Walking into Vincent's Italian Cuisine (4411 Chastant St., Metairie, 885-2984; 7813 St. Charles Ave., 866-9313; www.vincentsitaliancuisine.com) is like stepping on to an old movie set. Even at noon, the restaurant is cool and dim. Neatly dressed waiters bustle through a cozy main dining room, occasionally disappearing into one of two private dining areas. Thick, well-thumbed wine lists sit atop white tablecloths, and Italian-themed artwork and photographs of the restaurant's original owners line the walls.
Vincent's comes by its old-school aura naturally. While co-owners Anthony Imbraguglio and Vincent Catalanotto opened Vincent's Uptown location in 1998 (the Metairie location has been open since 1989), the venue has housed an Italian restaurant since 1929. Compagno's Restaurant operated at the corner of Fern Street and St. Charles Avenue for 69 years.
In true Italian fashion, passing down the building was a family affair. The Compagno's grandson Michael Compagno works at the restaurant alongside Vincent Catalanotto Jr. Vincent's still sells bottles of limoncello made from the Compagno's family recipe.
Imbraguglio recounts how a tearful Mrs. Compagno made Catalanotto promise to take good care of the restaurant. "She was all worried about giving it to the right people and that her 'baby' was going to be fine. Vincent walked up to her and he said, 'Your baby is about to become a man.'"
Innovation appeared in the form of Chef Billy LaCrosse, who walked in from the street shortly after Hurricane Katrina and was welcomed into the staff's family.
Though LaCrosse updates his menu regularly, his canneloni are a mainstay that have developed something of a cult following on sites like Yelp.com. "People think it's pasta, but it's actually a crepe," Imbraguglio says. Other draws include seafood medallions — eggplant heaping with crabmeat — and homemade pasta.
Vincent's clientele is a mixture of local regulars, tourists off the streetcar and an occasional celebrity.
Ibragguglio credits the restaurant's location for drawing a diverse crowd and adding to its Old World ambience. A large window faces St. Charles Avenue, a few yards away from the streetcar tracks. "Being on this corner is very, very special," he says. "You can see the world go by through these windows."