Though some might believe it makes me a terrible food writer, I’m notoriously bad at patronizing pop-ups. I’ll mark them on my Google calendar, get all excited about trying new dishes from daring young chefs eking their way towards their own brick & mortar. Then almost inevitably, something will prevent me from attending … IE. illness, car trouble, money issues, a heated argument with my SO, my lazy ass … you get the idea.
Anyhow, though my experiences are few and far between, I did chance upon one particular pop-up several years ago at NOLA Brewing Co. McClure’s Barbecue was the usual fare at NOLA Brewing, but McClure’s mouthwatering ‘cue stood aside for a minute so Old Portage could pop-up at that location and that was when I had the immense pleasure of enjoying a meal prepared by chefs Amarys and Jordan Herndon. It’s entirely possible that I’d already tasted their work at Bayona or Ralph’s on the Park, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to taste dishes that were wholly their own creation.
The dynamic duo has been popping up all over town both before and since then, but like I mentioned earlier, I suck at pop-ups. Needless to say, every time there was even the barest of rumors that the Herndons were opening their own digs, I was the first (or among the first) figuratively smashing my face against their window and tapping it with my fingers waiting for it to “open, open, open.”
At long last, Jordan and Amarys opened their restaurant Palm & Pine in early July of this year on the edge of the historic French Quarter. Unfortunately, finances and other shenanigans prevented me from darkening their door until late August when John asked me where I wanted to celebrate my 48th birthday dinner. My first choice was, of course, Palm & Pine and even though it was closed on my actual birthday, I chose to enjoy it one day early** just so I could once again delight in the Herndon’s culinary wonders. I was not disappointed.
My birthday notwithstanding, I was just not interested in imbibing (it makes me feel terrible!), so I opted for a virgin concoction from the “Kitten Club” area of the drink menu. “Clarity” was a literal mouthful mixed with cantaloupe and grapefruit juice, habanero shrub and local soda sensation Huhu’s Ginger Beer. I rightly considered it an amuse and a sign of things to come.
John and I decided to enjoy two small plates as appetizers, though they were anything but small. The first was an Old Portage standby (which I had yet to enjoy) called Corner Store Crudo featuring Gulf yellow fin tuna, Daikon radish and fresh herbs with a Pineapple Big Shot nước chấm (a.k.a. sauce) and topped with crispy shrimp chips. It was a tangy, sweet, spicy and oh-so bright way to kick off our meal.
Our other “small” plate was a large bowl of goat curry, spicy Jamaican-style, mixed with fideos (short, Spanish-style vermicelli noodles) topped with a peach and mango yogurt, puffed rice or quinoa (I believe) and a sprinkling of Elmer’s Hot-N-Spicy CheeWees. It’s a little embarrassing, but John and I attacked this dish like kids inhaling a bowl of Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese after a hard summer’s day of play. We could truly not get enough of the spicy creaminess or the crunchy texture.
We were licking our chops, excited for the next course, when Jordan Herndon came from the kitchen to offer us a complimentary dish of fried chicken livers with plum preserves and thickly shaved curls of foie gras butter. Was I just raving about the curry? What curry? I’m kidding. The curry was the bomb, but how can one compare apples and oranges? The chicken livers were amazing, and let me be completely clear here, I am not typically a fan. But holy mackerel Batman! These beauties were so crunchy, tasting just like your favorite fried chicken, only elevated by the sweet preserves and sinful foie gras butter.
You’d think that after all that, we wouldn’t have room for our entrees. Well, think again! John got coconut marinated and perfectly grilled Gulf drum with sweet, tamarind-braised collard greens and spicy jerk sweet potatoes sprinkled with crunchy cashews and fried plantain chips. I managed to steal a few, fantastic bites while he tried my big-as-my-head panéed pork chop accented by Cajun roux field peas and green tomato chowchow (IE. relish). The chop was so juicy and delightfully crunchy, breaded in Bellegarde breadcrumbs, that when I reached the end I couldn’t resist giving the bone a good gnaw just to savor those last morsels of crisp crust and pork.
Admittedly, by that time we were hurting. But being the incredibly generous people they are, the Herndons had also planned another complimentary dish in honor of my birthday. Placed before me in all of its glory was a cane syrup pie served with a rich, tangy and incredibly creamy preserved lemon ice cream and a dollop of muscadine jelly. Though it’s likely I am still swooning from a culinary experience that occurred over a week ago, I’m going to throw caution to the wind and declare this the best birthday meal ever.
**In all seriousness, my birthday celebrations tend to last all month long. Don’t judge!