In existence before “New Orleans” even bore its name, and having served as a Spanish armory, Tujague’s restaurant has survived decades of war, depression, fire and plague to bring you a tradition of culinary excellence undiminished today.
Prosperity had never smiled more broadly on New Orleans than it did in the period when Tujague’s first opened its doors. The city’s growth during the 1850’s was immense, and, for European emigrants in search of success in the New World, opportunity was everywhere for the taking.
Guillaume and Marie Abadie Tujague took this advantage in 1852 when they married and set sail for America from Bordeaux France. Guillaume Tujague became a butcher in the French Market for three years before they established Tujague’s Restaurant in 1856. They began by serving breakfast and lunch to the dock workers, market laborers and seamen who crowded that part of the riverfront. The South was still recovering from the Civil War, but Tujague’s never missed serving a meal!
The lunches were seven course affairs, but tradition says the reputation of Tujague’s from the beginning was built on two dishes – a piquant remoulade sauce flavoring spicy cold shrimp, and succulent chunks of beef brisket boiled with aromatic vegetables and served with a horseradish sauce.
Already 56 years old, horse and buggies still traveled on cobblestone streets outside of the restaurant, although an occasional automobile would be seen. Inside, a beer was only 4 cents.
Sometime before Guilliaume Tujague died in 1912, he sold the restaurant to Phlibert Guichet, who had come to work there from Guichetville, a community near Raceland in Lafourche Parish. Tujague’s closest competition always had been Begue’s, a few doors up Decatur at the corner of Madison. The proprietor-chef there was the legendary Elizabeth Kettenring Dutreuil Begue, a Bavarian emigrant who had been cooking for the French Market crowd since 1863.
In 1906, Madame Begue, died and her restaurant was taken over by her daughter and son-in-law, the Anouilles. One of the employees at Madame Begue’s was Jean-Dominic Castet, who had come to New Orleans from France in 1905. Castet and Philibert Buichet decided to join forces, and in 1914 they bought Elizabeth Begue’s restaurant from her now-widowed daughter and hung out a new sign reading “Tujague’s”.
Latter has resurrected many of the restaurants culinary traditions…
And Tujague’s it’s been for the past 72 years. For Older New Orleanians, the person most closely identified with Tujague’s was the industrious Clemence Castet, Jean-Cominic’s widow. Until her death in 1969, she ruled the dining room and the kitchen with an iron hand, often bringing food to the tables herself. After Clemence Castet’s death, the Guichet family retained ownership of Tujague’s until 1982, when New Orleans businessman Steven Latter took it over. Latter has painstakingly researched the restaurant’s history to restore it to its early state. In the dining room and the connecting saloon, with a bar brought from France in 1856, Latter also has covered the walls with photos, clippings and other memorabilia relating to the history of Tujague’s. Latter has resurrected many of the restaurant’s culinary traditions as well. Today, the customers are still served several traditional Tujague’s specialties – shrimp remoulade, beef brisket with horseradish, “cap” bread (a Tujague’s original) and dark coffee in shot glasses.
Tujague’s became a recognized local institution. But, New Orleans could never keep a good thing to herself. Inevitably, the pleasures of Tujague’s were shared with visitors. Presidents – Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, France’s De Gaulle – have enjoyed Tujague’s hospitality. The guest book include such notables as Cole Porter, O. Henry, Diane Sawyer, Don Johnson, Harrison Ford, Margot Kidder, Dan Akroyd, Ty Cobb, John D. Rockefeller and other well-known personalities whose claim to distinction rests simply and appropriately on their appreciation of fine food.