Eggs Big Easy
In a city full of breakfast spots, Stanley rises and shines
I once saw scott boswell, chef and proprietor of two New Orleans restaurants—Stella! and Stanley—rocketing through the French Quarter on a Segway. His hair was swooped into a modified pompadour. He was wearing chef whites. The sight was incongruous. Like many people who love the place, I travel to New Orleans in search of a respite from the present. Instead, here was a modern chef, on a postmodern toy, tearing up the three blocks of slate banquette that run between his two restaurants. The scene was somehow fey.
Then, in December 2008, I took a counter seat at Stanley, his white-tiled and wood-beamed corner café, on the back end of Jackson Square. From my perch, through the humidity-streaked floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap the building, I could spy a fortune-teller haggling with a tourist, and a brass-band musician shining a battered trombone. I ordered a breakfast po’boy. Composed of the constituent ingredients in eggs Benedict, nested in a flute of toasted French bread, gilded with a frothy hollandaise, it became, upon third bite, as a pierced yolk flooded the white china plate, my go-to New Orleans breakfast. In that bite, almost all was forgiven.
Boswell has garnered most of his acclaim for Stella!, a fine-dining destination, tended by white-gloved waiters serving flights of fancy like kabayaki-glazed beef tenderloin and truffled gnocchi with oregano florets. This past summer, Brett Anderson, critic for the Times-Picayune, conferred a rare five-bean rating and wrote that Stella! was “impressive on every level, more so than any other restaurant currently operating in New Orleans.”
In the fall, I followed Anderson’s lead. Seated in a dining room packed with New Orleans swells, I rejected the caviar tasting menu and ravished, instead, an appetizer of barbecue shrimp, beaded with forehead-tickling Korean chilies, as well as a dessert of triple-crème cheese and chocolate ganache, sandwiched between slices of buttered brioche. The food was gobsmackingly good. And righteously expensive. But I couldn’t shake my memories of that eggs Benedict. Which is why, on that same trip, on two successive mornings, as a parade of Jackson Square grifters and mimes shambled by, I ate back-to-back breakfasts at Stanley’s white marble counter.
I strayed from my Benedict crush. First a soft-shell crab po’boy, its delicately battered and fried claws akimbo. Then boudin patties—sourced from Charlie T’s meat market over in Breaux Bridge—capped with a couple of tremulous poached eggs, presented in a puddle of that hollandaise, and scattered with chips of Canadian bacon.
Such excellence should be a birthright hereabouts, I told myself. New Orleans is supposed to be a great breakfast town. And yet, over the years I have eaten too many versions of pain perdu that should have stayed lost. Stanley is now righting those wrongs. Lucky for us, when he’s not piloting a Segway, Boswell is plumbing the buttery heart of this hollandaise-swamped city, forging a new canon of New Orleans breakfast cookery.