Not too long ago, the streets of the French Quarter bustled with immigrants living and working in the neighborhood, while smells of exotic foods wafted through the air and a symphony of foreign languages was the soundtrack of the city.

The lower Quarter was home to many Italian immigrants – mainly from Sicily – who, like their contemporaries, brought their traditions and customs with them. Many families opened restaurants or other places to buy traditional Italian food.

While a few remnants from that bygone era still exist in the Quarter today – Central Grocery and Matassa’s Market, for example – some have moved out — Brocato’s ice cream shop – and others have closed down as time marched on without them.

These days it’s hard to find an affordable and decent Italian meal in the Quarter. Enter Rotolo’s Pizzeria.

While not in the lower Quarter, the staff still puts out a good spread of traditional Italian dishes and some more modern plates.

(A quick added bonus: There’s a lot to be said about finding a good meal like this in the Quarter, but that’s not the only place you can find Rotolo’s. There are nine locations in three different area codes throughout southeast Louisiana. See their Web site, www.rotolos.com, to find the location nearest you.)

The meals here aren’t huge, but the food you get is more than enough to fill you up by the time the check comes.

And you’ll want to eat as much as possible. It’s some of the freshest-tasting food you’ll find these days.

The dough you’ll be eating was made in-store that day; the pasta sauce is made just for Rotolo’s using only natural ingredients and nothing they serve up is fried. The lack of fried food is probably one of the best things about the restaurant. It just makes the food that much more enjoyable.

While it may take a bit longer to get some items – and it’s nothing bad at all, just a few extra minutes – the wait’s worth it. There’s care that’s put into making food at Rotolo’s. Any restaurant can flash-fry something and slap it on a plate. Few cheaper restaurants choose to go the route of Rotolo’s and actually cook anymore.

On a recent visit I sampled two items: an less traditional appetizer of chicken tenders (just to check out how their baked version would stack up to every other chicken tender I’ve had in my life that’s been fried) and a more traditional entrée of chicken parmesan.

The baked chicken tenders were something worth going back for by themselves. The breading had just the right amount of crunch to it, and the chicken itself was still soft and moist – not gummy or rubbery like some fried chicken can be.

The entrée was two decent size pieces of chicken under that natural pasta sauce and cheese. It sat on top an ample serving of spaghetti. And it was hot when it came out – there was no lag time between when it was finished being cooked and when it was on my table. To that end, the wait staff is friendly and extremely attentive. But not in that annoying way where they check on you too much.

There is a definite difference between what’s served here and what’s served at other Italian restaurants. This food probably tastes pretty close to what someone’s great-grandmother was cooking up a few blocks away around the turn of the last century. You’re missing out if you haven’t tried it.

Rotolo’s Pizzeria
201 Decatur St.
(504) 948-3287
www.rotolos.com