Rebirth of a Tradition: Ted Brennan’s Decatur

Rebirth of a Tradition: Ted Brennan’s Decatur

by Sandra Scalise Juneau, photos by Anthony “Chopper” Leone

IN THIS CITY THAT EMBRACES rebirth with pizzazz, the return of Ted Brennan’s family to our fine dining scene in New Orleans is cause for celebration! At the helm of the newly opened Ted Brennan’s Decatur are siblings Bridget Brennan Tyrrell and Teddy Brennan, both of whom learned first-hand the nuances and fineness of Brennan restaurant traditions. Following in the footsteps of Owen Brennan, Bridget and Teddy’s grandfather, who founded the Brennan legacy, their father Theodore “Ted” Brennan, along with his brothers Owen “Pip” and Jimmy Brennan, were the principals who ran the Royal Street restaurant for decades, steering it through post-Katrina rebuilding, until the restaurant’s final closing in 2013.

Teddy and Bridget shared in their father’s initiative for developing Ted Brennan’s Decatur. Their collaborative effort began in 2014, but just like their Grandfather Owen, who died months before the realization of his dream, Brennan’s Restaurant on Royal Street, Ted Brennan did not live to see the new restaurant’s opening. With Teddy and Bridget holding firm to their heritage and blessed with assurance from their mother, Ellen Cohen Brennan, the opening of Ted Brennan’s Decatur is a tribute to their tenacity and a living testament to their father’s vision.

The intimate setting of the downstairs dining room is traditional café style; bentwood chairs and polished marble floor in classic black and white, accented by soft luminescence from overhead chandeliers, give the ambiance of a European bistro—until you open the menu and realize you are about to encounter the luscious flavor of true New Orleans cuisine. Just reading through the listing of delectable choices, you know you’re home with such classics as Turtle Soup, Trout Pecan, Eggs Hussarde and Bananas Foster Blangé, along with fresh tastes that celebrate our local bounty with delicious chic.
To Teddy and Bridget’s credit, what enlivens the restaurant’s tradition and truly sets it apart is the amazing team they have assembled. As Bridget explains, “Everyone here cares about our customers—the entire staff, from the kitchen to the waiters to the bar to the managers. Every member of our staff who came here with us from Royal Street is here out of loyalty to my dad. They loved him, so their job is more than just work; it is their career.”

Heading up the kitchen is Chef Lazone Randolph, who came aboard Brennan’s as busboy in 1965 and by 2005 was proclaimed Executive Chef at Brennan’s on Royal Street. Having trained under Chef Michael Roussel, who had been the protégé of the first chef at Brennan’s, revered Chef Paul Blangé, Chef Randolph insists on excellence from kitchen to table. He says, “This restaurant is a part of Louisiana. We take great pride in bringing our seafood directly from local waters to our table.”

According to Ellen Brennan, “Right out of college, Ted was set for opening Brennan’s in Dallas. Instead of hiring a European chef, he took New Orleans native Chef Lazone Randolph with him for continuity of recipes. Lazone stepped right up to the plate.”

As Chef Randolph explains, “After Katrina, when Brennan’s Dallas had closed, I was happy when I came back to New Orleans.” About developing the menu for Ted Brennan’s Decatur, he says, “In creating our identity, we worked with developing our menu from what had been successful at Brennan’s.”

Teddy adds, “From original dishes created at Brennan’s, we kept the best of the best.”

Growing up, both Bridget and Teddy worked in the restaurant, but as their mother Ellen insisted, “Their job was to get a good education!” Bridget recalls her early experience working for her dad and Uncle Jimmy, “I first started out helping in the office with accounting and bookkeeping. Then, with my law degree, I just eased into the management end of the business.”

As Teddy recalls, “I knew from the beginning I wanted to be in this restaurant business—even while working in the kitchen as a teenager. My dad started me out in the kitchen while I was just in high school. I learned everything from dishwashing to proper plating and eventually came to know the likes and dislikes of our customers. Back then, the kitchen staff used to tease me, saying, ‘Someday, you’ll be the one in the suit and tie running the show, telling us what to do!’ There was no AC in the kitchen then. It was Boot Camp!”

With a nod to their legacy, the restaurant Bridget and Teddy have created is stunningly organized—it’s a place where the business traveler can enjoy a full menu of specialties while comfortably seated at the bar, where locals can celebrate in the privacy of exquisitely appointed upstairs dining rooms, where drop-in diners can experience traditional New Orleans cuisine just steps away from Canal Street. While traditional in every sense, Ted Brennan’s Decatur sets the tone for dining in casual ease.

Separated from the downstairs dining area, the mirrored wall behind the bar expands the space with reflections of carriage lanterns, casting soft light onto the copper bar top, stretching its welcoming glow the entire length of the room. The second floor houses banquet space that can host five separate events but may be reconfigured as each event requires. The most intimate of these, the Wine Room, which accommodates from twelve to twenty guests, is staged with a massive original art rendering depicting vintage bottles of spirits from the fabled Wine Cellar. Ideal for larger receptions is the grandiose Patio Room, its bank of floor-to- ceiling windows overlooking the tropical foliage of a neighboring Vieux Carré patio.

Named to honor Chef Lazone Randolph, the stylishly appointed Randolph Room combines a touch of emerald with the elegance of softly polished pine floors, flooded by the natural light of a windowed wall set in antique brick, and graced with mirrored reflections of sparkling crystal chandeliers. Most reminiscent of gracious Southern hospitality are the adjoining Red Room and Gold Room. Individually, each has its distinctive character apropos its name. The rooms are separated by massive pocket doors, which when opened, extend the spaces for seamless flow of cocktails to seated dinner or for occasions of reception-style entertaining.

Rebuilding the award-winning Wine Cellar to the standard set by their Uncle Jimmy, is a goal for Bridget and Teddy. Jimmy Brennan’s passion was realized in his world-renowned collection of vintage wines. “He knew his stuff.” says Ellen Brennan. “That was his life.”

As Bridget remembers, “We were all devastated when the power outage following Katrina destroyed every bottle in the Wine Cellar, but Uncle Jimmy quickly set about to rebuilding the collection. He was my second dad.”

Bridget and Teddy reminisce about what it was like for them growing up in the “First Family of America’s Restaurants.” Bridget recalls, “In Louisiana, we live to eat—while eating lunch, we’re already speculating on what’s for dinner!” and says, “We went on vacations mainly to dine out, always with an eye open to watch and to critique each taste.”

Teddy concurs, “When we travelled, it was not just for going places; it was mainly to dine out and taste the various cuisines. I remember on a trip to Paris when I was 9 years old, I had my first taste of escargot. As the dish was presented to me at the table, I asked, ‘Bridget, have you ever eaten these?’ to which she answered, ‘Of course, they’re delicious!’ It wasn’t until much later that I found out she was testing me to see if I would survive this exotic dish before actually trying them herself!”

Grounded by their close relationship, Bridget and Teddy share more than just sibling shenanigans. Teddy emphatically states, “I always knew I wanted to be in the business with Bridget.” Their shared experience allows them to work together with common purpose. That, and the expertise of their loyal staff—like Chef Randolph and maître d’ Jorge Blanco, whose thirty-plus years with the Brennans presents poise in overseeing the “front of the house”—all combine to bring continuity to Ted Brennan’s Decatur.

Putting their stamp on the restaurant, Bridget and Teddy have created a menu that is fresh with innovative classics, like Crêpes Tyrrell, a luscious mélange of sour cream and cream cheese, with chocolate ganache, sweetened whipped cream and slivered almonds, enveloped in a feathery light crepe; or Eggs Érin Go Brágh, described as “poached eggs atop fried fresh trout, creamed spinach and finished with Hollandaise sauce.” According to Chef Randolph, “I have more creative freedom here in this kitchen to innovate my style of New Orleans cooking.”

About their legacy, Bridget says, “Growing up, we really took for granted how special all our foods were, like our Turtle Soup.”

Chef Randolph clarifies, “We put a different spin on our original Turtle Soup; it is thick and deliciously infused with rich layers of flavor.” He adds, “But butter is the soul of grits!”

Ellen Brennan wistfully recalls, “When Owen was alive, he was noted for his gracious personal touch; his charisma was legendary. Ted was so much like his father for how he catered to his customers; he was known for his congeniality and generosity. Ted Brennan lived by his creed, “Make our guests feel special while they are with us.”

Teddy adds, “I learned so much from my father. He always said, ‘Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family.’”