“Our team has always wanted to bring the soul of the Brennan’s up to Atlanta. We finally made it happen,” said Linton Hopkins.
Hopkins and his wife, Gina, are the faces behind numerous Atlanta restaurants. Foremost among them is Restaurant Eugene. On Aug. 24, they are opening that “home” to another restaurant family, the venerable Brennan clan, the formidable name behind Commander’s Palace and other New Orleans restaurants.
For one night only, a few lucky – and deep-pocketed – Atlantans will taste the flavors of iconic NOLA restaurant Commander’s Palace without leaving town. On Thursday, the team from Commander’s Palace will be at Restaurant Eugene when the two restaurants collaborate on a five-course, “Evening at Commander’s” bayou dinner. (A few seats remain for the $175 per person dinner. Reservations can be made by calling Restaurant Eugene or securing a spot online at OpenTable.)
Among those coming here from the Crescent City is Commander’s Palace co-proprietor Ti Martin. She will also be signing copies of “Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace,” both a memoir and a “how-we-did-it” restaurant reference that she co-authored with her mother, Ella Brennan, who was honored with a James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
Commander’s Palace has earned a status not just as an iconic restaurant in the U.S., but as part of the fabric of life in New Orleans. How did they do it?
In a joint interview earlier this week, Martin and Hopkins reflected on the commandeering of Commander’s Palace and how the restaurant achieved its place as a preeminent fine dining establishment in the U.S.
Martin began with an anecdote.
“Last night, I saw a Commander’s salad going out. Someone ordered a split salad. I went back to the garde manger and said, ‘I’m not going to go broke if you give them a little more lettuce.’”
Generosity is key in the hospitality industry, Martin said, but more important than that, “It’s all about the way you make people feel.”
“We learned a lot about hospitality from you, Ti,” said Hopkins, who, upon graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in the early 1990s, externed at Mr. B’s, another Brennan family operation. “How you run a restaurant is how the Brennan’s run a restaurant.”
Both Martin and Hopkins agreed that hospitality includes not cutting corners or “being mean,” as Hopkins calls it. Rather, that there ought to be professionalism, exuded with seriousness and generosity, at the back and the front of house.
Another aspect about which they both concur: the best time to judge a restaurant. “It’s when the chef isn’t there,” said a candid Martin.
When you grow up in the restaurant world as Martin did, you gain respect, not just for what your restaurant family accomplishes, but what your nuclear family has worked hard for. On a personal front, writing “Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace” with her mother was enlightening for Martin. From that two-plus-year project, she learned details about the inner workings of the restaurant over the years while garnering newfound respect for her mom. “Holy moly! How did she do that and be the greatest mom in the world? She gave everything to the restaurant and our whole extended family and our city.”
Martin sees the book as one of the few, apart from Danny Meyer’s “Setting the Table,” that addresses owning and operating a restaurant. “The book is focused on the business side. If you’re going to open a restaurant, it’s the stories, lessons and things to think about,” she said.
While Commander’s Palace has been in the hands of the Brennan family since the early 1970s, Martin recognizes that it continues to evolve.
“I think we are at a bit of a golden age,” she said. “Tory (McPhail) has been here for 14 or 15 years. He’s a different chef than when he started.”
So while the restaurant is “at a wonderful place where there’s incredible consistency,” its team does not rest on laurels. “We are constantly looking back at Creole food and the roots of it, because we think it’s endless where we can go with it,” Martin said. “We keep looking for those things that were a part of the history of New Orleans cuisine, highlighting them and putting them together in new ways.”
“An Evening at Commander’s with Ti Martin.” Aug. 24. 6:30 p.m. cocktail reception, 7 p.m. dinner. $175 per person includes food, beverage and a signed copy of “Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace.” Restaurant Eugene, 2277 Peachtree Road, Atlanta, 404.355.0321, restauraunteugene.com.