Delicious Comfort

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris January 13, 2023 08:19 in Dining Diary

Institutions become institutions because they remain popular for a long time. That doesn’t always mean they are good. (Think Mother’s.) I am often mystified by popular places that aren’t so good, and much better places that don’t enjoy such popularity.

Riccobono’s Peppermill has been a Metairie Institution for nearly 50 years and has been a breakfast gathering spot for generations of people throughout the metro area. What I didn’t realize until our last visit was that it is also a gathering place for people at all the other meals served there.

I have always loved breakfast at the Peppermill, but I have recently come to understand the popularity of the other meals as well. Simply put, Riccobono’s Peppermill is delicious local comfort food done very well, in equally comfortable surroundings, with the service to match.

Full disclosure: The Peppermill is currently an advertiser on the Food Show (airs 2-4 pm weekdays on 990 AM.) I often state an important distinction about all advertisers on any of our platforms... We don’t say good things about advertisers because they are advertisers. They are advertisers because we say good things.

Tom has always loved the Peppermill, but I have not had as much experience with it. We were there yesterday and had two meals that bled into each other. We have done this once before, and I am embarrassed when this happens. The first time was at Chemin a la Mer because we dropped my car off and the shuttle driver was late. At the Peppermill it was for a totally different reason.

We went in for breakfast. Tom got a Stuffed Crab omelette, which I was thrilled to see because I was also looking at that one, but any corned beef hash is irresistible to me, and I had to get the Hash Stack. Tom’s interest in the Stuffed Crab omelette surprised me because that is not usually his thing. I, on the other hand, am always looking for the stuffed crab of my youth from the glory days of the West End. 

What arrived at the table was a surprisingly sophisticated, and glamorous, fluffy yellow deftly executed omelette, though it was bloated in the middle from a generous filling of stuffed crab. On top was a little garnish of crabmeat. This was a lovely thing to behold, and even more delicious to eat. 

I wanted a big pile of actual stuffed crabs with this spot-on filling. A hint of pepper, just the right amount of green onions, not too much breading, and copious amounts of crabmeat throughout, this was a very good old New Orleans-style stuffed crab filling. We will definitely return to get this omelette again unless I can get it in crab shells accompanied by fries and tartar sauce!

My hash stack was pretty, though I specified my eggs over easy rather than poached. They were, and the corned beef hash was exactly what I wished all hashbrowns were. They were crispy outside and soft inside, with the right amount of butter to make them moist. The little cubes of corned beef could have been softer, but overall this was very nice. And very tasty. The grits were exactly right. These were not grits that were overthought, gourmet with cream and other ingredients that make them too rich to even finish. These were basic good white corn grits needing only butter and salt, as it should be!

Tom had the standard Brabant-style breakfast potatoes seen everywhere to accompany his stellar omelette, as well as a biscuit that was fine but nothing special.

After a few more cups of coffee that Tom was literally rhapsodizing over. (This being the Riccobono’s family legacy, it had to be “real” New Orleans coffee,) Tom decided he needed meatballs and spaghetti.

The Peppermill is the continuation of the legacy started by Joe and Josie Riccobono back in the early-to-mid 20th century, a couple who celebrated their Italian ancestry. Why wouldn’t the meatballs and spaghetti here be great? I don’t know why Tom suddenly started thinking about all this, but he really needed some meatballs and spaghetti here this morning.

I inquired about that, as 11 am approached. But the Peppermill doesn’t switch the kitchen to lunch until 11:30.

He wanted to wait.

This was a chance for me to have another meal at The Peppermill, so I went to the hostess stand and saw the lunch menu, as well as the offerings for the special lunch deal of $20.23. (This runs till the end of the month. Don't miss it.)

It was fortuitous to see the first entree as Chicken Clemenceau, one of the fancy Creole Chicken Dishes we talked about just the day before on the radio show. I was curious to see their version. The special is two courses, the first a choice of Onion Soup, Caesar salad, or fried eggplant bites. I’m always curious about versions of the local classic around town, so I ordered the eggplant and the other classic, Chicken Clemenceau. And Tom awaited his meatballs and spaghetti.

We got a sample of the simple marinara characteristic of the New Orleans Italian red sauce we love to love. A dish of it flanked the little eggplant ‘bites”, which were bite-sized plump nuggets of golden brown fried eggplant. These were aptly named; not too much eggplant in one bite, fried greaseless and golden brown.

The spaghetti was angel hair, tossed in this delicious red gravy with meatballs that were exactly the right size, and even better, the right texture. They crumbled when you touched them, creating, to my taste, the happy circumstance of the unintentional Bolognese. I couldn’t believe how much of this Tom ate. I think he liked it! I did too. Basic, New Orleans Italian meatballs and spaghetti, like Grandma made. Good for the soul.

My Clemenceau was not old-fashioned. It was modern and elegant. A pretty picture in white, here was a lightly-dusted piccata-style sauteed chicken breast duo with Brabant-style potato cubes, peas and delicious mushrooms.

Riccobono’s Peppermill is still quite busy after all these years, a testament to the goodness of what is served here, and the easy surroundings in which it is served. What is equally interesting about the place is the seamless blending of old-fashioned and modern, and homey and polished. A plate of liver and onions is likely to be at the same table with a very modern Amandine, grilled gulf fish in brown butter with mounds of toasted slivered almonds. They will share only one trait: both will be piping hot. So hot you will have to wait for it to cool. This is something obvious in the days when Riccobono’s Peppermill arrived on the scene, but it is very rare now.

Owner Cami Chiarella is surprised to hear me say that, but I tell her to get out more. As such a frequent diner, I can say that with some conviction. Cami is the third-generation proprietor of the Peppermill and Joe and Josie Riccobono’s great-niece. And she is a faithful and highly capable steward of the Riccobono family legacy of serving delicious and comforting New Orleans Italian and neighborhood-style food. 

This particular institution, nearly 50 years running, is in good hands.