Jack and Phil Rizzuto opened a pizza joint on the West Bank, but what their customers clamored for was beef.
They opened Rizzuto’s Pizzeria on a busy stretch of Belle Chasse Highway near Terry Parkway last spring. Although Hurricane Ida was the catalyst for the shift from pizza to Rizzuto’s Ristorante & Chop House in Gretna, the real reason for the change was customer demand.
The family, whose octogenarian patriarch got into the bar business when he was 16, sold Amici Ristorante & Bar on Magazine Street and Creole Carre on Bourbon Street to take over the Tony Angello’s space in Lakeview. “We had never had a white tablecloth kind of place, so when Tony decided to retire, we figured let’s give it a try,” Jack Rizzuto says. “It’s been great from the start.”
The original Rizzuto’s Ristorante & Chop House will celebrate its fifth anniversary on June 30. It actually managed to thrive during the pandemic thanks to takeout orders, ample indoor space for socially distanced seating and an added large patio for outdoor dining.
When Ida hit, the Lakeview restaurant took a foot and a half of water and most of the staff was relocated to the West Bank restaurant while repairs were made. Working under executive chef Jason Caronna, the kitchen started running specials such as a steak night and adding a crab cake, made from just lump crabmeat and seasonings.
“We’d sell 100 steaks,” Jack Rizzuto says. “People kept asking for their favorite menu items from the other store.” Those dishes included eggplant Valentina, a stack of breaded eggplant that’s a throwback to Tony Angello’s popular eggplant Tina. The Lakeview restaurant also offers a popular bruciuluni, a stuffed sirloin that’s based on the Rizzutos’ Sicilian grandmother’s recipe.
When it was time to move the staff back to Lakeview, customers were vocal about wanting a steakhouse of their own. “The problem was, we didn’t have enough staff,” Phil Rizzuto says.
It took some time and training, but the newly conceived Gretna Rizzuto’s Ristorante & Chop House opened in March.
Diners still can’t get the bruciuluni at the 60-seater. “The kitchen is too small for a couple of the dishes,” says Jack Rizzuto, but most of the Lakeview menu is available in Gretna.
Everything — from the bread and pasta to the pastries to their grandmother’s red sauce recipe — is made in-house. Italian specialties are half the reason to visit Rizzuto’s. Dishes include veal or chicken parmesan and piccata and rigatoni wagyu Bolognese made with San Marzano tomatoes. Shrimp fra diavolo features a zippy tomato cream sauce filled with local shrimp.
Steaks sizzling with butter are the other reason to reserve a spot in Gretna. Beef lovers will swoon over the spinalis cut, offered in 10-ounce ($50) and 14-ounce ($68) portions. The prized marbled cap of the rib-eye, also called a deckle steak, delivers intense beefy flavor with a tender bite. Cutting the beef that way leaves the Delmonico behind, and that piece is used in everything from the surf and turf — topped with a jumbo lump crab cake — to a premium house-ground burger patty, available in Lakeview. Filet mignon and New York strips round out the options.
To start a meal, the meatball served with ricotta, marinara and fresh basil is big enough to share, although diners might not want to give up half. There’s a bracing toss of red and golden beets, Marcona almonds and feta in a Steen’s sugarcane vinaigrette and a garlicky Caesar that pays homage to the classic salad.
Giuseppe Forsetta, a newly hired chef from Catania in Sicily, will bring more Sicilian soul to the table.
The dining room is spiffed up, with booths swapped out for tables and a color scheme of midnight blue and cream. The Rizzutos plan to add lunch service.
“For us, the food was the easy part,” Jack Rizzuto says. “We knew we wanted to serve the kind of food we ate growing up. We needed somebody who could make it pretty, and Jason (Caronna) is good at that. He’s also Italian.”