NOLA / BRÖEDERS Night
Review by our resident chef and food writer: Kevin Vaughn, of MASA fame.
I think that it was around the moment that the sound of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” filled the room, me on my second pint and seriously chowing down (look mom, no silverware!) on my plate of mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits and fried chicken that I fell in love with NOLA.
NOLA, which stands for New Orleans, Louisiana, is not a new discovery by any means. It’s the brain child of Liza Puglia, a Big Easy transplant by way of New York, who has been making her mark on the Buenos Aires culinary scene since 2012. What began as a vianda service turned into a Mexican pop-up which exploded into one of the city’s most popular puertas cerradas and will soon become a brick and mortar establishment. And when you try this fried chicken (note: go. now.) her steady evolution makes complete sense.
Running my own closed door makes it nearly impossible to go try others, so when my editor Vivi found out I was taking a Thursday night off she booked me a space. She coincidentally chose the night with three pints of home-brewed beer by NOLA collaborators Broeders Beer, which means she really likes me or thinks I’m a bit of a drunk, or maybe both. The jury’s still out. (Editors note: I just really like you, Kev.)
The night began with a warm welcome from Broeder’s Beer co-founder Marcelo Terren, who ushered us into the beautifully renovated Palermo pH that serves as NOLA’s main space and was the breeding ground of Broeder’s, whose microbrew began in a small shed on the house’s rooftop terrace. His brother and business founder, Francisco, poured us the welcome beer, a creamy golden ale. The open floor plan was filled with four long tables clothed in newspaper and rustic swap meet chairs, all of which were filled with some 30 hungry patrons.
It wasn’t long before chef Liza, a petite girl with anything but a petite personality, saludar-ed us and explained the evening’s menu, unconsciously switching between Spanish and English. The table (I was unabashedly invading a ladies night) got to talking over the delicious first beer and peanuts. One thing that I noticed right away was the quality of service. As soon as my first beer was finished Francisco brought me my second beer, a wonderfully light hoppy IPA. NOLA has adopted a hybrid Argentine-American style of serving, which is staying out of their patron’s way without ever letting anyone’s glass sit empty. They always seemed to be there when an explanation for a beer or dish was needed, but never made us feel like we were being waited on. Even though the dinner is run very much like a restaurant, it still had the charm of a night in with friends.
And then the main dish arrived and the table went SILENT. The last time I saw a plate of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits was much too long ago and awe and nostalgia immediately blushed over my face. This exact dish was a staple in my grandfather’s kitchen nook and Liza’s version completely measured up. Being the only male at the table, I was given the plate missing a drumstick (a timing misstep that Liza very quickly rectified), but everyone was jealous because my plate was gifted an extra biscuit and bowl of gravy. That extra gesture of Southern hospitality was completely unnecessary but absolutely appreciated. After dropping off the last plate, Liza clapped her hands together and said with a smile, “Don’t be afraid to ignore your silverware.” Bliss in fried form.
If I had been handed a plate with the fried chicken skin alone, I would have been content. It had a perfect crisp with hints of a well-spiced dredge that contained just the right amount of spice. The outside was crunchy and inside a juicy paradise, all skillfully paired with the lightness of the IPA. I was unashamed about being a part of the no silverware club, chomping right into that chicken and eating my mashed potatoes with carefully peeled layers of biscuit instead of a fork. Eating nearly everything without picking up a utensil felt like a small victory.
After finishing up our plate Marcelo returned to the table with the final beer of the night, a heavy Porter, and invited us up to the terrace where he showed the beginnings of Broeders. Broeders is a small microbrewery that is quickly picking up fame (you can find them on tap at Fukuro Noodle Bar and soon at NOLA’s open door restaurant). Marcelo, a beer sommelier, makes a point of showing all the guests the tiny shed where he and his brother began experimenting with their brews. Now they are producing beer by the hundreds of liters in a rented factory space. He emphasized that making a good beer doesn’t take a whole lot of equipment (although the chemistry is exacting) and gave hopes to the local burgeoning craft beer scene. Our 2015 prediction: CRAFT BEER IS GOING TO BE A THING IN BUENOS AIRES, AND IT’S GOING TO BE HUGE.
Our group returned to our tables where we were greeted by an unexpected dessert. A rich chocolate and blueberry tart, which, as expected, paired wonderfully with the Porter. Although in all seriousness, I wouldn’t have turn down a dessert inspired chicken skin dish.
Release your inner fat kid at Broeder’s Beer Night every Thursday at NOLA, and keep your ears atento for NOLA restaurant come May!