Twenty-five years after arriving in the Crescent City, the man who practically invented the concept of the celebrity chef is a household name and the head of a culinary empire. Luckily for visitors here, he maintains three restaurants in New Orleans, each with its own identity.
As late-afternoon light slants through the window of Emeril’s Restaurant, Emeril himself sits at a quiet table and talks about his businesses in this city the way a proud father talks about his kids. He describes how this building was a dilapidated warehouse when he bought it. “I would duck my head in here, and I would see the magic of the space,” he says. “This brick warehouse with steel, wood, and concrete was masculine, and it really appealed to me. There was a connection between what I felt my style of food was, who I was and am as a person, and what this space meant.”
Emeril’s Restaurant opened in 1990. Three years later, he debuted NOLA, a funky spot in the French Quarter “doing rustic Acadian Creole with a lot of Vietnamese influences,” he says, as a nod to the fact that he’s had a Vietnamese family working with him “since day one.”
In 1998 Emeril’s Delmonico brought the chef full circle from his days cooking classic cuisine at Commander’s Palace. The original Delmonico’s opened in 1895 in the same building it occupies now. Again, the chef says the space inspired him: “The upstairs parlor was still the owners’ home, and something came out and grabbed me about history and tradition. The lightbulb started going off about my tenure at Commander’s Palace, how that was such grand New Orleans cuisine. Now Emeril’s Delmonico has evolved into being another New Orleans classic.”
Just like the chef himself.
The scene: The flagship restaurant exemplifies the chef’s showmanship. From the frenetic brushstrokes of New Orleans artist Doyle Gertjejansen’s painting on one wall to the spice-filled glass panels framing the open kitchen, this place is about high energy. Don’t expect a quiet dinner; do expect fun.
Lagasse’s Lagniappe: “Half the menu changes nightly, based on what’s coming in the back door,” says Emeril. “We get wild chanterelles from across the lake after a big rain; we get soft-shell crabs or soft-shell crawfish or bluefin tuna.”
Our pick: You’ll find Emeril’s signature Barbecue Shrimp at each of his establishments, but this is where it was invented. Plump Gulf shrimp come with a peppery sauce made of an extraction from the shells.