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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Winsor Court After the Flood

October 9, 2006

Winsor Court After the Flood

New Orleans’ Windsor Court Hotel opened in the early1980s around the time the World’s Fair came to town.

From day one, Windsor Court has been consistently listed among the top hotels in the world. It has garnered more awards and more acclaim than any other hotel in New Orleans, and probably more than any hotel in the South. In 2001, Conde Nast Traveler listed Windsor Court as the “Number Two Hotel in the U.S.” Every reputable travel publication has— at one time or another— listed the Windsor Court among the nation’s best hotels.

My wife and I have traveled often— 90 miles to the southeast of our home— for a getaway weekend. The service at the hotel has always been impeccable.

One of the aspects of the Windsor Court’s service that always impressed me was the name-recall ability of the staff. Once a guest checked in— anytime a member of the staff passed you in the hallway, opened the front door for you, or gave you directions at the concierge desk— the staff was able to call you by name. It was amazing. I never figured how they did it.

The rooms were plush, the bathrooms were adorned with marble, the towels were soft and thick, and the bedding was plush and comfortable. Over the years, I have run into Elton John, Eric Clapton, and several other high-profile celebrities and politicians in the lobby.

The restaurant at the Windsor Court— The Grill Room— was, at one time, listed as the top restaurant in New Orleans. In the early 1990s, when Kevin Graham was manning the stoves, the dining room was hard to beat. At that time, the food Graham was preparing was on a much higher level than most of the other restaurants in New Orleans.

I have just returned from a weekend at Windsor Court, my first since the New Orleans levee system failed after Katrina blew through Mississippi.
told that there were still several FEMA employees staying on the government’s tab.

The Windsor Court isn’t the hotel it used to be, but it’s not too far off. The problem is the lack of available labor. A recent Washington Post article stated, “The population of 187,525 is about 41 percent of the 454,000 people estimated to be living in Orleans Parish before the storm hit Aug. 29, 2005.”

The population of New Orleans was 191,000 in 1870. It’s going to be a long time before the city reaches the pre-storm level of service personnel. Immediately after the levees broke, Burger King restaurants were offering potential employees a $6,000.00 signing bonus and still not able to fully staff their restaurants.

On this recent visit to Windsor Court, there were noticeable problems that never would have been visible two years ago— mold on the ceiling of the room and above the shower, dirty silverware, and cheap, thin towels. Nevertheless, the service was close to what guests have come to expect.

The bellman who brought our luggage to the room was the same man who served our brunch the next day. I don’t know this for a fact, but I got the impression that the hotel is severely understaffed and running on a skeleton crew. Nevertheless, the workers who are there and in the trenches are working with the same commitment to exceptional service that has always marked the Windsor Court.

The hotel was fully booked that weekend, but the dining room was virtually empty for brunch. The food was not the food of the 1990s, but everyone in New Orleans deserves a pass these days.

In the larger scheme of things, the quality of food and service at a luxury hotel doesn’t matter much when people have lost their homes and all of their belongings. Nowadays, the Windsor Court Hotel is no different than all of the other businesses in the Crescent City— just taking it day to day, trying to patch holes in employee scheduling, hanging by a string until the convention trade returns, and hoping that one day soon life will return to some semblance of the days before August 29, 2005.

Sweet Potato Nachos

This recipe has the perfect blend of flavors, colors and textures. Make sure that the chips are fried crispy. Floppy chips can’t hold the topping.

1 large sweet potato, sliced into very thin potato chip-like circles
Peanut oil for frying

1 cup Boursin cheese (recipe listed below)
1 /2 cup pecan pieces, toasted
1 /2 cup roasted red peppers, cut into 1 ½-long strips
1 TBL fresh chives, chopped

Preheat oil to 325 degrees.

Fry the sweet potato chips six to seven at a time. Move chips often and cook to a light brown color.

Drain onto paper towels.

Preheat oven to 325.

Once drained, place the chips on a baking sheet. Top each slice with 2 teaspoons boursin cheese and 3 strips of roasted pepper. Bake three minutes.

Sprinkle with toasted pecans and chives and serve immediately.

Boursin Cheese

This is the recipe we serve in the Crescent City Grill. In addition to being a good spread for crackers, it can also be used to stuff mushroom caps, and as a filling for miniature puff pastry turnovers.

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 Tbl salted butter, softened
1 /2 tsp Creole Seasoning
1 /4 tsp Minced garlic
1 /8 tsp thyme, oregano rosemary, chives, basil, dill, sage
1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped fine
2 Tbl half and half
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1 /4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 /3 cup sour cream

Place all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on high speed until all ingredients are well incorporated, scraping sides of the bowl occasionally to ensure all ingredients are combined.

Yield: 2 cups

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