New Orleans has lost a legend today: Miss Ella Brennan, grand dame of the city’s restaurant scene, died this morning, at age 92. Brennan was not a chef herself, but her footprint in the NOLA restaurant scene cannot be understated.
Brennan got her start with Owen Brennan’s Vieux Carré, taking the reigns after the founder (her brother) Owen Brennan died at 45.
Ella Brennan took over Commander’s Palace in 1974, reinvigorating a landmark restaurant that had opened nearly a century earlier. Brennan wrote a memoir in 2016 — I Don’t Want a Restaurant Where a Jazz Band Can’t Come Marching Through — a title which accurately describes the vibe at the restaurant under her watch. Brennan introduced the idea of jazz brunch (which has, obviously, spread across the nation) and meals had a general party (and fine-dining) vibe there. She was even the subject of a Netflix original documentary last year.
Commander’s Palace is also known for launching the careers of many, including Emeril Lagasse.
Ella Brennan’s mark on food culture isn’t just seen in New Orleans — as one of the creators of bananas foster, which came to her in the ‘50s, her ideas can be tasted worldwide.
“The impact that Miss Ella had on New Orleans is immeasurable,” said a restaurant group representative via email. “She broke every boundary that she came up against, opening restaurants during a time when female ownership was unprecedented, and fostered an incredible sense of community in each kitchen and dining room that she touched.”
The iconic Commander’s Palace sign will go dark tonight in mourning.