As the re-do intensifies in the space that was formerly Mondo, we’re going out on a limb here to say that its replacement will definitely satisfy. Yes, the name is unassuming (a compilation of letters culled from the names of all involved) but the resumes behind this place are definitely solid. And it represents a homecoming of sorts for one of the owners. Vic Gerrets worked there, (and just about everywhere else.)
It’s hard to recollect all the restaurants that have been in that location since Steak Knife left it, but before Barataria and after Romair’s there was Leano’s, a Creole-Italian restaurant that was a second location and commissary for the 50-seater Leano’s in Metairie.
It was at Leano’s that Gerrets got familiar with the place, though as a kid growing up in Lakeview, he knew all the dining spots. His parents were friends with the Masson family, Tony Angello, and the Mosca family, among others, so some dishes on the menu nod to all these legendary restaurateurs. There is also a Rigatoni Scarpetta on the menu, named after Vic’s friend Scott Conant, of television fame and the Scarpetta franchise. This simple dish, modeled after Schiue, Schiue (quick, quick! In Italian) sounds indescribably delicious. It’s pasta tossed with fresh tomato, garlic, olive oil, fresh basil, red pepper flakes, and herbs. Cheese on top. What could be better?
You may think a lot could be better after you see the menu, because it is filled with so many New Orleans favorites. Three oyster dishes, two of which are grilled. There are mussels, and rabbit, and Cioppino, and other interesting fish preparations. There is Piccata, and Sorrentino, Bolognese, lasagna, and meatballs and spaghetti.
But what about the pizza oven? As I write this, Vic is literally inside it cleaning and repairing it. He was a pizza chef at Mezzaluna in New York after Tony May poached him from Spunto in the French Quarter. He was also in the kitchen at Andrea’s in 1987, that restaurant’s glory days. And corporate chef for Sicily’s Pizza, among other gigs.
Jason Serpas, his partner in Elle-J’s, also worked in the restaurant business, but he and Vic go back to high school. Their career paths have merged and widened through the years, until each landed in the corporate world of The Chimes. Yes, the Chimes. (A Katrina thing.)
Jason left the Chimes first and called Vic because he knew Vic was looking for a place. They pulled up at what will become Elle-J’s, and soon each will slip right into the roles they have been rehearsing for their entire career. And it will be at a place in their neighborhood that both have known their whole lives: 900 Harrison Avenue, the revolving door of pretty good restaurants. Both have long been frustrated by that unfortunate fact about this space. With all that experience and a lifelong personal and working friendship built on mutual respect, we expect Elle-J’s to be the one to stick around.
Especially if they remember the best thing Vic says he has learned in the business, from Andrea: "my house is your house."
Elle-J's. 900 Harrison Avenue Lakeview.
Opening September 24th, if all goes well.