Not all carnivals in New Orleans focus on Mardi Gras. Some are lasting traditions of food and entertainment, like Galatoire’s Friday Lunch.
For most, Friday revelry begins at the close of the workday – the week is done and let the celebrations ensue. But for those in New Orleans lucky enough to participate in the pageant that’s called Galatoire’s Friday Lunch, 5pm is much too long to wait.
Because Galatoires does not take reservations for the downstairs dining room on Fridays, the party can start as early as 8am when the line of customers starts to form outside the front door. Expectancy hums in the thick air of Bourbon Street as gentlemen sweat in seersucker or linen suits and ladies gleam under wide-brimmed hats and party dresses fit for the runway. In “the line” new friends are made and old reacquainted.
Always at the front of the line you’ll find the “professional placeholders” or “proxies” contracted by a hotel concierge or those in the know; easy to place with their folding camp chairs, earbuds, and a paper sack wrapped Pabst to pass the time. Depending on the popularity of the particular Friday, these sitters could have been camped out for several days. They will be the first to put their charges names on “the list” when the time comes and then will disappear into streets until the next call.
As it gets closer to 11am, those in the back of the line begin to question whether those few extra minutes of sleep were worth the possibility of not getting in for Galatoire’s Friday Lunch. Mental calculations are made – “How many are in front of us?” “Will we make it?” 150 seats. The humidity climbs and resolves are steeled for the very real possibility that alternate plans might have to be made this Friday.
Inside, the orchestra is tuning. Linens are being folded and glasses polished to a high sheen. Oblivious to the mental angst happening on the street outside, this collection of beloved waitstaff, cooks, and architects of the dining room perform their pre-theater rituals in the precious quiet before the storm.
At 11am or just before – with the breathless anticipation of Willy Wonka’s arrival – the doors open and maitre’d Arnold Chabaud appears on the street, clipboard in hand. You’re asked how many are in your party and which waiter you would like. Shannon Jones, a friend as well as one of the best waiters on staff, is as important (or maybe more so) than the incredible selection of food. Her recommendations from both on and off the menu as well as her infectious humor complete the Friday Lunch experience.
Watching the maitre’d deftly tally the number of guests as he walks down the line is a lesson in patience. Will we make it? Finally, it’s our turn and YES! We’re on the list for our table of 10! Two more couples behind us are in and then Mr. Chabaud shakes his head regrettably, offering those left in line choices of a possible wait list for downstairs, upstairs or a second seating in the early afternoon. He then takes the clipboard inside and begins the delicate process of assigning tables. Our party has always been pleasantly surprised when he remembers a favorite spot.
Since the dining room doesn’t open until 12, this is our opportunity to walk next door to the elegant (and deliciously cool!) Gallatoires 33 to have a celebratory cocktail. It isn’t necessary to consult a watch to know when it’s time to go back – the murmur begins at the back of the room and soon the entire entourage is moving as one, hastily signing bar checks and heading for the door.
Entering the Galatoire’s dining room is like stepping back a century. Sparkling barbershop mirrors reflect panama hats and smiling faces, eager to take in all the joie de vivre that only New Orleans knows how to serve. It’s a huge cocktail party where table-hopping is encouraged. We’ve seen a second line come through and things can even get a little risque with bachelor parties pulling out all the stops. You’ll leave with more friends than you came with and will toast “Happy Birthday” to strangers many, many times before the day is over – but that’s part of the charm.
In the dining room the cacophony of frivolity builds to a crescendo pitch, directly proportional to the number of Sazeracs and Brandy punches being served. Food typically doesn’t start appearing until after the first round of cocktails. There is no hurry. This is a celebration, after all.
And speaking of food. Oh my! Your taste buds will tingle with the likes of Oysters Rockefeller, Crabmeat Maison, Pompano en Papillote, Trout Meunière Amandine, Oysters en Brochette, Crabmeat Sardou, and one my personal favorites – a filet mignon so tender it trembles on the plate! YUM!
Since you’ve been kind enough to follow along so far, we want to reward you with a secret from the venerable Galatoire’s kitchen! A recipe for their famous Chicken Clemenceau (and THE special ingredient you may already have in your own pantry) courtesy of Galatoire’s Cookbook (Potter).
Chicken Clemenceau (serves 6)
1 fryer chicken, cut into 8 pieces
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1 gallon vegetable oil
2 baking potatoes
1/4 cup clarified butter
1 lb. large button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 fifteen ounce can petit pois peas, drained (CANNED PEAS??)
chopped curly parsley for garnish
Preheat oven to 400. Rinse chicken and dry thoroughly. Season generously with salt and pepper and bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 30 minutes, until golden brown, turning after 15 minutes.
While the chicken is baking, heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan to 350. Peel the potatoes and dice into 3/4 inch cubes. Add potatoes to hot oil, 1 cup at a time. Use a long handled spoon when adding, as the oil will boil up. Fry potatoes about 7-6 minutes each batch, until golden brown, moving the cubes around with the spoon to cook evenly. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Heat the butter in a large saute pan over high heat and add the mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Add the garlic and fried potatoes. Season with salt and white pepper and saute to heat through. Add the chicken pieces and saute for 3 to 5 minutes until the flavors marry. Gently fold in the petit pois and cook until just heated through. Divide and sprinkle each portion with parsley to finish.
The writers of Galatoire’s Cookbook admonish us not to get fancy and try to use either fresh or frozen peas in this dish, but to use the canned variety found in most pantries. The secret ingredient, “It just works.”