In 1905 Jean Galatoire established his restaurant at 209 Bourbon Street, in the French Quarter. Galatoire hailed from Pardies, a small village in Southwestern France, and brought most of his recipes with him. The dishes he served were simple recipes that, over time, morphed into the classics of Creole cuisine.
Tradition is the word that best describes Galatoire’s. The menu never changes. Jackets are still required for gentlemen after 5 p.m. For many years, the restaurant had a rigid “no reservations” policy, regardless of who you were, and the place was best known to casual tourists by the line of luminaries stacked along Bourbon Street waiting for a table. Reservations are now accepted for the upstairs rooms, but the main dining room downstairs is still first come, first served.
Now operating under its fourth generation of family ownership, the restaurant is the antithesis of many of today’s culinary hot spots. There is no celebrity chef, no experimental specials, and no glitz. What you get at Galatoire’s is the best of ingredients, simply and beautifully prepared. My grandparents used to go there in the 1940s and 1950s, and I doubt that it has changed since. Ancient tile still forms the floor of the main dining room, the walls combine paneled mirrors and fleur-de-lis wallpaper, and the best baguette outside of Paris is placed on your table.
A recent visit began with the famous Godchaux Salad: a combination of iceberg and Bibb lettuce tossed with boiled shrimp, lump crabmeat, tomatoes and hard-boiled egg, flecked with Cayenne pepper and topped with anchovy filets. This was followed by some of the best soft shell crabs I’ve ever had, and I spent a number of years living close to the Chesapeake Bay. Supremely fresh and perfectly sautéed, they were large, juicy and oceanic, washed down with the crisp “Marie Antoinette” Pouilly-Fuissé from J.J. Vincent—well worth the wait, even in the city’s July heat.