Chef Karl Wilder, the man whose biscuit fillings you’ve eaten at all hours, has just set up at Durden on Second Avenue with his latest venture: Nawlins. Noticing a distinct lack of authentic New Orleans eats in our fair city, Wilder decided to cure that ill. “The opportunity was there. They [Duran] needed food sales, I needed a place to make authentic food.”
The pop-up restaurant is partially an answer to his own cravings, and partially a shout-out to the friend who encouraged him to open a true-to-NOLA restaurant. The chef, who cut his teeth as owner and executive chef of the wonderfully eccentric The Country Club in New Orleans, imports ingredients to ensure that every bite tastes like home. In fact, he wouldn’t open up shop until the Leidenheimer po’boy bread finally arrived from The Big Easy. “They thought I was crazy to delay like that. And then they tasted the bread,” Wilder explained, describing the thick, crackly bread made to soak up mayonnaise and gravy.
Wilder started planning for Nawlins on February 14 and opened the kitchen just over a month later. “I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” he said with exhausted satisfaction in his voice. It looks like the payoff is already underway — he says the place has been packed with ravenous diners since the grand opening on Wednesday evening. Reservations are required 48 hours in advance and can only be made via Twitter — which Wilder strongly encourages you to do. “You don’t have to stand outside in the snow. We have servers, we have tables. Just make a reservation and I will get you in.” In preparation for this week’s rush, Wilder has already ordered four times the amount of supplies from New Orleans and hired an additional staff member.The ample pickins include Cajun quail, creamy slow-cooked red beans and rice, and a catfish po’boy – all made according to the techniques he learned as a kid and decently priced. You can check out the full current menu here, but know that Nawlins is offering more than meets the eye. An in-house cured hog jowl bacon BLT, for example, with bourbon chocolate bread pudding for dessert. They’re always running specials, Wilder said, if you don’t see it on the menu, just ask.
“There was nothing like it outside of New Orleans,” Wilder said, stressing his commitment to genuine Cajun and Creole cooking. “I couldn’t get a muffuletta or Po’boy on the right bread. I couldn’t get real red beans and rice. I kept looking for authentic food – then I thought, let me be the one to do this.” Nawlins pops up in Duran from Wednesday through Sunday for late lunch and dinner, with plans to start offering brunch on or around April 14. That should give you ample opportunity to sit back and pretend you’re in balmy NOLA as New York takes its sweet time thawing out.
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct the link to Nawlins’s menu and to specify that Wilder made the fillings, and not the actual biscuits, at Empire Biscuit.