Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris June 15, 2020 08:00 in Dining Diary

Tom had been talking about Impastato’s the last few days on the radio show. It was Friday night so I thought we’d try to satisfy that craving at Impastato’s Cellars. In the new world you can’t do things so spontaneously. Reservations must be made, and we could have one if we got there in ten minutes, which was impossible even if we jumped right into the car.

We had to say no to the offer, but the craving remained. Then I remembered that the deliciousness of the Impastato brothers was available on the north shore long before Impastato’s Cellars. Sal & Judy’s in LaCombe is a legend in those parts. It’s iconic pink building is known by everyone on the north shore. Sal & Judy’s has been offering the Impastato magic to diners since 1974.The place has undergone at least one major redo since then, yet it retains that Impastato’s feel. 

The place owned by Sal’s uncle Joe in Metairie is not a place to go for sleek decor. You go for the food, and this one on the north shore is exactly like it. Old pictures of Sicily and newer ones of regulars at the restaurant offer a familiar and comfy vibe to diners. And the food finishes the warm and welcome feeling. Comforting delicious Italian food that goes right to the heart and soul.

The new Impastato’s Cellars has the same irresistible Sicilian New Orleans food with a much more updated look. That one has a Tuscan sense but it is modern American. Joe Impastato’s wife and daughter, both named Mika, run the new one.

On our visit Friday night everything was familiar. It was crowded, which is because of Covid. Before Covid, it would have been so crowded it would be almost impossible to get in. We had a chance Friday, and we grabbed it by arriving at 5:30. People came in steadily and were seated according to the new guidelines, though for some reason it didn’t bother me so much here. There were people at the bar and it didn’t seem desolate. It looked almost normal.

When I opened the menu my eyes fell immediately on the words stuffed artichoke, and my order was set. I would eat the whole thing, and that would be it. That’s too bad because the menu here is so appealing there is much else to want. 

Tom got the Oysters Cinisi, which came in a small ramekin bubbling over with breadcrumbs and chopped Italian sausage. This is one of Tom’s favorites here. I could easily see why. There was a lot of sausage with that real Italian anise flavor, very meaty. And chopped mushrooms with breadcrumbs.

This was gone too soon for Tom. He also ordered some fettuccine, which must be part of every trip to any Impastato restaurant. He feels that Joe Impastato makes the best Fettuccine Alfredo in the world, including Alfredo’s in Rome. Whenever he eats it he marvels at almost the engineering required to make the pasta as thin as it is. 

I knew that he wouldn’t finish the pasta, so I asked for a house salad that got my attention at nearby tables. The Impastato house salad is always great. The dressing is light and fresh with a good olive oil base and grated parmesan. There is a unique salad presentation here. The house salad comes with a little basket of homemade croutons for you to help yourself. I always love this salad.

In watching the food go to other tables, I wanted everything I saw. Here is soft shell crab fried beautifully and served as a twosome, with a lemon cream sauce or Meuniere. There are often mushrooms and sometimes crab meat atop these crabs or fish, and it is all spectacularly delicious. But I have had it all before, and that stuffed artichoke was terrific. It was so tender I could have eaten it all without pulling it from the leaves. This was one of the best stuffed artichokes I’ve had.

Tom was excited because he knew that Angelo Brocato’s Spumoni is on the menu at all the Impastato places. But the waiter dashed his hopes by telling him someone left the cooler door open and it all melted. The rest of the list was uninteresting to him except an ice cream dish with Amaretto and almonds. 

Tom’s dessert was loaded with sliced almonds, and the portion of vanilla ice cream was generous. A puddle of Amaretto encircled the dish. He was so satisfied with this, I think he forgot about the spumoni.

We left when it was still daylight and took a drive down to the lake. I was curious about a place we used to go when the kids went to school on the northshore. Jude had a friend in second grade who lived on the Trace. When we visited the boy we would sometimes drive Lake Road south to the lake, which always felt like going to the end of the world. After a while the camps run out and it's a gravel road. At the end of the road is a place called Gloeckner’s, which was a place to eat, get bait, and rent things.

We didn’t go all the way to Gloeckner’s Friday, because I didn’t want to take this car on a gravel road. But it was a nice memory, and a nice evening.