Westbank Favorite, Restaurant des Familles, Reopening Its Doors After Long Ida Recovery

Alligator Stuffed Mushrooms Photo Credit: Marielle Songy

If you grew up on the Westbank, as I did, you know Restaurant des Familles. The “nice but not pretentious” restaurant sits in an early-century-style country home on Bayou de Familles at 7163 Barataria Boulevard in Crown Point, just outside the National Park Service Barataria Preserve.

The restaurant boasts a menu of Cajun-Creole dishes bursting with fresh seafood, bayou views, and a down-home feel one would expect from a family-owned business. For generations, Restaurant des Familles has served as the place where locals celebrated engagements, graduations, new babies, and other important milestones. It’s also a stop for most tourists coming off tours of the surrounding swamps. For many visitors, Restaurant des Familles is their first taste of Cajun fare.

When a fire ripped through part of the restaurant’s upstairs area and kitchen in July 2020, locals were devastated at the possibility that Restaurant des Familles wouldn’t return. Thankfully, owners Bryan and Brooke Zar wouldn’t let their beloved restaurant become a distant memory.

Restaurant des Familles was opened in 1993 by Pat Morrow. Bryan Zar worked as a busboy and a waiter here in the mid-90s while attending Archbishop Shaw High School and, later, LSU.

“I started working here when I was fifteen and Ms. Pat was my mentor,” Bryan Zar said. “I worked here for six years, until I graduated from LSU and went on to work nationwide for Houston’s.”

In 2009, the Zars were living in the Washington D.C. area when Morrow told them that she planned to shut down the restaurant to spend more time with her husband, who was battling cancer. The Zars took over the restaurant in a lease with an option to purchase. The couple was able to buy the business within thirteen months of the agreement.

Restaurant des Familles has faced its fair share of challenges since the Zars became owners. The BP oil spill happened within six months of the couple taking over and stifled business, forcing the restaurant to survive on catering jobs.

The restaurant briefly closed at the beginning of Covid and, when a fire caused by an old air conditioning unit destroyed part of the building, it was on the heels of the restaurant reopening with Covid restrictions in place. From there, troubles with insurance caused more delays.

Bryan Zar said, “A year into construction, we had to battle the insurance company to get the money we needed to rebuild, and then we had to fight with the permit office to get the permits to start the construction. Things were delayed because getting materials was difficult.”

Fried Catfish Photo Credit: Marielle Songy

Restaurant des Familles was set to reopen in August 2021 when Hurricane Ida rolled through the area. Unfortunately, the building, which hadn’t flooded in past storm events, took on four feet of water during the hurricane. The flood essentially destroyed everything that the fire didn’t, and parts of the building that had already been repaired, like the building’s roof, had to be fixed for a second time.

“It was shocking because this building has been through tropical storms and hurricanes and never flooded,” Brooke Zar said. “It was Ida that finally got us.”

With repairs complete, Restaurant des Familles is now welcoming back customers on a limited basis until they are completely restaffed.

The menu here boasts traditional New Orleans dishes with some modern touches.

“Our core items are the same as they were when Ms. Pat was running Restaurant des Familles,” Brooke Zar said. “We have the classic gumbo, jambalaya, and etouffee. Our salad dressings and seasonings are house made and, rather than pair many of our dishes with a heavy starch, we opt for fresh vegetables.”

Bryan Zar added, “One of the things that we have on our menu is the alligator-stuffed mushrooms with alligator sauce piquant. [Radio host] Tom Fitzmorris once listed it as one of his fifty best New Orleans restaurant dishes.”

Dishes are made with local ingredients; the seafood is often served fresh from the boat to the plate. Restaurant des Familles is currently operating with a limited menu, but it’s hard to believe considering the selections.

Seafood Gumbo Photo Credit: Marielle Songy

Menu highlights include Seafood Gumbo, Turtle Soup, Crispy Fried Catfish, Soft-Shell Crab, BBQ Shrimp served with jalapeño cheddar grits, and Redfish Marcel topped with sautéed mushrooms, brown butter, lump crabmeat, and grilled shrimp; served with jambalaya.

On my visit, I enjoyed the alligator-stuffed mushrooms with alligator sauce piquant, seafood gumbo, and fried catfish. The menu doesn’t miss a beat and is packed with flavors and memories that have been a part of the Restaurant des Familles brand for thirty years.

The Zars are aware of the expectation that comes with Restaurant des Familles’ reopening.

Bryan Zar explained, “Our biggest fear is that it’s been two and a half years, and expectations are going to be really high. We wanted to do the soft opening and make sure we could get everything where it needed to be. So far, the response has been amazing.”

“It’s a lot of pressure because it’s been so long and we know people have an image of us built up in their minds,” Brooke Zar added. “The support from the community is what kept us going. There were times when we wanted to give up but our community wouldn’t let us. I’m thankful for that.”

Restaurant des Familles is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

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