The opening menu for Lisa “Queen Trini” Nelson’s new Mid-City restaurant is short, but it deserves special attention from diners. Even people familiar with the cuisine of Nelson’s native Trinidad and Tobago will find unfamiliar and singular dishes here.
That’s because Nelson’s cuisine reflects both his roots and his journey, and the new Queen Trini Lisa restaurant is a big step in that direction.
It’s all on the plate or, in some delicious examples, nicely wrapped in waxed paper.
A prime example is barbecue jerk chicken, a dish that starts with the earthy, peppery spice of classic jerk preparations, then layers of molasses-black barbecue sauce that’s just a little sweeter, a little smoky, and good to eat. smack the lips.
Jerk chicken is a Jamaican staple. Growing up in Trinidad, the Caribbean island right next to Venezuela and furthest from Jamaica, Nelson had never seen a jerk chicken.
“The first time I had it was in New York,” Nelson said, after his family immigrated to the United States.
Her own version came together when she entered the jerk chicken contest at the Marley Gras festival in Central City in 2019.
“All of these guys were from Jamaica, and it’s their dish, so I knew I wanted to do something different,” she said.
To his surprise and initial disbelief, the festival judges awarded him first place for the barbecue jerk chicken.
Barbecue is very popular with us in Trinidad and Tobago, the two islands that form one nation, and African, Indian and Chinese influences play a fundamental role in the country’s Trinbagonian food culture.
Nelson finds harmony by linking the cuisine of the Caribbean’s southernmost island to its northernmost port, New Orleans.
“There are so many things here that feel like home,” she said.
Nelson got his start in his adopted home running a pop-up in a small grocery store in Bywater. Later, she moved her operation to a salon in Central City.
When the pandemic hit, she was part of the Feed the Front Line initiative, providing handmade meals to medical staff then battling the first pangs of the coronavirus crisis.
It allowed her to cook and introduced her style to many more people.
To kick off 2022, she opened her own restaurant, a corner on a Mid-City side street just off busy South Carrollton Avenue. The address was home to Cuban restaurant Garces for decades before Hurricane Katrina, and later became a market called Regla Store. Most recently it was a Latin American restaurant called Union Market, which closed last year.
When Nelson first walked in and saw the pressed tin ceiling, Spanish-style tiled floor, and wide, sunny windows, she thought to herself “this is a restaurant fit for a queen.”
Of course, his kitchen too.
Another creation from his journey is the coconut bread fish sandwich. She jokes that it’s the “United Nations sandwich”, mixing elements from different cultures.
Coconut bread is another Jamaican staple that has a soft, milky interior texture and a firm exterior crust. The finished loaf looks like it’s folded in on itself. Nelson splits this opening and fills it with Louisiana fish fry crusted catfish, sliced pineapple, sweet fried plantains, cucumber and tomato.
She recommends a shot of thick, tangy tamarind chutney. I also like it with habanero mango hot sauce.
As far as the doubles are concerned, it’s the whole Trinbagonian tradition.
The doubles start with a distinctive puffy flatbread tinged with yellow and flavored with turmeric. These are folded around (or lined) with a curried chickpea chana and a refreshing cucumber chutney.
Each of these taco-like packets are wrapped in waxed paper, and Nelson has developed quite a knack for making them. Look into her kitchen and you can see her whipping the paper into twists with a quick flick of her wrists.
This kitchen is another thing Nelson loves about the new location. Compared to its previous stops, it is large, modern and well equipped. And it’s also open to the dining room
“It’s so big and open,” she said. “I can see everyone and interact with them now.”
Queen Trini Lisa
4200 D’Hemecourt Street, (504) 345-2058
Initial hours Tue-Sat noon to 8 p.m.
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