The West Bank of the river has never been known as a dining mecca, mainly because its fortunes seemed always tied to the vagaries of the area’s economy. When the oil booms busted, so did Westbank dining. But this last time that happened, it didn’t seem to really come back.
Tony Mandina’s remains the stalwart of fine dining over there. It is charming and delicious. The Red Maple is another very popular place which is less so since the Deanie’s folks bought it. The Beef Connection faded into oblivion. Sun-Ray Grill, New Orleans Food & Spirits and Cafe 615 fulfill the needs for casual dining if staying close is a priority. Serious eating is only a ten minute drive across the bridge, which best explains the paucity of great dining west of the river.
But a few years ago a LeRuth’s alum decided to try his hand at restaurant ownership, opening in a most peculiar space nestled among storage units. Right past where Stumpf meets Belle Chasse Highway, a tiny building (that looks like it might have also been a storage units office) was repurposed as a first class steakhouse.
O’Brien’s Grille opened in 2008 to immediate success. With The Beef Connection gasping its last, this was a steakhouse on par with the good ones, right here, albeit in peculiar surroundings.
O’Brien’s had that masculine clubby vibe, oozing class beyond expectations. The space was linear with both walls lined with small banquettes, and a row of four-tops in between. Upon entering it was left for a small bar, right for dining, a hostess stand in between.
The steaks were indeed first class, complete with all the steakhouse sides. None of this paled in any way to the bigger beef operations on the other side of the river. Why go anywhere when you have what you need at home?
O’Brien’s was a tremendous success from the day it opened. But after only ten years in business it departed as abruptly as it arrived, leaving a big void in Westbank dining. Southern Charm Bistro opened very briefly, and the rest of the time it has remained empty.
When Mary Leigh mentioned that Rizzuto’s had opened a pizzeria on the Westbank, I couldn’t imagine where it was. Reports put it “far out,” but this space is in Gretna in a rather busy area. There was no real change to the place except that on each table, red and white checkered tablecloths covered in clear plastic have replaced the fine white linen from the O’Brien’s days. The casual atmosphere made me a little sad. I had a brief pang of missing O’Brien’s.
Another surprise of the visit was how extensive the menu was. Not that it was large, but a “New York style” pizzeria implies to me casual and all about the pizza. There is no by-the-slice option, a situation I understood when I arrived. This pizzeria seems more like an Italian restaurant than a pizza joint. A pizza joint is not likely to have a Caprese salad or pesto on the menu, not to mention bruschetta.
It makes perfect sense that the place would be more upscale than a pizza joint, since the Rizzuto brothers ran Amici on Magazine before selling it to open Rizzuto’s in the former Tony Angello’s. We liked Amici well enough, which is exactly what we would say about the Pizzeria.
On the menu you will find a handful of appetizers, pastas, sandwiches, and a few salads, including the aforementioned Caprese.
True to the name, the larger side of the divided menu is pizza. There is an ample selection of pizzas like Quattro Formaggio and Margherita and a basic white pizza, plus a section for building one yourself.
We opted for the usual way that we order pizza, and it turned out the way it usually does recently. Since I like pepperoni and Tom likes only cheese, it seemed a simple solution to get a pepperoni and have him just give me the pepperoni. But he doesn’t like the grease sludge left by pepperoni. I solved the problem for a long time by asking for a pepperoni and all of the pepperoni placed on one side. Problem solved, right? Double the pepperoni for me, none for him. Except that in ordering this way the server calls it back “half pepperoni, half cheese, right?” which I know means more money for them but they have just worn me down. I shrug and nod yes. But this is a bad deal for me. I pay more and get less, and after Rizzuto’s I have vowed to resume the fight. I think there were five or six very large pepperonis on my side of the pizza. These are more like a salami, which I like less anyway. The larger pepperoni is more expensive, and it is not New York style pizzeria pepperoni.
Now that I have finished my pepperoni rant, I can move on to the true hallmark of the New York style pizza versus Italian. New York style is thin crust and distinctly different from the breadier Italian version. I was assured by a New York native buddy of mine that this was the proper crust, and it may have been, but I found the entire thing stridently ordinary. Definitely not worth a trip back to the storage units on Belle Chasse Highway.
The sauce was indistinguishable from the cheese and made no statement. I do like a lot of cheese.
There were some more interesting pizzas on the “Gourmet pizza” menu, like Shrimp Scampi, an “all the meats” pizza appropriately called Carni, and a pesto pizza, as well as a plain white pizza, meatball and peppers, and a spinach and artichoke pizza pie.
Also in this order was an Italian salad, and I expected these two Italian brothers to have a great one. This was also a disappointment, with Feta cheese crumbles and more of the pepperoni quartered on the lettuce, Olive salad was in such short supply I didn’t even notice it.
The spinach, artichoke, and shrimp dip was the star of this meal by far. For $12.95 it seemed a small portion with adequate crostini. Some of the crostini were stale, but otherwise good. The dip was full of spinach, and really cheesy. These are two good things to me, so I liked this the best of anything in this order.
The daily specials are definitely among the most interesting things to eat here, getting more ambitious by the day. Monday is a white beans special, followed by chicken spiedini on Tuesday, working up to crabcake on Thursday and a ribeye for Friday.
Also on the menu is a small group of sandwiches, ranging from a meatball sandwich to one with Italian cold cuts. Chicken Parm is on this menu, as a sandwich, along with a Caprese sandwich.
There are a handful of the most familiar pasta dishes, Alfredo, meatballs and pasta, more Chicken Parm, rigatoni in a Vodka cream sauce, and Shrimp Fra Diavolo.
This is a pretty big menu for a small place. It seems like the Rizzuto brothers unfolded the tent from Amici and opened it again on the Westbank, in a smaller and certainly less glamorous space than the one on Magazine.
All the pieces are still there, condensed. Not as fancy as Tony Mandina’s, not as funky as Mo’s, this retooled Rizzuto’s fits right in the middle. And the neighbors in the nearby subdivisions will be very grateful that the Rizzuto brothers crossed the river to set up shop there.