Radosta’s Red Beans Rocking Old Metry
Corner store? Check.
Run by Sicilian-Americans? Check.
Selling roast-beef po-boys dripping with brown gravy and a heaping helping of character? Check.
With a list like that, you might think you’ve found yourself in some 6th Ward back-of-town joint in downtown New Orleans, where ravenous young Italian jazz cats like Louie Prima, Freddie Assunto, or Sharkey Bonano once chowed down after all-night blowout Bourbon Street jam sessions.
But you’re not. You’re in Metry, brah, in suburban New Orleans, at the corner of Aris Avenue and Rose Street, on the “lake side” of Metairie Road. You’re at Radosta’s Grocery. This temple to the po-boy is a throwback to the neighborhood joints of yesteryear, before zoning laws and gentrification turned Old Metairie into one of the area’s ritziest ‘hoods. Radosta’s is a real-deal slice of old New Orleans superimposed in a suburban setting.
Of course, Radosta’s roots are firmly planted in the city, at the South Carrollton Avenue grocery that Jerome and Rosemary Radosta ran from 1920 until the ‘70s.
The Metairie po-boy shop is now owned by Jerome’s son Don and his wife, Joan, and it’s still very much a family affair, with help from Don’s brothers Mark and Wayne, who has been cooking the roast beef and other menu staples every day since the ‘70s. In fact, this past June marked the 40th anniversary of commerce for Radosta’s current incarnation.
Pick Up A Fifth Or A Footlong
Radosta’s still looks very much like a grocery store, albeit one specializing in alcohol. A meat counter at the back of the store, where diners place their orders, contains cold cuts and other sandwich fixings.
But don’t go to Radosta’s thinking you’ll make your daily groceries here. This ain’t Whole Foods — or even nearby Langenstein’s — but is more akin to Nor Joe’s down the street. The shelves and racks are dominated by Italian olives and dressings, seafood boiling spices, fifths of liquor, gallons of mayonnaise and Creole mustard, potato chips, baked goods, and other snacks. Stuffed deer heads and fish trophies adorn the walls, along with neon beer signs and images of Louisiana cultural icons like the Tabasco logo. Checkered-cloth tables fill out the dining space, while the wall by the front door is lined with refrigerator cases packed with a mind-boggling array of beers and sodas.
Plate lunches and po-boys long ago replaced bread and butter as Radosta’s primary bread and butter. “My family has been in the grocery business for four generations,” Don Radosta told an interviewer in 2010. “I used to work in our family grocery store out in New Orleans East. We moved to our current location 30 years ago, and about 15 years ago we made the switch to a po-boy shop. We had always made cold po-boys in our deli, but about 15 years ago we moved almost all the groceries out and opened up the kitchen.”
“We sell some beans now, yuh heard me?”
You’ll find many of your classic New Orleans daily specials at Radosta’s, including red beans and rice cooked up by Don and served every Monday. The main ingredient? Camellia Brand beans, bought by the 25-lb. sack.
“Don’s never used no red beans unless it’s Camellia,” Wayne Radosta noted. “You want to make the best, you use the best. That’s Camellia red beans.”
The Monday special offers red beans with a choice of smoked or hot sausage, plus a tossed salad and French bread. Hungry locals flock to Radosta’s for these beans with the same single-mindedness as they swarm the late Tony Angello’s Lakeview restaurant for the “Feed Me” special. Only, customers can expect to fill their ears as much as their bellies once the garrulous Radosta brothers start shucking and jiving. “We (are) like hambones over here,” Wayne Radosta admitted — a claim that many regulars would recognize as perhaps the understatement of the year.
And the formula is working. “We sell some beans now, yuh heard me?” marveled Wayne Radosta. “You ain’t in your grandma’s kitchen. This is a 90-lb. pot.”
According to Wayne, brother Don uses no salt pork or pickled meat in his base bean recipe, favoring chicken broth instead. He also employs a plentiful amount of thyme. “Don has a heavy hand,” Wayne noted, out of Don’s earshot.
“They Come High And Low” For Hot Sausage
But chicken broth is a far cry from the red-bean recipes of yesteryear. Wayne recalled that several “old-timers” have confided in him that for the “ultimate pot of beans,” chefs back in the early 20th century didn’t think twice about submerging a whole 1-lb. brick of pure lard into the mix. “And that kicked them up about 18 notches,” Wayne said, echoing Emeril. Thankfully, times have changed … maybe.
As for Radosta’s choice of sausage, Wayne swears by the “Black Oak” brand supplied by F. Christiana and Co. “Best smoked sausage you ever eat in your life. It don’t get no better.”
But the product of which he’s proudest is his own handmade innovation: the hot sausage. “People come from New Orleans East and — look — Norco. It’s patties, not links,” he noted. Wayne conceived the recipe 30 years ago and it hasn’t changed since. “That’s me. I invented it. I created it. … I worked on that formula for five years. They come high and low for it.” Wayne estimated that the hot sausage, whether served in beans or on po-boys, is one of Radosta’s top four or five sellers.
Wayne also whips up Radosta’s soups, which are available only in cooler months. Again, Camellia plays a key role. “Camellia beans, they’re the best. I don’t care if they red beans, white beans, blackeyes — it don’t matter.”
And Wayne should know. Recalling his salad days as a wide-eyed toddler staring up at the crammed shelves of exotic foodstuffs at his parents’ grocery, Wayne asserted: “I knew food before I could talk.”
And knowing food means there are no shortcuts to quality when concocting his bean-based soups. “I boil ’em separately in the pot,” Wayne declared. “I ain’t using no canned beans. That’s cheating.”
Roast Beef Po-Boy Fit For A King
Radosta’s has made its mark on the Crescent City’s culinary landscape with red beans and rice and other plate lunches, but its claims to fame don’t stop there. No less an authority than celebrated Louisiana chef John Folse has named Radosta’s his favorite roast-beef po-boy. “After living in Louisiana all my life, and being an expert on po-boys, I went out this spring to find the best roast-beef po-boy,” he said. “I thought beyond a shadow of a doubt that the best was at Radosta Grocery in Metairie. When you can hold a crusty piece of French bread that is absolutely overflowing with fresh, tender, juicy, flavorful slices of roast beef, and it’s saturated on the inside with the wonderful gravy, but the bread is still crusty on the outside, you know it’s something special.”
And the dean of New Orleans-area food critics, Tom Fitzmorris, said Radosta’s roast beef is “a contender (along with dozens of other places) for the honor of best in town. … The roast beef is seriously good, and will appeal particularly to those who like their beef in integral slices rather than falling apart.”
“We make our own gravy and cut our own tops of roast beef, so that’s our best seller,” Don Radosta said. “It don’t matter how you cook the roast,” Wayne Radosta told The Times-Picayune in 2011. “Bake it. Boil it. Do whatever you want. It’s the pot of gravy that makes the roast.”
In addition to its own hot and Italian sausage, Radosta’s also rolls out the real throwback, old-school cold-cut options, such as luncheon meat and liver cheese — not to mention the classic French-fried potato po-boy. Other homegrown spins include Joan’s Special, a grilled-shrimp po-boy; Don’s Special, a sausage-and-provolone po-boy covered with olive salad; and Wayne’s Special, a veal-parmesan po-boy topped with red gravy and provolone.
Plate Lunches And Pies Power Katrina Recovery
With the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina around the corner, south Louisiana is counting its blessings. And one of those blessings is that Radosta’s survived the failure of the federal levees completely unscathed. In fact, it served as an oasis to recovery crews and returning locals working to bring the devastated city back to life. “We were back six weeks after the storm serving sandwiches,” Joan Radosta recalled. “We were driving around trying to scratch together some bread for po-boys, and Don had to drive to Denham Springs every day to get ice. Even with all that … we were still selling about 200 po-boys and 100 Hubig’s pies a day.”
Although the fate of Hubig’s has remained unclear, Radosta’s is still going strong, and it’s become a tradition for multiple generations of local lunchgoers. If you’re looking for festive food to take to parties or the parades, look no further than Radosta’s, a pillar of the New Orleans po-boy tradition and the perfect place for your palate to say “Farewell to meat” during Carnival ahead of the Lenten season.
And in a town where red-bean Mondays are as sacred as the holy rituals on Sundays, don’t let a week go by without partaking in a heaping sacramental plate of Camellia Brand legumes done the Radosta’s way.