While Lakeview may be the best example of post-Katrina resurgence, Bucktown — across the 17th Street Canal — has managed to retain its image of an old fishing village despite the loss of its waterfront property. Many seafood restaurants and wholesalers dominate the landscape, but none come close to the popularity of R&O’s. A self-proclaimed “pizza place”-cum-New Orleans eatery, R&O’s has inhabited three different locations on Old Hammond Highway over the years, each time increasing its square footage to keep up with customers who seem to multiply with each new generation.
The ambience at R&O’s is timeless. Families seated in cafeteria chairs crowd around wooden tables and walls covered with New Orleans bric-a-brac, and the glow from neon Saints signs. The din of the dining room drowns out screaming children whose parents await frozen mugs of beer shuttled by ironclad waitresses dishing out a heavy dose of attitude. How’s the seafood stew? “Don’t get it; it isn’t very good,” is her response.
Large parties are optimal for sharing a number of starters. French fries with roast beef gravy are de rigueur around town today, but R&O’s has been serving them longer than most. Italian salad is ice-cold iceberg and artichoke hearts marinated in vinaigrette for hours or days before being piled high into a wooden bowl with a pepperoncini hiding at the bottom like a buried treasure. Delicate batter coats the thick onion rings like lace, while the seafood gumbo carries a peppery broth and plump morsels of gulf seafood.
Po-boys are built upon a seeded French bread loaf that is toasted in the oven, resulting in a foundation that can handle overstuffing yet collapses perfectly with each bite. Freshly fried shrimp, oysters, catfish and softshell crabs are available as fillings. The much hailed debris-style roast beef po-boy was unnecessarily salty. Instead, go for broke with the R&O Italian Special, which combines alternating thin slices of meatball and Italian sausage covered in rich red gravy and mozzarella. The parmesan treatment is also given to a number of entrees, including two toy saucer- sized discs of fried eggplant, served with angel hair pasta, covered in red gravy.
Thin-crust pizzas have a thick layer of mozzarella, preventing the crust from achieving the desired crispness on the bottom, but the garlicky tomato sauce makes up for any deficiencies. And ordering a pizza comes with complimentary entertainment for the kids, who peek through the window in the kitchen and marvel at the flying dough. Throw in a few dollars worth of quarters for the claw machine out front and have a second round of frozen beers.
R&O’s is located at 216 Old Hammond Highway in Bucktown.