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Thu November 1, 2012
Where Y'eat: Honduran Comfort Food at Telamar
A restaurant with traditional Latin American flavors and a "new New Orleans" backstory emerges again along Tulane Avenue.
Restaurante Telamar was a tiny family-run café that came along as part of a wave of new Latin American restaurants after Hurricane Katrina. But it really stood out and won an enthusiastic following around town for its proprietors’ robust rendition of Honduran home cooking, with traditional flavors centered around fried plantains, thick sauces, cool crema and puffy, hand-made tortillas.
The restaurant has called a few obscure addresses home over the years, then it quietly disappeared. I always wondered what happened to the place, in part because I loved the cooking but also because of the story of its proprietors, which we’ll come to in a moment. So, I was happy to discover recently that Telamar has re-emerged, this time on Tulane Avenue in Mid-City, a block up from the criminal courthouse amid a cluster of bail bond boutiques.
As has always been the case at this place, smiles come easy but a formidable language barrier awaits customers unschooled in Spanish. The printed menu doesn’t offer much description, though by ordering widely, and largely blindly, I’ve found pleasure more often than pitfalls.
Some of the specialties are breakfast baleadas, or folded tortilla sandwiches filled with beans and eggs; beef tongue, chopped into chunks and stewed with a thin, red sauce; Honduran tacos, which are stuffed, rolled and fried like flautas; and then, probably the marquee item here, garlicky fried chicken with long, ribbon-like slices of fried plantains, all soaked down with a mild, savory, creamy sauce called aderezo. Heaps fresh cabbage, pickled onion and all those plantains add one crunchy layer after another.
Telamar is run by Elisabeth Olviedo and her daughter Daisy, both natives of Honduras who share sort of a “new New Orleans” immigrant story. They were living in Texas when Hurricane Katrina hit and beat a path here quickly in the aftermath, knowing the recovery would need workers, those workers would need to eat, and many of them would be keen for their style of Central American food.
They started out by renting an Uptown house where they prepared boxed lunches that they brought to job sites and served hot food direct from their stove. This was during the period when food service options in New Orleans were slim, and this sort of bootstrap entrepreneurism was common. But as the situation in New Orleans began to normalize and the city reasserted some of its rules, officials shut down this home business.
The mother/daughter team soon went legit, however, and opened Telamar in a former daiquiri shop on Earhart Boulevard. They later moved to a hard-to-spot storefront next to an empty grocery store on Washington Avenue. Following a hiatus, the new Telamar opened over the summer in an old building has been a number of bar-and-grill type establishments through the years.
This new Telamar doubles as a bar, and it can draw a fairly rough and tumble crowd at night. The scene is pretty mellow at lunch, though, and it’s quite something to watch guys with hands stained black from work delicately pulling mussels from huge bowls of seafood soup, the caldo mariscos, and glugging down the milky broth between pulls of beer. Even if the menu doesn’t have much description for newcomers like me, it’s clear Telamar serves comfort cooking incarnate for people who already know this food by heart.