Ralph Brennan opened Brennan's (417 Royal St., 504-525-9711; www.brennansneworleans.com) Nov. 25 after a reported $20 million renovation of the renowned restaurant.
"I really love what we've been able to do with the space," Brennan said. "We put in windows [in the front dining room], so you'll be able to see straight through from the street back to the courtyard. Not a lot of restaurants do that here in the French Quarter."
A front dining room occupies the former kitchen space. The upstairs dining rooms are lavishly redone. The bar is remodeled and, in a tribute to Brennan's iconic rooster logo, it has an aviary theme. A weathered mirror is hand-painted with colorful illustrations of peacocks, flamingos and sparrows, barstools are covered in a rust-colored leather and lanterns shaped like birdcages hang over the bar.
"I was terrified about what the birdcages would look like when my designer told me about them," Brennan said. "They turned out great."
The courtyard can seat 60 diners at umbrella-topped tables and a fountain will be installed. The wine room is still at the back of the courtyard, but it also is remodeled. The cellar currently stocks approximately 7,500 bottles, and Brennan expects to increase it to 10,000 bottles and restore Wine Spectator's Grand Award, a designation the previous incarnation held for years.
"We're aiming to become the biggest Champagne house in the South," Beverage Director Drew Brandwein said. Sommeliers have been trained to saber Champagne bottles, which will be an option for diners each Friday.
In addition to fresh spins on classic cocktails — a fruity Pimm's Cup, a honey liqueur-infused take on iced tea, two brandy milk punches — a build-your-own Sazerac menu will be offered during dinner, featuring four types of bitters, absinthe and rye.
The Brennan's staff discovered a number of unusual bottles of liquor in the cellar and elsewhere during the renovation. One is a complete eight-bottle set of the rare Courvoisier Erte collection from the late 1980s, which sells for upwards of $10,000 and features one-of-a-kind decorated bottles. Another find was a vintage Usquaebach Rare blended Scotch in an unusual earthenware jug.
Chef Slade Rushing's dinner menu will balance Brennan's classics and deconstructed Creole flavors, some with an international flair. Brennan said there will be Spanish and Vietnamese influences on the dinner menu. Breakfast and lunch menus will fall more on the traditional side, but the dinner menu has room for exploration of Creole flavors. Dinner service begins Dec. 5.
Breakfast and lunch items with nontraditional twists include New Orleans barbecue lobster, rabbit Rushing (fried Mississippi rabbit, creamed collard greens, eggs and pickled pork jus) and an escargot omelet. Three-course breakfast, lunch and dinner options will be available, and the Brennan's team is looking forward to entertaining guests who just want a drink and an appetizer.
"It's not a newer item, but the dish I'm most excited about is steak Diane," Brennan said. "Growing up, my dad was allergic to shellfish, so it wasn't until college that I started trying that. We were a meat and potatoes kind of family. I'm also excited about the filet Stanley, which is one of our signature dishes. It combines filet, banana and horseradish, which sounds different but is delicious."
There will be 10 pets in residence in the courtyard: turtles, much like the ducks in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. Nine female turtles are named after French mother sauces and the lone male is named Cocktail.
Brennan family patriarch Owen Brennan opened his original restaurant in 1946 and died before the 1956 opening of Brennan's, which he had moved to Royal Street. His sons Ted and Pip Brennan owned Brennan's when it closed in 2013. Ralph Brennan, Owen's nephew, and Terry White purchased the building and renovated the space. Ralph Brennan also owns Ralph's on the Park (900 City Park Ave., 504-488-1000; www.ralphsonthepark.com), Red Fish Grill (115 Bourbon St., 504-598-1200; www.redfishgrill.com) and other restaurants. — SARAH BAIRD