WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
A small Italian cafe in an utterly ordinary strip mall on Veterans Highway, Sandro’s has a surprisingly large menu–and specials, to boot. The place follows closely the catalog of familiar local Italian dishes, but with enough of a twist on many of them that they wow people who haven’t moved far from spaghetti and meatballs in their Italian dining.
Sandro’s invokes the cuisine of Tuscany as its model, but I wouldn’t say that’s exactly accurate. The cooking is good, particularly when it involves pasta. Scattered around the menu are some excellent specialties–notably the mussels, the mostly-vegetable dishes, and the daily specials. Seafood is not a strong suit, but the fried calamari are the best around. (Every restaurant serving calamari says that, but in this case it’s true.) The veal is not as good as the chicken or pork. Panneed pork is better than panneed veal, anyway.
Sandro’s opened in the mid-1990s, a side project of the people who market the excellent Boscoli line of Italian bottled olive salad, olive oil, and the like.
Once you’re inside, the dining room is quaint and family-style pleasant. But it’s too small, and when the regulars show up in their usual numbers, there’s no comfortable place to wait for a table. The wide-open parking lot and the stark strip mall front are no bonus.
»Grilled eggplant, vegetables, or portobello mushrooms with spinach and tomatoes
»Fried eggplant sticks
Tomato basil soup
Pasta (available as is or with chicken, meatballs, or Italian sausage):
»Aglio olio (bordelaise)
A»ngel hair salsa rosa (tomato sauce with a little cream)
Fettuccine with brown butter
Fettuccine with mushrooms and sage
Entrees (most served with pasta):
Grilled shrimp, salmon, or tuna with sauteed spinach
Fried shrimp or oysters
Pannee veal or pork
Mussels marinara (red sauce and pasta)
Frutti di mare (mussels, oysters, shrimp, and calamari with pasta in a tomato sauce)
»Veal and pork lasagna
Chicken or veal piccata
»Tuscan filet mignon (mushrooms salsa rosa)
It»alian cream cake
Italian ices and gelato
M»arjolaine (like a mocha lasagna with pastry)
FOR BEST RESULTS
Even though this is an inexpensive, easy-going place, get a reservation. Split any appetizers you order at least two ways. Don’t miss the mussels, available in two recipes, appetizer and entree. And again:L the fried squid can’t be beat. (Unless La Riviera comes back from the dead.)
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
These guys should have moved to more pleasant quarters a decade ago–but then it might not seem like a secret place anymore.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness -1
- Local Color -1
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Every now and then (but not really very often), a restaurant will turn a bad location into an asset. Sandro’s has done that, attracting enough of a loyal following that the restaurant is almost always full at dinner. There are better Italian restaurants in Metairie, but something about this place makes its customers feel as if they’ve stumbled on a great little secret.