Kenner: 2717 Williams Blvd.
One summer day when we were both twelve years old, my buddy Charlie Ferrara bicycled up the street to tell me that his dad needed some help making deliveries of building supplies. Sounded like fun, so I went along. In fact, it was sweaty work–harder than my regular job at the Time Saver. But between the two of us it wasn’t too challenging. After making a few stops, Charlie’s dad said it was time for lunch. He drove us to Andy Messina’s, a restaurant on the corner of Williams and Veterans Boulevards.
In those days, I could count my restaurant experiences on the fingers of one hand. I was a very picky eater and approached restaurants with trepidation. But if a roast beef poor boy was on the menu, my spirits rose. To me, roast beef poor boys were the ne plus ultra of dining out–an idea that I can’t say I am entirely dispossessed by.
Messina’s roast beef was everything I hoped for that day. Which is saying something, because my frame of reference was the legendary Clarence and Lefty’s in the Eighth Ward. Among the other appeals of Messina’s great sandwich, its size made me feel like a real man. I could polish off even a big poor boy. Charlie, who was just enough older than I was to be about twice my scrawny size, kept right up with me.
Andy Messina’s was only in its second year of business. It hadn’t been long since Veterans and Williams both were two-lane blacktop roads running through open fields. That was about to change, as that part of Kenner grew rapidly.
Meanwhile, Andy Messina’s evolved into a very good Italian restaurant. It would be considered old-fashioned today, but in the 1960s and 1970s, it was well ahead of the eight-hour-cooked red gravy repertoire in most local Italian restaurants then. And it went beyond the borders of Italian cooking to have just about everything else along the lines of New Orleans eating. It was particularly good at seafood, starting with a full-fledged oyster bar.
Messina’s served titanic amounts of food. This was particularly true of dinner, when in addition to whatever appetizers and entrees you ordered, a generous Italian salad (the menu called it a “wop salad” through most of its history) and a big bowl of pasta with red sauce would come your way.
The end of the meal was impressive. They made bread pudding in I way I’ve never seen since, using pound cake instead of bread.
Until a major renovation late in the game, the premises looked like what they were: a small restaurant to which new additions were tacked on every now and then. My mental image of the place all these years later will not resolve into a clear floor plan.
The biggest addition of all was the Maria Isabella room–a catering facility whose main dining room was about as big as the rest of the restaurant. Catering soon became the mainstay of the business, and it still is. Not only is the original restaurant’s location still in heavy use for private parties, but they have specialty operations around town–notably the food services at the Zephyrs baseball stadium and the food services at the Lakefront Airport.
Andy Messina’s as we knew it no longer exists as an a la carte dining venue. The last straw was Hurricane Katrina, which did enough damage to the old place that it had to be almost completely rebuilt. It emerged as a catering-only facility. The Messina also owned the restaurant building across Williams, where a number of restaurants came and went over the years with lessees at the helm. I think it operated as Messina’s briefly after the hurricane, but then it became a steak house and is now Don Pedro’s, a Mexican place.
Through all that, the memories of that roast beef poor boy in my pre-teens and a lot of good Italian dinners in the decades after at Messina’s still remain.