by Ian McNulty
Middendorf's, the landmark seafood restaurant off Interstate 55 in the hamlet of Manchac, was devastated by the storm surge from Hurricane Ike.
Karen Pfeifer, who owns Middendorf's with her husband Horst, says the restaurant's two buildings and their own adjacent home took four feet of floodwater. She says the entire town of Manchac succumbed to flooding.
"No one thought it would be this bad. We had people over here who have lived in Manchac for 75 years and they say they never saw anything like this," says Pfeifer.
Middendorf's has its own private levee and heavy duty pumps, which kept the restaurant dry and relatively unscathed during hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. As water from Lake Pontchartrain began to rise on the Ike storm surge on Thursday, however, the Pfeifers and their Manchac neighbors began a long struggle to protect their properties, sandbagging and trying to shore up the levee.
"But by 2 a.m., Horst told me we better pack up and get out of here, that it looked like the battle was lost," says Karen Pfeifer.
With the floodwater gone and the muck left behind still caking the historic restaurant, the Pfeifers are unsure what they will do.
Founded in 1934, Middendorf's has long been known for its razor-thin fried catfish and the rustic feel of its large dining rooms. Its location between New Orleans and Baton Rouge made it a cherished meeting spot for families and friends spread out across the region. On weekend evenings, it was common to find a line snaking from the front door as customers waited for tables.
The Pfeifers bought Middendorf's from its original family owners in 2007. They previously owned the French Quarter restaurant Bella Luna, where Horst's cooking and a rare, panoramic view of the Mississippi River made it a popular destination for fine dining and romantic occasions. That building, part of the French Market, was damaged by wind and rain during Hurricane Katrina and by looters afterward and it never reopened. The Pfeifers also own the Foundry, an events hall in the Warehouse District.
-- Ian McNulty