This column is part of an ongoing look at how New Orleans restaurants are contending with the pandemic.
The Palm & Pine menu one recent night had dishes I hadn’t considered before, never mind tasted. Peanut salad? Curry banana ice cream?
But I’ve come to trust the people here with the unexpected. These days, I also have an appreciation for how this goes beyond the plate.
Their energy and creativity have also shown in the way Palm & Pine has held up during this monstrous year, how it’s changed constantly while still feeling true to ideas that brought it about.
From the start, this young restaurant has made a statement about time and place, specifically New Orleans right now. It’s been part of a small, encouraging new trend of French Quarter restaurants giving locals reasons to return to the city’s historic core, instead of just playing to the tourist dollar.
The constantly changing menu here embraces an updated, more inclusive vision of local flavor, told through the interplay of Creole, Mexican and Caribbean styles.
The night we had peanut salad (boiled peanuts, it turned out, rippling with fresh herbs and peppers) and the curry banana ice cream (an earthy-sweet adventure of brûléed sugar and spice), we also had crab claws interspersed with well-oiled shishitos, cocoa-chile duck breast and a duck tamale in mole and fat shrimp glazed with boozy butter.
The chefs Amarys and Jordan Herndon opened Palm & Pine in the summer of 2019.
Like so many independent restaurants, opening this one was the culmination of years of dreaming and planning and striving. Then the challenges really began.
Just a few months after they’d pulled it off, the Hard Rock Hotel construction site collapse planted a catastrophe at their doorstep. Its address on a high-visibility street turned into the last stop on the dead end of a debacle.
Somehow it kept on, though, right through its first Hurricane season, first Saints season, first holidays, first Carnival and then … the pandemic.
Palm & Pine is among those restaurants that have found a way to remain open through each phase of the crisis, from takeout only through full service, augmented now with all of the other facets it has cooked up along the way.
One restaurant lesson proving out in the pandemic has been to just keep trying new things, giving regulars more reasons to return, giving new faces more access points.
Here, that includes others in the now-stricken hospitality business. Palm & Pine opens its space for pop-ups on Tuesdays, hosting other people’s culinary endeavors. On those pop-up nights, they also set up bartenders from other venues behind the bar to get more work.
They still manage to offer free takeout meals on Monday for fellow service industry workers out of the job. This has been going on for months with little fanfare.
When I asked the chefs what keeps their own fires lit, Amarys Herndon chalked it up to “bullheaded stubbornness.”
Her husband put it this way.
“We’re only a year old, there’s a lot of great cooking and great drinks to be made in this restaurant. We’re going to do whatever it takes for us to make it through this. Whatever else is happening outside the restaurant, we know we have something special going on here.”
Restaurants like this recharge our dining community, not just by creating newer versions of what we know but by offering a different vision, personality and style.
Right now, Palm & Pine is showing one way to carry that vision through these hard times.
308 N. Rampart St., (504) 814-6200
Dine-In & Take-Out: Lunch Mon., brunch Sun., dinner Thu.-Mon.
Changing pop-ups Tue.; service industry meal (takeout), Mon. 2-4 p.m.
See events and updates at palmandpinenola.com/events