The Arabi Food Store is celebrating its fortieth year in business. It has never been better or busier. In the long run, the Katrina disaster--which wiped out every family dwelling except one in all of St. Bernard Parish--has been an economic engine as, reconstruction goes on too slowly but very steadily. Both the workers and their customers love the Arabi Food Store for bringing the eating side of the recovery home early.
The name is misleading, but tells a familiar story. Many great sandwich shops around New Orleans began as neighborhood grocery stores with delis that produced sandwiches as a sideline. As supermarkets made it harder for corner groceries to survive, they evolved into inexpensive neighborhood eateries. The Arabi Food Store is a classic example of this, with excellent everyday sandwiches and a few platters.
The oldest part of St. Bernard Parish, Arabi is on the river just over the Orleans Parish line. Almost two hundred years ago, it became the logical frontier for the expansion of New Orleans. The Arabi Food Store is in the historic center of Arabi, in a building that's around a century old. Its longtime owner Elliot Gaspard got into the neighborhood grocery business in 1953, moving from one to another until he bought the present store in 1973. He passed in 2004, with the next generation if his family still operating the store.
The restaurant is a block river side of St. Claude Avenue at the corner of Friscoville and Royal. It still looks like a corner grocery on the outside, but inside it's a classic neighborhood cafe, the colorful plastic tablecloths defending the tables from roast beef gravy.
Only a longshoreman could finish a poor boy here, and a lot of them do. Plan on getting two meals out of almost anything you order here. Know that they close early on Wednesday (2 p.m.) and Saturday (3 p.m.). Otherwise, they stay open until around 6 p.m.