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Ian McNulty: Meet the people behind uplifting New Orleans food stories of 2021 | Where NOLA Eats

Following the story of New Orleans food means rolling into a lot of great meals and tracking changes in a field that’s constantly in flux. It also means spending time with people who make their living in hospitality and pour so much of their energy, personality and convictions into the work.

The past year brought hardship and heartache, and much of it was reflected in the hospitality sector. Yet there was also much joy, and so many examples of the heart and soul, the ingenuity and generosity that people bring to this field.

Their stories filled my notebooks through the year; looking back, now they fill me with gratitude for what they shared and allowed me to share with you.

Each tell their own tale, though together they help demonstrate what I love about New Orleans: connectedness, character and a culture you can experience through something as immediate as a meal.

This is a column of thanks for people I met through the year and those I got to know a little better through the lens of 2021. Let’s hear from a few of them below.

Family-style at Mosca’s

Lisa Mosca (left) and her mother Mary Jo Mosca continue family tradition at their Mosca’s Restaurant, where Stephanie Sellers (in back, at left) and Lakeisha Frazier prepare classic Italian dishes, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Staff photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Time well spent at Mosca’s Restaurant (4137 U.S. 90, Westwego, (504) 436-8950) left me with a new appreciation for what garlic does to chicken, what rosemary does to shrimp and what time does to our relationships with restaurants.

Mosca’s famously serves a family-style menu, with dishes to pass around the table.


Mary Jo Mosca (left) runs the kitchen while her daughter Lisa Mosca handles the front of the house at their family restaurant Mosca’s, in business since 1946, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Staff photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

What I learned here, though, was how the entire restaurant is a demonstration of what family-style businesses mean — with all their character, quirks, value and also their vulnerabilities, all the ways they are susceptible to what happens through generations of business life and family life commingled.

“It’s more than a business, because everybody I love that I’ve lost is connected to me here,” said Mary Jo Mosca, whose in-laws started the restaurant in 1946. “They sacrificed and made such amazing friends. I know how they struggled to keep it going. Someday we’ll have to close, but it’s always about more than just making a living here.”


John, age 5, and Joseph, “almost 2,” eat supper and color in the back room at Mosca’s Restaurant while their father Thomas Sanderson looks on. Their mother Lisa Mosca runs the restaurant her grandparents started in 1946.  (Staff photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Mary Jo still runs the kitchen, while her daughter Lisa Mosca runs the restaurant. She and her husband are raising their own young children amid restaurant life.

See the full story here.

From Jerusalem to Metairie


Mazen Seder, Maha Seder, Monzer Seder and Jamal Seder pose at Kabob House in Metairie, La., Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Back when Mazen Seder drove a taxi, he’d bring batches of home cooking to his fellow cabbies at the airport, mostly homesick men from overseas. Their response encouraged him to start a restaurant.

Today, that restaurant is Kabob House (4301 Veterans Blvd., Metairie, (504) 581-8695). It’s become a showcase for the Palestinian street food Mazen and his wife Maha grew up with in their native Jerusalem, and the traditions they’ve maintained as they’ve raised their own family here.


Maha Seder prepares another tray of dessert at Kabob House in Metairie, La., Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Each of their three children has a role in the business, and each oversees particular dishes on a roster that runs far deeper than the printed menu.

That could be the knafeh, a magnificent dessert with a red semolina crust over thick, stretchy white cheese. Or it could be the mansaf, a platter mounded with lamb shank over aromatic yellow rice with yogurt gravy.

Mazen’s sense of satisfaction as others partake in his family’s food is written across his beaming face.


Mazen Seder serves mansaf, a lamb dish typically served each Thursday and Friday at Kabob House in Metairie, La., Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

“We are together as a family here,” he told me, with a warmth that suggests that the notion of family extends broadly. “I am very happy here.”

See the full story here.

Garlic butter and brotherhood


Demond “Dee” Matthews, founder of Dee’s Xquisite Seafood, holds a combo plate called the 40 Orty plate. (Photo by Brett Duke, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The recipe hasn’t changed from the days when Demond “Dee” Matthews was cooking outside his brother’s 9th Ward barbershop: It’s boiled seafood, passed over the grill for an edge of char and splashed with garlic butter sauce.


A heady garlic butter sauce is the finishing touch on seafood plates at  Dee’s Xquisite Seafood. The kitchen’s motto is “we put sauce on everything.” (Photo by Brett Duke, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Now Dee’s is a full-fledged restaurant (1401 St. Bernard Ave., (504) 388-8368). Harnessing the potential of a street food success for the next step can be a tricky turn. One reason Matthews could do it was the people he found on his side. His staff are the same people he grew up with in the Florida housing project; the bonds of family and friendship run deep.


Demond “Dee” Matthews, founder of Dee’s Xquisite Seafood, stirs a pot of crawfish in the boil room on Sunday, March 7, 2021. (Photo by Brett Duke, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

“They’re the reason this is happening the way it is,” Mathews told me. “If we weren’t here, these are the same guys I’d be cooking with in the backyard.”

See the full story here.

Sidewalk solidarity at Howlin’ Wolf


Outdoor cooking underway at the Howlin’ Wolf music club, which is preparing thousands of free meals for Hurricane Ida relief. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune).

The stage inside the Howlin’ Wolf (907 S. Peters St., (504) 529-5844) music club was quiet after Hurricane Ida. But on the sidewalk just outside a barbecue smoker was blowing, seafood boiling rigs were roaring and an ad hoc team of chefs and restaurant workers from across the city were cooking together again.


Volunteers make sandwiches outside the Howlin’ Wolf music club, which is preparing thousands of free meals for Hurricane Ida relief. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune).

In the Ida blackout, many restaurants gave away fresh ingredients before they spoiled. The Howlin’ Wolf rapidly emerged as a hub for many with the same instinct.

“We are so tight-knit in this city,” said club owner Howie Kaplan. “This was just people talking with each other, and the support started up.”


Howie Kaplan, right, owner of the Howlin’ Wolf, with Cliff Doescher, center, and John McIntyre, left, when the venue was turned into a feeding hub.

Kaplan marshaled a similar effort early in the coronavirus crisis, working with a broad network of other organizations and volunteers. This network snapped back into action. That included the community group Culture Aid NOLA, which was also formed in the pandemic.

“We have the volunteers, they know the chefs; they know how to cook, we know how to organize and distribute,” said Culture Aid NOLA founder Erica Chomsky-Adelson.

The effort produced thousands of meals daily that went to first responders, elder care facilities, newly arrived linemen and plenty of people who found a hot meal and a dose of humanity right there on the sidewalk.

See the full story here.

Opening new possibilities


Lindsay Allday poses with a platter of raw oysters from around the United States at Sidecar Patio & Oyster Bar, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

The raw bar menu at Sidecar Patio & Oyster Bar (1114 Constance St., (504) 381-5079) is detailed like wine tasting notes and reads like a love letter to the world of oysters.

It also conveys a sense of purpose in building oyster connoisseurship at a time when the oyster world is changing, with new producers and adaptations emerging.


A variety of shucked oysters on a platter at Sidecar Patio & Oyster Bar in New Orleans, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

The woman behind Sidecar’s oyster program, Lindsay Allday, has developed close bonds with the producers, especially the local ones who are working to develop the niche for specialty, place-based oysters in Louisiana.

“People get so excited about oysters. There’s something inherently sexy and adventurous about them,” Allday said. “Each one is its own puzzle; each one is different every time.”


Lindsay Allday shucks oysters at Sidecar Patio & Oyster Bar in New Orleans, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

Finding women behind the oyster bar is still rare, but Allday is breaking that open like the hinge on a knotty shell.

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See the full story here.

Turning Tables at the bar


Turning Tables founder Touré Folkes with program members Jay Deocampo and Jeri Guilford at partner venue Fourth Wall Cafe in New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

All too often, bartender Touré Folkes was the only Black person in the room at cocktail industry events. That spurred Turning Tables ( the nonprofit he leads, which is tackling racial inequity in hospitality with training, mentorship and the ethos of a movement.

It graduated its second class early in 2021, a time when the pandemic had shaken the industry that its participants want to join. At the same time, the national discourse on race has fixed on many of the issues that propel Turning Tables.


Turning Tables founder Touré Folkes tastes the rye whiskey from local distiller Exclave during a training session, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

For Folkes, those dual dynamics make this a pivotal time for the program. He found people in the industry who were assembling new networks, sometimes across the country, and many were eager to connect with its mission.

“The blessing of this year was the world stopped in some places and some people gave up on this industry,” said Folkes said. “But our students didn’t. They’ve kept pushing.”


Jeri Guilford, a member of the Turning Tables program, participates in an online wine class at partner venue Fourth Wall Cafe in New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

One of the students who graduated Turning Tables in 2021 is Jeri Guilford, who you can now find at Seafood Sally’s and Anna’s.

“When the world is telling you what you can’t do or that this isn’t the town for you, it’s hard to see what you really can do,” Guilford told me. “But I have my own ideas now; this has empowered me to go after them. I don’t need anyone else to validate me. I don’t see their walls anymore.”

See the full story here.

Plate lunch recovery index

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Staff photo by Ian McNulty – Hobnobber’s Variety Bar & Restaurant is a source for down home cooking in downtown New Orleans.

What does it take to keep seemingly simple, inexpensive home-style plate lunches around? For Cheryl and Paul Timphony, it means starting the day at 3 a.m. to have short order breakfasts ready, preparing a weekly schedule of comfort food specials and employing a small fleet of bicycle delivery men to whisk the over-stuffed cartons to offices, hotel break rooms and shops.

“That’s the only way you can do it, if you want to do it right, and that’s the only way we’re doing here,” Paul Timphony said of his labor-intensive methods.

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Staff photo by Ian McNulty – Mirliton and shrimp casserole, with baked macaroni and potato salad, is a Wednesday special at Hobnobber’s Variety Bar & Restaurant in downtown New Orleans.

The couple runs Hobnobber’s Variety Bar & Restaurant (139 Carondelet St., (504) 525-5428), one of a small and shrinking circuit of old-fashioned restaurants catering to downtown workers.

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Staff photo by Ian McNulty – Glenn Lollis sets off on another weekday lunch delivery from Leni’s Cafe in downtown New Orleans.

In the spring, these places provided a gauge on how downtown was coming back, as offices slowly began repopulating. There would be more swings in trajectory as the year progressed. But the people behind these low-key, tucked-away cafes also offered some long-view perspective.

At another example, Leni’s Café (741 Baronne St., (504) 523-0069), Despina Patselikos shrugged off any suggestion that the pandemic could mean the end for Leni’s.

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Staff photo by Ian McNulty – Despina Patselikos takes a phone order at Leni’s Cafe, part of a circuit of old school diners serving hearty, local flavors in downtown New Orleans.

“My husband really wants to do his work. This is what he does,” she said, looking into the kitchen as Pete Patselikos finished the last orders of the day.

“There are ups and downs,” she said. “I remember the ‘80s, the oil bust, those were scary times too.”

See the full story here.

Building bridges at Golden Gate


Angelica Rivera, left, CEO of Colmex Construction, partnered with chef Bleidys Lobelo to open Golden Gate Bistro in New Orleans, Tuesday, March 30, 2021.

A few years ago, Bleidys Lobelo was selling plate lunches from home as a side gig to her hotel jobs. By 2019, she had opened a stand at a west bank flea market. She named it Golden Gate after the nickname for her hometown, Barranquilla, a port city in Colombia.

Her plates were beautifully presented, her flavors were deep and soothing. Her dream, as she told anyone who asked, was to grow the business into a proper restaurant.


The headquarters of Colmex Construction revitalized a long-abandoned building on Earhart Boulevard, and it now includes Golden Gate Bistro on the ground floor.

She got that chance after she catered an event at Colmex Construction, a local firm run by a fellow Colombian immigrant, Angelica Rivera. Her empanadas reminded Rivera of home; the chef’s drive to make her own business reminded the self-made businesswoman of herself.


Chef Bleidys Lobelo prepares traditional flavors of her native Colombia at Golden Gate Bistro in New Orleans, Tuesday, March 30, 2021.

She offered Lobelo space within the Colmex office and this new Golden Gate Bistro (4334 Earhart Blvd., (504) 503-1049) is now a hub of Colombian flavor, art and style.

“When you have a dream, and you see it coming day by day, that is a good feeling,” Lobelo said.

See the full story here.

Creole unity in Treme


Chef Charly Pierre checks the herbs growing in containers outside Fritai restaurant in New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

At his Treme restaurant Fritai (1535 Basin St., (504) 264-7899), chef Charlie Pierre combines the flavors of his Haitian heritage with his own vision as a young chef.


The whole fried fish has a Creole sauce showing harmony between Haiti and New Orleans at the Treme restaurant Fritai. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

But Fritai does not just connect the commonalities between New Orleans and Haiti. It also draws a thread of unity through Creole flavor, its roots in the African diaspora, its polyglot evolution and its future trajectory as people in the next generation explore and frame it on their terms.

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Chef Charly Pierre created Fritai as a food hall stand in 2016 and turned it into a restaurant in Treme in 2021.

“There was such an opportunity here because the connections are everywhere, but they haven’t been revealed,” Pierre said. “This food makes sense here. And this food can teach people. You just need to show them.”

See the full story here.

Fleur de Lilly


Lilly Vuong and her family built their restaurant Lilly’s Cafe with traditional Vietnamese flavors and distinctive touches. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune)

How do we keep ourselves positive and productive when there’s so much strife and discord? Maybe we get a little more fuel from the people around us, the people we go out of our way to see.

That was my conclusion after yet another meal at Lilly’s Cafe (1813 Magazine St., (504) 599-9999) that proved gratifying far beyond the delicious Vietnamese pho, banh mi and spring rolls.

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Shrimp dumplings soup, plus spicy tofu and butterfly spring rolls at Lilly’s Cafe, a Vietnamese restaurant in New Orleans. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune)

Through the pandemic, through the undulating waves of stress and tension we’ve all been navigating, I realized I’ve also been drawn here for the special kind of hospitality that owner Lilly Vuong cultivates between the flowery décor and soothing flavors.

Lilly’s is such a small restaurant, it feels like you’re dining with everyone in the room. As Vuong goes from table to table, a sense of welcome and kindness radiates with her. The food comes out quickly here; the feeling of good cheer and well-being is lasting, and maybe even portable. I felt like I was taking positive energy with me when I left the restaurant.

See the full story here.

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