Casamento's:The Quirky Centenarian

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris March 01, 2023 11:01 in Dining Diary

New Orleans is a city and a culture that loves its traditions. We have maybe more than our share of old, really old restaurants that have become institutions. As I have often said, most of the time institutions are merely that and have long ago ceased being good. Luckily, we have more than our share of places that have remained good, in some cases excellent, for their entire existence, though I am not old enough to judge a century of tradition. 

Places like Arnaud’s which is currently excellent, had a very dark period before Archie Casbarian rescued it. Antoine’s has had its dark moments, and so on.

I have not been to Casamento’s nearly enough to make any sort of judgment about its various ups and downs. I tried to go for a long time before we actually did just recently. The appearance of the place was offputting to me. Tiles from who knows when scream “UPDATE,”  and rules that are archaic have put me off. Cash only, etc.

But the place is over a century old and deserves another look. We remembered to bring cash and went in. 

The footprint of Casamento’s is long and linear, with the bathrooms most unadventageously situated behind the kitchen, requiring patrons to negotiate their way between kitchen workers and boiling pots of oil to get there. There is a back dining room and a bar in the front with small tables along one wall, and the oyster shucker along the other. At the very front are a hostess/cashier area and a very necessary ATM machine.

Because we were meeting my brother and he hadn’t arrived, we were asked to wait in the entryway, which automatically puts one in the way of, in Tom’s case, everything. I finally had to ask for the owner to seat Tom because of the circumstances.

We were seated in the back room, which seemed filled with people who were regulars. It was clearly a neighborhood crowd. I expected a roomful of tourists. As I sat there, I began to appreciate the ambiance of this institution, and I finally understood why no renovation had taken place. It’s a relic of the past and would be no more if it was modernized.

Another thing that hasn’t changed about the place is its menu. Basic. Oysters are why one comes to Casamento’s. Freshly shucked, they are sublime. Or supposed to be. I don’t eat raw oysters, but I imagine this would be a place to do it.

In looking around the room where we were seated, we watched families that are obvious regulars get their platters of sandwiches and spaghetti and meatballs, so we decided to try Italian food. I use that term liberally because Italian food here is a simple plate of spaghetti and meatball, singular. And we would return for the sandwiches. Our cash would not go that far, and I refuse to use an ATM at a restaurant to eat.

But the sandwiches did really look good, and that may be the thing to get here. They are tall, made with thick slices of toasted white bread like Texas toast, dressed with pretty dressings, and seafood sticking out.

As for our own order, we started with a dozen chargrilled oysters and found it hard to finish them. They were overcooked with mounds of Parmesan cheese.

Our own seafood platter included fried oysters, shrimp, crab claws, and fish (we chose trout over catfish), with coleslaw and fresh-cut fries, as well as toast under the whole pile as they did in the old days. (I am charmed whenever I see this practice. It reminds me of the glory days of the West End.)

It was a hefty platter that fed three of us. It was fine as in ordinary, but I always appreciate fresh-cut fries when I see them, and I commend Casamento’s for keeping with this tradition from way before everyone else started using frozen fries.

We did get a plate of meatballs and spaghetti, which was also ordinary. The meatball was rather large and was neither soft nor hard, but right in-between, in what I call the “acceptable” territory.

After what I have just written it might seem surprising for me to say that I look forward to going back to Casamento’s. It is an institution proud of its heritage and unapologetic about its flaws. It was full the night we went. Nothing we ate that night was bad, it just wasn’t special or worthy of the “mystique” that keeps a place around this long still this busy. And frankly, I find the vibe that I once found offputting to be charming. I “get” it. But not enough.

We will go back and get some raw oysters, some oyster loaves, and a few other things on the menu that seem to satisfy the people that keep the place busy every night that they are open. For all these years.