothic “decaying beauty,” which is a term I’ve seen used to describe Venice and I think fits New Orleans as well. So when my BFF and frequent History Touring companion Patricia said that she was attending a conference in New Orleans and did I want to come, she didn’t have to ask twice.
I’d always wanted to have dinner at Antoine’s, a French-Creole restaurant in the French Quarter, ever since reading the Frances Parkinson Keyes novel of that name, many, many years ago. The 1949 book, that starts and ends at Antoine’s, is social commentary wrapped in a murder mystery in the days leading up to Mardi Gras. I didn’t particularly care for it. Truth be told, I thought it was boring. But I found the title irresistible. So the first thing we did, after landing in New Orleans late on a Saturday afternoon, was to head to Antoine’s.
Antoine’s first opened in 1843 and still owned by the original family. It claims to be the oldest restaurant in New Orleans and one of the five oldest in the US. I knew that it would be touristy and I expected the food to be adequate at best. The actual experience was mixed.
The restaurant has 15 dining rooms that seats about 900 people. And each dining room has a theme. I’ve read that there are beautiful, historic themed rooms in the back — like the one decorated as if for a 1940s Mardi Gras party. But we weren’t in one of them. We were seated in a cavernous dining hall, with a wood beamed ceiling and red walls lined with black and white photos. According to an article in the LA Times, the only way to get a table in a “desirable” room is to be a regular and know a waiter, who can lead you directly from a side door to a favored table. Tourists need not apply.
We came in the front door and were led to a table, at the edge of said cavernous dining hall, across from the restaurant’s bar and the ladies’ room. The Preakness was running that day, and the cheering and general rowdiness from the crowd watching it on the bar television was deafening. The women chatting in and out of the rest room was distracting as well. After about 15 minutes of trying to make due, I asked to be moved. The hostess gave me a “let me work on it” response but our waiter jumped in and moved us further into the cave.
Our waiters (head and assistant) were the best part of the experience — laid back but efficient. The food was traditional and solid.
It was the historic ambiance that I went for and that was sadly lacking. So I’d give Antoine’s a rating of 3 out of 5: 5 for the wait staff, 3 for the food and 1 for the ambiance. I’m glad we went, just to scratch that itch, but I don’t feel a need to ever go again.