Summertime, walking down Magazine, wanting Casamento’s. Can’t have it. They’re closed June, July, and August. Most people think it has something to do with the adage about eating oysters only in cooler months, but that’s really not it. It makes so much sense, though, that people hang onto it.
When they’re open, which thankfully is right now, that tiny kitchen and oyster counter serves up some of the best oysters anywhere, and more.
Really, though, the show starts just inside. The restaurant has been in business since 1919, and the original owner (it’s his nephew that owns it today), knowing how important cleanliness is, had the entire place tiled. It took four tile companies to fill his order. In fact, the original owner, Joseph Casamento Sr lived with his wife Elena above the restaurant, and she gave birth to Joe Jr there in 1925. Joe Jr ran the restaurant until his death the night Katrina hit. From his obit:
…”He didn’t travel at all,” Linda Gerdes said. “There was a rumor around that we closed every summer so Joe could go back to Italy. He’d never been to Italy, never intended to go to Italy. He’d say, ‘My dad left Italy. Why would I go back?'”
…Casamento took on every task at the restaurant, with the exception of cooking. He was allergic to corn, and thus couldn’t be around the fried seafood, which is dusted in corn flour. The career restaurant professional wasn’t keen on spicy food or culinary exploration of any kind.
“When he evacuated for Ivan, some friends took him to an IHOP,” C.J. said. “That was the first restaurant (besides Casamento’s) he’d been to in 36 years.”
“He never lived anywhere else,” Linda said, referring to 4330 Magazine Street. “He was born there, literally, and he probably would have died there if it wasn’t for Katrina.”
Upon entering the front door, there’s a long counter to the left for the oyster shucker:
The floor pattern — this tile is original, from 1919:
The wall tile was installed in 1949 — it goes up 10 feet or so. That summer of ’49 was when and how the summer break tradition started: not because of the idea of avoiding oysters in warmer months, but rather because the family enjoyed getting away:
The food? Yes, yes, and yes:
Drago’s does these better, but still, mmmmmhhhhh……
Great story in the Times-Pic about Ella Brennan visiting the newly reopened Brennan’s for the first time in 40 years.