Extinct Restaurants

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Toney’s Spaghetti House
French Quarter: 212 Bourbon (across from Galatoire’s)

No restaurant in New Orleans now is comparable to Toney’s Spaghetti House in its heyday. From the late 1940s through the early 1970s, when Bourbon Street was in its prime. Most customers were still local people, out for an evening in the many restaurants and jazz clubs along the strip. If they were out late, Toney’s might be the last stop, for a pizza or a plate of spaghetti (nobody called it “pasta” then).

Anthony Bonomolo founded Toney’s during the Depression, in a small space where most of the seating was at a counter. The restaurant tripled its size after the war. That’s also when it gained its distinctive look: brightly lit, utilitarian, the walls covered with photos of notables (and no small number of unknowns) who either visited or worked on Bourbon Street.

And the neon signs. They were all over the place, selling hard. One of those became its logo: a man seated at a table eating spaghetti.

Toney’s Italian food was very simple. Here was the apotheosis of New Orleans “red gravy,” not much more than tomato puree simmered for a long time. It was thick and good on the spaghetti, stuffed macaroni (sheets of pasta wrapped around a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and a little meat), meatballs, Italian sausage, or (Wednesdays only) lasagna. Toney’s was the last place in New Orleans where you could walk in any day and order a plate of spaghetti with daube—sliced roast beef simmered in the red sauce for hours.

The upper limits of the menu was somewhere in the vicinity of veal Parmigiana. They made Creole-Italian dishes: stuffed eggplant, oysters with spaghetti, fried seafood, and daily specials of the likes of red beans and rice. But mainly you came for a mountain of spaghetti with red gravy, served for an almost ridiculously low price.

Toney’s went on with all this, always busy, till one in the morning. It reopened the next morning at six with an excellent breakfast. The highlight was the fantastically good, light biscuits, made from scratch and always served hot with lots of butter. They were worth getting up for.

Toney’s was managed in its glory years by the son of the founder, Joe Bonomolo, whose operating philosophy seemed to be that whatever it took to keep the dining room full for as many hours as possible was worth doing. The menu was enormous; if he couldn’t get you with pasta, then how about a poor boy? The prices constituted a bargain not just for the French Quarter, but for anywhere else in town.

Jay Bonomolo, grandson of the founder, took over in the 1980s. By then the French Quarter in general and Bourbon Street in particular had gone over to tourism. Far fewer locals shopped or even worked downtown. In an effort to grab their attention, Jay renovated the restaurant completely, finally getting rid of the old lunch counter and creating a much nicer-looking dining room. But nothing could have arrested the trends. In 1990, Jay decided to move Toney’s to Metairie, saying that he was tired of full days when he didn’t recognize a single customer.

Toney’s seemed out of place in Metairie. The restaurant (it was on Hessmer just off Veterans, where Toys R Us is now) lasted just a few more years before it closed for good in 1993.

10 Readers Commented

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  1. Linda Hutchison on February 8, 2014

    I remember Toney’s on Bourbon when I was a teenager in the 60s. It was one of my favorite places to eat at any time. And Yes, the prices were absolutely amazing considering the food you got. Oh how I wish they were back lol. 🙂

  2. James Walker on March 6, 2014

    Remember going there as a kid with my parents in the 60’S and 70’s , then with my wife and child while I was in med school . Food was always good atmosphere was kind of homey but special .The pictures on the wall always fun , wondered if those people had really been there . The noise the staff for those of us who weren’t from New Orleans set up a special scene like D.H. Holmes , Maison Blanche , the swinging dancer . Just a shame it’s gone really miss the character.

  3. Aubrey King on October 12, 2014

    My grandfather introduced me to Tony’s in the late 50’s early 60’s whenever we would go to N.O. from Paradis, where I was born and raised. It, along with Messina’s (when he had an urge for oysters on the half shell), was his favorite place to eat. Grandpa then introduced my wife, who’s from Houston, to Tony’s around 1966 . To this day, she is still trying to find a stuffed artichoke as delicious as that first one she ever tried that day at Tony’s. For all these years, it has remained one of her all time favorite things to eat……just the right amount of breading, seasonings, crunch and cooked perfectly. There used to be a good place in Boutte to get one, but alas, like Tony’s, it’s gone too. Ahhhh……Tony’s , Buster Holmes, my aunt Eva’s “Hebert’s Restaurant” in Paradis I sure do miss ya’ll……….along with living in God’s Country…..S. Louisiana…..St. Charles Parish!

    • Jay Bonomolo on March 12, 2015

      Aubrey King ..I saw your post October 12, 2014. I am the former owner of Toney’s — and I may be able to help you. Contact me @ toney282@yahoo.com. Thanks.

      • Frank Hess on September 21, 2017

        Jay: My wife, of 40 years, who is recently passed, and I were in love with Toney’s on Bourbon. Her absolute favorite was the Italian daube. I loved the lettuce with egg dressing. It is this vain that I write. As a 65th Birthday present my son wants to prepare this memorable combination. Might you know the basic recipes? That would be very special if you could share them. Thank you for accepting this request in the loving spirit it is intended. Kindest Regards, Frank Hess

  4. George on June 28, 2015

    There is a disconnect in this article: if Toney’s was such a bargain—and it was—tourist would have flocked to the place. And they did. But, the reason there were no locals in the place at the “end”, was the then owners less than charming personality.

    • Tom Fitzmorris on June 30, 2015

      The owner of Toney’s Spaghetti House didn’t want more tourists. . .he wanted fewer of them, and more local people. That’ what he told me when I asked him why he was shutting down that fantastic location. Don’t know what you’re talking about regarding his personality. I know him well, and he never says anything but good things about you.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  5. Calvin on July 2, 2015

    My mother use to take me with her to go shopping on Canal Street back in the 50’s and early 60’s. We lived in “old Algiers” (now called Algiers Point) and use to walk there from the old Algiers/Canal St. ferry. After shopping, we would have lunch at several different places like Walgreen’s Cafeteria, Woolworth’s, Holmes Cafeteria, Baronne Tavern, Kress, McCrory’s and of course – TONEY’S FAMOUS SPAGHETTI HOUSE !! That was my favorite! I still remember the real nice waitress lady taught me “how-to” properly eat spaghetti by twirling it around the fork while pushing it against the spoon !! (Back then, I called it “Ba-Sketty”). That was definately the best eating place in town !!! Wish it would return like it was! (Just like “Pancho’s Mexican Cafeteria just did recently, but now is called “2-Amigos” . Was brought back by the two original owners just like it was back then!)

  6. Kathleen on October 17, 2015

    My daddy worked on Canal Street as a shoe dog in the 1960s. It was a favorite family dinner joint when we were little. I especially recall being taken there for a spaghetti dinner after my first holy communion, white dress and all. The dichotomy of a seven year old eating spaghetti in a white dress while Bourbon Street’s finest stared down at her from their 8x10s on the wall turned into an enlightening story for those who wondered just how unique it was to grow up in New Orleans.

  7. Yes I was very young but I’ll never forget tonys ,my dad was a cook there. I’ll never forget the day he called and said hurry get on the bus as fast as you can Paul Newman is here so hurry. my dad new he was my favorite actor then but I think he really just wanted me to come down to eat because always by the time I got there he was gone my dad was an Awsome cook he was also a cook in the army .nothing but great memories of tonys and the food was to die for miss that place