A native of Germany, Horst Pfeifer earned a master chef's degree and led kitchens at luxury hotels in Europe before moving to New Orleans. In 1991, he and wife Karen opened Bella Luna, a posh Italian restaurant in the French Market. But after Hurricane Katrina, as repairs to its city-owned building lagged, the Pfeifers made a dramatic change. Five years ago this month, they bought Middendorf's Restaurant (30160 Hwy. 51, Akers, 985-386-6666; www.middendorfsrestaurant.com), a popular country eatery dating to 1934 and known for its thin-cut catfish. A year later, they rebuilt the restaurant after it was flooded by Hurricane Ike. The couple also runs The Foundry (333 St. Joseph St., 586-1309; www.thefoundryvenue.com), an event space in the Warehouse District.
Gambit icon: What's been the biggest difference for you switching from Bella Luna to Middendorf's?
Pfeifer: In the beginning, people I knew would come in and say "Oh, this must be so nice and so easy for you now." I wanted to choke them. This wasn't easy, it was like trying to jump on a moving freight train. Everyone who walks in the door here knows exactly what they want and expect. They've been eating this food longer than I've been alive. But I couldn't be doing anything more enjoyable. We all look for new challenges and we're very proud of what we've accomplished here.
G: You've changed some things, and that can be risky for a historic restaurant. What's been your strategy?
P: We never use the word change. People don't like that word here. So we don't change anything, but we add to it. The kitchen is high-tech now, we're recycling our oil for our truck, there's better air conditioning and insulation, we have a waterfront deck now. So we add.
G: Is there anything you miss about fine dining?
P: After Bella Luna, Karen said, "If we get back in the restaurant business. I want to have laminated menus and no tablecloths," and that's Middendorf's. But with the work we do at the Foundry — some of that is more like what we used to do. When we do rehearsal dinners, people will ask for dishes we had at the restaurant. For a party, I just did 30 pounds of fettuccine tossed tableside with truffle oil like we did at Bella Luna.