Robert St. John column

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 8, 2007

Daughter’s birthday request lands St. Johns in New Orleans

By Robert St. John

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My daughter turned ten years old last week.

To celebrate her decade on the planet she asked to be taken to New Orleans to eat breakfast, lunch, and shop (not necessarily in that order).

The moment she mentioned breakfast I knew exactly where to take her. Chef John Besh has opened yet another restaurant — Luke. Actually it’s “Luke” with two of those uber dots over the “u” but I don’t know how to make those show up on my computer. So for this column’s sake, it’s just plain Luke.

Besh — the busiest man in the restaurant business — fresh off of his James Beard award winning year as “Best Chef Southeast,” owns and operates restaurant August, one of the South’s most acclaimed restaurants. He also owns and operates the Besh Steak in the Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans, and recently purchased the North Shore stalwart — La Provence — from the late Chef Chris Kerageorgiou. Now Besh has opened Luke at the newly renovated Hilton New Orleans on St. Charles between Canal and Poydras Streets where he is serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, room service, and banquets.

Hilton just finished an $11 million spruce up of the Hotel Monaco. The original building was a Masonic Temple in the mid 1920s and was the second high rise structure in the Central Business District. The space that restaurant Luke occupies, most recently housed one of Chef Susan Spicer’s offspring restaurants — Cobalt.

Besh quietly opened Luke in mid April. It has been on my to-do list for three weeks. I was glad my daughter helped make the choice for me.

Luke is a brasserie and the atmosphere is mostly authentic, though it looks slightly rushed, as if the design team was working quickly to meet a deadline. Daily newspapers are casually draped over brass rails throughout the dining room. The new floor and ceiling add to the authentic “feel” of a well-established restaurant in this country’s most European city, but the bar is newly constructed and not nearly as ornate as one would expect in a dining room of the target era to which Luke aspires. Luke’s decorator would have done better purchasing an authentic antique bar at auction (and more comfortable chairs).

Being new, Luke hasn’t earned the worn look of most restaurants of the same caliber in and around the French Quarter. However, what Luke lacks in atmosphere, it more than makes up in food. Based on my visit, and after only one month of business, Luke might be serving the best breakfast in the city.

My entrée consisted of two perfectly poached eggs with shrimp, andouille sausage, and tomato gravy over biscuits. I ordered a rasher of Allan Benton’s bacon to accompany my entrée, and became instantly grateful that I live 90 miles away from a restaurant that serves breakfast of that caliber.

Actually, my gratitude was two-fold in that I felt fortunate to be within driving distance, but also grateful that the distance precludes me from eating breakfast at Luke every day (I might). My waistline and cholesterol level couldn’t take a daily dose of food that good, though I would die trying.

The andouille is made by Jacob’s World Famous Andouille and Sausage on Airline Highway in La Place ( ) and might be the finest example of that sausage variety available. I have eaten Jacob’s andouille on several occasions, but never at breakfast. It tastes great always. It tastes better at breakfast.

My wife ordered an omelet made with Benton’s bacon, spinach, and wild mushrooms and cleaned her plate. My son ordered pancakes with a side of bacon, and halfway through the meal proclaimed, “Daddy, this bacon’s the bomb!” In six-year old speak, that means it’s really good.

The birthday girl ordered the Southern Breakfast with two organic eggs, scrambled, smoked ham, grits, and a biscuit. She cleaned her plate.

When the summer schedules become more manageable, I plan to make a few culinary road trips just to eat breakfast and drive back home. Breakfast at Luke is that good.

Though breakfast is excellent, lunch is Luke’s busiest day part, and one might want to make reservations a few days ahead of time. August was already serving the best dinner in New Orleans. Now Luke is offering the best breakfast. Not an easy feat in one of the nation’s top food cities.

This most recent addition to the Besh restaurant empire is notable to me because breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Luke will most certainly be around for many years to come.

(For this week’s recipe, grillades and grits, go to the blog on

Robert St.John is an author, chef, restaurateur, and world-class eater. He is the author of “A Southern Palate,” “Deep South Staples,” “Nobody’s Poet,” “My South,” and the newly released “Deep South Parties.” He can be reached at .)