When you think of bananas foster, what do you think of? Maybe you’re envisioning table-side service with a warm skillet, cinnamon, some banana liqueur, butter, brown sugar, bananas, and rum, all married in flames and presented with a big ol’ scoop of vanilla ice cream. That’s exactly the way they do it at Brennan’s in New Orleans, a beloved Big Easy institution that’s been around since 1946. And, if you didn’t already know – Brennan’s was actually the inventor of this world-famous dessert.
Ralph Brennan, son in the Brennan family, is still the restaurant’s owner to this day, and recounted the story: “One of the desserts that we’re most famous for is Bananas Foster, which was actually created by my family for Mr. Richard Foster to honor him. He was a prominent business man here and he was getting an award; he’d done some work on corruption in the city.” Little did they know that bananas foster would grow into being a Southern classic, with folks coming from across the world to try out the dish in its birthplace. “It’s a very rich, sinful dessert. But I think it’s the whole show that you get,” Ralph said. “People love to see it, and we get a lot of people who come in here to get only that dish.”
But, the Brennan family played a larger role in bananas foster than just creating a sugary, caramelized banana dessert. As it turns out, the family was involved in actually bringing bananas to the South. “New Orleans was one of the largest ports to import bananas into the United States,” Ralph explained. “First my great-grandfather started with a cart in the French Quarter and it led to importing bananas and growing bananas in Central America. My grandmother, Grandmother Brennan, actually used to brûlée bananas at home for breakfast. So, there are a number of different connections to bananas.”
It’s only fitting that in the 300th anniversary of the city of New Orleans, Brennan’s is still a family owned spot serving up bananas foster seven nights a week to hungry customers. In fact, Ralph’s oldest daughter and son also work in the restaurant, and it’s their father’s hope to one day turn over the business. “It makes me very proud, especially to see them in the dining room walking around, talking to customers,” Ralph said. “Customers get to know them, and they’re working their way up. Because I think that’s the best way to learn.”
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