[Tim Mossholder/Unsplash]

Era of the Unconventional Restaurant

00:00 May 28, 2013
By: Kristal Blue
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[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]

The Big Easy has always been on the cutting edge of creatively offering anything mealtime to the mouths of hungry patrons. Something as simple as the world-famous beignet is a prime example. Cafe du Monde started cranking out "doughnuts" and coffee in 1862. The business, whose popularity has gone global, is still family-owned and -operated. Another naturally Nawlins vendor is the Roman Candy Man, who just may be the city's first food truck. Still beating the streets today, by way of a more modern horsepower, the sight of his classic cart pleases the hearts and palates of those seeking the famous hand-formed, wax paper-wrapped, Italian taffy. Following closely behind is Manuel's Hot Tamales, which stayed in business for the better part of three decades. Those who miss that Manuel's flavor need to head over to RNO's in Bucktown, where some say the ghost of the original recipe haunts their dine-in-only take on the tradition.

The irregular restaurant, be it a pop-up or food truck, is the segue for new small businesses to utilize an established market. Maturing in popularity and design with the times, more interest is generated as the intrigue of the culinary industry itself becomes more fashionable. Food-based television shows and chef stardom mainstream the biz, while alternative dining forums present entrepreneurial options and innovative cuisine. Supper clubs, which have been around for ages, introduce a chef's creative intellectual property in a social setting, like local event Dinner Lab or the private, invitation-only Clandestine Dine. My House by Barrie Schwartz is a conglomerate, if you will, of local chefs, food trucks, and local craft breweries showcasing their products to an audience in festival congregation. The pop-up production company prides itself on specializing in emerging culinary talent. Dishcrawl, which has recently made its mark in the New Orleans area, is a rich take on the age-old bar crawl, but instead of bars, eventgoers venture to restaurants.

Pop-ups, in a sense, are very similar to supper clubs. Chefs generally use the scope of social media to alert diners of the next location or an upcoming menu. They have been present in Great Britain, Australia, Cuba and the United States since the early 2000s, and have evolved from private home and festival locations to well-known restaurant kitchens after business hours. The one-day-a-week or more usage of another restaurant's kitchen allows a chef the benefit of exposing his cuisine to the public with extremely low overhead.

The era of the "irregular restaurant" is just beginning in many parts of the world. But it is the internationally influenced pop-up restaurant that is bringing different parts of the world together. Cristina Quackenbush of Milkfish pegs her cuisine as "A Taste of the Philippines". Having grown up on a farm, where she learned about living off the land and canning fruits and vegetables, she attributes her Filipina grandmother with a lot of the talent she brings to the kitchen. Her pop-up works out of the Who Dat Cafe in the Marigny and presents ethnic favorites, such as Pancit and Sisig. The cuisine is a cultural fusion of Malay, Spanish, and Chinese, and it is apparent that Quackenbush's kitchen experience has helped her transition to running her own operation. It was Chef Adolfo Garcia, for whom she worked for 2 ½ years at Rio Mar, who initially suggested Quackenbush do a pop-up.

Chef Rob Bechtold's NOLA Smoke House is bringing bangin' barbeque to New Orleans. Some of their first pop-up appearances began at Avenue Pub, with an occasional spot at the newly opened Toups' Meatery on Carrollton. Now doing stints at the Bricks, Bechtold and his wife Emily are simultaneously maintaining focus on the catering end of food delivery, which goes on to prove that the the pop-up is a revolutionary force that can turn any startup ambition into a viable venture.

The Bechtold team not only creates some stellar sauces and accoutrements to pair with their smoked meats, they have also been working on a local radio show called NOLA Food Podcast, which promotes local cuisine, cooks, chefs, and the startup. Chef Cam Boudreaux of Killer Po-Boys, Bechtold's counterpart in the radio show, explains,"It's basically people in the industry sitting around a table together talking about food. We want to shed light on the new ventures in town and help folks get their food out there."

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[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]
Food trucks bring the heat to the street, and in certain situations, the food to the bar. A kitchen on four wheels grants owners the ability to explore new stretches of town and creates an arena for meeting new businesses and people, equaling a broader fan base. Constraints like space and equipment may be the foremost concerns; however, these defi ciencies implore modular operation and prolifi c deviations. Today, you can get any cuisine, be it Italian, American, Mediterranean, Mexican, or Spanish, from the windows of four-wheeled vendors. When Theresa Galli and Gavin Cady fi rst started on their mobile venture, they noticed one thing was missing from the scene—falafel, particularly one that was fresh and affordable. Hence the idea to label their truck The Fat Falafel. When asked about the truck's success, Theresa replied, "I guess it depends how you defi ne success...We're happiest when we participate in a variety of events throughout the week. At catering gigs and pop-ups, we get to branch out from our normal menu. At food truck round-ups, we get to test how quickly we can

serve the endless lines of customers. And parking around town is the best way to meet people and explore the city." Theresa takes her kitchen experience from Patois, and Gavin his from Domenica, where the two mainly assisted in food production. Theresa admits, "I think that the best part of working in a food truck is working through the entire process to get our product to our customers. We source the food, create the menu, do kitchen prep, and serve our customers, and it is very fulfi lling to be a part of the entire process, rather than spending the entire day in the kitchen." Their menu of outstanding Mediterranean delights revolves around the falafel, which they form and fry to perfection. Perfectly browned orbs of spice and crunch pair harmoniously with a texture-rich herb and greens-heavy sidecar, where strips of beet and carrot garner myriad fl avors. Bringing two more wheels and genius into play, the team now offers bicycle delivery on Tuesdays and Fridays to anywhere in the CBD.

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[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]

Empanada Intifada is doing spectacular things for the world of savory, fried puff pastries. Taylor Jackson, the current operator and "Chief Filling Offi cer," spent time in Ecuador after college working for an organic agricultural company. His affi nity for empanadas chilenas prompted a crash course in production to supply his own addiction, later forging personal ambitions to share his knowledge and love for the food with others. "After a few years of amateur empanada-making for friends and family, I burnt out on offi ce work and decided to start a food truck. My best friend from college and I built out an old bread delivery truck into a mobile kitchen, and the Empanada Intifada was born." The onerous city regulations and inability to determine whether there is political will to change it supply Jackson and his team with all the more drive to make their business work in New Orleans. Crediting the city's food truck round-ups with the foundation of its recent business, Empanada Intifada is also no stranger to the catering circuit. Try their insanely good grapefruit pulled pork: roasted sweet potato, candied collard greens, and pork roasted in a grapefruit reduction, served with aioli made from grapefruit zest, coriander, and mint.

Everyone remembers their fi rst grilled cheese sandwich, which makes the Frencheeze food truck the stuff of a big kid's fantasy. Owner Jason King is making a statement with gourmet takes on butter, cheese, and bread, and the creative force behind the concept shines in the menu, created by both King and his wife. Gluten-free bread is available for every sandwich, making it a Celiac sufferer's dream come true, and the cuisine, which is primarily vegetarian at base, supplies variety for fans normally fated to a bland veggie and bread sentence. Meaty sandwiches are available as well, like the Wilbur— pulled pork, bacon and blue cheese topped with sweet and tangy homemade BBQ sauce on a french roll, and the Gary—goat cheese, grape jelly and applewood-smoked bacon on a buttery croissant. Breads like sourdough and peasant kiss together melted Gouda, cheddar and Provolone cheeses, while artisan elements of Creole tomato and mustard greens fi nish the gooey works of art.

All in all, the pop-up and the food truck are advantageous tools for "the little guy" trying to break into the business. We are a community that has made a lucrative livelihood out of great food. To preserve this begins with promoting contemporary growth.

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