Foster Moreau abandoned all thoughts of football to focus on his plate of Drago's signature charbroiled oysters.

That and the cheesecake.

"It's almost like ice cream," said the former LSU tight end-turned-Las Vegas Raider, getting ready to scoop up the last bite. "I've never had Drago's cheesecake, and I've never had cheesecake like this."

Moreau was dining with his dad, Lloyd, during the trial run at Drago's Seafood Restaurant leading to its grand opening at 4580 Constitution Ave. in Baton Rouge.

Co-owner Tommy Cvitanovich says the restaurant will open Feb. 3.

"We love Drago's in Metairie," said Lloyd Moreau, "and we definitely wanted to come in and try out the new restaurant in Baton Rouge."

The Moreaus filled their table with lobster mac and cheese, boudin-stuffed shrimp and, of course, Drago's charbroiled oysters. Their verdict?

"It was everything that Drago's is supposed to be," Foster Moreau said.

That's all Cvitanovich needed to hear.

"A reporter once asked me if this going to be a version of Drago's Restaurant," he said. "I said, 'Absolutely not.' This is going to be a Drago's Restaurant, it's not going to be a version of. Whatever you see in Metairie, which is our original, is going to be the same way here. Policies, procedures, menus, prices, everything."

And "everything" includes service.

"We have three grills in our charbroiled oyster expo area," Cvitanovich said. " … Our policy is anybody — managers included — if you're the only person there when that guy says 'Runner,' you're expected to grab that plate of oysters and bring it to the dining room. That's our trademark dish, that's what I want to go to the table perfect. Perfect."

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On this trial night, Cvitanovich steps up to the grill to show just how it's done, using tongs to pluck fiery oysters off the grill, then dousing them in water.

The result, as he said, must be perfect. Nothing less can be placed on the Moreaus' — or any other customer's — table.

It's how the Cvitanovich family has been doing it since Drago and Klara Cvitanovich first opened that Metairie restaurant in 1969. Today, matriarch Klara Cvitanovich and sons Tommy and Gerry own the chain. Drago Cvitanovich died in 2017.

Baton Rouge is the fifth operation. In addition to the original location, the Cvitanoviches opened a Drago's in the New Orleans Hilton Riverside after Hurricane Katrina, then expanded to Jackson, Mississippi, five years ago, and to Lafayette two years ago.

"We've been trying to get to Baton Rouge for five years," Klara Cvitanovich said. "I'm very happy with what I see here."

The Baton Rouge restaurant is an almost $7 million project.

"That doesn't include the purchase of a piece of property behind us," Tommy Citanovich said. "We have secured two pieces of property behind us in addition to this one for additional parking, because parking is an issue. And we hope to address it with that. And we also have a backup plan in case that's not enough."

The 13,600-square-foot building will seat just under 500 people with the bar, which has a small stage for live entertainment, accommodating about 100, Tommy Cvitanovich said, adding that a portion of the dining room can be partitioned off for smaller private gatherings. 

There's also a back entrance that leads to a space that can be used for private meetings.

"This is going to be the Governor's Room," said Tommy Cvitanovich of the space where portraits of Louisiana governors will hang. "As other governors are elected, we will add them to the list. We're going to probably put a state crest in here. We'll probably be able to seat about 16 people in here. Very excited about this room."

As in the other restaurants, Mandeville artist Jane Bateman has created murals and paintings, most of Gulf Coast scenes paying tribute to the family history. 

The Baton Rouge restaurant will employee 200 people, Tommy Cvitanovich said, bringing the chain's total employees to about 700.

"My dad would have told you, and my mother will tell you now, that they have lived the American dream," Tommy Cvitanovich said.

That Drago's exists at all is a bit of a dream come true.

Tommy Cvitanovich said his parents both came from Yugoslavia, in the part that is now Croatia. His father, he said, was jailed as a teenager after trying to escape the country's communist regime during World War II. He escaped again after his release, this time making it to Germany, where he joined the U.S. Army.

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He worked in the military police for three years, Tommy Cvitanovich recalled, and was honorably discharged, but wasn't allowed to immigrate to the United States.

"He secured passage to Canada, where he eventually landed a job in a lumberjack dining hall," Tommy Cvitanovich said.

His mother, he said, left Yugoslavia at 17 to attend school in London, then went live with her aunt in New Jersey. Visiting another aunt in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, she met her future husband, who was there visiting his two sisters.

"They married three weeks later and lived in Vancouver," said Tommy Cvitanovich, noting that's where he and his brother were born.

Canada was home until 1959, when Drago Cvitanovich was cleared to immigrate to the United States. The family sold everything and moved to New Orleans, where his father went to work for his sister and brother-in-law's restaurant, Tommy Cvitanovich said.

In 1969, the family opened its first restaurant, establishing the traditions Tommy Cvitanovich is doing his best to uphold in Baton Rouge.

Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com