A tiny tear welled up in my right eye when I saw the NOLA sign all lit up last Saturday evening.
The previous night had seen the gastropub make its debut in Palermo, the product of a mountain of hard work and plenty of spunk in order to achieve. And at its helm, little miss spunky herself, the New Orleans, Louisiana transplant and chef Liza Puglia and her brewer boyfriend Francisco (Ticol) Terren.
Respect where respect is due. Starting out with Mexican pop-up nights in Las Cañitas and Palermo Soho, the energetic cook then opened an intimate closed-door venture dealing in Cajun and Mexican dishes. (That’s right, folks, spicy.) Once Francisco’s beer line was established, a combined NOLA Bröeders Artesanal beer night became part of the repertoire, so of course the next natural step was to go legit.
After the graft, enter stage right — the NOLA gastropub.
This young and dedicated couple has turned the former office space around in just a few months — and those who follow Liza’s movements will have caught a brick by bathroom sink account of it on social media. And, hats off to them, they’ve only gone and done it. I mopped up that liquid droplet of pride and stormed on in.
On the south side of Scalabrini Ortiz, the space for 40 is a lot bigger than I’d imagined. But the couple have cleverly worked it. To the left, an open kitchen (not open air as one blogger commented), to the right an enormous chicken mural watches over the tables. At the end, the bar where Francisco serves up five of the craft beers he brews with his brother Marcelo at Bröeders and where diners should order their grub.
The clever part is maximizing the space with two thin long communal tables, perfect for perching a pint on, perhaps less comfy for those wanting to settle in for the night.
The look is vintage, with plenty of recycled materials coming into play, from the wooden tables to the Café du Monde chicory cans reincarnated as napkin holders. It’s rustic chic but not dilapidated — so often, a new eatery’s chairs are wobbly or the table is shaky in the mad effort to open on time. It’s all solid here.
The important stuff. Happy hour. Every day, Wednesday to Monday from 5pm. One hundred and eighty minutes of happiness in a pint for a mere 25 pesos. I can’t express how great a deal that is.
Picada of the day. I went twice in four days and deep-fried sweetbreads were on offer both times. That makes it the only daily special I’ve tried, however, it was very moreish and delicious crunchy balls of mollejas served on a bed of arugula and pickled red onion they were too. That was 40 pesos.
Finger-licking chicken. And this place is all about our feathery friend. Fried drumsticks and the like aren’t your average street or fast food in Buenos Aires so to know that it’s available, on tap, six nights a week, is fantastic, if on the dangerous side.
The current deal is a thigh and drumstick with your pint of choice for 90 pesos. All I have to compare it to is KFC and while the batter wasn’t as herby as the colonel’s, it was a darn sight less greasy, a lot more juicy and exceedingly tasty and tender.
Other NOLA specialties. Gumbo is one. Spicy, juicy rice with chicken and chorizo might have just become one of my ultimate comfort foods. Kind of soup, kind of starchy, heaps of flavour, let’s see if I can get sick right now and order a vat in.
Also check out the fried chicken sandwich made on home-baked bread (these guys are doing everything in house) but also bear in mind the menu is short and sweet and that for time being there isn’t any dessert listed. Shame, ’cause she makes a great blueberry pie.
The hot and picante salsas. Liza P whips them up herself. Grab them from the spice station, slather some honey mustard onto your metal camping plate and stick that chicken in it. Or pep up gumbo with some triple X hot sauce that will sort the men from the pussies.
Sharing the stage (with a pint)
And remember of course that the star of this joint isn’t only the food — oh no, it’s sharing the stage with the beer. What started out as a fun project two years ago is now a full-time occupation for the Bröeders brothers, who started brewing in a tiny room at their mum’s house and now sell it at various eateries around Buenos Aires.
I’ve given three pints a shot at the gastropub so far, and I’m a big fan of the smooth and fruity Golden Ale, though I’d recommend the Irish Red for those who are more used to swilling back Quilmes as a bridge beer. Stout fans should be plenty happy with the dark and chocolatey Bröeders version.
Note that this a self-service joint, so remember to order from the bar then pick up your nosh once the bell rings and your name is called. A clever cost-cutting exercise, and actually it’s not too obtrusive at all, plus you know it’s all freshly prepared.
But the most important thing is that this place is legit. Legit in the sense that people who love to cook are in the kitchen and people passionate about craft beer are making it and serving it. And they’ve been doing it for a while, they know exactly what they are doing and can now share it with everyone. That’s a pretty unique combination.
And that passion is coming through, all right.
Gorriti 4380, Palermo
Wednesday to Monday, 5pm to midnight
Buenos Aires Herald, July 27, 2014