Extinct Restaurants

The Lido

Marrero: 1019 Avenue C.

Lido Gardens

Metairie: 4415 Airline Hwy.

The Lido closed only last year, but at least two sets of owners intervened since the years when its food was most memorable. In its heyday, it introduced New Orleans palates to Northern Italian cooking for the first time. No other restaurant served polenta, vitello saltimbocca, or risotto in these parts before the Lido did.

The original Lido owners were a couple of Italian couples who were liked as much for their charming, Italian-inflected personalities as for their cooking. Pietro and Josie Caligaro and Tony and Betty Mongiat were always on the premises, giving their customers lots of love, and getting it in return. To this day former customers ask about the Lido people–particularly Betty.

In the 1970s, this was the kind of restaurant that could incite people to cross town and get lost trying to find it. Nor did Uptowners mind going to the West Bank for something special. They were used to going to Mosca’s, LeRuth’s, and the Bistro Steak Room. They’d just keep rolling around Marrero until the Lido’s tall sign hove into view. That would be unimaginable now, regardless of the quality of the food.

You knew you were in a different kind of Italian place as soon as you were inside the door. Instead of tomato sauce, the aromas spoke of olive oil, rosemary, and herbs. Veal, chicken, and beef dishes came out with brown sauces; pasta sauces were as likely to start with cream as with tomato puree.

You could get spaghetti and meatballs or lasagna, of course. The New Orleans Italian community is so overwhelmingly Sicilian in its origins that to lack such familiar dishes would have been suicidal. But the presence of veal involtini (baby white veal slices stuffed with herbs, mozzarella, and an olive-oil-and-rosemary sauce) and Tuscan-style steaks made many of us think of the Lido every time any other restaurant arose to serve the food of the North.

In the 1980s, the Mongiats split with their partners and opened a new restaurant on Airline Highway in Metairie, near Clearview. The named it the Lido Gardens, and installed a menu more or less like the one they’d served in Marrero. Because the West Bank restaurant was so obscure, most customers thought this was an entirely new restaurant and kicked up a great deal of hubbub about it. In its peak years, the Lido Gardens was a packed house most of the time. I thought the food wasn’t quite as good as it had been at the old place. But Betty Mongiat was such an effusively welcoming person that you loved the place just because of her.

The Lido Gardens changed hands, closed, and was torn down by the early 1990s. The Marrero Lido got a new lease on life when West Jefferson Hospital went up a couple of blocks away, and its employees took a liking to the Lido’s food. Which, by then, had evolved well away from Northern Italian and could be described as just another pretty-good neighborhood Italian restaurant. Another ownership change happened in 2010, but by that time there were so many other pizza-pasta houses around the West Bank that the Lido failed to earn a spot on the mental dining map of many could-be customers.

Now it’s all memories. I liked Richard Collin’s line about the Lido, from his 1976 New Orleans Restaurant Guide: “Once the food is on the table, you can hear Venice outside.”

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  1. Anne on August 31, 2014

    The Lido Gardens was our favorite Italian restaurant in the 1970s. No problem making the trip from Uptown to Marrero for the best “wop” salad and manicotti!

    After having an old fashion Italian salad at a neighborhood pizza place last night, we both were reminiscing about our delicious meals there but could not remember the name of the Marrero restaurant. After a few tries on Google we came upon your 2013 story about the Lido Gardens. We also found our 1973 copy of The New Orleans Underground Gourmet by Richard Collins. The Italian salad was only $1.00! Thanks for the update on a very specil memory for us!

  2. Ell on January 25, 2015

    I enjoyed reading about the extinct restaurants but wonder why you left out Masson’s?

    • Tom Fitzmorris on January 25, 2015

      It wasn’t left out. . . the Extinct Restaurants feature is a weekly department in the NOMenu.com daily newsletter. The one for Masson’s ran so long ago that it doesn’t show up in the index. I’ll run it this week.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  3. BRUCE on April 20, 2016

    Tom, as per the above comments and my own memories, I think the split and opening of Lido Gardens on Airline was a little earlier, at least the late 70s. I used to pass by there on my way to East Jefferson High every morning on the bus during my one year there (’79-80) and noted the Lido Gardens sign and the brick building. Anne in the above comments said the Gardens was their favorite restaurant in the 70’s.

    Funny story; my late friend Randy Steele once remarked to a group of friends as we passed the sign: “Lido Gardens? Hey what if was the Lido Shuffle?” and proceeded to sing a few lines from that Boz Scaggs song. It then became a silly tradition to repeat Randy’s line every time we passed the place, which continued on after the place closed and only the sign remained, and even after Randy died tragically in 1998, we all kept doing it in his memory. The sign is finally down, so there is no more connection between the spot and Boz Scaggs…..