Sunday, July 3, 2022

Tujague’s Is French Quarter Icon

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Tujague’s is an iconic French Quarter Restaurant in New Orleans /Photo Courtesy of Tujague’s Facebook Page

By Ron Borne, HT.com blogger

I have already written a HottyToddy.com blog about one of my favorite restaurants in my place of birth – New Orleans. Several of you seemed to enjoy it, so I’ll write about a few more. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

The recent death of Steve Latter, the iconic owner of Tujague’s, (Pronounced “two jacks”) one of the oldest (Est. 1856) restaurants in New Orleans (second only to Antoine’s), created a run of rumors regarding the future of that establishment. The worst of the rumors was that the restaurant and bar would be sold and would be converted s into a fried chicken joint and the restaurant into a T-shirt place.

New Orleanians were upset. At the time I am writing this, the future of Tujague’s has not been resolved but, if it is sold, it certainly deserves a better fate than a chicken and T0-shirt joint..

In 1852, French native Guillaume Tujague arrived in New Orleans, worked as a butcher for three years, and opened a restaurant in an old Spanish armory on Decatur Street in the heart of the French Market and the French Quarter area of the city. The restaurant was an immediate success, and its famous menu consisting of six and seven course meals evolved.

The famous cypress stand-up bar, which was a fixture in a Paris bistro 90 years before it was shipped to New Orleans, features a massive French mirror. The festive French Quarter bar became a gathering place for politicians, lawyers, poets, journalists, actors, as well as common dockworkers and market laborers.

The famous started visiting Tujague’s restaurant and bar, among whom were U.S. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. French President Charles De Gaulle also visited Tujague’s. The names of many famous entertainment celebrities, sportsmen and other personalities can be found in the guest book, including composer Cole Porter, actors Harrison Ford and Margot Kidder, comedian Dan Akroyd and the baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. Even during the Prohibition era, three bartenders tended to the bar.

Before he died in 1912, Tujague sold the restaurant and the connecting saloon to Philbert Guichet and Jean-Dominic Castet, who ran the restaurant until 1982, when Steve Latter and his brother, Stanford, bought the business despite having no restaurant experience themselves. In fact, the brothers had never even eaten at the restaurant.

Stanford viewed the restaurant as strictly a business investment, but Steve had other ideas and convinced his brother to operate the restaurants themselves. Eventually, Steve bought out his brother’s interest and operated the place himself. A big LSU fan, he became one of New Orleans’ most well-known characters and businessmen.

During the 1920s, Philbert Guichet created a cocktail he called The Grasshopper as part of a New York City contest. The Grasshopper –– a concoction of Crème de Menthe, Crème de Cacao and light cream, took home second place. (Source: R.F. Guste, Jr. “The Restaurants of New Orleans”)

A visit to New Orleans would not be complete without tasting Tujague’s delicious specialties; boiled beef brisket with a Creole sauce and horseradish, shrimp remoulade and Tujague’s version of cap bread (a rattail of dough baked on top of the loaf of bread). Ordering dinner is simple. You would have a choice of four special entrees du Jour which usually include filet mignon, two fresh seafood choices and a non-seafood fourth choice – typically, fowl.

Take my advice and run down to my hometown. Make your first stop at Tujague’s at 823 Decatur Street and stand up at the oldest standing bar in the Crescent City, put your foot on the rail, enjoy an Absinthe House Frappé or a Sazerac (a specialty of former bartender Paul Gustins –– a prototype of all grumpy artistic bartenders who would charge extra if a customer asked him to smile), admire the beautiful tile floor, and then go to the restaurant for a dinner you will remember for a lifetime.

Hurry up – the future of Tujague’s has not been resolved at this writing.

A New Orleans native, Ron Borne is a medicinal chemist by experience, and an amateur writer by avocation.  He served Ole Miss and the School of Pharmacy as a teacher, researcher and administrator for more than 40 years and is now “retired” and living in his center of the universe. Email him at  rfborne@yahoo.com

 
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