Brad Pitt eats here. So have the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, actors Sydney Poitier and Whoopi Goldberg, and every U.S. president since Herbert Hoover.
“Except Mr. Obama,” says Yvonne Alciator Blount, proprietor of the oldest family run restaurant in America. “We’re still hoping he might come.”
Welcome to Antoine’s Restaurant in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter since 1840.
“Brad Pitt rides his bike over here for lunch, parks it in the little hallway, comes in the back, has lunch and rides away,” says Yvonne, whose great grandfather founded the joint known for its killer French cuisine after studying the culinary scene in Paris.
“At that time in New Orleans, there was really no good food. People boiled everything and that was about it,” says Yvonne. “So when he came making sauces from France, well, he was an instant hit.”
A hit that has endured throughout history.
“I’m the fifth generation and it’s amazing to me that even the menu is substantially similar to the menu that’s over 100 years old," says Rick Blount.
That menu includes Oysters Rockefeller, invented at Antoine’s.
“At that time, most people at oysters raw. [My great grandfather] said, ‘I’m going to make a dish that is going to put cooked oysters on the map,’ and he made a sauce that he said was so rich he was going to name it after the richest man in the world,” says Yvonne. “That was at the time Rockefeller and that’s where he got the name.”
The recipe has been copied all over the world, but the recipe is what the family calls a “deep, dark secret.”
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Antoine’s was spared any flooding, but they suffered more than $25 million in damages from wind damage and loss of power. This forced the restaurant to make several changes.
“After Katrina, no one in New Orleans owned a jacket, so [we stopped] requiring a gentleman to wear a jacket to dinner because no one had one,” says Rick. “My chef was very honest saying there’s no way we can produce a menu at its size, so we cut down the number of dishes.”
The restaurant, once featured in a 1950’s Bugs Bunny cartoon and also a location for Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, has adapted now to social media too.
Rick says social media plays such a big role that he’s “scared to death of it,” leaving his daughter Casey, a new college graduate, to manage the restaurant’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
But however much Antoine’s is adapting to the future, one thing will never change: the family says there are no plans to ever reveal the recipe for the secret sauce in its famous Oysters Rockefeller.