Harold & Belle’s has drawn fans of Creole cuisine to a quiet stretch of West Jefferson Boulevard for more than 40 years, thanks to beloved family recipes for filé gumbo, étouffée and other Creole classics. This week, another chapter in the restaurant's history begins: Third-generation owners Ryan and Jessica Legaux, both 35, are welcoming diners back after a seven-month overhaul of the space. “It didn’t feel like ours until we did this remodel,” Jessica Legaux says. “It looks different, but we tried to bring the new and the old together."
There's a reconfigured entryway, an expanded dining area and a separate banquet room, but small details harken back to the old space. Etched glass panes that were once part of a dividing wall adorn new booths, and reframed sketches and paintings depicting life in New Orleans line the walls.
The restaurant bar has doubled in size, with plenty of room for live music, and the young owners have installed more televisions for watching the big game — improvements they hope will bring in more locals. Behind the bar, you'll find a new menu of craft cocktails made with fresh juice. And at the back of the property, an old storage unit has been replaced with the brand new Peacock Lounge, a freestanding event space with its own entrance.
While the team is betting big on the space's updated look, they know when to hold ‘em, too. New head chef and kitchen manager Jahmal Gillespie will follow original recipes but will plate most fare in a simpler, more contemporary way — no more complex piles of garnish, for example, which Ryan Legaux says amounted to too many man hours and a good deal of waste.
The catfish nuggets ($14) and fried shrimp ($15) will please guests just as they have for decades, but Gillespie and the Legauxs have a few new dishes up their sleeves. Charbroiled oysters (market price) cooked in house-made “bayou butter” will give diners a non-fried appetizer option. Another classic New Orleans addition is the Peacemaker ($22), a shrimp-and-oyster po’ boy with a story of its own: The sandwich was supposedly a husband's tool for appeasing an angry wife when he stayed out too late.
“We’re really excited about Jahmal’s salads, too,” Jessica Legaux says. “It’s nice to see roasted and sautéed vegetables on the menu. There’s also a veggie po’ boy now. They're dishes that will help us reach a crowd we weren’t reaching before.”
For Ryan Legaux, grandson to the Harold and Belle who started it all, the restaurant is more than stuffed French rolls and gumbo, of course. It is the epicenter of his family, past and present. After his father, Harold Legaux Jr., died in 2011, Ryan Legaux grew more determined to keep the business up and running. With an MBA and years of waiting tables under his belt, he and his wife assumed the reins officially in 2013. They remain committed to providing jobs and an upscale dining experience in the same neighborhood — once referred to as "Little New Orleans" — that Harold & Belle’s has served since 1969.
"This is about legacy,” Legaux says. “We want to leave something great behind, and to do that, we have to move forward and make changes that support the staff and the community.”
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The restaurant will be open seven days a week, from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
2920 W. Jefferson Blvd., Jefferson Park; (323) 735-9023, haroldandbellesrestaurant.com.