For a restaurant that has endured the Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression and Prohibition, Antoine’s has a few stories to tell. The nation’s oldest family-run restaurant is one of the best examples of Creole fine dining in New Orleans, if not the world.
Let’s take a little trip through Antoine’s long and illustrious history:
Antoine Alciatore, an 18-year-old French immigrant sails to New Orleans from Marseilles. Impressively, considering his age, the teenager opens a pensione—a combination boarding house and café—and names it Antoine’s.
Antoine dies in France, leaving the restaurant to his son Jules. The young chef receives extensive culinary training, cooking and studying in Paris and Marseilles before returning to New Orleans. He formally takes over Antoine’s in 1877, and during his tenure invented Antoine’s best-known dish, Oysters Rockefeller.
Jules’ son Roy takes over, and sees the restaurant through some of Antoine’s most challenging times—Prohibition and World War II. Yet he and the Alciatore family thrived. As testimony to their resolve, Roy added dining rooms decorated in Mardi Gras themes that have since become almost as famous as the food. Even today, you can learn much about Mardi Gras history just by looking at the walls of the Rex, Proteus and 12th Night rooms, and in Antoine’s bar, named after the Krewe of Hermes.
The restaurant became the setting of a best-selling murder-mystery novel titled Dinner at Antoine’s. Its author, Frances Parkinson Keyes, was a prolific journalist and novelist who lived in a French Quarter cottage once occupied by Civil War hero General P.G.T. Beauregard. Today, both the novelist and general are honored at the historical museum known as the Beauregard-Keyes House, located just blocks away from Antoine’s.
1972 through today
Roy Alciatore’s son and nephews, including former Louisiana attorney general William Guste, take ownership of Antoine’s, followed by a succession of sons and cousins that eventually lead to Antoine Alciatore’s great-great grandson, present-day CEO Rick Blount.
“We’re the old guard; we’re the tradition of classic Creole dining experience,” Blount says. “New Orleans and Antoine’s are very symbiotic—we are as much an extension of New Orleans as New Orleans is an extension of us.”
Antoine’s celebrated its 175th birthday with a variety of events. Throughout 2015, diners found a special commemorative menu featuring some of the “vintage” dishes that gave the restaurant its international reputation. Exotic old-school dishes found nowhere else, including Duck Paradis (a duck breast with a port wine and white grape reduction) and Oysters Ellis, which featured Gulf oysters in a dark colbert sauce with sherry and mushrooms.
Antoine’s is widely known as the inventor of oysters Rockefeller, having been created in 1899 by Jules Alciatore. The dish is served in restaurants around the world, but Antoine’s head chef Michael Regua says none of them do it right -- and how Antoine’s does it is a family secret. This year the dish earned its own National Day. January 10th, 2017 is the innagural National Oyster Rockefeller Day and to celebrate Antoine's will be giving away a free dish to each dining patron.