NEW ORLEANS (AP) " The Original Fiorellas' Cafe opened two years ago. But the restaurant, in a low-slung, cinderblock building in Gentilly, is built on layers of history.
The two plastic black bull heads that watch over the dining room used to hang in Teddy's Grill. That was the restaurant, with a butcher shop next door, that long occupied this Franklin Avenue address.
Black and white photos of oyster fishers are all around the restaurant. Theodore Fonville Winans took them in the 1930s around Morgan City.
You've seen many of the images before on the cover of books or in other restaurants. But the faces in the photos bare a resemblance to the two brothers who run the Original Fiorellas' Cafe: Kelly Fiorella, tall and lean and never without a flat cap on his head, and Calcie Fiorella, a former Navy man and a retired police officer. In the photos, Kelly can identify relatives, both distant and close, including his grandfather, Anthony, who delivered mail around Morgan City by boat.
Anthony eventually left for the big city and opened a grocery store in Central City on the corner of Clio Street and Simon Bolivar Avenue.
C.J., Anthony's son and the dad of Kelly and Calcie, would get the store's produce each morning from the French Market, back when the French Market was a still a place to buy wholesale fruits and vegetables. One day, in 1985, C.J. learned a restaurant across from the market was for sale.
"He took a leap of faith. He didn't know anything about running a restaurant," Kelly said.
He called the restaurant Fiorella's, just like the Central City grocery store. The restaurant is still there today, although no one named Fiorella has owned it since 1999.
At first, C.J. would open Fiorella's in the French Quarter at 4 a.m. to feed the produce guys. He catered to workers at other restaurants and the staff of French Quarter hotels. That's how the tourists found Fiorella's. They would ask servers and hotel staff where they ate, and Fiorella's was the answer.
Fried chicken is what made Fiorella's famous in the French Quarter. And it's still what draws people to Fiorellas' Original Cafe in Gentilly. Some people remember the chicken from the French Quarter days. Others tried it at the Fried Chicken Festival, where for the past two years it has been judged the best.
The chicken is fried to order. Be patient. It arrives, on top of toast to soak up the grease, almost too hot to touch. The coating is like the crust of a good loaf of bread. A peppery heat lingers after each bite.
The recipe is C.J.'s. Not long after he opened near the French Market, he saw a nearby restaurant on Decatur Street boasting that it had the world's best fried chicken. C.J. figured he could do better. So every afternoon he would try a different recipe, and feed it to a few fried chicken obsessed friends, until he got it right.
"It's simple," Kelly said. "It's all about the marinade and a light flour."
What's in that marinade, however, Kelly won't say.
When the two brothers decided to bring back back the family's restaurant, they ended up in a spot not far from where they grew up. C.J. still lives in Gentilly. And most days, you'll find him at the Franklin Avenue restaurant.
The new location may not look like the old one in the French Quarter. But the food isn't that different. Beyond the the fried chicken, Fiorellas' familiar menu has things like fried oyster and shrimp, a hamburger steak, veal parmesan, liver with onions and meatballs in a candy-sweet red sauce. They make the Italian sausage just like their relatives did before they came to New Orleans.
"Back in Morgan City, it was a big event. All the guys will get together to make sausage and then they would divide it up and everybody would take it home," Calcie said.
Caclie figures that 90 percent of the food comes from family recipes.
"We wanted to recreate what my dad started," he said. "Just going to keep what we knew."
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com