105 Old Hammond Hwy., Metairie, 831-0999; www.two-tonys.com
Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sat.
A fresh take on familiar seafood, generous Italian classics
Some standards taste routine
A Creole-Italian stalwart on a precarious perch is full of surprises
Marinara has anchored the traditional Italian dishes at Two Tony's for 20 years, but lately it also is serving as a possible lifeline for a family restaurant name during uncertain times.
Two Tony's chef/owner Anthony Montalbano Jr. recently began bottling his sauce for retail sale out of concern for the next moves by the Army Corps of Engineers at the 17th Street Canal, the now infamous drainage canal that runs next to his Bucktown restaurant. The temporary pumping station and related earthworks built at the mouth of the canal after Hurricane Katrina now tower over the small restaurant, enclosing it on three sides. The Corps is working on plans for a permanent pumping station at the site, and it's unclear if the project will require the lakefront land on which Two Tony's sits.
No one can argue that a restaurant should stand in the way of the drainage and hurricane protection on which the metro area depends. But much like the operators of the Coconut Beach volleyball complex facing a similar situation on the other side of the canal, Montalbano hopes the job can be done without forcing out his restaurant. A petition is in circulation asking the Corps to minimize the project's impact on the eatery.
In the meantime, Two Tony's marinara sauce has hit shelves as a hedge against the future. Should the property join the pumping station footprint, grocery shelves could be the last stand for this restaurant family's legacy, which goes back 50 years to such former French Quarter places as Montalbano's Seafood, the Blue Angel Supper Club and Eva's Spot.
What can't be bottled, however, is Montalbano's handle on local seafood. Lake Pontchartrain soft-shell crabs that dwarf their peers, grilled amberjack with Creole mustard butter sauce, speckled trout crowned with enormous, taut-fleshed shrimp — these are straightforward dishes full of local flavor, but careful preparation gives Two Tony's its niche among the area's many Creole-Italian restaurants.
Two Tony's has the fried seafood routine down pat but also grills and blackens the usual roundup of shrimp, oysters, catfish and crab cakes for seafood platters. The kitchen uses excellent seafood, so it's nice to be able to taste it all distinctly. Bisques are another strongpoint, and the version made with plump, lightly-cooked shrimp, andouille coins and enough minced garlic to eat with a fork qualifies as a casual masterpiece.
Pasta entrees are the bargain center of the restaurant. The menu ranges from a $9 plate of spaghetti with Italian sausage that's too large to finish to a $17 slab of tuna grilled as rare as tataki, which helps explain why Two Tony's maintains a diverse local clientele. It's as common to hear a family saying grace together before Wednesday dinner as it is to hear a pair of ladies whooping it up with Pinot Grigio at Friday lunch.
If things work out for Two Tony's, its marinara will be a nice sideline business instead of a reminder of another lost restaurant. But I'm not taking any chances. Until things shake out with the Corps, I'm ordering my bisque by the bowl and my seafood platter blackened.