There are two reasons why Venezia Restaurant rarely sells dessert. One is the size of the servings at this Creole-Italian classic.
The other reason is its neighbor.
Angelo Brocato Ice Cream & Confectionary, the city’s oldest gelato parlor and Italian bakery, is just four doors down the street, or about 80 eager steps away.
In the evening, the sidewalk between them is lit by their respective neon signs and busy with diners from Venezia shuttling over to Angelo Brocato, a pairing that’s become as intuitive as spaghetti and meatballs and tricolor spumoni.
"You don't even think to do anything different," said Ryan Wise, while she and her husband, Oliver, ushered their three children along that familiar route. "It's just a natural."
The interplay between these two eateries makes the short stretch of Mid-City they share the most Italian place in New Orleans, one woven in the traditions of many families and both businesses.
“Their regulars are our regulars,” said Arthur Brocato, proprietor of his family’s dessert shop.
Fridays and Saturdays can feel like date night along the street, with couples pairing a dinner in the cozy, old school Italian restaurant with the wholesome second act of gelato and cappuccino at the next stop.
Sunday is more like family supper, and it runs like clockwork.
“People come here for lunch right after Mass,” said Nicholas Bologna, who runs Venezia with his father, Anthony. “When we open at noon, they’re waiting at the door.”
Downstream at Angelo Brocato, everyone knows what’s coming next. By 2 p.m., the shop fills with its first rush as families pour in, many toting Venezia pizza boxes and leftovers cartons.
Venezia barely bothers with dessert. None are listed on the menu. The kitchen usually has cheesecake on hand if people insist. But even diners who ask about dessert are routinely advised to go to Angelo Brocato’s instead.
“We used to have Brocato’s ice cream here, but whether we sell it or people go down the street, they’re having Brocato’s either way, so they might as well get it from them,” said Bologna.
“To be honest, I don’t really want to sell dessert because I want people to have that experience of coming here and then going to them,” he said. “It’s just better all around, and it’s part of why people come here now.”
There are some practical advantages. Angelo Brocato has a built-in after-dinner clientele. Venezia has a quicker turn for its tables, essentially outsourcing the after-dinner linger to its neighbors.
Any ice cream parlor could find symbiosis with a nearby popular restaurant. But Venezia and Angelo Brocato are connected by more than a coincidence of proximity.
The two businesses share a place in the entwined continuity of New Orleans food and families, in the way that family-run restaurants can feel like extensions of family for their local clienteles. This is especially strong in the Italian-American community, which New Orleans celebrates this time of year around St. Joseph’s Day.
The stories of Angelo Brocato and Venezia go back for generations.
Angelo Brocato’s namesake learned the gelato craft in Palermo before emigrating. He opened his shop in 1905 in the French Quarter, then the city’s Little Italy, in an Ursulines Avenue storefront (now home to Croissant d’Or bakery).
His grandson, the shop’s current proprietor, got his start sweeping up the sawdust the Brocato family deployed over the tile floors back then (to abate the omnipresent moisture of the ice cream shop). He watched his family juice citrus for the lemon ice, don wooden shoes to work in the ice-lined freezers and roll biscotti dough.
“I love and respect the hard work my grandparents put into building this business,” Brocato said. “We make things today we were taught to make at a young age by our parents, who learned from their parents. It was a hands-on learning experience, and you don’t forget that.”
By the time he was old enough to take the reins in the 1970s, however, Brocato also saw the French Quarter changing. Many old neighbors had moved across the city; fewer people came downtown to shop.
Following his customers, he relocated the store to Mid-City 40 years ago this May, reopening on Mother’s Day in 1979 in what had been Lombardino’s Bakery (and before that Long’s Bakery, and before that, in the 1920s, Sehrt’s Bakery).
As it happened, Brocato spotted the for-sale sign for his shop’s new home while making an ice cream delivery to Venezia.
The restaurant was operated at that time by the late Anthony Carollo, who opened it in 1957. Carollo, the son of notorious mob boss Sylvestro “Silver Dollar Sam” Carollo, would ultimately be better known for his own role in organized crime than as a restaurateur.
He sold Venezia in 1987 to Anthony Bologna, who had been in the liquor business (old signs from his family’s Monogram wine brand still hang in the restaurant).
The restaurant that introduced many in New Orleans to pizza back in the 1950s (or “pizza pie,” as the neon out front still proclaims), became a go-to for the Creole-Italian blend of Sicilian tradition and New Orleans flavor. That plays out on a menu with cannelloni next to seafood-sluiced fried eggplant Vatican (created after Pope John Paul II's visit to New Orleans) and stuffed shells next to trout almondine.
Bologna started bringing his grade school-age son Nicholas to the restaurant soon after taking over. The restaurant was at first his playground, later his workplace and, he realized later, his enduring connection to family.
“Restaurant families are always working, but you’re working together,” Nicholas Bologna said.
“A lot of fathers and sons, they’ll go out and play ball together, but we never did that,” he said. “We cooked together, we worked together here. It was always him and me, that was our father and son time.”
Today, Bologna splits time at the register, in the office, on the dining room floor and back in the kitchen. He cuts the steaks, makes the house sausage and is forever making off-the-menu specials for his regulars.
And when it’s time for dessert, he knows the Venezia faithful are off to Angelo Brocato.
On a recent Friday evening, the short span between their doors saw a constant procession of families with babies in arms, kids in school uniforms and grandparents. Weaving between them were the date night contingent, the younger couples, walking hand-in-hand with that skip in the step that may lead...to babies in arms, kids in school uniforms and grandparents.
Under the neon, over the red-checked restaurant tables and through the gleaming dessert case, Venezia and Angelo Brocato are two stops on a full circle.
214 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-486-0078
134 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-488-7991
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