The Bon Ton Café
In Downtown New Orleans
The flickering gas lights and canvas canopy that announce the entrance to the Bon Ton Café are the first hints to an experience in dining that has almost vanished in our fast-paced lives.
Housed in the historical 1840’s Natchez building, within earshot of boat whistles on the Mississippi, its checkered red and white tablecloths, wrought-iron chandeliers and soft-brick walls create an atmosphere to enjoy Cajun food prepared stylishly from original family recipes. Combined with the down-home friendliness of the staff, dining at the Bon Ton often becomes an event long-remembered.
Originally opened in the early 1900’s, it has long been a favorite of local dining connoisseurs. After a brief recess, Al and Alzina Pierce came to New Orleans in the early 1950’s from their home along the bayous of South Louisiana and reopened the Bon Ton. With them came recipes that their families had created while living deep in the Cajun country of Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes.
Armed with these recipes, they opened one of the first restaurants in New Orleans to challenge the city’s renowned Creole cooking with authentic Cajun cuisine that depends heavily on foods from Louisiana’s bayous and the Gulf of Mexico. Once found only in the kitchens along those bayous, dishes such as crawfish etouffée, crawfish bisque, shrimp and oyster jambalaya, now appeared on a restaurant table. Other Bon Ton specialties made with lump crabmeat, oysters, crawfish and soft shell crabs began to pamper New Orleans diners—one of the world’s most critical group of gourmets.
Adding to the nostalgia of Cajun lore are two specialties of the house prepared as only the Bon Ton knows how - its famed Rum Ramsey cocktail adapted from a recipe handed down from the early 1900’s and known only to the owners, and its Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce that is so delicious it verges on being wicked.
Today, the traditions started by Al and Alzina Pierce continue under their nephew, Wayne Pierce, who trained under them, and his wife Debbie. Since 1967, Wayne and Debbie have guarded those traditions so well they have gained recognition of the Bon Ton by many international culinary societies and have been covered extensively in gourmet, travel and leisure publications and in newspaper columns.
Restaurant critics are amazed that the Bon Ton maintains its great popularity though it is open only Monday through Friday for lunch from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and for dinner, with reservations strongly recommended from 5 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Exceptions are made on weekends for private parties scheduled in advance.
The Bon Ton’s ambience and cuisine flow from the uncrushable joie de vivre of the Cajun people. When they were thrown into bitter exile from their home in Maritime, Canada, they found themselves cast away in a desolate wilderness along the bayous of what is now Louisiana. Instead of languishing, they snapped back to a cheerful life and used their native courage and initiative to turn the humble foods the wilderness offered into one of the world's most delightful cuisines.