West End Park.
In the heyday of West End Park, its many restaurants had menus that were all but interchangeable. There was only one exception: Papa Rosselli’s, an Italian restaurant surrounded by seafood joints.
Papa Rosselli’s stood out–literally–in another way. Unlike most West End restaurants, it was on solid ground, under a pair of enormous live oaks between the parking lot and the walkway that ran around it. In a low-slung, utilitarian two-story building, the dining room was on the bottom, under a low ceiling.
What everybody noted about the place was what a friend called its “Early Santa Claus” decor. Christmas bulbs glowed around the walls all year long, and provided most of the illumination.
Although Papa Rosselli’s had a big menu of the local Italian standards, its best food was seafood. Must have been the terroir. Some of this was prepared in an Italian style–stuffed artichokes, marinated crabs, and seafood pasta. But they also served very good boiled seafood, and the fried platters always came out hot and crisp.
That last condition was related to another thing most of Papa Rosselli’s customers remember: it took forever for the food to come. That’s largely because they cooked everything to order (already, many West End places did batch cooking), but the wait staff was pretty laissez-faire on top of that.
Fans of Papa Rosselli’s went anyway, perhaps because it was a little dimmer and more romantic (if romance can be ascribed to so scruffy a joint) than the bustling dining rooms of Bruning’s and Fitzgerald’s. It set the scene a little better for a walk in the dark along the lake, at a time when the lakefront was the principal making-out district of New Orleans.
I don’t exactly remember when Papa Rosselli’s closed. It was not in my restaurant guide of 1991, but was in all before then. Like everything else at West End Park, it was hit hard when parking fees began being collected in the parking lot. And one day it was gone.