In a city steeped with excellent Sunday brunches, one New Orleans restaurant is more synonymous with the meal than any other: Arnaud’s. Currently celebrating its hundredth year in business, the venerable establishment has a reputation for being the rare upscale, fine-dining restaurant that’s also a whole lot of fun, and that’s never more apparent than in the late morning and early afternoon hours of Sunday, when the sun shines in from Bienville Street, well-dressed crowds fill the tables to celebrate birthdays or nothing at all, and a roaming jazz band serenades the room. We recently had the opportunity to take in this famed brunch, and it certainly lived up to all expectations.[related]
Available from 10 to 2:30, Arnaud’s brunch is meant to be lingered over, and a three-course menu all but guarantees it (prices listed next to the entrées on the menu include your choice of appetizer and dessert). The menu is chock-full of classic New Orleans brunch fare, obviously: Appetizers include shrimp remoulade, turtle soup, two different gumbos, and Gulf oysters; entrées include five poached-egg dishes as well as specialties like fried oysters with bacon and red wine sauce, Gulf fish meunière, and chicken Pontalba with two sauces and fried potatoes; desserts include port wine-marinated strawberries with vanilla ice cream, caramel custard, bread pudding, crème brûlée, and, of course, tableside crêpes Suzette and bananas Foster. We suggest you look at the menu before you arrive and plan your strategy.
We decided to start with two dishes that Arnaud’s is famous for: shrimp remoulade (above, called Shrimp Arnaud on the menu) and chicken and andouille gumbo. The chilled shrimp were perfectly poached, and the accompanying mustard-based sauce was rich, bright, tangy, and incredibly full of flavor (thankfully, it can be bought by the bottle). The okra-free gumbo also had an amazing depth of flavor, borne from a rich, dark roux that only time can create.
A wise entrée move is to opt for the Eggs Arnaud (above), which allows you to choose from any two poached egg preparations; I went for the Eggs Fauteaux (poached eggs with house-smoked fresh Gulf pompano on an English muffin with dill hollandaise) and Eggs Adrienne (poached eggs with grilled Louisiana country sausage on an English muffin with Creole sauce). Both were about as gourmet as a breakfast dish can get: the eggs were perfectly poached, the smoked pompano was delicate and thin-sliced; and the sausage was split and seared, and topped with a slightly sweet, slightly acidic tomato-based sauce.
You also can’t go wrong with the Chicken Pontalba (above, carried over from the dinner menu), a juicy airline-style chicken breast topped with both buttery béarnaise sauce and red wine- and mushroom-based Marchand de Vin sauce, served with squares of crispy fried potatoes. Opt for one of the two tableside desserts — bananas Foster or crêpes Suzette — and you’ll be rewarded with some delicious theater; our crêpes Suzette, below, were sautéed in a mixture of butter and orange and lemon juices before being flambéed with orange liqueur and brandy and finished with citrus zest, and the end result was essentially perfect. End the meal with a Café Brûlot, another ritualized tableside ceremony requiring its own specialized equipment and involving a copious amount of fire; the end result is a sweet, rich, citrusy, boozy cup (or four) of coffee. And after your meal, be sure to visit the upstairs Mardi Gras Museum, a collection of more than two dozen ornate Mardi Gras costumes including 13 worn by Germaine Cazenave Wells, the restaurant’s longtime owner and queen of more than 20 Mardi Gras balls from the ‘30s through the ‘60s.
Arnaud’s Sunday Brunch is renowned for a reason, and it’s not just because the food is spectacular (which is still saying a lot; owners Archie and Katy Casbarian, who inherited the restaurant from their parents, could have easily rested on their laurels, but instead are still innovating and upholding exacting standards). It’s an experience first and foremost, accompanied by the musical stylings of a very skilled jazz band. If there’s a better way to spend a New Orleans Sunday, we’ve yet to find it.
The meal that is the subject of this review was provided at no cost to the writer.