After you’ve spent the day touring through the Chalmette battlefield, I can guarantee that you’ll be ready for a decent meal and a place to rest your feet. You can find that just down the road at a little place called Rocky & Carlo’s Restaurant and Bar.
Don’t let the outside fool you. This place is bigger on the inside and packed with history and hospitality. Founded in April of 1965 by descendants of Italian immigrants, Rocky and Carlo’s have established a reputation as a family friendly restaurant with a big heart. The original founding family included Tommy and Rocky Tommaseo, and Carlo, Mario, and Giuseppe Gioe, all connected by marriage. Though they were born in St. Bernard Parish just on the edge of New Orleans, their roots were deep in Sicily. Their Italian heritage shows through on their menu – I’ll discuss later. One of the greatest motivators for the family to pitch in to start this restaurant is linked with their employment at Angelo’s bar a short distance from where the restaurant now sits. The place was not hospitable to women and the brothers wanted a place where their wives and the wives and daughters of their friends would be welcome. On the front door of their restaurant, they make it clear by adding the disclaimer that says “Ladies Invited”.
From its founding, Rocky & Carlo’s have been a godsend to their little community. As most know, New Orleans – and the broader Gulf Coast – suffer greatly during hurricane season. Within the first year, the restaurant was hammered by Hurricane Betty. Instead of folding, the owners worked double-time to make sure that no one went hungry in their neighborhood. Guests still talk about how Rocky & Carlo’s came to the rescue. Since then, they’ve become part of the support for emergency teams that come to St. Bernard Parish during disasters. “For every hurricane, we always geared up, prepped up,” Mr. Tommy said. “We know we’re going to get the civil defense. We know we’re going to get the sheriff’s office. We know we’re going to get the fire department. Even if there was a mandatory close, we always fed them.”
Out of the founding family, only three are left to keep the restaurant going, even working in the kitchen and making their famous perciatelli noodles and mac ‘n cheese the old-fashioned way.
When you walk into the restaurant, it feels a little chaotic at first. Almost cafeteria style with a massive dining area and the food in bins like at a buffet. You get in the “line”, pick what you want, and the employees will dish it out for you. The menu is one of the most diverse I have ever seen at a restaurant. You can order everything from salads to burgers, seafood, T-bone steaks, po’boys, onion rings, spaghetti, meatballs, ribs, fries, veal, gumbo, fried chicken, or their famous baked macaroni with brown or red gravy (makes me curious too). This eclectic mix of Cajun entrees and Italian really speaks to the heritage of the place. You may even catch a snippet of it when the owners get to talking in Italian.
When I visited, they were BUSY. And I don’t mean a long line. I mean, the staff were running around like MAD to refill food bins and take orders. From what I gather, they were putting together a pretty hefty catering order, so that explained the slightly rushed way they took my order and the moderately long wait. I imagine their popularity also keeps them pretty busy.
I decided to go with a fairly simple dish of fried fish, French fries, and green beans. The single filet was filling for sure, and the fries were nice and thick and fried perfectly. The green beans were only off-putting because of the red tomato sauce mixed in with it. I don’t know if this is a southern-style type of dish or if it’s something exclusive to Rocky & Carlo’s, but it didn’t pair well with the fried foods, so that’s my bad. My only complaint was the way the fish was fried. It was clear they used an egg-based binding for the batter and the taste of fried egg was very noticeable with each bite. I don’t know if this is the way Rocky & Carlo’s typically prepares their fried fish, or if I just got a bad batch. Looking back now, I would have gone for their fried chicken or maybe their roast beef po’boy. With how often I trek to New Orleans, I’m sure to give Rocky & Carlo’s Restaurant and Bar another try.
I think it’s poignant to follow up a visit at Chalmette with a hearty dinner at Rocky & Carlo’s. For starters, it would be inconvenient to go all the way back to New Orleans when there’s a perfectly good restaurant within a few minutes of the battlefield. Secondly, it’s just fitting. The restaurant’s history and menu are indicative of New Orleans culture and diversity, just as Andrew Jackson’s hodge-podge army represented the range of ethnicities within Louisiana as well as America at the time. Why not, after learning about how Baratarian pirates worked beside Choctaw natives, go have a dish of spaghetti with a side of gumbo? Rocky & Carlo’s, whether they intended to or not, represents a great fundamental philosophy of service to the community and utilizing the beauty of diversity.
Due to Covid, Rocky & Carlo’s is on a limited seating arrangement on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, unlike other restaurants, they ARE open! Hurricanes couldn’t shut them down and neither did a virus. Call or check their website for the most updated information, but at the time of this article, these are the hours:
Tues – Thurs 11:00am – 7:00pm
Fri & Sat 11:00am – 7:00pm
Sun & Mon CLOSED
Address: 613 West Saint Bernard Highway, Chalmette, LA 70043-4822