After building familiarity and followings, one-time pop-up dining concepts are making the leap to become fulltime restaurants around New Orleans.
Food terms like pancit noodles, lumpia eggrolls and the pork and tamarind-based soup called sinigang are not exactly household words in New Orleans. But when the local chef Cristina Quackenbush debuted her new Filipino restaurant Milkfish she found a familiar crowd eager to dine on dishes like these, starting right on opening night.
In fact, that opening night at Milkfish saw a full dining room, a validation some restaurants must spend months to achieve and others never experience.
What made the difference for Milkfish, a small, family-run Filipino restaurant opening in a city with little track record for this type of cuisine?
In a word, pop-up. Or maybe that’s two words, but in any case, Milkfish started with the pop-up restaurant trend and took it a step further. Over the course of two years, Milkfish appeared in various forms and locations, from one-night stands to regular stints in bars and borrowed restaurant spaces. Along the way, chef Quackenbush built both an audience for her contemporary take on the traditional dishes from her native Philippines, and some valuable name recognition to leverage when she was finally able to open Milkfish fulltime.
In this way, Milkfish is an example of a new ripple running across the New Orleans dining scene: pop-ups going permanent. These concepts may have started as underground, off-the-radar dining experiences, but as they evolve into more conventional restaurants they’re showing another access point to the increasingly crowded and diverse New Orleans dining scene.
Some of these of these former-pop-ups began as offhand experiments, others were deliberate attempts to test the waters for a new business. In either case, the people behind them say as demand for their food proved consistent their pop-ups seemed to take on their own momentum. Pizza Delicious in the Bywater, the ramen soup and American pie mash-up Noodle & Pie, and McClure’s Barbecue are each examples, while Upper Nine Doughnut Co. is growing this way, and the weekly pop-up Purloo is sort of a long-term pop-up incubator for the modern Southern restaurant that chef Ryan Hughes intends to open inside the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, now under construction in Central City.
Don’t be surprised if more aspiring chefs and restaurateurs follow this path into the business. After all, the name chefs have their own audience they can count on, the chains have big marketing budgets to entice customers, and people around New Orleans tend to be very loyal to their longtime favorites. For the little guy trying to break in, any advantage to build a following or even just see if there’s interest in their ideas can make a big difference.
And, as pop-up become increasingly common, and more make the leap to the mainstream, the pop-up subculture may grow stronger here, as chefs who have found success in this unconventional route inspire and assist others on the way up.
In fact, after her own experience running Milkfish in other people’s kitchens, Quackenbush is paying it forward in a way. On Wednesdays, when her own new restaurant is normally closed, she makes room for other pop-ups to come in, set up shop for the night and see where their ideas might take them.
4800 Magazine St., (504) 301-2367; www.mccluresbarbecue.com
125 N. Carrollton Ave., (504) 267-4199; www.milkfishnola.com
Noodle & Pie
741 State St., (504) 252-9431; www.noodleandpie.com
617 Piety St., (504) 676-8482; www.pizzadelicious.com
At the New Orleans Cooking Experience, 1519 Carondelet St.
Dinner served most Fridays (check for summer schedule)
(504) 430.1840; firstname.lastname@example.org
Upper Nine Doughnut Co.; www.u9dc.com
At Sound Café, 2700 Chartres St.,
Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Tracey's Bar and Restaurant, 2604 Magazine St.
Saturday, 8 a.m.-'til (generally 11 a.m.)