Given our Katrina experiences, New Orleans people know all about welcoming back beloved neighborhood institutions that went dark for a while. Last week, however, one of the heavyweight neighborhood institutions went through the reopening ritual for the second time.
Rocky & Carlo's (613 W. St. Bernard Hwy., Chalmette, 279-8323), easily the best-known and most important restaurant in St. Bernard Parish, closed in February after a fire devastated its building. On May 29, its family owners officially reopened the restaurant, and their po-boys, heaving plates of Sicilian classics and trademark, tube-style macaroni and cheese (with red or brown gravy) are again challenging the area's biggest appetites. Damage from the fire was extensive, but the family repaired the space to the original look, just as it did before.
The restaurant is no stranger to calamity, and in fact the Rocky & Carlo's reputation was first set in the face of disaster. Rocky Tommaseo and Carlo Gioe opened the restaurant in 1965. Hurricane Betsy hit that same year, bringing a great deal of destruction to St. Bernard Parish. But all the while, the Rocky & Carlo's crew kept cooking, giving away food to families who found themselves suddenly in need. The then-new restaurant instantly endeared itself with a grateful community, and some of those families have been returning the favor ever since.
Forty years later, the restaurant was inundated by Katrina flooding, but Rocky & Carlo's was able to reopen from that disaster in early 2007. Now well into her 80s, Gioe's bride, Leonarda "Nana" Gioe, still presides over the gravy pots and macaroni pans in the kitchen.
"Same recipes, same cooks, what else would we do?" says Tommy Tommaseo, the restaurant's manager.
Rocky & Carlo's serves lunch and early dinner Tuesday through Saturday.