A Tale of Two Puglia's


When I was in college in New York City 30 years ago, friends and I would venture down to Hester Street once or twice a semester to engage in what Eater NY called “the faux Little Italy experience.” In a city where the dining options were broad and deep, with every culture and style seemingly represented in its apex form, we were headed to Puglia’s, where the Italian food was worse than anything Chef Boyardee could spoil. 

Most of us had palates at least discerning enough to know that we were not engaged in fine dining, but Puglia’s other attractions made up for it. First and foremost were the carafes of house wine, which were abundant and cheap. No one was ever carded. The second distinguishing characteristic was the entertainment, specifically a geriatric man with a spring in his step and a small Casio keyboard who played Italian-American favorites like “Volare” and “That’s Amore” (and perhaps others that ended with a long-“E” sound) as well as an eclectic mix of other tunes like the theme from The Brady Bunch.

As the carafes kept coming (and usually by mid-evening they were renamed “giraffes”), the entire place would become livelier and more obnoxious and the participation level in the singing approached one hundred percent. After paying the bill, the only question was whether we’d have enough money to take a taxi home. If so, we would race the clock and the stoplights in order not to vomit in public. On the other hand, if we only had enough money to take the subway, there was no chance of avoiding that fate – invariably either a service disruption or the need to transfer trains at 96th Street led to an ugly outcome, one which would horrify even the most world-weary Manhattanites.

Needless to say, the name Puglia’s holds a special place in my heart.

With several hours to kill in New Orleans before my flight on Monday morning – not enough time to fish, but too much time to sit in a restaurant -- I did what I always do when I’m away from home. I looked for a tackle store. In the old days, this meant consulting the hotel room Yellow Pages, but now a smart phone makes it so much easier. Despite having just come from one of the best multi-species fisheries on earth, I’d been disappointed to find that the tackle selection in Venice was next to nil, so I was jonesing to exercise my fishing credit card, which hadn’t been used for a tackle purchase since the July 4th sales.

A quick search determined that one of the most comprehensive shops in town was called – you guessed it – Puglia’s. Even better, it was halfway between the Garden District, where my wife Hanna wanted to look around, and the airport, where we eventually needed to be.

I built some time into our schedule to visit and it was very much worth the effort. Unlike New York’s Puglia’s, a tourist trap aimed at clueless rubes and the 20-somethings that I once represented, the New Orleans iteration was a dream come true. No keyboards, no red sauce, just wall to wall outdoors equipment.  The only thing they had in common were the smells of garlic and shrimp.

Not only did this Puglia’s have all of the bass tackle you might see in any good shop from coast to coast crammed into its narrow aisles, but it also had massive amounts of speckled trout and redfish baits. I hadn’t seen many of them before, but I noticed more than a few that I knew would work for bass near home. Furthermore, they had a variety of local freshwater products that I can’t get near here or at any of the major online retailers. I didn’t spend a ton – just under a hundred bones – but I left with a decent-sized bag filled entirely with products made in Louisiana. Laissez les bon temps roulez, indeed.

That’s what I want out of an out-of-town shop – a space crammed full of hard core gear, much of it not widely available, and a sales team that knows what they’re talking about. The shark replica mounted outside with a mouthful of beads was a nice touch. Bring your own wine.