New Orleans, Louisiana’s best restaurants celebrate a decades-old holiday tradition.
Story by Erin Z. Bass
Photos by New Orleans & Company
Réveille, réveille! Wake up, wake up! Children in Louisiana Creole and French homes may have heard these words from their parents each morning, but during the holidays they took on a different meaning. The Creole holiday custom of the Réveillon dinner dates to the mid-1800s and began as a family tradition that has now evolved into a major dining experience in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Derived from the French word for ‘awakening,’ Réveillon was a long family meal served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. In Catholic-heavy New Orleans, almost the entire community would take part in this 2 a.m. feast that sometimes lasted until dawn. Families would arrive home from mass to a luxurious spread that had been prepared and laid out in advance. A Réveillon dinner menu might have included egg dishes, breads and puddings, turtle soup, oysters and gumbo. Of course, wine, brandy, and coffee were served as well.
By the turn of the century, Réveillon dinners were starting to be replaced by more Americanized holiday traditions, and by the 1940s they were all but extinct. The Réveillon tradition in New Orleans was “awakened” in the 1990s when restaurants agreed to offer a special holiday promotion designed to attract tourists during the low season. Now, 52 local restaurants serve “Réveillon Dinners” during the month of December. The list of participating restaurants includes some of the city’s oldest establishments, like Antoine’s and Commander’s Palace, to more contemporary restaurants and those located inside hotels.
While modern Réveillon dinners are served at more convenient dining times, the enduring customs and menus find inspiration in the original midnight meals. The latest iteration, Réveillon on the Rocks, has restaurants and bars creating holiday-themed cocktails to complement their menus.
For 2018, Commander’s Palace offers a seven-course Réveillon menu for $95, while other restaurants might stick to three-five courses with prices starting at just $30. The Rib Room in the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel is offering a Petite Reveillon of four courses for $22 that includes a holiday cocktail, stuffed potato skins, boneless beef short rib and New Orleans Pecan Pralines.
Whether you visit New Orleans during the Christmas holidays and book a table for a Réveillon dinner or decide to start your own tradition at home, rest assured you’ll awaken your culinary senses on Christmas Eve and hopefully share in a sense of community as well. To whet your appetite, here’s a peek at the Réveillon Menu at Upperline Restaurant.
Creole Gumbo, Turtle Soup au Sherry, Glass of Madeira Wine with Spiced Pecans
Original Field Green Tomato with Shrimp Remoulade, Crispy Louisiana Oysters Sainte Claude, Duck and Andouille Etouffée with Louisiana Pepper Jelly, Watercress, Stilton and Pecan Salad
Sauteed Fish Meunière with Crabmeat, Grilled Fish Piquant with Hot Shrimp, Slow Roasted Duckling with Garlic Port or Ginger Peach Sauce, Rack of Lamb with Madeira Mint
Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée Honey-Pecan Bread Pudding with Toffee Sauce, Louisiana Pecan Pie with Chantilly Cream, Brandy Alexander or Irish Coffee
Plan A Trip
December is a great time to visit New Orleans. Not only do restaurants offer Réveillon dinners, but hotels have deals as well, and holiday festivities include parades, caroling in Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral and St. Augustine Church Concerts, Holiday Home Tours, Bonfires on the Levee, holiday lights, shopping and an ice skating rink.