In a city that joyously celebrates fine dining as an art form, Broussard’s has been a fixture in New Orleans for nearly a century. Dishes created with an exotic blend of French, Spanish, Indian, Caribbean, Acadian (Cajun) and Creole influences have made New Orleans a preferred destination for lovers of inspired cuisine the world over. Located in the heart of New Orleans’ Vieux Carré, or French Quarter, Broussard’s combines a mix of old architecture, classic food and tradition to achieve a dining experience one is not likely to forget.
The Restaurant History
Broussard’s first opened its doors in 1920, when an eminent local chef, Joseph Broussard, married Rosalie Borrello, and the couple moved into the Borrello family mansion (built in 1834) on Conti Street where the restaurant now sits.Up until their death one month apart from each other in 1966, the Broussard’s resided in the apartment above the restaurant. The couple worked ceaselessly to create and maintain the five-star family-run restaurant that continues to this day under the stewardship of the Preuss family, who now own and operate Broussard’s.
At his restaurant, Joe (“Papa”) Broussard combined the excitement of local Creole cuisine with classic French dishes inspired by his formal Parisian culinary training. The result was a dynamic menu set to the most exacting standards. A larger-than-life figure of imperial temperament, Papa Joe had a unique way of ensuring that each diner received a meal that lived up to those standards – he was known to send dishes hurtling through the kitchen if he discerned that a meal was less than excellent.
Under award-winning Chef and current owner Gunter Preuss, dishes don’t fly, but the standard of excellence continues. Classic dishes such as the Louisiana Bouillabaisse, Veal Escalope Acadian, and Pompano Napoleon are complemented by signature desserts such as the Chocolate Mousse Pava, Crepes Broussard, and the Delice Madame P.
As one of New Orleans’ most important landmarks, Broussard’s has always provided unsurpassed cuisine in an atmosphere of understated elegance and historical significance. Joe Broussard had a penchant for all things Napoleonic. The bee, which was the Emperor’s personal emblem, serves as the restaurant’s logo. Indeed, Broussard’s devotion to Napoleon was so intense that whenever a customer ordered a Brandy Napoleon, the lights were dimmed, a bell, was rung, and the waiters would gather around a statue of (whom else) Napoleon and engage in a lively rendition of La Marseillaise, France’s revolutionary rallying anthem. While customers today are spared this bit of excess, they can nevertheless delight in the lovely imperial décor which inspired architects Charles Gresham and Charles Renke, who in 1974 undertook a massive restoration of Broussard’s.
In addition to providing the food and ambiance, Broussard’s has also served as a vibrant cultural milieu where famous guests have gathered and an array of exciting events have taken place. Hollywood celebrities, politicians, dignitaries, Mardi Gras Royalty and literary figures such as Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner have all played a role in the history of Broussard’s. Today, however, Gunter and his wife and partner, Evelyn, have replaced Joseph and Rosalie as the power couple behind the restaurant’s success. In 1999, Broussard’s hosted major events such as the opening ceremony for Louisiana Franco Fete, marking 300 years of French history in the state, and a gala black tie dinner dedicated to the legacy of Salvador Dali, featuring original works of the artist, which raised money for the arts in New Orleans.
The current edifice is a charming pastiche of various structures. In addition to the previously mentioned Borrello mansion, Broussard’s includes portions of what used to be the Jefferson Academy, a distinguished preparatory school of the 1800’s, and the historic Hermann-Grima house built in 1834, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A first visit to the restaurant is a special treat. In a grand entrance reminiscent of a Parisian promenade, guests are surrounded by beautiful hand-painted Italian tiles of cherubs, or putti, and the Napoleonic insignia. The kitchen and dining rooms have been arranged so as to better showcase the tranquil interior and the tropical exterior. The dining rooms lead to a picturesque cobblestone courtyard with a soothing fountain and lush foliage.
The restaurant’s Josephine and Magnolia Dining Rooms had past lives as the stables and servants’ quarters for the adjoining Hermann-Grima House and the courtyard once served as the home’s carriageway. Now, the courtyard, voted by New Orleans Magazine as “the most beautiful in the French Quarter,” is a favorite spot for dining, especially in the early spring when the 120-year-old Wisteria is in bloom, showering it with delicate purple blossoms, and the magnolia and night-blooming jasmine offer their own sweet perfumes. Additionally, a back room of the Borrello mansion has been converted into a piano lounge — one of the most attractive in the Crescent City — where live jazz interpretations can be heard on weekends.
The restoration and rededication of the restaurant have led to international recognition for Broussard’s, including a 1998 DiRona award (the food industry’s equivalent of an Oscar)–the only one presented to a Louisiana Restaurant that year, the equally prestigious Ivy Award in 2000, and most recently will be inducted into the Nation’s Restaurant News’ Fine Dining Hall of Fame.
But for Gunter and Evelyn, restoring Broussard’s to its historical and culinary significance is simply the latest in a long string of accomplishments. Following stints at the Statler Hilton in New York, the Capitol Hilton in Washington DC, and the Mission Hills Country Club in Kansas City, Chef Preuss moved to New Orleans as executive chef for the historic Fairmont Hotel, where he created the menu for the hotel’s renowned Sazerac Restaurant. Later, along with Evelyn, he founded the elegant Versailles Restaurant located on St. Charles Avenue, which for many years was considered to be one of New Orleans’ finest restaurants. During papal visit of John Paul II in 1989, Chef Preuss was selected from a pool of New Orleans chefs to host the papal dining festivities. Reaching an even wider audience, Gunter has also been featured on the PBS series Great Chefs of New Orleans.
For her part, Evelyn has been described as one of the city’s most gracious hostesses, and according to one of her friends, “someone who really knows how to throw a party.” The elegant Evelyn is equally at home jean-clad and digging in the courtyard garden, or in a beautiful suit, making her way from table to table in the dining room, greeting guests.
At Broussard’s, a deep respect for the historical fabric of New Orleans and a passion for life’s finer elements come together.