What is the oldest restaurant in town? Arnaud's claims to be the oldest and Tujague's the second oldest, yet Galatoire's and Antoine's are both older.
Kurt Wolfe Fromherz
I have never known Arnaud's to claim that it is the oldest restaurant in New Orleans. In fact, of the four you mentioned, it is the youngest.
The oldest restaurant in New Orleans is Antoine's. Leaving New York for New Orleans -- our good fortune -- Antoine Alciatore found a home and founded a restaurant dynasty. Generations later, Antoine's is still in family hands. It all started in 1840, when he opened a pension -- a boarding house and restaurant a block away from its current location on St. Louis Street, where the young Frenchman and his wife moved their restaurant in 1868.
When Antoine returned to France in 1874 to die and be buried in his homeland, he left the restaurant in the care of his wife. And it was their son Jules who -- God bless him -- created oysters Rockefeller. Jules' son Roy was the next head of the restaurant, and he was in charge for almost 40 years until his death in 1972. Roy was the last Alciatore to manage the great place. His sister Marie Louise married William Guste, and their sons and grandsons have been proprietors since then.
Tujague's is the second-oldest restaurant in New Orleans, having its origins in 1856. Guillaume and Marie Tujague of Bordeaux, France, began by serving breakfast and lunch on Decatur Street to hungry market workers, dockworkers and seamen.
Before Guillaume Tujague died in 1912, he sold his place to Philibert Guichet from Lafourche Parish, who competed with another Decatur Street restaurant -- Begue's. Chef and owner was the legendary Madame Elizabeth Kettenring Begue, whose breakfasts were so elaborate they lasted for hours.
Madam Begue died in 1906, and in 1914, Guichet and Jean-Dominic Castet, an employee at Begue's, joined forces, bought her restaurant at 823 Decatur St., and renamed it Tujague's.
New Orleans businessman Steven Latter took over the restaurant in 1982, but the tradition of stuffing yourself on six courses, which include shrimp remoulade and beef brisket with Creole sauce, continues to attract both locals and tourists.
Galatoire's was established in 1905, and this award-winning restaurant has kept hungry and thirsty patrons -- even the rich and famous -- eagerly waiting in line. Then in 1999 the restaurant opened the second floor and began taking reservations. However, the first floor is still on a "first come, first served" basis.
Galatoire's has been run by family members for four generations, and some people have eaten there so often they feel like part of the family. They sit at the same table, order the same meal, and are served by the same attentive waiter. Changes for these regulars are intolerable.
If you want to feel special, go to Galatoire's on your birthday and let the staff know you are celebrating. The entire place will serenade you -- not just the tuxedo-clad waiters, but all of the clientele as well.
Arnaud's, the relative newcomer to the great restaurants of the Crescent City, was founded in 1918 by Arnaud Cazenave, a French wine salesman. Without any claim to the title, he soon became known as Count Arnaud.
The following commentary is the Count's "Philosophy of Dining," which has appeared on the back of Arnaud's menus since he expressed his sentiments.
"Americans are prone to forget, in the ultra-rapidity and super-activity of modern life, trying to crowd eighty seconds of toil into a minute's time, that eating should be a pleasure, not a task to get over with in a hurry. A dinner chosen according to one's needs, tastes, and moods, well prepared and well served, is a joy to all senses and an impelling incentive to sound sleep, good health, and long life. Therefore, at least once a day, preferably in the quiet cool of the evening, one should throw all care to the winds, relax completely, and dine leisurely and well."
I imagine the Count turned over in his grave when the first McDonald's opened.