If you only get one chance to experience a meal in New Orleans, make it a Friday lunch at Galatoire’s.
Not only is Galatoire’s an institution, but lunch on a Friday is a tradition. My dad has been living in New Orleans for 74 years and had never been to Galatoire’s on a Friday. So being the amazing daughter that I am (Ha!), I decided to take him for his birthday.
The goal is to sit in the downstairs dining room. This is where all the action happens, where everyone is celebrating something and where the waiters combined have been here more years then the restaurant has been open. The “catch” is this: The first floor dining room doesn’t come with a reservation, so unless you are a VIP you have to go about getting a table the old fashioned way … wait in line on Bourbon Street.
The restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m., so I decided to arrive around 8 a.m. Lined up along the sidewalk, sitting in camping chairs and propped up on milk crates were a few disheveled-looking men. Easily mistaken for homeless people in some cases, these guys are line sitters. The affluent people of New Orleans — attorneys, politicians, doctors and so on — pay these guys to hold a spot for them. I take my place in line, about five people in, and start talking to my new-found friends.
Peanut, who I find out is a regular line sitter, offers me his milk crate so I don’t have to stand … it’s much appreciated, so I offer to buy him a beer. With a Bloody Mary for me and a beer for Peanut, I spend the next two hours talking to my new acquaintances. I’m told they get paid by the head, so if they are reserving a table for five people, they can make an easy $100. For some of them, this is more than they’ll make at their day job, so why not take the day off and pop a squat on Bourbon Street? Some are in line for businessmen and others are reserving tables for Tulane graduates. I’m not sure what the rules are when it comes to how many tables the line sitters can reserve, but I know there is a limit because Peanut was calling in reinforcements.
After a couple of hours, the maitre’d comes out and puts our names on the list in order of arrival. I’m in! I got a place in the downstairs dining room! Now I can go into the adjoining bar, have a drink and wait until they come get me. My dad soon arrives and I tell him what I’ve been doing all morning, to which he responds, “Why would you do all that to sit downstairs?”
“Because Dad, it’s the only way to do Galatoire’s on a Friday.”
On this particular day we sat with Shannon. She’s been at Galatoire’s for a number of years. In fact, a lot of these waiters have been here for 20 years or more, and they definitely have their regular customers. The dining room is packed, full of energy, 2 tops, 6 tops, 10 tops and more. Everyone is here celebrating something. Shannon asks if we are in for the long haul, “Yes of course!,” I reply. This means we’ll be here for the next couple of hours slowly enjoying what is to be a fantastic meal. It’s been said that some people come for lunch and stay through dinner. I don’t blame them.
We start with a Sazerac and a Brandy Milk Punch. Shannon lets us enjoy our drinks for a few minutes before bringing us menus. We order everything that she suggests, the Galatoire Goute which is a combination of crabmeat maison and shrimp remoulade. We add the oysters en brochette (per Shannon’s suggestion) and everything is delicious.
In between bites of food, we pause so the entire dining room can either sing someone happy birthday or congratulate someone on an engagement. On this particular day, Shannon had the dining room sing happy birthday to my Dad. He was surprised and embarrassed at the same time. Immediately following Dad’s serenade, a gentleman on the other side of the dining room stood up to make a toast. He introduced himself as the owner of Far Niente Winery in Napa Valley and announced that he’s buying the entire dining room a glass of his chardonnay to celebrate the engagement of his daughter and wedding of his son.
Glasses of chardonnay immediately grace every table in the dining room. This type of fete goes on throughout the entire dining process, and I love it. About an hour into our experience we get our entrees. We ordered the fish with a Meuniere Amandine sauce. It’s a perfectly cooked piece of drum to go with an already perfect day.
As we’re taking our last few bites, a long-lost relative stops by the table to say hello to my Dad. That’s another benefit of this restaurant (and this city in general), you never know who you may bump into. The vibe of the restaurant combined with the old world charm makes this one of the best dining experiences in the city.
After we finish our chardonnay and depart the restaurant, my dad turns to me and says, “Now I know why you camped out on Bourbon Street this morning.” Ah, my work here is done. Happy Birthday, Dad!
Tips for Friday lunch at Galatoire’s:
- Get there early.
- Bring a chair.
- Make friends with Peanut and company (you never know when you might need them).
- Have a Bloody Mary while you wait.
- Order what the waiter suggests.
- DON’T rush your meal, enjoy the experience.