Alonso & Son
Old Jefferson: 587 Central Avenue
The New Orleans neighborhood restaurant and bar as we came to know it began appearing in substantial numbers in the 1920s, when the population started moving into the parts of the city we know now as “the wet zone.”
They reached their peak in the 1950s, when almost every modern neighborhood in New Orleans was in place. Particularly in the older sections, a combination “bar & rest.”) appeared every few blocks in any direction, all over town.
Then began a downturn, as fast food restaurants began took over the job of providing quick, inexpensive lunches and dinners. By the 1980s, when neighborhood cafes were becoming rare, and only the best of them survived.
Alonso’s was one of those. It was a classic of the genre: a small, stark building well off the arteries. Central Avenue was the old main route for getting from Jefferson Highway to Airline Highway. After the much wider Clearview Parkway opened all the way from the lake to the Huey P. Long Bridge, traffic on Central Avenue fell to very little. The presence of four trunk-line railroad grade crossings in less than a mile of Central was also discouraging.
None of that mattered. Alonso’s had a well-established reputation for terrific seafood, poor boys, and platters (what we used to call “short orders”) even before it moved to Central Avenue. Its original location was a few blocks away on Jefferson Highway. It was there for a quarter-century before Hurricane Betsy blew it down in 1965.
Al Alonso opened his new location quickly. It was even better than the old shack on the highway. My memories of this are particularly acute, because I was a teenager living two blocks away. I worked at the Time Saver store on Central at Jefferson, and we were constantly going over to Alonso’s for roast beef poor boys or fried oyster loaves.
If we could leave the store for lunch, we’d walk the long block to Alonso’s for red beans and rice, seafood gumbo, a bowl of chili (Alonso’s was one of the last restaurants around town to offer chili, and it was pretty good), daily plate specials, and seafood platters.
The latter were the best. Alonso’s fried everything to order, and it came out crisp and too hot to eat immediately. I remember thinking, years after I’d left the neighborhood, that Alonso’s was a candidate for Best Fried Seafood In Town. They really were that good.
They also had excellent boiled seafood all the time. In the 1980s, it was almost unthinkable that any seafood joint would not have boiled crabs, shrimp, and crawfish; nowadays, boiled seafood is a rarity in restaurants. (Reason: people eating boiled seafood make a mess and occupy the table for a long time.)
The only problem with Alonso’s in its heyday was that it was always full. Like most neighborhood restaurants of that era, a disproportionate amount of space was given over to the bar, which was fully stocked and well decorated with signs that would probably pull a pretty penny on eBay these days. (Some were made of iridescent butterfly wings.) The waitresses were always running around shouting, and the kitchen was always running behind–mainly because they really did cook everything to order. That was the standard in those days.
Al Alonso chose, for some reason, not to let the restaurant pass to the next generation. He sold it in the late 1990s to some regular customers who had a business up Central Avenue. But it was more work than they realized, and the tide and traffic had turned against restaurants like this. Alonso’s closed for good in 2003. The premises have been at least four other eateries since then.