Few eating establishments are as beloved and historically significant in New Orleans as Dooky Chase's Restaurant.
Over the course of its 80-year history, the family-owned and operated Creole restaurant hosted civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and modern superstars including Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
The story began in 1939, when Emily and Dooky Chase, Sr. opened a sandwich shop in the Treme neighborhood, a short walk northwest of the French Quarter.
They soon added a bar, and in 1941, began operating as a sit-down restaurant.
Edgar Dooky Chase, Jr. was an accomplished jazz musician who married Leah Chase in 1946 at eighteen.
According to the restaurant's website, it was "through the vision of Leah Chase, the barroom and sandwich shop grew into a sit-down restaurant wrapped within a cultural environment of African-American art and Creole cooking."
Dooky Chase's matriarch came to be known as the Queen of Creole cooking and received numerous accolades. In 2016, she was recognized with a James Beard Lifetime Achievement award.
On June 1, 2019, just a few months after I ate at her restaurant, Leah Chase passed away at 96.
It was 11 am when I arrived at Dooky Chase's Restaurant, and there was already a line out the door for the weekday lunch buffet. Thankfully, it moved quickly.
Once inside the small foyer, there were photos of Presidents Bush and Obama dining at the restaurant on the walls.
I was particularly fond of the Obama picture with him tucking a napkin in his shirt as it captures the President's joyful anticipation.
I was shown to a two-person table on the far wall, offering me a direct view of the buffet.
The main dining room was already nearly-full, with diners digging into their chosen foods.
Dooky Chase's attracts a mix of locals and tourists, with a dress code to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere.
I ordered an unsweetened ice tea from my waitress and approached the buffet.
Options change daily from Tuesday to Friday; however, you'll always get Creole staples like red beans and rice and hot sausage.
I was happy to see fried chicken the day I went. Leah Chase's fried chicken was named the best in New Orleans by NOLA.com in 2014.
As an aside, a few days later, I had the award-winning fried chicken at nearby Willie Mae's Scotch House and enjoyed it more thanks to the spicy batter they use.
You can also order classic Creole foods a la carte, including gumbo, stuffed shrimp, and po'boy sandwiches.
Individual entrees are between $14.95 to $25.95. The buffet is $19.95.
A cocktail menu features lighter drinks such as a lavender lemonade, mimosa, and Aperol Spritz, as well as signature drinks like Dooky's rum punch. Cocktails are priced $9-$11.
There's a bar food menu, too, that's available from 5 pm to 9 pm.
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Overall, I had a relaxing and efficient experience dining at Dooky Chase's Restaurant. If I were to go back, I'd want to try a dish off the a la carte menu.
While Chef Leah Chase may no longer be with us, her recipes, hospitality, and spirit live on through her family and restaurant.