This great black and white photo taken some time between 1900 and 1906 features a restaurant in New Orleans at the corner of Decatur and Madison – right down the street from Jackson Square. The restaurant – H. Bégué’s Exchange – was opened in 1863 by husband and wife Hippolyte Bégué and Elizabeth Kettenring Dutreuil Bégué. Mme Bégué ran the kitchen and became known for the only meal she really served – second breakfast – an eleven o’clock meal popular with the dock workers who were getting off work. Bégué’s started off small, but became a success, due in no small part to Mme Bégué’s skill, and stayed in business into the early 20th century.
When Mme Bégué died in 1906, she was so well known that her passing was noted in newspapers in Kentucky, Iowa, California, and Puerto Rico as well as in issues of Everyday Housekeeping (January 1907) and the Boston Cooking School Magazine (also known as American Cookery, December 1906). Mme. Begué and her recipes; old Creole Cookery includes a brief history of the establishment, starting with the question Are you ready for breakfast at Bégué’s? and proceeding to answer that question by saying:
Then follow, and I’ll introduce you to a feast that is fit for the gods (this has been said before); that would make an anchorite renounce the penance of his religion and grasp the material delights of a cuisine that has no equal anywhere.
Not to have eaten at Begue’s argues ill for your reputation if you have been a visitor to New Orleans and returned to your home in a city to which the fame of Begue has extended. For the fame of Begue is no longer local. (p12)
While there is still a restaurant at that location today, it no longer bears the Bégué name. It was sold by her husband a few years after her death and bought by the owners of one-time competitor Tujague’s (pronounced Two-Jacks). Meals are still coming out of the kitchen at the corner of Decatur and Madison – including second breakfast – though today we call it brunch.
If you are interested in what Bégué was cooking, the Library of Congress has digitized Mme. Begué and her recipes; old Creole Cookery which includes a few of her recipes and a turn of the century perspective on the city and its food.