Extinct Restaurants

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T. Pittari’s
Broadmoor: 4200 South Claiborne Avenue

Whenever a discussion of lost restaurants gets started, T. Pittari’s inevitably comes up. Often, the people who ask about it or relate their memories of the place can’t remember its name. But they very well remember the big restaurant with the mosaics of lobsters and beef cattle next to the doors, the neon signs, and the wild game.

Especially the wild game. They served hippopotamus, didn’t they?

The main reason T. Pittari’s is widely remembered over twenty years after it closed is that Tom Pittari, Sr. was perhaps the most skillful and studied restaurant promoter in the history of the local business. In many ways, he was ahead of his time. He learned what pushed people’s buttons, and how to push them.

He also found out that if people get excited about a dish, they would pay prices way out of line with the intrinsic value of the food involved. That’s why a lot of people who remember T. Pittari’s never actually dined there.

However, the restaurant couldn’t have become famous if it hadn’t been good. Its best dishes really were as memorable good as Tom Pittari said they were. Well, almost, anyway.

The funny thing was that the specialties for which T. Pittari’s was known–wild game and lobster–were in fact the worst and most overpriced dishes in the house.

Pittari’s was around a long time. Tom’s uncle Anthony opened it on the downtown river corner of Washington and Magazine. It moved to South Claiborne in the late 1940s, taking up a whole block. Especially at night, you couldn’t drive past without taking a long look. And Claiborne Avenue was the main route through town in those pre-interstate days.

Tom Pittari advertised his restaurant heavily in every way he could think of. Among his more innovative gambits was giving cab drivers who brought visitors from the French Quarter an extra tip.

Tom had a good story to sell. His famous Maine lobsters were kept alive in a tank of chilled water right in the dining room. You could pick the lobster that would be cooked for you. He was the first in town to do any of that. Pittari’s was the pioneer, and to this day the mere mention of lobster brings Pittari’s to the mind of anyone who was around back then. As well it should. In its heyday, T. Pittari’s sold two thousand lobsters a month.

Lobster was boiled, or broiled it with the head filled with seafood stuffing. (That was cheaper, because it didn’t require live lobsters.) The signature lobster was a unique concoction called lobster Kadobster. I had the Kadobster often enough to remember a) that it had a rich, yellow-tinged, somewhat spicy sauce, and 2) it was unreasonably expensive. (I’m asked now and then for the recipe for Kadobster, but have never been able to locate it.)

The other big-time nonconformity at T. Pittari’s was wild game. At its peak, T. Pittari’s hippopotamus steaks and lion, among other exotic meats. When I got around to dining at Pittari’s in the 1970s, endangered-species concerns whittled the list down to venison, bear, and buffalo. The buffalo was the best–like a lean beef steak. The venison tasted like dark veal. The bear was nasty in both appearance and flavor. Prices for all this were into double digits, at a time when a steak at Ruth’s Chris was six dollars.

The best strategy, though, was to forget about all of the above and pore over two other sections of the menu. The Italian food–and there was as much of that as on any straight Italian restaurant’s entire menu–was terrific. The red sauces were irresistible, the portions enormous (I don’t see how anyone ever finished their lasagna), and the prices within the range of normal.

The Creole dishes were better still. The dish I remember most fondly was crab bisque, made with a medium roux, a good bit of claw crabmeat, and a crab boulette that the waiter would bring in a separate dish and plop into the soup right in front of you.

Tom Pittari no doubt saw the crowds waiting to eat barbecue shrimp at Pascal’s Manale (a near neighbor). He developed his own excellent version. They baked very fine oysters Rockefeller and Bienville, broiled fish and meats with interesting sauces, and fried seafood well. Really, Pittari’s was a respectable all-around Creole restaurant. But nobody seems to remember that.

No matter what you ordered, you had to order carefully. The table d’hote lunches and dinners were good values, but if you deviated from the meals as listed, the a la carte prices kicked in, and the cost would double. (I’m not exaggerating.) If you had oysters on the half shell at the bar, you had to note whether you wanted regular oysters or “special selects” (at a higher price). Anything that had a gourmet ring had a gourmet price. Flaming desserts were for those intent on blowing a wad of money.

I think it’s that last matter that caused locals to fall out of love with T. Pittari’s, especially in its later years. They overheated the concept and pushed too hard to maximize check averages. New Orleanians can spot that from a mile away, and did.

T. Pittari’s was ahead of its time in one other way. Flooding killed it a quarter-century before Katrina. The May 3, 1978 flood and the April 13, 1980 flood–caused not by hurricanes but by extraordinary rainfalls and inadequate drainage systems–put two feet of water into Pittari’s. The building was at ground level in one of the lowest parts in the city. Other floods followed to ruin the carpets and furnishings a second and third time within just a few years.

Tom Pittari, Jr. (who was running the place by then) gave up, sold the property, and moved the restaurant to Mandeville. The North Shore in 1980 was not the place for a restaurant like this, and it closed in a year or so, never to return. The grand Claiborne restaurant was torn down, replaced by a Wendy’s raised above flood level.

But the fame of T. Pittari’s lobsters and wild game just kept on going.

30 Readers Commented

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  1. Kevin on October 26, 2014

    T. Pitari’s – I ate there a couple times in 1975 & 76. The “Venison, boned and rolled Montana style” was absolutely, melt in your mouth delicious! Wonderfully tenderized and seasoned. The wine selection was perhaps the best in town. The ambiance was superlative, and the service, with waitresses dressed in French maid type attire, were at your immediate side with a simple hand gesture. T. Pitari’s was a wonderful experience and dining at it’s finest.

  2. M. Thomasette Pittari on November 20, 2014

    i liked your line” the fame of T. Pittari’s lobsters and wild game just kept on going.” It keeps on in the minds of those who have eaten there. Your article above really says how it was and what keeps it in the minds of people who were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to dine there.

    It is people like you who keeps it going in the minds of those who had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of T. Pittari’s and what it stood for…”GREAT FOOD”

  3. Charles on January 17, 2015

    Had the great good fortune to eat there. Not just the food, but the service was inpeccable.
    Why do all the good places close, and the trash remain?

  4. Art Tappan on May 10, 2015

    When I was a young boy in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s my family always took an annual driving vacation from Dallas to Florida, via New Orleans. For a long time, I used to listen to WWL radio station late at night when it came in loud and clear all the way to Dallas. I heard the radio ads for T. Pittari’s many times on WWL. The ads made T. Pittari’s sound amazing, so I finally asked Dad if we could stop there for dinner on our next trip to Florida. He agreed and we did. It was an amazing “old school” restaurant. Top notch service and incredible food. I still remember that family visit to T. Pittari’s to this day, even though it was decades ago, and even though we only went one time. If they were still in business I would like to give it another try and see if it is as good as I remember.

    • Tom Fitzmorris on May 10, 2015

      I’m sorry to have to tell you that T. Pittari’s is gone for 34 years now.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

      • samantha pittari on March 9, 2017

        Shakespeare has been gone for thousands of years yet his work is still admired…

        • Jack on August 18, 2017

          Thousands of years? Time flies even faster than I thought!

  5. Shawn Elliot on August 11, 2015

    I lived in New Orleans in the early 1970’s and thoroughly enjoyed T. Pittari’s restaurant. We ate there several times and I remember the BBQ Shrimp as my favorite. I speak of it often. It’s sad such a wonderful place is no longer there. One of my fond memories of New Orleans.

  6. Brian on August 30, 2015

    My Dad is married to the daughter of Tom Pittari Jr. I need to be begging him for recipes. He talks about making a recipee book of all the dishes but he never has done it. I think most of the recipies were not written down people just knew how to cook it. Just got one so far going to try to cook it its crab meat cassorle supposedly it was a appetizer under a different name. I heard stories about how grand the resturaunt was but not tell I read this. I am going to ask to see if I can get any tips on cooking some of thier old stuff.

  7. Ann Coker on October 30, 2015

    My memory of T. Pittari’s is based on my dad wanting his children to know how to behave in a fine restaurant. As a treat for all four of us children, Dad and Mother made reservations. Before we ordered we were seated in front of the elaborate table settings. Dad had arranged to have the waiter explain the silverware and the order in which we were to use them. He also gave some brief instructions about proper etiquette. Because of this experience I have never been embarrassed at any formal dinner. I’m grateful to our dad for this valuable lesson and thankful to T. Pittari’s for allowing it to happen.

  8. Minnie L. on October 30, 2015

    Did anyone save the mosaics from the restaurant?

    • Tom Fitzmorris on November 2, 2015

      If so, they didn’t wind up in any public space. The big neon sign was for a time at the short-lived T. Pittari’s in Mandeville.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  9. Sylvia on December 31, 2015

    My mother was cleaning out her kitchen cabinets and gave me an old local recipe book titled “Favorite New Orleans Recipes.” It is paperback book with some recipes from local places and T Pittari’s was in it but I don’t recall this restaurant and I grew up in Nola . . . but was born in 1971 so would not have been old enough to go. The front cover is a picture of inside Pittari’s with a a waiter in front of a table filled with food. I will definitely try some of the recipes. My mom said she bought the booklet from a local women’s group but can’t remember which one. The lady lived on Audubon street that sold it to her.

    • Tom Fitzmorris on January 2, 2016

      Pittari’s was constantly putting out little cookbooks for its customers. If yours had the recipe for lobster Kadobster, would you please copy it and send it over here? I would be very grateful, as would a lot of other people who remember that fondly.Tom@nomenu.com.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

      • Kraemer Pittari on January 22, 2017

        I would love to have a copy also, I worked there for grandfather Tom Pittari Sr. starting at the age of 10 years old started off cleaning pots and busing tables, then moved on to waiter, then on to maitre de through high school. I have very fond memories of the restaurant . Kraemer Pittari

      • samantha pittari on March 9, 2017

        there’s THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS who loved lobster kadobster and you have said you haven’t liked the dish, but yet you’re asking and saying you’d be grateful for the recipe. Why is that Mr.Fitzmorris.

        The fact that many other people liked a dish has no effect on whether I like it or not. The reason I seek the recipe (you don’t have it, do you?) is that I have been asked for it many times. I wrote several reviews over the years about T. Pittari’s, all of them predominantly favorable. This gives me access to a notebook of reflections on my reaction to the actual eating, rather than the mere memories most people have. My notes of actual meals with Lobster Kadobster are consistent. Good name, not much of a dish. Also note that in my book The Lost Restaurants Of New Orleans (co-authored by Peggy Scott Laborde’s), T. Pittari’s has by far the greatest number of pages. It’s the first restaurant think about when the subject of extinct restaurants comes up. So there.
        Tastefully yours,
        Tom Fitzmorris

  10. Sylvia on January 3, 2016

    Sorry, but lobster Kadobster isn’t in here. Re seafood, these are the Pittari’s recipes in this booklet: Baked stuffed flounder, bbq shrimp, broiled shrimp, crabmeat ravigotte, crawfish etouffee. I can’t find a publication date, but it looks like late 70’s based on the pictures. I’d be happy to send you a copy of any of these recipes. Just let me know.

    • Tom Fitzmorris on January 3, 2016

      I have all of those. . . they used the same recipes in most of those brochures. Just hoping the Kadobster might have slipped in. Thanks!

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  11. jay on January 15, 2016

    i was a busboy for them in mandeville. Fantastic family. the lobster kadobster was so good that i would eat it off of peoples plates after i bused the table before bringing it back to the dishwasher. even if it had a cigarette butt in it.

  12. Marie Drago on March 31, 2016

    My husband to T, Pitteris every year for our Anniversatu! God I wish they were still around no one could beat the lobster kadobster!

  13. Faye Halfacre Moore on April 9, 2016

    As a young girl, growing up in Granville, Tennessee, I listened to WWL late at night. I was enthralled with T Pittari’s ads for wild game. When I married and moved to New Orleas in 1965, that was the first restaurant I wanted to visit. I loved the exotic menu, but was only brave enough to try the wild pheasant! Pleasant experience though.

  14. Ann Coker on May 4, 2016

    Where can I find a photo of T. Pittari’s Restaurant when on So. Clairborne Ave.?

  15. Daniel on January 2, 2017

    I took my wife there in the mid 70’s. Our table wasn’t ready so we had a drink at the bar. A man in a suit came over to take us to our table. Wanting to play a big shot, I folded a dollar bill and gave it to the man that sat us. He put it in his pocket and called a waiter over. He told them to be sure and take good care of us. The waiter said, yes sir Mr. Pitari. I was so embarrassed for giving him a meekly buck. I could have crawled under the table. We had a big laugh over it though. We did have a wonderful experience, great food and great service.

  16. Kraemer Pittari on January 22, 2017

    I would love to have some of the recipes, I worked for my grandfather Tom Pittari Sr. starting at the age of ten cleaning pots and pans,moved up to busing tables,then waiter onto maitre de. I have many many good memories spending time with my Grandfather Tom Pittari Sr.and my Uncle Tom Pittari Jr.
    Kraemer Pittari

    What recipes? I’d like to have them, too.

  17. Greg on February 2, 2017

    My wife of 52 years and I just returned home this evening from the Treasure Bay Casino in Biloxi where we had the $8 Specials which on Thursdays is Shrimp Scampi. Small serving of pasta with a dozen small shrimp and toast is all there was to it. With Tip the cost was just over $20.00

    I recollected tonight as we drove home how before we got married I would take her to New Orleans and we would eat at T. Pittari’s. Still going to school and not having a lot of money we would order the special of the day which consisted of a salad, 4 different oysters (Bienville, Rockafella, etc.), a main course of stuffed lobster, vegetable, and a dessert with coffee. When the waiter would bring me the bill I still remember giving him a $20.00 bill and telling him to just keep the change. “Big spender from Biloxi”. ha ha

    We were so sad to see when T. Pittari’s Restaurant closed those 36 years ago.

  18. Jeff Heckman on February 25, 2017

    I agree with the author’s assessment that their signature dishes were not as good as some others. My wife and I were just reminiscing about visiting T. Pittari’s as newlyweds in 1979. My wife ordered the lobster kadobser and I had something much better. She wanted to switch dinners with me, but I made her keep her selection – and teach her a lesson! She still steams about that to this day!!

  19. Tommy on March 4, 2017

    I ate here around 1972. One of my best meals of all times

    • E. Smith on June 16, 2017

      I have found the recipe in a cookbook put together by famous chefs in NOLA. WILL see if I can send it to you

  20. Marie Pittair Borim on November 25, 2017

    My Dad was Tom Pittari—he was a fantastic person and great Dad!