In the kitchen at Fat Molly’s, the hands of chefs flutter above sheets of marinara-cloaked dough, scattering inventive toppings such as gulf shrimp, artichokes, and boudin. Athletic events broadcast on four flat-screen TVs, augmenting the clatter of silverware with the sounds of cracking bats and mascots with their tails under rocking chairs. Drawing upon a selection of meats including fried chicken and smoked sausage, patrons design their own poor boys. Tearing into the sandwiches despite their warmth, they take swigs from 30 beer options, including Abita Purple Haze and Lazy Magnolia’s brown ale crafted from roasted pecans, which bestow the mash with earthy caramel flavors. The eatery's walls are festooned with works by local artists, ranging from a triptych of a jazz musician to an abstract of a stacked sandwich and a poignant deconstrionist piece by the back door, which reads, simply "Exit."
These purveyors of premium Italian eats buy local ingredients and prepare all dishes from scratch daily, from the sauce to the dough. Baked in a brick oven, the Who-Dat pizza ($12.95 for 14") comes loaded with apple-smoked bacon, meatballs, pepperoni, black olives, and a quizzical expression. Blossoming pie artisans can draw from a rich palette of toppings ($1 each for 14") such as anchovies, sundried tomatoes, and Italian sausage to paint personal masterpieces on plain-pizza canvases ($10.99 for 14"). Meanwhile, the crab-cake linguini ($14.95) is served with your choice of red or white sauce, allowing easy color coordination with wedding dresses and Mountie uniforms. Ensconced in the restaurant’s relaxing, rustic interior, wash down your meal with a cold domestic brew ($2.50), refreshing import or microbrew ($3.50¬–$4), or choice of house wine ($6 per glass, $20 for a bottle).
Coco Bamboo takes the traditional concept of Italian American pizza joints and whisks it away to a tropical tiki wonderland with a menu full of pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, and smoothies. Breaded mozzarella sticks ($5) or a small avocado and asparagus salad served with a slice of pita bread and artichoke hearts ($5.75) pad gullets for the impending deluge of grub or errant falling coconuts. Pizza purists can pummel a classic dough disk, such as the minimalist tomato, basil, and pesto-topped margarita (14", $17.25), and palate pushers can nosh on the muffaletta, mounded with ham, pepperoni, salami, mortadella, and olive mix, and also available with a wheat crust (16", $21). Spinach alfredo lasagna ($11.75) or a voodoo smoked house sandwich stacked with chicken or shrimp, barbecue sauce, onions, and melted cheese ($7.75) appeal to carbo-loaders.
Though the chefs at Pepperoni's Cafe specialize in authentic Italian cuisine, many of their dishes are peppered with local New Orleans touches. Their seafood pasta, for instance, features flavorful crawfish and crab, and one of their hand-tossed pizzas is speckled with gulf shrimp. The chefs also whip up a classic New Orleans muffuletta sandwich with cotto salami, ham, and olives. As they bustle about their kitchen, stirring pasta dishes and slicing up panini, their oven bakes housemade bread, muffins, and chocolate cake. Meanwhile, their diners split pizza pies in the airy dining room, or dine alfresco on the outside seating area.
Fresco Café and Pizzeria has been serving pizza, pasta, and golden-brown strombolis for more than a decade. Nearly everything on the menu is made in house, including white or whole-wheat pizza crusts, hand-rolled meatballs, and the pasta sauces used to write the daily specials on the wall. Fresco Café's lavash rolls, a unique specialty, are worth a try—they feature roasted eggplant and pesto, pulled pork, or gyro meat rolled into warm lavash flatbread and served with rosemary potatoes. Of course, it wouldn't be Fresco Café if al fresco dining weren't an option—patrons can enjoy their Italian food inside or out on the patio.
It's no small feat to whip up one of The Olive Branch Café's gourmet pizzas. The painstaking process begins long before lunchtime, with chefs preparing dough fresh for the day each morning. There's barely a moment to rest before orders begin flying in and the pizza makers spring into action, showering crusts with housemade sauces and high-quality cheeses. Their brows furrowed in concentration, their hands blurs, they layer pizzas with fresh garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and fine spanish olives. Once the pies arrive triumphantly to the dining room, the chefs turn their attention to thick muffuletta subs, plump meatball calzones, and the jambalaya pastas that caught the attention of Gambit’s Best of New Orleans guide.
Out in the casual dining room, beneath warm red walls peppered with abstract art, guests clink glasses, feeling more content than a robot in a microchip factory. There, owner Russell "Rusty" Autry often strolls around the room, greeting newcomers and exchanging jokes with regulars.