At the Original Fiorellas' Cafe, tradition is everything. Though it sits in a nondescript strip mall on Franklin Avenue, the bright red and white awning with the signature script is an easy giveaway of what's in store.
Brothers Kelly and Calcie Fiorella opened the Gentilly restaurant in early 2016, pledging to honor their father's French Quarter institution with the original recipes and the same casual and welcoming atmosphere (C.J. Fiorella sold his French Quarter business in 1999, and that restaurant is temporarily closed, following a kitchen fire in March).
Though the new space might seem sterile, black-and-white photographs lining the walls, friendly service and a regular clientele lend an ambience of comfort and familiarity.
The food is simple, straightforward New Orleans cooking. Dishes don't push the envelope, but that's not the goal here.
There's an Italian undercurrent throughout the menu, which includes veal and chicken Parmesan and a cold cut-topped Italian salad. In the salad, romaine and iceberg lettuces support a cornucopia of ham, mortadella, Genoa salami and provolone topped with briny olive salad and Parmesan. Bright red Creole tomato wedges and cucumbers frame the salad, which can be dressed tableside, needing little more than a touch of oil and vinegar.
Soft, spongy meatballs top a bed of thin spaghetti draped in sweet, mild tomato sauce. Leidenheimer loaves are used for po-boys and also are useful in sopping up the sauce on this large dish.
Caesar salad features crisp romaine lettuce coated with a thin veneer of dressing and a generous dusting of Parmesan cheese. There's no skimping on the golden croutons, which provide the right amount of crunch.
A mound of creamy mashed potatoes looks like it was extracted with an ice cream scoop and arrives topped with light gravy. Potato salad is a little less orthodox: The egg-heavy version includes shredded lettuce and green onions. An otherwise decent side of smothered turnip greens is too salty.
Fried chicken was the go-to favorite at C.J. Fiorella's French Quarter restaurant. New Orleanians have a lot of opinions on how they like their bird fried, whether it's sitting under a heat lamp at the corner store or served on china in a white tablecloth restaurant. I prefer a crunchy, shaggy crust — the kind that feels like it might shatter if it hit the floor. The fried chicken here carries a thinner casing but is crunchy in all the right places and has just the right amount of grease. White meat stays firm, while dark meat practically slips from the bone. Both types are hot and juicy under a golden exterior.
Because this is New Orleans, seafood features prominently — filling po-boys, topping salads and sidling buttered toast on large platters. Fried Gulf shrimp have a thick, crunchy batter coating and are plump and juicy, making a dip in accompanying tartar or cocktail sauce almost unnecessary.
With so many new restaurants opening across the city, it can be easy to forget the town is flush with simple yet classic restaurants. Gentilly residents are lucky to have this new one in their neighborhood.