It's amazing how many great New Orleans restaurant institutions were created by Croatian entrepreneurs. The "-ich"-named people left behind Ruth's Chris Steak House, Gentilich's, the Crescent City Steak House, Sam's Place, Uglesich's, and many other memorable eatiries. Drago's stands about them all. Drago and Klara Cvitanovich, well connected to the world of oyster fishing in Louisiana, opened their restaurant in 1969, and became a standard. One of their dishes--char-broiled oysters--has become what may be the most imitated seafood dish in the restaurant history in New Orleans. And they keep leading the way, innovating as they go. [caption id="attachment_18436" align="alignnone" width="400"] Char-broiled oysters, "The best single bite of food in New Orleans."[/caption]
Drago's permanent place in the annals of New Orleans cuisine is assured. Its char-broiled oysters are so exciting that the idea has been imitated in dozens of other restaurants. That achievement is already in a league with Manale's barbecue shrimp, K-Paul's blackened fish, and Antoine's oysters Rockefeller. Beyond its oyster grill, Drago's is a classic New Orleans seafood restaurant, nudge upscale just a touch. Beyond fried seafood platters and gumbo, it's the city's leading lobster restaurant. New dishes enter the menu regularly, and both locations remain very busy. [caption id="attachment_17559" align="alignnone" width="400"] Fleur-de-lis shrimp.[/caption]
Drago Cvitanovich and his wife Klara--both of whom are still active in the restaurant--are Croatian immigrants who worked in the local seafood business for years before opening their own restaurant in the 1970s. One of the first businesses in Fat City, it was always good, but never was especially busy. Their son Tommy came along with some fresh ideas, and seemingly overnight Drago's became one of the busiest restaurants in town. Their second location, in the Riverfront Hilton, is the top-grossing restaurant in the entire Hilton chain in America. The efforts Drago's family made after Katrina (and other disasters before that), and their activity in the community lend further good karma.
The Metairie restaurant's high-tech design makes for lively sound. A lot of that comes from the usually large crowd waiting in the bar for tables. That's almost inevitable in the Metairie restaurant, particularly on Fridays and in Lent. The oyster grill is a centerpiece, with columns of flame and steam bursting around the bivalves. The downtown restaurant sort of overlaps the gigantic Riverside Hilton hotel's lobby. It's more spacious, but the same casual feeling obtains.
The restaurants are open all afternoon, and the crowds thin out then. Order fried seafood only if you must; it's not really a specialty, compared with the grill side of the menu.