Like many sane people across the globe, John and I cloistered ourselves in our apartment when the pandemic “officially” took hold back in March last year. We were, and still are, afraid of not only catching Covid-19 (and any arising strains), but also of unknowingly spreading it to someone in our family and/or community. We only leave the apartment to pick up necessities like groceries, and we always mask-up, practice social distancing and wash our hands. After several months of this behavior modification, it was unnerving to even try takeout, let alone sitting inside a café, six-feet apart or no.
Finally in early October when restrictions were lifting and my decaying sanity was beginning to become worrisome, I decided it was time to venture out and John graciously agreed to accompany me. Because I was still avidly, and virtually, watching the local restaurant industry for new openings and trends (yes, even during a pandemic), I was anxiously awaiting the opening of Alma Café, a Honduran restaurant being launched by local caterer and chef Melissa Araujo.
The day we finally stepped out to dine-in, the Bywater restaurant, located in the space that formerly housed Booty’s Street Food and Café Henri, was having a soft opening. Although it felt incredibly odd (and a tad scary) to sit down inside a space that wasn’t our crappy little apartment in the Garden District, it also felt strangely liberating. I was exhilarated by the sheer level of normalcy involved in this simple act of dining out. There were a few other tables (six feet away, of course) filled with people eating, talking, smiling, and (dare I say) laughing, and the scene filled me with joy.
We began our meal with a couple of cappuccinos brewed from Honduran, organic, direct-trade coffee sourced from the café’s namesake, Alma Coffee. While the barista wasn’t overly concerned about presentation, a creamy swirl was the extent of their foam art, the coffee was smooth and slightly fruity, and after drinking chicory coffee for months on end, it packed a hefty caffeine punch. I was ready to eat!
We started with Alma’s ceviche. Lime-marinated Gulf shrimp were served with cherry tomatoes, English cucumbers, red onion and a cilantro-based salsa verde. In every shrimp ceviche I have ever enjoyed, the shrimp were fully cooked before marinating in lemon or lime juice, so we both found it odd, and utterly unpleasant, to discover our shrimp was partially raw. Whether this is the Honduran method of serving shrimp ceviche or if it was just a soft-opening kitchen glitch, I have yet to discover. Also, unless you adore raw cilantro, this may not be the dish for you.
Hungry, we both ate what we could and turned our attention to the next round, “Cric-Cric” sliders and the “Heartattack” — slow-cooked brisket, thick sliced bacon, crispy fried onions, and a sunny side-up egg on Texas toast. Both were liberally seasoned with a smoky-sweet, creamy pink sauce –which tasted like ketchup, mayo, and earthy seasonings like cumin and mustard — and were gobbled quite gratuitously.
Dessert was a must and I was anxious to try their cemitas, a sweet brioche-style bread, but they had already sold out. Though disappointed, we still happily devoured a slice of cream-laden Tres Leches butter cake with a charred meringue frosting.
While we all still yearn for the day when we can take off the masks, or better yet shake hands and even hug, this whole ordeal has certainly made me truly appreciate luxuries like going out to eat, which I sadly used to take for granted.