Feb 28, 2022

A commoner dines at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, New Orleans, La.

Some New Orleans restaurants are timeless due to their years of excellence serving up authentic, classic cuisine inspired by the area’s abundance of influences.  Others are timeless due to their reputation as historic landmarks that every food lover visiting the city should seek out.  But few, if any, can compare to Dooky Chase’s Restaurant for its combination of historical significance with classic Creole cooking.  It had long been on my own short list of “must try” places to eat in NOLA, and after going there, it will be an experience I won’t soon forget.  

Located on the corner of Orleans Avenue and Miro Street in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant (or just Dooky Chase, as it has become commonly known) has been a prominent Black-owned family restaurant since 1941.  But what really makes it historically significant is its role in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement as place where community leaders could gather and discuss strategy in relative safety.  Frankly, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was too popular to shut down. 

And that popularity has never waned.  Today, it may look like a rather ordinary brick building on the outside, but you’re not here for appearances.  Truthfully, if you’re not looking for the place, you’re liable to drive on by, unless the line of people waiting to eat is out the door. 

On this day, however, we were lucky to be among the first visitors to arrive for lunch and got seated as soon as the dining room doors opened.   

This tribute to Leah Chase was welcoming everyone who walked through the entryway when I visited.

Perhaps just as significant as the restaurant’s ties to the Civil Rights Movement and New Orleans history is the influence and legacy of Leah Chase

Regarded by many as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase has been a part of the Dooky Chase story from almost the beginning.  She married Dooky Chase Jr., a well-known jazz musician at the time and the restaurant owner’s son, in 1946, and almost immediately applied a greater vision to the establishment.  Her natural abilities turned Creole cooking into fine dining and made Dooky Chase’s Restaurant one of the most famous in the city.  She was also influential in cementing Dooky Chase as a cultural center in the Black community by promoting the restaurant as a place where Black artists could display their work. 

Until her death in 2019 at 96 years old, Leah Chase remained one of New Orleans’ most instantly recognizable citizens.  Her life even inspired the character Tiana in Walt Disney’s animated film “The Princess and the Frog.”  (You might recognize a likeness of Tiana next to Leah Chase in the picture above).  Now that’s a legacy that’s hard to top!  

The interior of Dooky Chase continues to evoke a fine dining atmosphere that seems elegant yet not overdone.  The room is bright, the tablecloths are classic white and the cleanliness of the dining area is impeccable. 

The service was impeccable, too.  Menus were in front of us within minutes of being seated.  The main entrees lean heavy on seafood, and you get the impression that most, if not all, of these main courses have long been perfected.  Unfortunately, they no longer appear to serve a lunch buffet but they did when I was there, and I couldn’t think of a better way to taste as many great classic Dooky Chase dishes as possible. 

Plus, the buffet service was in clear view in the dining area, and alluring combination of aromas coming from each serving station made the buffet impossible to resist. 

So, did the food live up to the hype?  After two full plates, I have to say emphatically, “Yes!”  I focused mainly on salads and vegetables on my first round, with the standouts being the beet salad, olive salad and pickled okra.  And the red beans and rice with smoked sausage was as good as any I’ve ever had in New Orleans. 

In fact, I had to have a second helping of the red beans and rice just to make sure, along with a vegetable medley that was delightfully heavy on the seasoned cabbage.  And the fried chicken was as superior as one would expect – a wonderful crispy skin and extremely juicy on the inside.   

Finally, I did not think I had left room for dessert, but when they offered peach cobbler, a Southern classic, I just couldn’t say no.  It was just the right amount of sweetness to finish off a memorable meal.    

Without a doubt, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant lived up to its reputation.  It turned out to be everything I expected and more.  It’s no wonder the place has become one of the most popular places for the famous and influential people to dine in New Orleans. 

And even with the passing of Leah Chase, the family who continues to operate Dooky Chase show no signs of letting up.  In fact, with the introduction of Chef Zoe Chase this year, a new generation has begun to write its own chapter of the restaurant’s legacy.  Dining here is, and should continue to be, an “only in New Orleans” experience for celebrities and commoners alike.      

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