As many times as we have visited New Orleans we had never eaten at the legendary Dooky Chase Restaurant.
I was determined to rectify that on this trip. So on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 we crossed it off our “Bucket List”! In order to fully understand why it was so important to me you need to know a bit of background history of Dooky Chase’s.
Dooky Chase’s Restaurant opened for business in 1941 in what was previously a sandwich shop and lottery ticket outlet established in 1939 in Treme. Founded by Emily and Edgar “Dooky” Chase Sr. the restaurant soon became a meeting place for music and entertainment, civil rights and culture in New Orleans.
By the time his father was reaching his peak as an entrepreneur, Dooky Jr. was 16 and already well know for his 16 piece transitional swing to modern jazz band. At the time, in 1944, Dooky’s band with his sister Doris as vocalist was the most progressive in the South. They played the bebop sounds of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Dooky Jr. possessed his father’s entrepreneurial spirit and at 19 promoted the first racially integrated concert at the Municipal Auditorium.
Dooky Chase’s Restaurant had become the hot spot for discussing civil and economic rights in the African-American community. Thurgood Marshall along with local attorneys and freedom fighters propelled civil rights and protests in the courts and on the streets of New Orleans. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others joined these local leaders for strategy sessions over meals in the upstairs meeting room at the restaurant.
Edgar Dooky Chase, Jr. married Leah Lange in 1946. Through Leah Chase’s vision the bar and sandwich shop “grew into a sit-down restaurant wrapped within a cultural environment of African-American art and Creole cooking”. She became known as the Queen of Creole cuisine and introduced one of the first African-American fine dining restaurants in the country. Combining her delicious Creole food with African-American art she created a showcase that became the first art gallery for black artists in New Orleans.
After Hurricane Katrina Dooky’s was closed for two years to rebuild. But with the help of many it reopened and remains the premier restaurant of authentic Creole cuisine. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant is still family owned and operated. They enjoy serving their regulars, tourists, locals, politicians, musicians, visual artists and literary giants. They have had the pleasure of serving both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, Hank Aaron, Ernest Gaines, Bill Cosby, Quincy Jones and a long list of others including Steve and me.
Sadly Dooky Chase, Jr. passed away in November 2016. But Leah Chase still cooks everyday at the young age of 94!
As Steve and I waited to be seated I looked around at the wonderful artwork and photographs. Our excitement kept building as we were handed our menus by one of Chef Leah’s daughters. Before deciding on our lunch options I got the gumption to ask is Chef Leah was in the kitchen. My hopes of meeting her were dashed when I was told that she had gone to a doctor’s appointment. And then much to my surprise she added that she would be right back after and would love to meet me!
I could hardly contain me excitement but managed to devour my fabulous meal. We started by sharing a big bowl of Gumbo happy that we listened when we were told sharing a cup would not be enough. Lovely fresh salads came out next and then the best Fried Chicken we have ever eaten. The crunch of the crust and the juiciness of the chicken were sublime. And we even had dessert that came with our lunch.
It was quite a huge lunch that I will never forget because what followed lunch was truly the icing on the cake. We went back to the kitchen to meet Chef Leah Chase. She was so warm and delightful and adorable in her hot pink chef coat. I gave her my card and could not believe her response. She told me that she was proud of me!!! Can you imagine that? She said that writing about food is so vital because I am educating the world about the importance of food. Mind blown.
Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
2301 Orleans Avenue
New Orleans LA 70119