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The Dobos torte and the New Orleans doberge cake are both classic layered desserts with rich histories and distinct cultural significance. Here's a detailed look at their origins, development, and connection.

The Dobos torte, also known as Dobos torta, is a Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with a thin layer of caramel. It was created by Hungarian pastry chef József C. Dobos in 1884. The cake was a sensation at the time because of its novel use of buttercream, which was not widely known. Most cakes at that time used whipped cream, which was less stable. The caramel topping was designed to prevent the cake from drying out, adding both flavor and a unique texture.

The cake gained widespread popularity after its introduction at the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885. Dobos traveled throughout Europe to promote his cake, making it popular among the elite and even royalty. Its durability and ability to keep well without refrigeration made it a preferred dessert for many years.

The Doberge cake is a New Orleans adaptation of the Dobos torte. It was created by Beulah Ledner, a baker of Hungarian descent, in the 1930s. Ledner modified the original Dobos torte recipe to suit American tastes and local preferences, and renamed it "doberge" to give it an air of French-ness.

The doberge cake typically consists of multiple thin layers of cake filled with a custard (chocolate, lemon, or other flavors) rather than the chocolate buttercream used in Dobos torte. The cake is often covered with a thin layer of buttercream and a poured fondant icing, which gives it a smooth finish. It is known for being extremely moist and rich, much like the original Dobos torte but with a distinctly Southern twist.

Beulah Ledner's bakery and her recipes became well-known, and the cake remains a beloved part of the city's culinary heritage. Today, bakeries in New Orleans still celebrate the tradition of doberge cakes, with variations that honor Ledner's original adaptation.

Chocolate and lemon are probably the two most popular flavors of doberge cakes. Most bakeries offer a half and half version to satisfy the many doberge fans who just can't make up their minds.

The connection between the Dobos torte and the doberge cake lies in their shared Hungarian roots and the adaptation process that transformed a European classic into a New Orleans staple. Both cakes are celebrated for their layered structure, rich fillings, and decadent taste, showcasing the versatility and enduring appeal of layered cakes across different cultures and eras.

In summary, the Dobos torte's innovative use of chocolate buttercream and caramel led to its prominence in Europe, while Beulah Ledner's adaptation of this cake into the doberge cake brought a beloved dessert to New Orleans, blending European elegance with Southern flavors.

The Dobash torte from Hawaii is another fascinating twist in the lineage of the Dobos torte, reflecting the cultural and culinary influences of the islands. Local baker Robert Taira had allegedly discovered the Dobos torte on a trip to Europe. The original owner and founder of King's Bakery, Taira adapted a recipe and created his own variation.

The Hawaiian Dobash torte is characterized by its lighter and more airy texture compared to the original Dobos torte. Instead of the rich chocolate buttercream used in the Dobos torte or the custard fillings in the New Orleans doberge cake, the Dobash torte typically features a chocolate pudding-like filling and frosting, which is lighter and smoother. The cake layers are usually a simple, moist sponge cake, which complements the delicate chocolate filling. The Hawaiian Dobash traditionally has fewer layers than the Dobos torte or Ledner's doberge.

The Dobash torte has become a beloved dessert in Hawaii, often enjoyed during celebrations and special occasions. It exemplifies the Hawaiian approach to cuisine, which often involves adapting and blending elements from various cultures to create unique, localized dishes.

The journey from Dobos torte to Dobash torte involves a process of simplification and modification, making the dessert more suited to the palates and preferences of the local population. In Hawaii, this meant creating a lighter and less rich version, three layers or fewer, that could be more easily enjoyed in a tropical climate.

The Dobash torte is a testament to how classic European desserts can evolve and find new expressions in different parts of the world. It highlights the adaptability of the Dobos torte concept, showing how a single dessert can inspire a variety of delightful and regionally distinct cakes.

The Dobash torte from Hawaii is a delicious offshoot of the original Hungarian Dobos torte, much like the New Orleans doberge cake. Each version maintains the essence of the layered cake but adapts the details to fit regional tastes and ingredients. The Hawaiian Dobash torte, with its lighter texture and pudding-like chocolate filling, is a perfect example of how traditional recipes can evolve and flourish in new environments, contributing to the rich tapestry of global culinary traditions.

Trivia: In New Orleans, the locals often call doberge cakes "dobash". Whether there's a Hawaiian connection or just a coincidental mispronunciation is uncertain.

Gone, But Not Forgotten: 

P.O.E.T.S. was a Fat City institution in the 1970s. Opened in 1974 on Arnoult Rd, the setup mimicked that of other casual dining chains proliferating at the time, except that it wasn't a chain restaurant. A wrap-around four-sided bar was positioned centrally and raised a few steps above a gallery with tables overlooking an even lower level. Interior finishing was primarily dark woods and brass railings, and accented by curios and antiques. Sounds like a TGI Friday's? Well, that was the idea.

Even the name P.O.E.T.S. was a take on T.G.I.F. (Thank God It's Friday), except P.O.E.T.S. allegedly stood for "Piss On Everything, Tomorrow's Saturday". (The logo featured a dog on its hind legs behind a fire hydrant.) Creative, if not a tad crude.

P.O.E.T.S. was owned and operated by Ernie Masson, Jr. who, along with his brother Albert, had founded one of the most famous of old New Orleans restaurants, Masson's Beach House (later Restaurant Francais). That establishment's low building with its white clapboard siding and red awnings stood in a corner of the West End near the intersection of Pontchartrain Blvd. and Robert E. Lee Blvd. (since renamed Allen Toussaint Blvd.).

P.O.E.T.S. menu offerings were a bit more ambitious than others of its type. Entree names sounded more like what you would have seen on the menu at Masson's than at a soup, salad and sandwich place. It had Ernie's Cordon Bleu credentials to thank for that.

After 9pm, P.O.E.T.S. would switch gears and become a night club with dancing until after midnight.

Perhaps inspired by the success of next door neighbor The Godfather and other nighteries in the vicinity, Ernie's son D.J. Masson at one point tried his hand in the business with an "24 and over" lounge in a space with a separate entrance on the left side of the P.O.E.T.S. building. At the time, legal drinking age in Louisiana was still 18, and it seemed like such a place would appeal to people with a little bit more maturity, and probably a little more money to spend.

Those who heard D.J. called by his nickname, which sounded like "Doobie", might have thought it a drug reference, a la The Doobie Brothers, but in reality it was just short for his first name, Dubos, a family name on his mother's side. A long term career in the family business was not to be, however, as the young man went on to earn an MBA and a Ph.D. in finance.

Sometime in late 1978 or early 1979, P.O.E.T.S. was transformed into Ernie's Restaurant. The heyday of Fat City was already in the rearview mirror, and Ernie's catered to a more mature crowd, frequently hosting dinners for private parties, local businesses and organizations. Ernie's survived for a decade but was forced into bankruptcy and its entire contents liquidated at auction in 1989.

After Ernie's closed, the building was occupied by non-restaurant type businesses including a dry cleaner, a cash register sales company and, for many years now, an art supply store.

POETS Restaurant & Saloon: American, 3020 N Arnoult Rd, Metairie (Metairie Above Causeway) - 887-9491 (do not call) - map

Masson's Restaurant Francais: French, 7200 Pontchartrain Blvd, New Orleans (Lakeview) - 283-2525 (do not call) map

Gone, But Not Forgotten: 

The Morning Call Coffee Stand in New Orleans' French Quarter has a rich history that dates back to the late 19th century. It was originally established in 1870 by Joseph Jurisich, a Croatian immigrant, who opened a coffee stand at the French Market. The stand quickly became a popular gathering spot for locals and visitors alike, known for its strong coffee and beignets. The facade at the roofline proclaimed it to be "New Orleans' Most Famous Coffee Drinking Place".

In the early days, the coffee stand served as a hub of social activity, where people would gather to discuss news, politics, and business over cups of coffee. The atmosphere was lively and bustling, reflecting the vibrant culture of New Orleans.

Banks of mirrors over the counters lit by bare bulbs made the narrow space feel much larger. The look would be replicated in future iterations of the shop.

A distinguishing feature was the large silver sugar bowls lining the marble counters. Occasional thefts would lead to their being chained together. They would eventually be replaced by traditional glass sugar shakers.

Over the years, the Morning Call Coffee Stand grew in popularity and became a beloved institution in the French Quarter. Its location at the French Market, a historic marketplace in New Orleans, contributed to its visibility and accessibility to both locals and tourists. Much like another New Orleans institution, the Hummingbird Grill, patrons from all walks of life sat elbow-to-elbow at the counters, socialites in ball gowns and dock workers in dungarees alike.

T-P Weekly Business Bulletin, Visitors' Guide, February 1939

Carhops were employed for drive-up service in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Children of that era share memories of late evening pajama-clad trips to the Morning Call.

In 1974, the original French Market location of Morning Call closed down due to extensive renovations in the market area inhibiting traffic. Owner Al Jurisich complained that ongoing construction in the area had severely impacted his business, and, even though given preferential treatment on renewing his lease, he declined to do so.

The stand was reopened in a new location on the edge of the up-and-coming Fat City entertainment district in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. Critics of the decision claimed Jurisich's business would have tripled if he had just held out until the Market renovations were finished, but he was not to be convinced.

Local restaurateur Ernie Masson obtained a lease on the original French Market space in late 1974 and opened Cafe Maison, a coffee shop serving cafe au lait and beignets just as Morning Call did (allegedly a stipulation in the lease). Masson's new venture would be managed by Ronald "Snow" Lenfant, whose family's restaurant Lenfant's had operated on Canal Boulevard for decades.

In 2012, Morning Call expanded, opening a new location in New Orleans City Park. In 2018, the Metairie location closed, with owners citing increasing rents and a change in area competition.

Morning Call was left homeless for a time when, in 2019, it lost the City Park location lease in a public bid process to longtime French Quarter competitor Cafe du Monde. In 2021, it would return in a new development established several blocks away at the corner of Canal Boulevard and City Park Avenue.

Although the original location is fifty years gone, Morning Call continues to be a cherished destination for locals and tourists seeking traditional New Orleans coffee and beignets. The history and legacy of the coffee stand reflect the enduring appeal of New Orleans' culinary traditions and cultural heritage.

Morning Call Coffee Stand: Coffee/Dessert, 1000 Decatur, New Orleans (French Quarter) - map

Morning Call Coffee Stand: Dessert/Ice Cream, 3325 Severn Ave, Metairie (Metairie Above Causeway) map

Restaurants: Where Locals Eat: 

Byblos Market, on Veterans Blvd. between Bonnabel and Causeway in Metairie, is the second of four iterations of the local Byblos franchise. The Market has been open continuously since 1999. The first is a white tablecloth version not far away on Metairie Road. The third, located on Magazine St in New Orleans, closed in 2012. The fourth, a more modern and trendier casual eatery opened on the periphery of Elmwood Shopping Center in 2020.

In addition to popular gyro and shawarma plates and wraps, more ambitious offerings at the Market include kafta and chicken kabob, beef (filet) kabob, and, when available, grilled shrimp or salmon cooked to order. The chicken kabob is a must-try (ask for some "toum" garlic sauce to go with).

All plates are served with hummus, pita, rice pilaf and salad. Wraps include hummus, pita and salad.

A variety of sides including mujadrah (lentil stew), mousaka (eggplant stew), baba ganouj, kibbeh, falafel, roasted cauliflower and brussells sprouts, spanikopita and many more are offered individually or as a choice-of-four plate.

A wide selection of bottled and canned soft drinks, as well as fresh brewed iced tea are available.

Of the three current Byblos outposts, the Market is the most casual, offering counter service and meals served on disposable dinnerware. The Market is a popular lunch spot. Take out and delivery (via Uber Eats) are available. Orders for gyro and shawarma plates are ready for pick up in fairly short order. The prepared-to-order dishes like salmon, shrimp and kabobs take a little bit longer.

The market portion fills roughly 40 percent of the space, and features imported Middle Eastern staple grocery items, seasonings, beverages and confections. Dairy and perishable items are available from the refrigerated section on the back wall. A selection of wines is also available, as are (oddly, or maybe not) hookah water pipes and smoking accessories.

All is overseen by long-time manager Mason (an Americanization of his actual first name) who has been keeping things running smoothly since the beginning.

Byblos Market: Middle Eastern, 2020 Veterans Blvd, Metairie (Metairie Below Causeway) map - 837-9777

Gone, But Not Forgotten: 

The Red Caboose was a novelty theme restaurant opened in Metairie's Fat City district in 1972. Its structure consisted of an actual train caboose and boxcars connected together by enclosed passageways. Entrance was made via a "terminal" connecting the caboose lounge and the dimly lit boxcar dining rooms.

Steak and prime rib were the specialties of the house. Like a lot of places of the day, a dinner consisting of prime rib, baked potato and "a trip to the salad bar" would set you back $4.95.

The illustration on the matchbook cover (above) showed an idealized version set in an open field surrounded by trees. In reality, the restaurant was shoehorned into a narrow lot just like everything else in Fat City.

Red Caboose was more or less a copy of another restaurant in the French Quarter called Victoria Station, and was yet another venture hoping to capitalize on the popularity the Fat City district was enjoying in the 1970s. A second iteration was established across the river in Gretna, which lasted until 1978.

The Red Caboose in Fat City survived until about 1979. Before the train cars were removed, the site was briefly home to a travel agency. Today, the "depot" still stands, its red brick painted a dull beige. Only those who remember The Red Caboose know what it once was.

Red Caboose: Steak, 3100 N Arnoult Rd, Metairie (Metairie Above Causeway) - 889-0330 (do not call) map

Gone, But Not Forgotten: 

Cafe Maison was established in 1974 in the French Quarter spot that had been home to the Morning Call Coffee Stand, which had famously served cafe au lait and beignet there for over a century.

The French Market Corporation had undertaken massive construction and renovation of the French Market in an effort to update it into a tourist attraction. The upheaval was so impactful on the Morning Call's business that the owner could no longer sustain the losses, and he decided to pull up stakes and move to suburban Metairie.

A lease on the vacated space was awarded, somewhat controversially, to local restaurateur Ernie Masson. A stipulation in the lease required any new venture occupying the space to continue to serve cafe au lait and beignet just as the Morning Call had done.

The cafe was originally to be called Cafe Au Lait, but another party, coincidentally an unsuccessful bidder on the lease, had already registered the name. Owner Ernie Masson might have chosen Cafe Maison not only because it (albeit incorrectly) translated to "coffee house" in French, but also because its "CM" monogram could just as easily be read "MC" (Morning Call). Masson would select another longtime veteran of the New Orleans restaurant business, Ronald "Snow" Lenfant, as general manager.

The space was built out entirely new, with no resemblance to the old Morning Call. Gone were the marble counters and fixed stools, replaced by small round tables and bent wire-backed ice cream parlor chairs.

...continue reading "Cafe Maison"
Gone, But Not Forgotten: 

Pancho's Mexican Buffet, with 21 restaurants already operating in the Southwest, opened a new outlet in late 1971 at 918 Gravier Street in the Central Business District. For those with a big appetite, a small budget, and a taste for Mexican food that wasn't just tacos and burritos, the words "all you can eat buffet" were magic.

918 Gravier had previously been home to a Morrison's Cafeteria. It took little to transform it into a two-story Mexican villa courtyard with a simulated starlit night sky ceiling. And by little, I mean next to nothing, really, since it looked that way when it was Morrison's.

The customer line formed behind the wraparound villa facade which served two purposes: when you entered, you wouldn't immediately see how long the line was, and seated diners could enjoy their meals without those waiting in line staring daggers at them to hurry up and vacate a table.

As you progressed along the buffet (a cafeteria line, really), you could either request items you knew the names of, or just point and grunt at what ever looked good. Flautas, chile rellenos, enchiladas, refried beans, rice, meaty red or green chile stews, and finally tacos, most likely an accommodation for younger diners. Hot line items were plated up on those rectangular sizzle servers with the pre-heated metal inserts.

Since getting back in line for refills was not logistically feasible, each table had a small metal stand with a Mexican flag. Ready for more of anything? Raise the flag and a server would come to assist you.

Once you were reasonably full, it was prudent to save room for sopapillas. Hopefully , there would be a fresh batch ready just about the time you were. Sopapillas are kind of like beignets but puffier, hollow in fact. The best way to eat them was to bite off a small corner, then drizzle honey from a small pitcher on each table into it. Make a little rolling motion with your hand to coat the inside, and enjoy!

In the Summer of 1974, another Pancho's opened in Metairie on Veterans Boulevard, in Rosedale Mall. Smaller than the downtown outlet, it thankfully offered a more convenient location as well as plenty of free parking.

This Pancho's, despite similar decor, lacked the ambiance and charm of the Downtown version. Those seated in booths along the left side might have indeed felt the stares of those waiting in line through the decorative plastic ivy. There were also what I could only characterize as medieval-looking chandeliers. Big, dark and cylindrical, I swear the dozens of amber glass "lenses" in them were those square ashtrays prevalent in restaurants back before smoking was banned.

A fixture for years at the Metairie Pancho's was a server name Rosa. Savvy diners would always try to get a table in her section, a nod to her seasoned and almost intuitive service when it came to refills of food and drink. And sopapillas.

I last encountered Rosa post-Katrina in 2005 waitressing at the Denny's on Clearview Parkway in Elmwood, thirty years after first being served by her at Pancho's. Imagine the shock to years later see a newspaper report mentioning her still working in 2021 at 2 Amigos in Kenner, an operation similar to Pancho's run by some former employees.

The Gravier Street location closed in 1981. By that time, a third had been opened at 6575 Westbank Expressway, but only lasted a few years.

A fourth would open in Chalmette in 1986, and lasted a little over a decade. The location would subsequently be home to a country and western bar, and later a funeral home.

In 2009, four years after the demise of the Veterans location, Pancho's Mexican "Super Buffet" opened on Labarre Road at Airline Highway, and legions of fans who missed it came in droves. But perhaps the nostalgia just wasn't enough to sustain it long-term, and it closed in 2012, following the shuttering of two other Louisiana locations.

Pancho's Mexican Buffet: Mexican, 918 Gravier, (CBD) - map

Pancho's Mexican Buffet: Mexican, 3780 Veterans Blvd, (Metairie Above Causeway) - map

Gone, But Not Forgotten: 

Lobster Kadobster was a dish invented at T. Pittari's, a restaurant on South Claiborne Avenue famous for serving exotic game meats. Pittari's was one of the first, if not the first, restaurants in town to feature a live lobster tank from which diners could pick their own lobster. Lobster Kadobster took steamed lobster orders of magnitude further, with lobster, shrimp and crabmeat combined into a seasoned stuffing all served in the lobster shell.

But it's strange to think that at one time lobster was not considered anything special, and nowhere near the delicacy it is today.

Lobsters were once so abundant along the coastlines of North America that they were considered a lowly food source. Native American tribes, such as the Wabanaki, Passamaquoddy, and Mi'kmaq, consumed lobsters as a part of their diet long before the arrival of Europeans.

During the colonial period in America, lobsters were incredibly plentiful, easily harvested, and were thus commonly eaten by the poor, servants, and even prisoners. They were so abundant that they were often referred to as the "cockroach of the sea."

As transportation and preservation methods improved, lobster began to be shipped farther inland, making it available to a wider audience. However, its reputation as a food for the lower classes persisted well into the 19th century.

With the advent of the railroad in the 19th century, fresh lobster could be transported inland more efficiently. Entrepreneurs and chefs began marketing lobster as a luxury item, especially to urban populations. This marketing effort helped change the perception of lobster from a food of the poor to a gourmet delicacy.

In coastal regions such as New England, where lobsters were abundant, tourism became a significant industry. Lobster dinners became a popular attraction for tourists, further cementing the crustacean's status as a sought-after dish.

Lobster's rise in culinary prestige was also fueled by its versatility in haute cuisine. Chefs experimented with various recipes, incorporating lobster into dishes such as bisques, salads, and pastas, further enhancing its desirability among diners.

Lobster became not only a symbol of culinary indulgence but also a cultural icon associated with luxury and celebration. It became a staple item on menus of upscale restaurants and was often served at special occasions such as weddings and holidays.

Here's a recipe for Lobster Kadobster, as published in the local newspaper years ago, with the caveat that the seafood should not be cooked nor the lobster broiled as long as directed.

Maine Lobster à la Pittari

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped green onions
½ cup finely chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ cup chopped cooked shrimp
½ cup fresh lump crabmeat (back fin)
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
2 cups bread crumbs
Salt and pepper

2 2½-pound lobsters, split in half lengthwise


Melted butter

Pour olive oil into skillet and heat. Add green onions, celery and garlic. Marinate until soft, not brown. Add chopped shrimp, let simmer until cooked, stirring gently to keep from sticking. Add lump crabmeat and stir gently. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer about 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and bread crumbs.

Parboil lobsters 2 minutes to the pound. Clean cavity in the head, fill with dressing, and sprinkle lightly with paprika. Brush the entire lobster with melted butter. Place in broiler for about 20 minutes.

Makes 4 servings

T. Pittari's: Italian, 4200 S Claiborne Ave, New Orleans (Carrollton/Broadmoor) - 891-2801 (do not call) map

Gone, But Not Forgotten: 

The Tiffin Inn was a quintessentially 1960s-style pancake house breakfast place in Metairie, except for the fact that it didn't open until 1977. Walking in from the day it opened until it was forced to close in 2015 was like a trip back in time. Dark paneling, vinyl-upholstered booths (some semi-circular!), banquette seating around the perimeter, water and juices served in glass tumblers, porcelain plates and coffee cups, syrup carafes in their metal caddies, and waitresses in uniforms long out of style. Tiffin was part of a small chain founded in Baton Rouge in the 1960s, and at the time of its closure was the last remaining outpost.

Sunday morning patrons usually found it necessary to put their name on the list and wait to be seated. Those who couldn't fit in the small area just inside the entrance would have to wait outside. It would take several years for a narrow enclosed lobby with benches to finally be added across the front to shield those waiting from the weather. While longer some days than others, the wait never seemed untenable enough as to make one give up and go elsewhere.

Regulars would plant themselves in the banquettes under the windows along the south wall. This put the morning sun at their backs, perfect reading light for the Sunday newspaper. Before smoking was banned in restaurants, the sun streaming through the slits in the venetian blinds then through puffs of smoke made for a mesmerizing display.

I don't think the menu ever changed. A number of predetermined pancake selections on the inner left side of the plastic laminated menu probably accounted for 90 percent of all the orders. Omelets likely accounted for the majority of the rest.

During busy times, the wait to place an order, let alone receive your order, could be long. A full house could overwhelm what usually seemed like a half dozen waitresses total for the entire place. But there was a kind of glue that would hold things together, and its name was Danny.

Danny was what you could call busboy extraordinaire. He had a knack for noticing if you were waiting too long for something, anything, and would take up the slack. Water, silverware, coffee refill, condiments, a missing part of your order; if you couldn't get your waitress' attention, he was on it. So good at it, in fact, was he that you could regularly observe departing diners slipping him a few bucks directly on their way out. When not traversing the floor with his bus cart, he could be seen catching a breather (and a quick couple of drags on a cigarette) at his station in the southwest corner of the restaurant.

Tiffin Inn closed when the landlord declined to renew the lease, wanting instead to give the space for an expansion of the national chain store tenant next door. Rumors of a relocation swirled for a time, but nothing ever seemed to materialize. The iconic black and orange sign was last seen languishing in a fenced-in lot in Bucktown.

Tiffin Inn: American, 6601 Veterans Blvd, Metairie (Metairie Above Causeway) - 888-6602 (do not call) map

Gone, But Not Forgotten: 

In the spring of 1973, Houlihan's Old Place, more commonly known as just "Houlihan's", opened at 315 Bourbon Street in the old Oriental Laundry building. It was one of the "new" places, a part of a renaissance in the French Quarter at a time the "old" places were losing-- or had already lost-- their charm. And up-and-coming Fat City in suburban Metairie was starting to give tired old Bourbon a run for its money in nightclub entertainment.

Chain restaurateurs Gilbert-Robinson chose the name when they opened the original location in Kansas City in a spot once occupied by a Houlihan's Haberdashery. Since the architect hadn't yet been given a name, he simply entered "Tom Houlihan's old place" in the space on the blueprint. The story goes that, in exchange for using his name, a table in the middle of the restaurant was kept empty, reserved for him and bearing a plaque with his name. He never sat at it, nor did he ever even visit the restaurant.

After the laundry proprietor abandoned the Bourbon Street building in the 1960s, it had been occupied for a time by a restaurant on its left side and a nightclub on the right. Houlihan's mostly preserved this division by making its right half a bar and lounge with an oyster bar.

Houlihan's was part of the influx of restaurants vying to fill a niche between fast food and fine dining, and whose decor was largely made up of a curated collection of antiquities and unusual artifacts. The idea, it seemed, was to give patrons something quirky and interesting to look at while at the same time losing track of how long it had been since they'd placed an order.

The menu featured a broad selection of trendy offerings: Appetizers, sandwiches, salads, burgers, steak, seafood, crepes, omelets. Rounding things out were espresso, desserts and soda fountain beverages. A wine list contained a few dozen domestic selections and including, cheekily, "our only imports" Mateus Rose, Blue Nun and Riunite Lambrusco.

Houlihan's became a popular destination for casual dining that felt a little more upscale than it actually was. Prices were reasonable enough that the prom crowd could afford to go there, while at the same time a guy could take a first date there and not be perceived as a cheapskate. It was equally popular for lunch and dinner.

In the latter half of the 1970s, you could always count on trendy casual dining places including a few must-haves. Two that immediately spring to mind are frozen strawberry daiquiris, and a fresh spinach salad with mushrooms tossed in a warm bacon dressing, often prepared tableside.

Houlihan's other calling card, not usually seen at this level of dining, was its French onion soup. It was served in a bowl too hot to touch with the traditional thick canopy of cheese melted over it. Paired with a sandwich and a drink, you could get out of there for under ten dollars, tax and tip included.

What Houlihan's patrons remember as its real ace-in-the-hole was the oyster bar. During certain hours, raw oysters could be had-- only while standing at the oyster bar-- for ten cents each. That and a cold draft beer in a tall glass, paradise.

The chain continues to operate across the country today, but has dropped the "Old Place". The Bourbon Street location, however, shut down rather abruptly in Spring 1996, the space subsequently occupied by a "gentlemen's club".

Houlihan's Old Place: American, 315 Bourbon St, New Orleans (French Quarter) - 523-7412 (do not call) map