This story appeared in the June issue of the PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door each month? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
A new restaurant and seafood bar has opened its doors in a centuries-old French Quarter building, putting a new twist on traditional New Orleans cuisine. A self-proclaimed “culinary salute to Louisiana heritage and culture,” The Governor Restaurant & Seafood Bar at 301 Chartres St. boasts a local seafood-centric menu while paying homage to Huey Long and other colorful characters of Louisiana’s political past. The restaurant is the most recent endeavor of Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, a quickly growing restaurant hospitality group that is family-owned and operated.
While searching for a location for its newest restaurant, the group was instantly drawn to the stately historic building at the corner of Chartres and Bienville streets just steps away from Kingfish, another Huey Long-era inspired restaurant opened by Creole Cuisine in 2013. “We fell in love with the architecture of the building,” said Zeid Ammari, vice president of Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts. “Every building in the French Quarter has its own story, and we felt like it represented a unique history.” Over its 188-year history, it has held a variety of commercial uses — including a cigar manufacturer in the late 1800s — and most recently a bank.
The site is home to several notable New Orleans events, even prior to the current building’s construction in 1830. A historic marker indicates that the site was the first home of the Ursuline nuns after their arrival to New Orleans in 1727. They lived in a building on the property for several years while waiting for their convent (currently the oldest surviving building in New Orleans, located at 1100 Chartres St.) to be built. Following the nun’s relocation to the convent, the first Charity Hospital was founded on the site.
The bank, which operated out of the current building just prior to the new ownership, was renovated to adapt the space for restaurant use. Preserving the historic features that first attracted them to the building was a high priority of the restaurant group. “Some things are beautiful the way they are, and just need to be polished or get a fresh coat of paint,” said Ammari. SCNZ Architects and design firm Chrestia Staub Pierce worked with the group to polish the space, working closely with the Vieux Carré Commission to ensure a historically appropriate renovation. The building’s exterior was kept intact, and cracks and weather damage in the facade were repaired. Also repaired was the spacious wrap-around balcony with stunning views of the French Quarter — now used for outdoor seating — that had deteriorated from decades of weather exposure. On the interior, the new space was adorned with black and white hexagonal tile floors, marble countertops, whitewashed brick walls and cheeky murals of Huey Long and other famous historical Louisiana political figures.
In addition to the decor, the menu items at The Governor pay homage to the characters of Louisiana’s political past while emphasizing fresh, locally sourced seafood and produce. Small plates on the “Share the Wealth” menu include specialties like gulf shrimp and crab cakes. Small seafood plates include a variety of raw and baked gulf oysters, Louisiana blue crab claws and local Choupique caviar. Several sandwiches and poboys are on the menu as main courses, and entrées put a new twist on classic dishes — including Shrimp Clémenceau, a traditional Creole chicken dish that The Governor substitutes with fresh gulf shrimp.
The restaurant also serves “power brunch” all day, with dishes like Eggs Pontchartrain (crab and shrimp cakes with a poached egg) and Eggs Bayou Lafourche (blackened shrimp with sautéed vegetables, a poached egg and a house-made rémoulade hollandaise). Specialty cocktails include libations like the Ballot Bloody Mary, the Filibuster — made with black rum and dark roast coffee — and the Landslide Gin Fizz.
Click images to expand. Photos by Liz Jurey