Metairie: 1315 N. Causeway Blvd.
Sclafani’s was the first white-tablecloth restaurant in East Jefferson Parish. For a long time, it remained the only one.
Peter Sclafani didn’t start his career as a chef, but one day he decided that he could become one by just saying so. His original restaurant was in Mid-City, on Palmyra Street between Carrollton and the cemeteries. It was a small place, always busy, serving the Sicilian dishes everybody in New Orleans considered real Italian food
The restaurant succeeded because Sclafani had more of a gift for cooking than he realized. Even first-generation Italian mammas thought that he turned out creditable food. Not as good as their own, of course, but good enough. That was high praise indeed, and Sclafani became as famous an Italian chef as anyone in town, with the possible exception of the Turci family.
In the late 1950s, Chef Pete moved his restaurant to Causeway Boulevard. That thoroughfare had just been built through the old Harlem neighborhood, and was now the main north-south route through Metairie. Many of his customers came from the adjacent Old Metairie neighborhoods, but probably even more were people who had just built houses along the relatively new Veterans Memorial Boulevard corridor.
Singer Rudy Vallee—who liked Chef Pete’s food—broke ground for the sprawling new restaurant. It was big enough not only to serve all those people, but also to host meetings of every organization in the area. Rotary, Kiwanis, Sertoma, Knights of Columbus—every Metairie group had its meetings at Sclafani’s.
The core of the menu was Italian food, but Chef Pete was equally as adept at Creole and seafood cookery. The menu was comically large, even by the standards of those big-menu days. It listed well over a hundred dishes in tiny type. When they ran out of room, they ran even more dishes up, down, and sideways alone the margins. And added typed pages of specials.
Sclafani’s food was always good. The place was famous for shrimp remoulade (enough so that they bottled the sauce and sold it in grocery stores). The red snapper soup was to Sclafani’s what turtle soup is to Commander’s: not to be missed. Great baked oysters with seafood dressing, and really good Rockefellers, too. Soft shell crabs bordelaise, really garlicky but wonderful. (Speaking of garlic, the house salad gave you all you wanted of that.)
The most famous dish at Sclafani’s, though, was its stuffed shrimp hollandaise. Everybody ordered it. By the time I got there, however, something funny had happened. They decided that they’d make large batches of hollandaise in advance, refrigerate it, and scoop a ball of it on top the the hot shrimp when served. It would then melt like butter over the shrimp, completely broken. I never once had a proper hollandaise on this dish. This would be considered an atrocity these days, but they got away with it in Metairie.
Chef Peter’s sons Frank and Peter Jr. were heavily involved in operating the restaurant, but they parted ways in the late 1960s. Frank continued to run Sclafani’s for a number of years after his father died. But times had changed, Metairie was more competitive, the old building needed major renovation. Ultimately it closed and was torn down.
Frank now runs a cooking school for professional chefs. Peter Jr. opened his own place in New Orleans East long enough ago that his own sons became chefs. Peter III ran a couple of good restaurants in New Orleans before relocating to Baton Rouge. He’s now one of the owners of Ruffino’s there. He keeps a few old Sclafani’s dishes alive there.