You can set up a crawfish feast just about anywhere you can boil water and crack a beer.

James Clesi has proven that over the years while building his business, first with sidewalk crawfish catering for bars and later by running his own joint, an indoor/mostly-outdoor eatery attached to the Banks Street Bar in Mid-City.

Soon, though, Clesi will have a more established home base for his boiling business.

The next incarnation of Clesi’s Restaurant & Catering will be a stand-alone seafood restaurant in Mid-City, with ranks of picnic tables under string lights outside, a dining room and full bar inside, a covered deck out front and even a portable sno-ball stand.

This new Clesi’s Restaurant & Catering is now taking shape at 4323 Bienville St., and is slated to open in April.

“This is everything I could imagine,” said Clesi, who is developing the restaurant with his brother and sister. “I always dreamed of having my own restaurant. What’s so great is we will finally have a place to cook. We’ll finally be able to really do it up.”

The location is tucked between auto service shops along a stretch of Mid-City that has seen more redevelopment recently. The cute-as-pie bakery/café the Station (4400 Bienville St., 504-309-4548) is just across the street, and the Mid-City Market cluster of stores and eateries is two blocks away.

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fries2

Jambalaya cheese fries are crisp and meaty and capped with melted cheddar at Clesi's Restaurant & Catering in Mid-City.

While seasonal boiled seafood will be the focus, Clesi’s will serve a full menu of casual Louisiana cooking. The approach could be summed up as “Louisiana tailgate traditional,” running through fried seafood, jambalaya, stew over rice, char-grilled oysters and some playful hybrids. That includes his jambalaya cheese fries, a mix of crisp fries, meaty rice and a cap of cheese (which is just as much fun as it sounds).

Another Clesi's close by  

The new home will be a second neighborhood location for Clesi’s. Late last year, he left the Banks Street Bar location and just this week opened a new operation inside Treo (3835 Tulane Ave., 504-304-4878) the bar and art gallery about a mile away on Tulane Avenue.

This new Clesi’s at Treo replaced Tana, the modern Italian eatery from chef Michael Gulotta, which had run the Treo kitchen for two years. It closed on Dec. 31.

Now, Clesi’s at Treo is serving a menu of down-home Louisiana dishes and bayou-style bar snacks, with crawfish boils planned for the Treo patio as the season’s supply revs up. A grand opening for Clesi’s at Treo is scheduled for Jan. 12. 

Back on Bienville Street, the new restaurant will serve lunch and dinner, and it’s being planned as a family-friendly spot. It’s also a family-run business.

Clesi, 38, is a Metairie native who first got the bug for boiling crawfish during his college years down in Thibodaux back in the 1990s. He built the hobby into a catering business.

Soon, his siblings Carlo Clesi and Sonya DiCarlo got involved, initially as backers and eventually as operational partners. Their company now keeps a busy schedule of catering gigs, from weddings and corporate events to those ongoing crawfish nights at local bars.

“This started out as us supporting our brother, because he’s so good at what he does, because he just lights people up when he walks into a room, because people love his cooking,” said DiCarlo. “But it evolved into a true family business. I think this next step is us growing where our clientele has been guiding us.”

The new restaurant will double as a hub for the family’s catering business, and it will fold in other elements of Clesi’s food repertoire. Raw oysters and pig roasts will be part of seasonal rotation at the restaurant, for instance.

One part of the design now taking shape across the property is an outdoor, screened-in boil room.

“I love that the boil room is going to be outdoors, and not tucked away, so our guests can be part of the action,” said DiCarlo.

Developing a full-fledged restaurant is a big step up for a business that essentially started with crawfish boils on the sidewalk, but James Clesi sees it as a natural, if unscripted, progression of the same initially spark.

“In the beginning, all I wanted to do was cater, but I have these relationships now that I’ve built with my customers and my guests,” said Clesi.

“It feels like the service I’m bringing to my community is good times. It’s crawfish and fun, it’s getting together with friends or bringing your out of town visitors along and saying ‘this is how we live and have fun here, this is our neighborhood,'" he said. "I’ve seen that actually happen over a table of crawfish, and it’s a great thing to see. That’s what it’s all about.”

Clesi’s Restaurant & Catering

4323 Bienville St.

Projected opening is April

Clesi’s at Treo

3835 Tulane Ave., (504) 304-4878

Daily, 4 p.m. to midnight

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.