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TulaneLSU
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Member since Dec 2007
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TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
Dear Friends,

I write to you while preparing for this evening’s Lucy’s gathering. As is my custom, I will forego the event because it is being hosted in a bar. But I will be watching you, probably from the balcony of the orange building across the street. Wave to me if you see me.

Do you remember the first restaurant in which you dined? The first I recollect was Commander’s Palace. It’s possible I was four, but I think I was three. It was Easter Sunday and we were returning from Christ Church Cathedral. What is certain is that the Very Revd. Lowry preached that morning on our Lord’s Resurrection. What is reprehensible is that when we were seated at Commander’s the waiter asked my parents if I wanted champagne. I couldn’t even tie my shoes! Mother admonished the rummy in the same tone that Ti Adelaide Martin warned me about the dress code when I briefly visited in 2008, only to make a reservation, wearing blue jeans. As if I were not aware.

What is foggy is Emeril Lagasse making the rounds and introducing himself to me. Mother insists it happened. The hippocampus affords no projection to me. This was of course long before Emeril made it big. He was at the time executive chef at the restaurant in a time before cooking food made you worthy of celebrity. He probably wasn’t a top five chef in New Orleans at that time either. What is funny is, according to family lore, he asked me how I liked my omelet. I gave my first restaurant critique: “It chews like a piece of Play-Doh.”

Thus began my dining out life. I calculate I’ve eaten in 2000 different restaurants in the last three decades, 75% of them in New Orleans. The first were Commander’s, Brennan’s, Napoleon House, and la Madeleine, all of which had a decidedly French outlook. It wouldn’t be for another two years that I was introduced to Metairie restaurants.

It was the Friday before Christmas. My cousin had a dance recital or a theatrical performance at St. Martin’s School. It was the first time I had ever been on Airline Highway, which was a macabre corridor, dotted with the Sugar Bowl Courts and Rainbow Motel, pimps and pill pushers, and Time Saver. Who can forget their commercials: “Get a light in the night. Pour a drink in a wink. Pack some fun on the run. What a deal!” Time Saver’s commercials contain some of the most impressive and unappreciated commercial poetry of 20th century America.

Grandfather had given me his copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that week. Dickens’ words enraptured me during the recital. It was that book, an obscurely Thomist book, which teaches that both subjects and objects are known by acts, which show us potentials, which show us the subject/object’s nature, that birthed in me a love of Christmas and Thomas Aquinas. More profitable was my time spent in that book than with my attention to the stage, but nonetheless, it was, in retrospect, quite graceless of me.

My cousin’s parents had booked a large table for Augie’s Glass Garden near the recently finished Galleria. “Houston’s Anne Boleyn in Metairie,” Grandfather called the building. I never understood what he meant by that. Its meaning will likely forever escape us. When we arrived, Uncle became enraged when the table was not ready. “We had this table booked for a month!” and he stormed out.

The next thing I know, we are in nondescript parking lot in what felt like the middle of nowhere. And no, I did not think this was the “no place” Thomas More had in mind. Little did I realize at that time that this poorly paved parking lot and minimalist, northeast-facing, L-shaped, windowless strip of a building would become my Utopia.

To be of Christ Church Cathedral stock comes with certain expectations. Attending services weekly, much to my chagrin, is not one of them. Giving your waiter at Galatoire’s less than 20% would earn you a scarlet letter before missing a year’s worth of services would.

You are limited in your child’s school selection. Jesuit, Newman, Sacred Heart, and McGehee ensure no feathers are ruffled. Country Day and Ben Franklin exist in limbo on an ambiguous scale whose gravitational destiny is ultimately determined by the parents’ social club membership.

Fashion matters too. If your Mardi Gras polo has a breasted horse rather than a crawfish, you are treading waters as choppy as the Pontchartrain in a summer squall. But if you are a male of age, you shouldn’t be wearing a polo that day anyway. Instead, you should be riding, standing above Canal, or preparing for the evening’s balls, now hosted in the inelegant Marriott and Sheraton hotels. Are you no better than Hermes now? I was raised to wear Perlis on casual occasions, Goldberg’s for business occasions, and Rubenstein’s for formal occasions, although I did rent a tux from Perlis once.

My catechesis classes started when I was 12. These classes lead to Confirmation, which at that time, the church, or at least Mother, required before we could fully participate in the Eucharist. The theology of such a requisite is shaky and unbiblical. Nonetheless, the topic of eating entered our religious instruction.

The teacher asked the class, “And what is your favorite restaurant?” That this was a question in a confirmation class only makes sense to those who were born in New Orleans.

The conformist responses were present: Arnaud’s Antoine’s, Clancy’s, Upperline, Commander’s, and Galatoire’s. One poor sap, Edward I believe, responded with Cannon’s, which was greeted with sneers and jeers. When came my turn, I stood up, as I was taught whenever speaking one should. With the same fortitude of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, I confidently proclaimed, “Impastato’s.”



My fellow students did not react because they had never heard of such a place. My teacher, on the other hand, gasped and looked at me as if I had blasphemed the Holy One. It’s one thing to question the Virgin Birth; an entirely different thing is to suggest the best restaurant in New Orleans is in Metairie. It was obvious she had never before been dealt such an intractable hand.

“Impastato’s? That place by Lakeside Shopping Center? The Italian one?" her intonation, rapidly descended following the long I. Her expression shared with that of a mother once realizing the family is standing next to a flasher at Mardi Gras.

“Are you sure?” Her voice, as with Charles V, filled with an unsteady hope for a recantation.

“Yes. It is the best restaurant in Metairie. It is the best restaurant in New Orleans. It is the best restaurant in the world!” Teacher’s facial expression transformed from shock to dread, as though my conscience and eternal soul were captive, not to the Word of God, but to evil.

Young TulaneLSU’s words were correct then and they are correct today.
This post was edited on 1/12 at 3:21 pm


TulaneLSU
TBD Fan
Member since Aug 2003
Member since Dec 2007
9960 posts

re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
Impastato’s Restaurant opened on April 30, 1979, three days and 22 years after Mr. Joe had arrived in the States from Sicily. The restaurant’s location on 16th St. was a no-man’s land between Causeway Blvd. and the burgeoning Fat City, which was overtaking the French Quarter as the center of the city’s nightlife and dining. New Orleans’ oldest beignets stand, Morning Call hid it from the masses at Lakeside. No fewer than three restaurants had already failed in that location.



“Little Joe” and his wife Mica rarely advertised in the first three decades of business. They didn’t need to, as the family already had deep social tentacles in the restaurant business and the food was a showstopper. “Little Joe,” of course, was so known because his uncle, Giuseppe, patriarch of The Napoleon House, was “Mr. Joe.” Over the years, Little Joe became Mr. Joe. He’s now 81 and as active as ever in the restaurant.



Little Joe started in the kitchen of The Napoleon House, before finding his way to the nearby kitchen of Moran’s La Louisiane. “Diamond Jim” Moran, whose birth name was James Brocato, bought out Segreto’s Italian Restaurant, which had previously been Masero’s. Segreto’s, as my faithful readers will recall, was where the first documented pizza was sold in New Orleans (1945).

Moran transformed La Louisiane’s cuisine from French Creole to Italian Creole before dying in 1958. Although it was not the first of Italian Creole restaurants, it was the one that popularized the fare, leading to New Orleans’ role as America’s greatest city for Italian food.

Dyad of deliciousness

The list of Creole Italian restaurants, any of which would thrive on Arthur Avenue, Mulberry Street,or 9th Street in Philadelphia, is enormous. Many are lost to the winds of history, but I include a few of note in chronological opening order: Pascal’s Manale (1913), Turci’s (1917), Napoleon House (1920), Broussard’s (1920), Mandina’s (1932), Sclafani’s (1945; the owner’s grandson now runs Ruffino’s), Mosca’s (1946), Liuzza’s (1947), Venezia’s (1957), Messina’s (1961), Elmwood Plantation (1963), Rocky & Carlo’s (1965), Tony Angello’s (1973), Sal & Judy’s (1974), Agostino Ristorante Italiano (1975), Smilie’s (1985), II Tony’s (1987), Vincent’s (1989), Irene’s (1992), Kenner Seafood (1997), Fausto’s (1989), Eleven79 (2010), and Gendusa’s Italian Market (2015). Connecting the familial and apprenticeship lines of the players in these restaurants would result in a Jackson Pollock-like canvas of curves and lines, thicker than red gravy.

What makes Italian food Italian Creole, a term which was first introduced to the New Orleans lexicon in 1975 by Richard Collins? That tricky word Creole has been a thorn in the side of many historians. The Portugese word criollo, from which we get creole, simply means locally grown. I will only say that the term Creole Italian signifies Italian food cooked in the NOLA Metro that incorporates some local ingredients, like soft shell crab, redfish, and speckled trout. It’s not a complicated definition and any attempts to refine it are foolhardy. Do not let a newcomer who does not have deep roots in New Orleans attempt to define it.

Impastato’s is the quintessential Creole Italian restaurant. When you enter the doors, you know you are among family and friends. Mr. Joe is usually there to greet you, and if he’s not, the maitre’d, Mr. Fontanille, or “Billy,” as regulars know him, is. Mr. Fontanille celebrated his 40th year at the restaurant this year. Mark, his brother, is head chef and has been there 38 years. I’ve never met Mark, but his food introduced me to culinary mysticism.



Impastato’s meals begin with Melba toast and braided Italian rolls from Angelo’s bakery




That continuity has crafted a restaurant that years from now will be mourned when it is no longer. What passes as great food today in New Orleans at places like GW Fins, Shaya, August, Peche, Maypop, and that nationally popular sandwich shop whose name I cannot remember is completely forgettable once the flavor passes the palate.

What three things do I require of food? First, it must sustain me. Second, it must taste good. Third, and perhaps most important, it must tell a good story. These newly popular restaurants don’t have a good story to tell, and I doubt they ever will.

No restaurant in the world has higher marks in these three categories than Impastato’s. One need only walk the rooms to appreciate its story. The stories are plastered on the walls, in cheaply framed pictures of family and friends, smiles stuffed with spaghetti and softshells. If only I could fly back to the 80s and 90s when one would have to box out a member of the Dome Patrol to get a table.

I wonder if any restaurant in New Orleans in the last 40 years has hosted more celebrities than quaint, forgotten Impastato’s. I cannot count on ten hands how many Hollywood and gridiron celebrites I’ve seen there over the years. It’s certainly more than the number of jerseys and helmets on the walls.

Our visit that crisp December night changed hearts. My parents had previously, like good Uptown snobs, shunned all things Metairie. The provincialism of that neighborhood’s residents is owed to a trickle down effect of white supremacy. I had to move to Mid-City to appreciate it, a thing I call Uptown geographic supremacy. As if in a cave looking at shadows, suddenly freed to ascend to true light, that night, nearly 30 years ago, we became converts. No longer would we let the chains of the parochialism of our ancestors bind us. I can only imagine the profound displeasure of my great grandparents if they knew of my adoration of Italian food in Metairie.
This post was edited on 1/12 at 3:16 pm


TulaneLSU
TBD Fan
Member since Aug 2003
Member since Dec 2007
9960 posts

re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
Over the years, few things have changed at Impastato’s. Some of the dish names have cycled, depending on who is the Saints’ coach at the moment. Most waiters in those days are now gone, replaced by gems like Dawkins, who is among the best young waiters in the NOLA Metro. If I were to have children, I think Dawkins would be a fitting name. There’s steadfast Roy Picou who has been singing there for as long as I can remember.

I had my high school junior prom meal there. Beforehand, I schemed with Mr. Picou. The plan was going well. We had finished our appetizers -- she chose the dollar upgrade to Joanne Caldcleugh’s crabmeat canneloni. It’s still only a $2 upgrade and you get at least a quarter of a pound of lump crabmeat in it. Lump crabmeat is one thing on which Impastato’s has never skimped. I was sad to read Mr. Kenneth’s obituary last month. He was among the most charismatic men I ever met.



Our entrees, the trout almondine for her and the redfish Marcello for me, had just arrived. Mr. Picou reached the second stanza of “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” He paused, and gave me the floor and the microphone. I knelt to one knee and proposed. She laughed and said, “Are you serious?” I was serious. She got up and exited. I don’t know how she got home, as Mother drove us and was waiting for us at Morning Call.




Some in the restaurant laughed. Others offered words of support. Mr. Picou broke the silence with “Angel Eyes.” I felt like Frank, when Mr. Picou sang, “Have fun you happy people. The drink and the laugh's on me. Try to think that love's not around. Still, it's uncomfortably near. My old heart ain't gaining any ground. Because my angel eyes ain't here.”

I would not let her refusal ruin my meal. I finished both pieces of fish. Billy then brought out two desserts, the famed blueberry banana pie, which is most peoples’ favorite, and truly one of the best desserts in town. But for me, it was a chocolate caramel pie type of night, which has since been my favorite dessert there. I’d rank the desserts in this order: CC pie, BB pie, cheesecake, and chocolate mousse. Mother brought me to prom, where I attended as a single.



During October and May you still see large groups of high schoolers, all with excellent taste, dining before their dances. I haven’t seen proposals since, however. Occasionally, the back room will be booked for a corporate party or rehearsal dinner. Those nights are incredibly crowded in the front room and make for a long wait. You can also expect a long wait on nights before Saints home games, when there is a homecoming atmosphere at the restaurant.

It’s time for me to start moving, as I will have to take the streetcar into downtown. I will leave you with TulaneLSU’s Top 10 Impastato’s dishes. Truth be told, there is not a single dish at Impastato’s that falls below excellent in my ratings. You will not go wrong with any order.
This post was edited on 1/12 at 3:17 pm


TulaneLSU
TBD Fan
Member since Aug 2003
Member since Dec 2007
9960 posts

re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
10. Fried shrimp



The best three fried shrimp dishes in New Orleans are from Impastato’s, Pascal’s Manale, and Drago’s, in that order. I rarely order it, but when I do, I question why I haven’t ordered it more recently.

9. Romaine salad



Only recently did they start chopping the Romaine. Always served on a frigid plate, it’s the best salad in New Orleans. It usually is the third dish served on the absurdly underpriced five course special. Supposedly, the dressing comes straight from the bottles of his brother Sal’s dressing available in grocery stores. I don’t buy it, as the stuff from Dorignac’s never tastes the same.

8. Soft shell crab Marcello



I worked as a commercial shrimper for exactly one week -- it was too labor intense for me. During that time, we caught a few jumbo crabs, the size of which I had never seen before. Except at Impastato’s. I don’t know who his softshell source is, but Mr. Joe consistently provides the biggest softshells in America. These are the size of crabs that the Mid-Atlanticers will pay $150 a dozen -- for the hard shelled variety! Fried and topped with Marcello sauce, they form the best softshell dish in the country. Yes, even better than Clancy’s. I rarely get them anymore because it’s too much food for me. But when I do, I never regret it.

7. Mrs. Eddie Bopp’s fried eggplant



I once got into a heated argument with a food critic who pathetically argued that Galatoire’s had the best fried eggplant dish in New Orleans. When I revealed that he had never been to Impastato’s, he conceded. A five course meal from Impastato’s does not need an additional appetizer. But if you so decide, get the fried eggplant. It is named for Patricia Planche Bopp, wife of the former State Representative, pharmacist, laywer, and president of the State Board of Education.

6. Veal Marianna



Named for Mr. Joe’s mother, it’s the best veal dish in the city. I prefer the Marcello sauce on every other non-chicken entree, except the veal. The Marianna sauce is dominated by butter, lemon, mushrooms, and artichokes, and is perfect with veal.

5. Pasta Ascuitta



Ascuitto means “dry,” but there’s nothing dry about this pasta with the best red sauce in town. I’ve noticed the sauce has progressively gotten a tad spicier with each passing year. I like it.

4. Chicken Parmesan



A recent personal discovery, its lofty ranking may relate to its novelty to me. Nonetheless, I’ve had chicken parm in many places throughout America. This is the best. For a time, Cafe Nino had my favorite, but that was before I tried Impastato’s.

3. Rickey Jackson’s crab fingers



It’s nearly criminal how much crabmeat they give me. How does he stay in business giving me a third a pound of crab fingers for an appetizer? Always have an Angelo’s roll, from above, at your side for sopping the lemon-parm-butter sauce. I would pay a lot for that recipe.

2. Trout Marcello



1. Fettuccini Alfredo



People talk about last meals from time to time. My last meal would be the Eucharist. But if I were an aesthete who cared only about sensual pleasures, it would be Impastato’s fettuccini Tom Fitzmorris, the arbiter, historian, and whiz of New Orleans dining and criticism, says it’s even better than the original served at Alfredo’s in Rome. I have not been able to compare, but I trust Mr. Fitzmorris. Legend has it that this is the same recipe used at Moran’s. If that’s the case, how did it ever close? This single dish is good enough to float a restaurant for a century.

I pray we never see the day when Impastato’s declines or, heaven forbid, closes. I fear, eventually, when the old guard passes, that may happen. And with it, the grandest and most golden chapter in New Orleans dining will have closed. Until that day, though, I will enjoy every morsel and memory.

Friends, dwell and meditate on all that is good in this world. If you are able, dine at Impastato’s and become part of its history.

Love,
TulaneLSU

This post was edited on 1/12 at 3:19 pm


Fun Bunch
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
quote:

I write to you while preparing for this evening’s Lucy’s gathering. As is my custom, I will forego the event because it is being hosted in a bar. But I will be watching you, probably from the balcony of the orange building across the street. Wave to me if you see me.





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Mr Clean
Columbia Fan
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
I shot someone execution style in the parking lot


lynxcat
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
Your shtick is unreal. Such a waste of time but you clearly find joy in this.


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whit
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
That’s a lot of shite I’m not reading


Paul Allen
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
quote:

TulaneLSU




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SEClint
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
The only one of these I'm looking forward to seeing is when you go to hell.


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TD SponsorTD Fan
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Rebel
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
You were funnier when you made fun of Clean’s friend with the dead eye.


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Btrtigerfan
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's


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tankyank13
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
Greatest TulaneLSU top 10 ever. Thank you, sir.

Had our wedding rehearsal dinner here. Impastato’s will always hold a special place in my heart.


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Turftoe
New Orleans Saints Fan
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
I assume you put this on the OT because you won’t quite the attention you need on the Food board. fricking sad


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cgrand
New Orleans Pelicans Fan
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Member since Oct 2009
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
quote:

That’s a lot of shite I’m not reading

you should, and he’s right impastatos is the best restaurant in the city and has been since it opened.

I did joes daughter mica’s wedding reception at the royal Orleans and Mr joe insisted that he be able to prepare and serve the fettucine at the party. It is the finest dish of its kind I’ve ever had. The best overall dish in the city is the fresh fish with crabmeat, lemon, artichoke and mushrooms called “payton” at impastatos and also served at sal & Judy’s


GeorgeTheGreek
Michigan State Fan
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
Are we going to see you at Lucy’s tonight? You owe me a book you son of a bitch.


Ed Osteen
New Orleans Saints Fan
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
No you didn’t


91TIGER
Houston Astros Fan
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
quote:

No you didn’t


Actually with a golf club !


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HoustonGumbeauxGuy
LSU Fan
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re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
Somebody take a pic of this enigma we know as TulaneLSU



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vistajay
Member since Oct 2012
1232 posts

re: TulaneLSU's Top 10 memories and dishes at Impastato's
I don't, as usual, agree with your ultimate premise; but I love the journey.


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