Metairie: 724 Martin Behrman Ave.
Metairie: 4634 Veterans Blvd.
Everybody who said anything about the Little Italians–including critics who wrote about the place–always began by noting that there was complete truth in the name. The restaurant was indeed small. And its owners were three or four Italians of short stature.
We (I did it too) went on to say that there was nothing small about the menu or the flavors. Or we would if our palates weren’t completely tuned in to the New Orleans-Sicilian style of Italian cookery. Having that orientation might make us suspicious of the somewhat unfamiliar cooking the Little Italians performed. The more open-minded among us (and anybody from the Northeast or Chicago) would say what a find this place was.
I don’t know where the families came from, but their style of cooking was more like that of Tuscany than that of southern Italy. You’d start with an antipasto plate of such variety that we wouldn’t see its like again until Andrea’s opened a decade later. The soups were and hearty. They would serve small orders of pasta as a separate course, early in the meal, the way they do in Italy.
Although they were better with olive oil and cream sauces than most other local Italian restaurants, the Little Italians made a spectacular red sauce, too. It was less sweet and carried more of an herbal component than what most of use were accustomed to.
From there, the menu branched out in all directions. I thought the chicken dishes were especially excellent. Angela chicken had a stuffing of bread, cheese, and prosciutto and a covering of mozzarella. It was a lot like the spiedini served now at Impastato’s or Filippo, and luscious in its aromas. The veal was more robust (and a bit tougher) than typical, but instead of routinely panneeing it they sauteed and wrapped it around stuffings to make involtini.
Near as I could tell, the entire staff was family. Their smallness allowed them to move around the teeny dining rooms easily. (The premises, not much changed since the Little Italians days, is now Fury’s. And you know how close the spaces are there.)
The restaurant closed in the early 1980s, but after a few years it reopened on the river side of Veterans just past Clearview. By that time (if I remember right) there were just two little Italians running the place. It was only there a couple of years before disappearing permanently.
However, a legacy of the Little Italians lives on at Arnaud’s. Its longtime executive chef Tommy DiGiovanni is the son of one of the Little Italians. This is easy to believe. He’s as short as his talent is long.