At Cafe Booqoo, New Orleans Favorites, Spicy and Sweet

At Cafe Booqoo, New Orleans Favorites, Spicy and Sweet

Gumbo starts with a simple roux of butter and flour and the “holy trinity” of onion, celery and bell pepper. Sweetness leaches from shrimp, heat from andouille. Okra is banished. “I had a very traumatizing experience with okra in childhood,” Mr. Pace said. “We’re not friends.” Instead, he thickens the dish with filé, ground dried sassafras leaves, a legacy of the Choctaw tribe in Louisiana. There’s just enough of its camphor undertone to bring dimension, without smacking of medicine.

Photo

Matt Pace, who grew up in New Orleans East and moved to New York a decade ago to make a life as a painter, opened Cafe Booqoo in August.

Credit
Yana Paskova for The New York Times

These dishes are relegated to “sides” on the menu, but they were my favorites. The po’ boys are more low-key in flavor, built on bread shipped from Leidenheimer Baking Company in New Orleans — not always in peak condition, but when it is, a lovely compact of whisper-thin crust that fissures at the touch and an interior half air.

They’re pretty sandwiches, belying their blue-collar origins in New Orleans’s 1929 streetcar strike. The DDP, which shares Mr. Pace’s mother’s initials, showcases Patton’s hot sausage, considered so essential to the New Orleans diet that newspaper articles after Hurricane Katrina reported evacuees stockpiling it. A white rémoulade muffles some of the sausage’s sting; crispy onions splinter nicely under the teeth.

The Versai, layered with fried catfish, carrots and pickled cabbage and slaked with a sauce of satsumas (mandarin oranges) and chile, calls to mind the sweet-sour tang of banh mi. It’s Mr. Pace’s homage to the Vietnamese-American community in the Versailles section of New Orleans East. Let it sit for a minute; the flavors grow stronger the longer the pickles and sauce soak into the bread.

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