When Ralph Brennan opened Ralph's on the Park (900 City Park Ave., 504-488-1000; www.ralphsonthepark.com) in 2003, the City Park neighborhood lacked a traditional fine dining restaurant, Brennan says.
"A great restaurant is defined by its food as well as its atmosphere, so I couldn't think of a more perfect setting to establish a restaurant — one that provided the essence of New Orleans cuisine in an elegant and traditional manner with gracious hospitality," Brennan says.
"Ralph's on the Park has become a staple in the community: a place where people want to get engaged, celebrate a marriage, honor a debutante or have brunch within New Orleans' stunning natural surroundings, with the ancient oak trees of New Orleans' City Park as its backdrop," he says.
The restaurant's three private dining rooms and exterior balcony are available for special events, weddings and cocktail parties. Brennan says guests enjoy the cream-colored clapboard building's light-filled interior, as well as its balconies overlooking City Park. Joe Krown entertains diners with his versatile piano stylings during Sunday brunch and every Tuesday through Thursday.
"Our food philosophy at Ralph's on the Park is to share globally inspired interpretations of local cuisine that are influenced by the eccentricity, diversity and traditions for which New Orleans is known," executive chef Chip Flanagan says of the menu, which offers inventive takes on New Orleans classics and comfort foods
"We like to keep it creative," Flanagan says. "We are dedicated to farmers markets, local purveyors and local products, to which we apply not-necessarily-local preparations." The culinary team also supports area fishermen.
Staple dishes include turtle soup with sherry, the City Park salad fea-turing baby red oak, tuna two ways prepared tartare and pepper-seared, barbecue Gulf shrimp made with NOLA Blonde Ale, and Chappapeela Farms duck breast. Brunch favorites include crawfish and tasso eggs Benedict and chicken and waffles.
Recent menu additions include grilled octopus, sweetbreads and crawfish, pan-roasted cobia with crawfish fat hollandaise and LA Legacy prime strip steak with garlic fries and bacon bearnaise.
Clientele consists of locals as well as tourists. "The majority of the regulars come right from the restaurant's backyard, in the neighborhoods of Mid-City, Uptown and Metairie," Flanagan says. "Guests often enjoy lunch or dinner prior to visiting the [New Orleans Museum of Art], City Park, Jazz Fest or other Mid-City festivals and events."
Ralph's on the Park's Performing Arts Menu — three courses for $35 — is offered at dinner before Broadway in New Orleans performances, operas, ballets and symphony concerts all season long.
Through August, the restaurant offers three appetizers and a glass of wine for $33. Happy hour is 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, which coincides with Krown's musi-cal accompaniment.