The Maroon

Pop-up restaurants surprise New Orleanians with a new way to dine

A+customer+orders+food+at+Black+Swan%27s+restaurant+location+at+Roux+Carre.+Photo+credit%3A+Davis+Walden
A customer orders food at Black Swan's restaurant location at Roux Carre. Photo credit: Davis Walden

A customer orders food at Black Swan's restaurant location at Roux Carre. Photo credit: Davis Walden

A customer orders food at Black Swan's restaurant location at Roux Carre. Photo credit: Davis Walden

Davis Walden

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From sit-downs to grab n go’s, impromptu pop-up restaurants are on the rise in New Orleans.

These temporary restaurants feature a wide variety of food styles and serving techniques. Whether the restaurant has their guests sit down or dish food out, eaters can find them at festivals, a local bar or while exploring the French Quarter.

Midnight Noodle, the vegan-friendly pop-up restaurant seen at locations such as Kitchen Witch and 45 Tchoup, is run by chef Melvin Stovall III and pastry chef Mariah Casmir.

Stovall said that he appreciates how Midnight Noodle unites people through food.

“You get to meet amazing people in the community,” Stovall said. “It brings people together, and there’s such a camping feel to my pop-ups with the wok on an open flame. I’ve witnessed people reuniting with old friends who they haven’t seen in a while and eating a big plate of noodles is a great way to catch up.”

With a vegan spin on classic dishes, Midnight Noodle plays around with cultural influences such as Thai and Tex-Mex.

“Pop-ups give you the chance to experiment with many different cooking techniques and cuisines that you wouldn’t be able to test out in someone’s restaurant,” Stovall said. “Everyone is so open with one another here that eating food from a stranger outside a bar isn’t seen as strange.”

Black Swan Food Experience, started by Chef Nikki Wright and General Manager Shana Turner, uses Creole, Caribbean and Thai influences for their contemporary soul food dishes.

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Chef Nikki Wright cutting oranges for food preparation.

“Black Swan is inspired by the idea of street food culture meeting casual fine dining,” Wright said. The Black Swan Food Experience began after the events of Hurricane Katrina, when Wright decided it was time to pursue cooking as a living. The native New Orleanian learned to appreciate food and its potential effect on others in her grandmother’s kitchen.

“People sell pralines on street corners, a tradition that dates back centuries. People throw suppers to cover their rent, like my Mama did while we were growing up. People cook food from grills off the back of their trucks and sell it to late night club crowds; they set up tables on Frenchmen street to sell their art,” Wright said. “The ability to make a living through preparing and selling food on the street is a lifeline for many women.”

The Black Swan Food Experience has popped up at locations such as the Ashe Cultural Center, the Contemporary Arts Center, Eiffel Society, The Building, Cafe Istanbul and the Milkfish Restaurant, as well as at music and art festivals.

“We often collaborate with musicians, visual artists, local jewelers and vendors who produce handmade goods for home and body,” Wright said. “Food, alongside art, music and the entrepreneurial spirit that this port city has had for centuries.”

While each city has there own specialty, Wright said that New Orleans creativity makes it a great place for pop-ip restaurants.

“New Orleans is a city of creating, so the idea of pop-up restaurants with their flexible structures fits well into the high expectation for uniqueness in this city,” Wright said. “Even though we have moved into the Roux Carre, our goal is to continue popping up around the city throughout the year.”

Some of the most notable pop-up restaurants in the city include:

  • Gimelli’s in Lillette on Magazine St.
  • Splendid Pig at Carrolton Station
  • NOLA Seoul on Decatur St.
  • Congreso Cubano at St. Claude
  • Laphet on N. Carrolton
  • Rusty Nail on Constance St.
  • Black Penny on N. Rampart
  • Courtyard Brewery on Erato St.
  • Open Sesame at Carrolton Station
  • Sarasparilla on Dante St.

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Pop-up restaurants surprise New Orleanians with a new way to dine