The New Orleans Advocate
POP-UPS ON THE POINT: NEW POP-UP RESTAURANT BRINGS DIVERSE FLAVORS TO ALGIERS POINT
The after-work routine in Algiers Point sees a lot of levee jogging, stroller pushing and dog walking, and maybe a visit to one of the familiar restaurants or bars that have long served this tight-knit neighborhood.
But a new stop on the Algiers Point dining circuit is serving something different; and changing it up all the time with flavors as diverse as Honduran street food. Composed of small plates, Korean barbecue, and modern Creole brunch, you will never be disappointed in this place!
The venue is 323, named for its address at 323 Verret St., a few blocks from the ferry landing and adjacent to a cute-as-pie playground called Confetti Park. Since starting early this year, 323 has become a den for pop-up dining concepts, with a calendar of different chefs coming through for one-night appearances or ongoing residencies.
In a part of town that has felt little impact from the much-discussed New Orleans restaurant boom, 323 is bringing the creativity and variety of the pop-up dining scene right into the heart of the neighborhood.
“Algiers Point can feel a bit like an island,” said Sarah Kiehle, who manages 323 and lives a few blocks away. “We thought this would be a good way to bring something new and maybe attract more people to come over and visit the neighborhood.”
The old storefront building that 323 occupies was once a restaurant, a casual eatery called Aunt Leni’s, and it was later a record store. Kiehle said when efforts to attract another restaurant tenant drew no takers, the pop-up model emerged as an alternative.
“We have some great restaurants on the Point,” she said, calling out longtime fixtures and the 2014 edition of Appetite Repair Shop, a spot for take-away meals and prepared foods from the chef Pete Vazquez. “But I think a lot of people feel that we could use another sit-down dining option. This way we’re getting more variety with a schedule of different people coming in.”
“It’s their place for the night”
The Old Portage June debut at 323 last week showcased their culinary style and the versatility of the space.
Their menu, with prices from $6 to $12, ran through shrimp remoulade over Creole tomatoes framed by onion rings, fried chicken skin topped with roasted chicken and olives dabbed with crema, a curry-spiced summer vegetable salad, good old-fashioned burgers, and the “preservation plate” with pickles, preserves, pimento cheese and lamb bacon. This week’s menu shares a few staples and works in other flavors.
Many of the patrons visiting last week arrived on foot, and others on bicycle. Some came over from Wednesdays on the Point, the free weekly concert series held along the levee through July 8. Most were tooting BYOB wine or beer.
The setting at 323 feels like a family-run restaurant, with long booths and smaller tables made from refurbished woodwork. The building is owned by Robert Palmer and Kristin Palmer, the former New Orleans city councilwoman. Robert crafted many of the furnishings here himself.
Kiehle, the Palmers’ partner for 323, said the idea is to provide pop-ups with a space they can customize themselves.
“I’m here to help, but it’s their place for the night,” she said.
In return, pop-ups pay a percentage of their sales.
Working the pop-up circuit means lots of lugging and hauling and some creative space management, and at 323 visiting chefs still face the usual logistical challenges of setting up a kitchen for the night.
But a space dedicated to pop-ups has its advantages. Kiehle said the aim is to give pop-up chefs access to a built-in neighborhood customer base eager to try new flavors and to create an over-the-river destination for the chefs’ established fans.
Thus far, the 323 calendar has been long on variety. In May there was Korean flavor from Koreole and new American cuisine from the PDR. Last weekend alone brought the Black Swan Food Experience with a blend of Creole, Thai and Caribbean cuisines on Saturday night (jerk tofu with cider-braised collards; pecan-crusted plantain balls stuffed with chevre), while on Sunday morning Dirty Dishes served its take on New Orleans-style brunch (brisket and biscuits; waffles stuffed with hot sausage).
In addition to the Old Portage June residency, 323 will also host a pop-up from chef Melissa Araujo called Alma this month. Araujo runs Saveur Catering, and she said Alma is a way to explore her own Honduran heritage. At 323, she’ll serve a street food menu of enchiladas, meat pies and yucca con chicharrón as a user-friendly introduction to her flavors.
“When I travel, I don’t want to go for fine dining first, I want their street food,” Araujo said. “It’s the best way to learn about a food culture.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.
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Melissa Araujo, the executive chef at Saveur Catering says “easy and elegant always wins out” like the company’s “brochettes with oysters and bacon or our ‘Cabildo’ of lump crab, green onion wrapped in an artichoke leaf with lemon and truffle oil.” “Hand crafted cheese and meat boards also wow,” Araujo adds.
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CHEF MELISSA ARAUJO - SAVEUR CATERING
Growing up in both La Ceiba - a small beach town off the Atlantic Coast of Honduras, and New Orleans, Chef Araujo’s passion for cooking came from summers spent with her grandmother and night shifts at local restaurants. Just like her childhood, Chef Melissa Araujo’s culinary career has brought her all around the world. She spent four years in Mexico and 10 years in Italy working and cooking under an extraordinary line up of chefs.
While New Orleans is home, Araujo has been extremely vocal and intentional about incorporating her Honduran roots into all of her work. Local restaurants like Mondo, Restaurant R'evolution and Doris Metropolitan are all part of Araujo’s resume. Her first solo venture, Alma, was housed at the Central City-based food incubator, Roux Carre. Araujo now dedicates most of her time and energy to her boutique catering company, Saveur Catering.
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Once you’ve got your invitations and location covered, it’s on to the next most important aspect of any event: the food! And here in New Orleans, one will never go without great options. Melissa Araujo, owner and executive chef at Saveur Catering, a farm-to-table boutique-style catering company, says it’s all about determining what kinds of food best speak to who you are and then figuring out how to make that vision fit your budget.
A top-quality caterer like Saveur Catering will take the time to sit down with you and ask questions in order to help you define what dishes best suit you and your event. As Araujo puts it, “we don’t sell a menu.” Maybe it’s about your favorite restaurants, the food you grew up eating or a delicious image that caught your eye on Pinterest. Araujo is catering a wedding, for example, in which the bride is from Cuba and the groom is from New Orleans; they have requested dishes that make use of both culinary traditions, and Araujo is excited to meet that challenge.
A host must also decide, Araujo reminds us, what values he wants to bring to his guests’ eating experience. Is it important to you that your party’s food is locally sourced, or that you have vegetarian options? Whether you meet with a caterer or simply brainstorm on your own, make sure to dig deep to discover which dishes will best reflect who you are, given the characteristics of your event and your budget.
3-Course Interview: Melissa Araujo on Honduran cuisine in New Orleans
THE OWNER OF SAVEUR CATERING RUNS THE HONDURAN POP-UP ALMA
Chef Melissa Araujo has cooked all over the world, including at New Orleans restaurants Mondo, Restaurant R'evolution and Doris Metropolitan. Araujo is now the owner and executive chef of the boutique catering company Saveur Catering (www.saveurcatering.com). Last year, she launched the pop-up Alma (www.almanola.com), featuring the food of her native Honduras. Her next event is a five-course meal with wine pairings on July 9 at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum. Araujo spoke with Gambit about Honduran cuisine and why it's hard to find in New Orleans.
Where did the idea for Alma come from?
Araujo: I've been cooking since I was 18 and I haven't looked back. I worked in New Orleans since 2011 and I worked in Mexico for fours years, and 10 years in Italy.
I started my (catering) company in 2013 and that gave me the opportunity to do some work on the side, and like every chef in the city, I hustled. I kept my fine-dining career going until the catering business could pay the bills by itself, and that took about two years. I had a lot of friends that kept on asking me when I was going to cook Honduran cuisine. I would tell them, "That's labor intensive," but they kept pushing me. My ex-girlfriend was the one who pushed me to explore more of my heritage.
Food for me is memory. I was spoiled growing up. My grandmother was an amazing cook and my mother was also an amazing cook. Every time I would go eat at a Honduran restaurant in the city, I'd end up sending the food back. (Most Honduran restaurants) don't specialize in one cuisine; they're all mixed together — Honduran, Mexican and so on. They're not focused on the quality ... and it's not a good representation of the cuisine.
(In Honduras) I used to go with my mother and my grandmother to the fishermen's market and we could get anything and it was cheap. I didn't have the memories growing up of going to a supermarket; it was all local and fresh. Everything came directly from the local fisherman, the local farmer.
One of the things I also wanted to do was to cook the way I was taught from my mother and my grandmother. I thought, "This is very personal to me. I want to do it right."
Why is Honduran food underrepresented in New Orleans?
A: Louisiana is very similar to Honduras — Honduras was also conquered by the Spanish. Honduran cuisine is a lot like Creole (cuisine); it's a mixture between Spanish and the native tribes of Honduras, and there's an abundance of seafood. It depends on where you go, but if you go to the coast, by La Ceiba, where my father is from, you'll get amazing seafood.
The (Honduran) population has mixed in well here. ... But Hondurans are very private and they keep their culture confined to their house. If you really want Honduran food you have to go to (someone's) house. It has not made as big of an impact as some of the other cultures have on New Orleans cuisine.
The biggest thing I've found in New Orleans is that (diners) don't think Honduran cuisine can be fine dining. Of course it can; it's all about the cook's perspective.
How do you balance running a catering company and a pop-up?
A: It is a lot of work. I'm literally sleeping about three or four hours a day. It's a lifestyle, but you get used to it. When you become a cook, you come to this profession because you have a lot of passion for it and because you're a workaholic. It's not because of the money. You sacrifice a lot of things. You have to be well-organized. I organize as much as I can in advance. I'm not perfect, but I try to look for people who are as passionate and good at what they do. I try to find people who share the same vision that I do, and that helps.