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Fitzgerald’s

West End Park
1940s-1998

“For many people Fitzgerald’s is the only restaurant in town,” Richard Collin once wrote. That was an accurate statement. Even people who thought that Fitzgerald’s wasn’t as good as it once was would always bring it up in any conversation about dining out, as if it were as essential to the local dining scene as Antoine’s. Fitzgerald’s must have been a fine place indeed at some time. Just not in my time.

Or the explanation could be that it was as perfect a slice of New Orleans local color as could be imagined. A tin-roofed building on stilts over Lake Pontchartrain, it was set out farther from the shore than any other West End restaurant. It had lake views in three directions; most other places had only one. You reached it by walking up a wooden pier, above which was an animated neon sign of a smiling fish flapping its tail.

Then you’d wait for a table. Sometimes for a long time. For most of its history, Fitzgerald’s was a packed house, and its supplicants would put up with almost anything to get in there.

The menu was bigger than most others in West End, although in essence it was the same. Boiled and fried seafood accounted for most of the orders. The boiled crabs, shrimp, and crawfish were served ice cold. The fried seafood came out in huge platters that held a great deal of seafood on them. By today’s standards of overfeeding—Deanie’s, for example—it would not be considered supersized. But if you ordered soft-shell crabs, you always got at least two of them. Three full slices of buttered (was that butter, or oil from the seafood?) underlined all of these plates—for what purpose, no one has ever divined.

Fitzgeralds-Postcard

Fitzgerald’s was highly regarded by its fans for its lobsters. These folks would repeat what the menu said, about how Caribbean lobsters were better than Maine lobsters because they weren’t tough. (They were also half the price of Maine lobsters, but never mind.)

Like most West End restaurants, Fitzgerald’s stuffed a lot of fish and shellfish with crabmeat stuffing. The making of crabmeat stuffing was an art at West End. It was two arts, in fact. One was to make it taste good. The other—more of interest to the owner than to the customer—was how to use the maximum amount of bread crumbs without making people say “Where’s the crabmeat in this?” Fitzgerald’s was a master of the latter skill.

Fitzgerald’s, like all other restaurants at West End, suffered when the new pay parking lot came in the early 1980s. With each passing year, the crowd at Fitzgerald’s got smaller and older. The big parties of a dozen people with lots of kids were much rarer.

Ownership changed at least twice. One of the latter proprietors was Andrew Jaeger, whose family had run seafood restaurants for decades—although never before at West End. He kicked some life back into the restaurant, but its reputation among younger diners was hopeless, and the older customers complained about every change. And the place was in pretty bad shape. Hurricane Georges hit the place so hard that it had to be torn down. And Katrina wiped out everything else at West End. It’s as if it had never been there.

22 Readers Commented

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  1. Tom Fitzmorris on June 19, 2014

    Most of my Fitzgerald’s experiences took place in the 1970s, and a few in the 1980. Never di like it much.

    Tastefully yours,
    Tom Fitzmorris

  2. Brent Smith on July 3, 2014

    My experiences with Fitzgerald’s were more positive in the 1960s; it seemed to get worse over time beginning in the 1970s and improved somewhat when Andrew Jaeger took it over.

    Brent Smith

    • Tom Fitzmorris on July 3, 2014

      That is also my experience.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

    • robin g on January 27, 2015

      Fitzgerald’s was a great place to go with family and friends on the weekends

  3. Brent Smith on July 3, 2014

    Tom,

    I’ve now submitted two different sets of comments about Fitzgerald’s, neither of which were allowed. What gives? Are you encouraging comments or not?

    • Tom Fitzmorris on July 3, 2014

      Both of them were duly posted, and I am answering both right now. I don’t reply immediately because I have a few other things to do in my day.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  4. Ken Roberts on August 11, 2014

    Our family used to go there occasionally in the late 50’s. I recall it being a big deal to go there — a real treat. What did I know about food then, a young kid? Going back to New Orleans this fall for the first time in decades. Their daughter, Penny, and I were classmates at Metairie Grammar School. Anyone still around from the old Fitzgerald family?

    • Maurice Fitzgerald King on October 28, 2015

      Hello

      I am Penny Fitzgerald King’s oldest son. My mother is alive and well here in Birmingham. I have very fond memories of “the restaurant”, that’s what we called it. Huge crowds, long lines, and fantastic food. Thank you for preserving the memory of my grandparents.

  5. L. Bell on January 5, 2015

    My grandmother , my mother and my aunts were cooks at that resturant the owners were always nice to me and my cousins

  6. Bonnie Thompson on July 8, 2015

    So am I reading from this Fitzgeralds is gone? If it is, that’s a shame. Good childhood memories from the 60’s

    • Tom Fitzmorris on July 12, 2015

      Fitzgerald’s has been gone for over twenty years. They told me that the reason they closed was that you weren’t dining there often enough.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  7. Jack on July 26, 2015

    I ate my first soft shell crab there in early 1966. Also ate there a few times 1969-1971. Sorry to hear it is gone.

  8. Pingback: My NOLA: 20 Questions with John Besh 29 Sep, 2015

    […] Fitzgerald’s is no longer […]

  9. allen wilamowski on December 8, 2015

    any one that has made a coment that they didn’t like fitsgeralds food must have something wrong with there taste buds I feel sorry for them there life is miserable is there any thing you like to eat don’t tell me I would not eat it

  10. Terry Darby on January 18, 2016

    My Uncle Wilson would take us, when we would visit from the country. I remember the seafood loaf. It was so big it could feed the entire table.

  11. Connie on February 13, 2016

    The waiters never wrote anything down! Even with a table of 15 they always got everything right! The food was fantastic!!! We were from the “coast” & seafood was our daily fare…yet it was always a treat to go to Fitzgeralds!

  12. Karen on May 24, 2016

    Loved Fitzgeralds when I was a kid, and always enjoyed going back with the family over the years. No place has taken its place for us

  13. Margie on June 14, 2016

    I was an airline stewardess in the early 1960’s and whenever we flew into New Orleans I would go with my flight crew to this wonderful restaurant. I was a very young girl, but I have very happy memories of how wonderful the food was and the great atmosphere over the Lake. Wish I could go back today and show my husband what a fantastic experience it was! Some of the BEST seafood I have ever had! I don’t know what others may think, but my memories as an 18/19 year old are that it was an exceptional place to go in the 60’s. I LOVED it!
    Margie

  14. Rob Brooks on February 24, 2017

    I was born in 66 in New Orleans and grew up eating at Fitzgeralds as often as the fam could afford it. It was legendary in my mind and shaped my love for seafood that I still have to this day. I remember the long waiting time (getting a table and after ordering) and remembered as I got older being amazed at how fast food would come out at other restaurants. I moved from NO in 76 and never went back until 99 and was really bummed that it was gone. It was the first place I wanted to eat.

  15. Page Strahan on February 28, 2017

    Im wondering if there is a Fitzgerald in mandeville,Louisiana? ????

    TOMMENT:
    Do you mean a restaurant named Fitzgerald’s in Mandeville? If there is, I haven’t seen it.

  16. Ricky Terrase on March 28, 2017

    It’s time to bring it all back lake front was a great spot and that place was great great food and legacy of people come through those doors

  17. Len McAdams on April 21, 2017

    As a teenager or family of 7 loved the excitement of cracking dozens of crabs over newspaper on a Friday night in 1960. I’m glad there weren’t a hundred people in there when the storm took it away.

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