At its weathered French Quarter address, Antoine's (713 St. Louis St., 504-581-4422; www.antoines.com) maintains its seat as the grande dame of New Orleans restaurants. For 175 years, the restaurant's dining room has hosted anniversary dinners, Carnival soirees and birthday parties for generations of New Orleanians.
"We are the definition of the 'old guard,'" says Rick Blount, CEO and descendant of founder Antoine Alciatore. "What we serve here is ... hugely inspired by the New Orleans Creole traditions."
As a teenager, Blount began his career by working at the restaurant's reservations desk. Eventually he moved on to management and continued to advise the company during and after college. Over that time, Antoine's assembled an operating board composed of family members. The board voted Blount as CEO six months before Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Blount led the company during and after the disaster, and says his experiences there helped him deal with that era's challenges.
"[After Hurricane Katrina], we worked hard to find our employees and get them back to New Orleans," he says. "We used as many of our employees as we could to do the demolition, cleanup and reconstruction of the building to get back open. I didn't realize it then, but I probably had more of a working knowledge of the back side of the business than anyone else in my generation."
The storm's aftermath brought changes to Antoine's traditional atmosphere. When residents returned with limited wardrobes, the restaurant welcomed them back with a relaxed dress code during dinner service. The company also broadened the dining options it offered by opening Hermes Bar, which has a different food menu, and Antoine's Annex coffee and pastry shop.
Chef Mike Regua, who has worked at Antoine's for four decades, models dishes on recipes once endorsed by Blount's great-great-grandfather, as well as newer recipes. Antoine's menu includes options like chateaubriand and baked Alaska.
"In New Orleans we have our own cooking style. ... We cook and serve the classic New Orleans cuisine as if it is still 1890," Blount says. "It is hard to find many 100-year-old things that are relevant to our lives today, but that is what sets us apart."
Several special events are planned to commemorate Antoine's 175th anniversary. Blount recently served alligator as part of a special menu at a New York event. Locally, a Prohibition party, a re-enactment of the dinner celebrating the 1947 best-selling book Dinner at Antoine's and more will occur over the year.
"We are going to celebrate in high style our birthday in the first week of October," Blount says. "If we can think of anything else that we can have fun with, we are going to do that too."