Exactly 100 years ago in 1919, a cozy little restaurant on the corner of Magazine Street and Napoleon Avenue came to life under the ownership of Joe Casamento. Casamento was a native of Ustica, Italy, who was dedicated to combining the traditions of Italy with the traditions of New Orleans after immigrating to the United States. Familiar with the building traditions in Italy, Casamento knew that having a tiled interior would be easier to clean, thus influencing his decision to pay four different tile companies from across the United States to tile his restaurant, inside and out. Out of those tiles, Casamento’s Restaurant was born and has been family-run ever since.
The tile is not the only aspect of Casamento’s that sets the restaurant apart from the mainstream New Orleans restaurants. In its 100 years, the menu has barely changed. The restaurant is unparalleled in its use of fresh pan loaves rather than the typical French bread when it comes to po-boys and other sandwiches. The pan loaf is one of the unordinary key ingredients that helped to make the Oyster Loaf an internationally acclaimed menu item from England to Australia. The famous sandwich has also been featured in several publications, such as New Orleans Magazine and Playboy. The soft-shell crab and seafood gumbo are also mentioned often as unmissable dishes that Casamento’s offers. In addition, most of the menu items are gluten-free, including all of the fried seafood. The restaurant also prepares the Italian favorite of spaghetti and meatballs.
Casamento’s Restaurant is renowned for its oysters—charbroiled, raw, or on a loaf—since its opening 100 years ago, attracting both locals and celebrities. Signed t-shirts crowd a bulletin board on the restaurant wall, boasting the names of visiting celebrities and their heartfelt messages about the restaurant. Guy Fieri, the host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, has featured the restaurant twice, most recently in 2018. Other celebrity visits include Archie and Peyton Manning, Sheryl Crow, Nicole Kidman, Tommy Lee Jones, Bradley Cooper, Emeril Lagasse, and many more. Additionally, because of the unique, tiled ambiance of Casamento’s Restaurant, the dining room of the restaurant has been the setting for both commercials and television pilots.
When the original owner, Joe Casamento, died at the age of 90 in 1979, his grandson, CJ Gerdes, took over the business and now co-owns the restaurant with his wife Linda. Linda and CJ have two daughters, Natalie and Nicole, as well as a niece, who all help out with the restaurant. Gerdes continues to blend Italian traditions with Louisiana seafood favorites, creating an iconic New Orleans restaurant.
“As far as my claim to fame, it is consistency. You have to be consistent,” Gerdes said. “My food tastes the same today as it did back in the 50s and 60s, and I've been cooking here for 40 years.”
Photo by Randy P. Schmidt