Extinct Restaurants

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Riverbend: 7839 St. Charles Ave.

Over the years, seven restaurants named Compagno’s opened and closed around New Orleans. Most were Uptown. Two were on Fern Street. Some family connections existed among them, but it didn’t show up in the food. At least not at the three Compagno’s in business when I started covering the restaurant scene. All were neighborhood cafes, mixing New Orleans and Italian dishes. One Compagno’s was on the corner of State and Magazine, where WOW is now. Another was on Fern at Panola, two blocks from where I lived in the early 1970s. After a couple of meals there I never went back.

The best of the Compagno’s—on St. Charles Avenue at Fern, two blocks from South Carrollton—survived many years after all the others were gone. It not only had good food, but one of the most personable chefs in that segment of the biz. Sal Compagno took the restaurant over from his parents, but it was his wife Maria who made Compagno’s a great place to eat.

Compagno’s menu had two specialties, and Maria was adept at both. The Italian food was the Sicilian-inspired New Orleans kind, but with a distinction. Maria always made her own pasta for things like ravioli, at a time when almost no other restaurant did that. Everything in her kitchen was made from scratch, from the sauces to the fantastically garlicky, herbal olive salad on the muffulettas.

The other emphasis was seafood. Compagno’s served as much variety there as any local seafood restaurant. A sign in the dining room declared that no seafood was seasoned or breaded—let alone cooked—until someone ordered it. That was very clear in what came to the table. It was always golden brown, greaseless, fresh, and light.

The dining room looked almost exactly like Vincent’s does now: a brick divider ran through the center of the room, dividing the bar (where there were always a few regulars having a drink or a beer) from the tables.

Compagno’s was inexpensive and generous—a combination of merits that made it a perennial favorite among Tulane and Loyola students and faculty. It was particularly busy on Sunday nights, when it was one of the few restaurants open Uptown.

No matter when you went, Sal and Maria were there. In a way, they still are. Maria was very pleased to sell the restaurant to Vincent Catalanotto. Who, she says, continued to run the kind of restaurant she could be proud of, even with a different style of food and service. She loved her restaurant and its regulars, and still talks about them all the time. It took a few years, and it’s hard to find, but her cookbook is an accurate rendering of the kind of food Maria Compagno cooked.

This is one of 122 reviews of fondly-remembered but extinct restaurants from Lost Restaurants Of New Orleans, just published by Pelican. It’s available in bookstores all around town, and full of photos, graphics, menus, and memorabilia.

5 Readers Commented

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  1. oyster on January 19, 2014

    My wife and I went our only time at Compagno’s on its last night. Even then the staff and Maria were great as was the food.A fond memory of a lost restaurant.This is a great feature of the website .

  2. Gloria Lawrence on September 22, 2015

    My mother was married to Dominic Trupiano who was Sal Compagnos nephew. I lived next door to the restaurant for 4 years before Dominic died. Knew a lot of the family. Remember Sal’s parents fondly. Got to hang out with them in the kitchen. Played with their children in the back of the restaurant. At that time Sales ran a gas station across the street from the restaurant. Yes I have plenty of memories. Don’t know if Sal and Maria are alive but if they are tell them I still think of them often because they were a part of my growing up.

    • Thomas on October 19, 2017

      I graduated from St Stanislaus with Nicky Compagno. which was short for Dominic. Any idea where he is today? Did you know him too? I liked him. He was a good guy.

  3. Chuck Pohlmann on January 12, 2017

    As a child growing up in Pensacola Fl I soon became aware of my father being born in New Orleans La at 7723 Hampson Street which was just around the corner of Compagno’s The Lawrence Thom
    family lived at Hampson Street My father’s mother was Ruth Thom and she had sister’s named Hazel Thom, Viola and Pearl (who married Pete Compagno) I think Pete, Dominick and Sal were related. Pete would always be at the bar and Pearl was helping out as a waitress This was in the
    years of 1953-1960 My Dad and Mom would load the family up in a Volkswagon beetle and make the trip to New Orleans which took about 5 hours Dad would call Uncle Pete before we left on the trip and tell him what time to expect us there at the retaurant. My first memory of Compagno’s was how everyone was so nice to our family Uncle Pete woul;d reserve the back table for us and as soon as my father walk thru the front door he was served a ice cold mug of beer of which he loved so much I remember the ice melting off of the mug of beer and my father would tell us that this was the coldest mug of beer in town. Then when we sat down at the table we were served fried shrimp and fried oysters french fries soft drinks for the kids with straws. We sometimes had the Italian foods also which was amazing
    I have an old picture of Compagno’s (black and white) of Uncle Pete standing behind the bar
    I plan on returning to Vincents the new name and reliving my memories
    I did not ever remembering Uncle Pete giving a bill for the food which was always so much on the plate. My Dad was always trying to pay for the food and Uncle Pete would always say” NO WAY Charles everything is already taking care of.” So my father would leave a tip for Aunt Pearl who was his Aunt
    I remember Uncle Pete, Aunt Peral, Dominick and Sal
    I wish we could have some of those presious days back now as they were back then
    I will never forget those memories

  4. Jeff Dilks on May 23, 2017

    My wife and I visited Compagno’s regularly when we lived in NO during the early 80’s. We fondly remember Maria coming out and taking our infant daughter into the kitchen while we would eat our dinner so that we could have some quiet time together. One of our great memories of the city.