At the open kitchen counter at Palm&Pine, sauté pans and sizzle plates sway to a rhythmic flow as chefs Amarys and Jordan Herdon reveal their story through touch and taste—where clams get a kiss of crispy chicken skins while fire-flashed chanterelles rub up against crunchy corn, jalapeño peppers, mole Amarillo, and maw maw’s backyard figs.
The advent of Palm&Pine is part and parcel of the rough and tumble DYI trajectory of pop-up restaurants in New Orleans. The concept, born out of necessity and passion, began in earnest in the aftermath of Katrina when everything was touch and go. Bacchanal proved to be one of the early incubators, and the trend continued: ranging from late-night taco trucks to one-offs at restaurants on their dark nights, to receptive bars, farmers’ markets, and even the super-ambitious behemoth, Food Lab. Often, restlessly creative chefs showcased specialty concepts, or just wanted to branch out with ideas and cuisines that didn’t fit into the framework established at their restaurants. Many of these pop-up offshoots morphed into brick and mortar restaurants such as Killer Po-Boys, Zasu, 1000 Figs, Pizza Delicious, and most recently, Palm&Pine.
At Susan Spicer’s Bayona, sous chef Amarys Koenig Herdon prepared dishes like Madras curried crawfish with lemongrass rice, mango relish, and crab boil-spiced peanuts, as well as grilled salmon with butternut squash and tomatillo escabeche, green rice, and Guajillo créma. Her husband Jordan worked as sous chef at Ralph’s On The Park. They then converged to create more original concepts and even staged spectacular one-offs such as their epic soiree on the Bayou St. John Bridge. The Herdons eventually quit their jobs and partnered with entrepreneur Andrew Principe to establish their brick and mortar enterprise Palm&Pine. Just as they were about to open, they were disrupted by back- to-back flash floods that engendered an outpouring of support. On Facebook, Amarys stated, “We wanted to build a restaurant for our community, but instead our community helped us build a restaurant.” That support and their culinary talent has obviously paid off.
Charred eggplant emerges from the grill as a mound that just barely makes it to an oval plate, where it’s accompanied by chunky tomato relish, dollops of fresh cheese, torn greens, garnish of spiced, crushed peanuts, and grilled bread from Bellegarde Bakery. The seductive combination of robust flavors and texture variations is irresistible, and suddenly we’re spooning the last remnants of what just moments ago seemed like a rather large plate of food. Our attention is captured. What’s next?
The Preservation Plate consists of pimento cheese, chicken rillettes, hogshead cheese, pickled vegetables, and preserves with crostini—another shareable feast. There’s Corner Store Crudo, inspired by the salty-sweet, crispy-crunchy cultural criss-cross of a Hank’s Market grab-bag; sashimi slices of pristine yellowfin tuna shimmy over a salad of daikon and Asian herbs spiked by a tangy Nuóc chấm vinaigrette sweetened with a splash of Big Shot pineapple soda and garnished with shrimp chips. Crab claws get a Tex-Mex twist, perched over tomatillo salsa and sprinkled with crushed tortilla crisps. Crackling pig ears perch atop a butter lettuce salad that’s tossed with Green Goddess dressing and complemented by the flavor burst of cantaloupe slivers.
Though I was given advanced notice on how incredible the fried chicken livers with plum preserves and shaved foie gras was, I just wasn’t prepared. Several times during the meal I found myself shutting my eyes and hoping I could describe how delicious this food was. It happened again with the blistered shishito peppers and grilled peaches that were enhanced with a pickled pepper vinaigrette, set over a smear of queso fresco and garnished with fried shallots. A Jamaican-inspired goat curry also elicited howls of hedonistic pleasure. Throughout the meal, our server Jessica Muszynski clearly delighted in adding descriptive flourishes as she deftly highlighted the nuances of the dishes. When I inquired about the drunken shrimp she mentioned that it used to be her favorite item on the menu. Then, I glanced over to see that several massive paneéd pork chops were being plated with black-eyed peas and green tomato chowchow. She said, “That’s my number one now.” Nevertheless, the shrimp were just as amazing in their jalapeño-spiked Mezcal butter over Creole succotash. Imagine if Uglesich’s relocated to Oaxaca, and you get the picture. Which brings us to the duck tamale with cocoa chili-rubbed duck breast, sweet plantains, and chimichurri set over an Oaxacan mole.
The dessert selection is limited, but outstanding. The chocolate flan with brûléed bananas and sesame brittle was a flavor explosion, and the molasses pie with a scoop of preserved lemon ice cream with blueberries was delightful.
Palm&Pine also offers an abbreviated menu after 11 p.m. that caters to the cravings of service industry warriors. Their Facebook page has every menu they’ve created, so there is a deep catalog of ever-changing items that will reappear and of course, many new creations to look forward to from these truly promising new kids on the block.
Palm & Pine, 308 N. Rampart St., 504-814-6200. Closed on Tuesday. Hours, 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. except Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. until 2 a.m.