From his open kitchen Chef Antonio Saladino presides over a culinary operation devoid of mood lighting, fine linen, courtly tableside service or soothing music. The floors of his establishment are polished to a high shine offset by megawatt overhead lighting. If this were a restaurant this would be a most undesirable environment. But this is a newly opened, contemporary grocery store operating in the era of COVID -19 en masse germ-a-phobia, making this dazzling, sterile, visibly clean environment most welcome and soothing.
On March 24, the Canseco family opened their fifth market just as New Orleans was rapidly ramping into the very strangest of times. Located in the Carrollton neighborhood in a historic building once occupied by Schwickert’s Pharmacy, this bright 6,000 square-foot full service grocery is a merry place with extensive beer and wine selections, vibrant fresh produce, in-house baked goods, fragrant fresh flowers and in-house prepared meals and grab-and-go items – including the utterly delicious, best selling Thunder Cheese dip, legendary Cuban sandwiches and a screamingly good almond chicken salad – and hot meals with a decidedly local flair overseen by Saladino, 55, a native New Orleanian and one of the first graduates of the UNO/Delgado Hotel Restaurant and Tourism Les Chefs des Cuisine de la Louisiane Program.
His lengthy career as an executive chef has wound its way through The Double Musky in Alaska to various casino restaurants on the Gulf Coast and The Chesterfield Hotel on the Florida island of Palm Beach. He went on to establish his own gourmet market, Antonio’s in North Raleigh, N.C., before returning to New Orleans to be near his family. He ended up in a corporate hotel culinary position that made him miserable.
“Then I was able to connect with Sinesio Canseco,” Saladino says. “It allowed me to return to my passion for gourmet markets. I connect with him one to one. There is no corporate B.S. to deal with, no constant red tape. My passion for gourmet markets connects me with the customer. This drives the enjoyment in my day to day.”
Saladino grew up in an Italian household and started working in local restaurants when he was 14.
“I never remember a time when food wasn’t a part of my life,” he says. “Some of my earliest memories are watching my dad on Sundays make ‘sauce,’ which, of course, is so much more than a simple red sauce. It includes a day of slow simmering multiple meats and ingredients.”
“Today he serves that same sauce over pasta and stuffed peppers from the kitchen at Canseco’s Markets for which he oversees culinary research and development across the brand of five markets. He works mostly from his home base at the Carrollton location, where often he spends days in the open kitchen overseeing a small staff, stirring pots and personally dishing up hot plates to guests in these days of hyper-cleanliness. On Thursdays from 3-7 p.m. guests will find him manning the grill for Steak Night when $12.99 will get you a freshly cut, grilled-to-order rib-eye served with your choice of two sides to go.
“This is an unprecedented value and everything is made fresh in-house. Needless to say Thursdays are a very busy for us,” Saladino says.
In this time when most of us are either hitting the “Add to Cart” button to have our groceries delivered or waiting in lines standing six feet apart to enter cavernous supermarkets or big box stores, to enter this cheerful, locally owned and operated market serving familiar New Orleans comfort foods with a side of personable hospitality is a most welcome revelation.
Canseco’s Market also has locations in Old Metairie, Arabi, Gentilly and the Bayou St. John area.
Galatoire’s has partnered with select Rouses Markets in the New Orleans area to offer their Shrimp Remoulade and Shrimp Creole as grab-and-go menu items. These familiar delicacies are currently available at the Veterans-Causeway, Tchoupitoulas Street and N. Carrollton Avenue locations.
Canseco’s Market, 1133 S. Carrollton Ave., 766-0972, Cansecos.com
Rouses Market, 4500 Tchoupitoulas St., 896-7910; 400 N. Carrollton Ave., 488-2129; 2900 Veterans Blvd., Metairie, 834-4151; Rouses.com