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Where Y’Eat: At a pop-up incubator, new street food takes root in New Orleans

Bourree restaurant in New Orleans has a casual beer garden atmosphere.
Ian McNulty
Bourree restaurant in New Orleans has a casual beer garden atmosphere.

They cook in all conditions, contending with the heat, the rain and even the cold, because yes remember New Orleans does sometimes get cold.

They cook at events, on sidewalks, outside bars and clubs, and sometimes in borrowed kitchens.

They are food pop-ups, and they constitute an important if not always acknowledged part of the New Orleans food culture.

Sometimes they are like the garage bands of New Orleans food, the ones you catch at tiny venues trying out new material, possibly on the way up. Sometimes they have an intense but short run, sometimes they grow into full-fledged restaurants.

Lately, my efforts to keep up with the ever-changing New Orleans food scene has put pop-ups front and center.

One concerns the Carrollton restaurant Bourree, a casual beer garden style spot.

All through July, Bourree is handing over its entire facility to a rotating cast of pop-ups, with a new one here each weekend. The idea is akin to a pop-up incubator, giving these up-and-coming ideas a place to call their own, and test the waters.

The first edition proved a bonanza. The pop-up was Joel’s Lobster Rolls.

This pop-up inspired a line down the block with people eager to get a taste of New England summer in the midst of the New Orleans swelter.

With overstuffed bundles of buttery sweet lobster meat in equally buttery crisp rolls, Joel's neatly demonstrated the power of a pop-up with the right idea to tap in unfilled niche.

This weekend brings another pop up called Sexy Meatballs to Bourree and these pop-up residencies continue.

There are other ad hoc pop-up incubators out there, especially the local brewery taprooms, and bars that have long committed to the idea, namely Pal's Lounge by Bayou St. John.

Not every pop-up will grow into a restaurant and not every one needs to. But for people with a curious palate, it’s gratifying to see what they bring to the table, even when that table turns out to be a bar top, your car dashboard or even your own two hands.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.