Cars hugged the parking lot at 5932 NE Second Ave., where red and yellow balloons arched the entryway of Chef Nicole restaurant in Little Haiti.
As the deejay spun Haitian tunes, men broke out into melodic two-steps when the music moved them. Women talked and laughed.
Small children sat stuffing their mouths with rice and beans and macaroni and cheese.
Saturday’s grand opening of Chef Nicole felt more like a joyous, large, family gathering than a new business opening up shop.
In recent weeks since the magnitude-7 earthquake crippled Port-au-Prince, the streets and shops of Miami’s Little Haiti have been quiet. Locals seemed to have been replaced by members of the media. But slowly, vibrancy is emerging once again.
“We ran out of food four times today,” said co-owner Andrew Carry, who wanted to open his third restaurant in his hometown of Little Haiti. For Carry, who also owns Mlk restaurant, 2469 NW 62nd St., Liberty City, this business venture was a natural fit.
Naming the restaurant after the executive chef was natural, too.
Carry and Executive Chef Nicole Pierre have been friends for more years than they can count. As Nicole tells it, Carry is her husband's best friend. While Carry simply chums it up to, “we're cousins." Whatever the story is, it's working.
The food line wrapped around the building at 11 a.m., even though Carry didn’t open the doors until noon. At 4:30 p.m., the spacious restaurant still bustled. The menu consists of traditional Haitian home-style cooking, priced around the $7 to $10 range.
Patrons can walk up to a counter to order takeout, or be waited on in the casual dining room. Equipped with flat screen TVs on each wall, the owners hope to host watching events for sports fans in the near future.
At the grand opening, Chef Pierre was all smiles as she experienced what it was like to operate her very own restaurant. Spices wafted from the kitchen. Waitresses whirled from table to table. Even as bright blue sky turned a naughty gray and a cold rain descended, the crowd lingered.
Up until now Pierre had only catered for friends and family, never anything of this size. Around her, flurries of requests came in from the wait staff, kitchen staff and other owners.
“I thought it would be easy. I see so many people open restaurants, but it’s not easy,” Pierre said.
Chef Nicole serves her signature macaroni and cheese made with bits of ham; steamed snapper, which she scores and stuffs with green onion, bell peppers, garlic and other personal touches; and pumpkin soup, a dish customarily consumed on Jan. 1, in honor of Haitian independence.
The food was a hit with someone with a discerning palate: a Haiti chef.
Former restaurateur Willy Augustin moved to America from Haiti 14 years ago. Augustin, who lives downtown Miami, stopped in to try mushroom rice and stewed goat, which came with a side of potato salad.
“I love eating out at a restaurant, but I enjoy bringing people to a Haitian restaurant that does good food," said Augustin, who had to explain the distinctions between Haitian food and other Caribbean islands’ food.
“The Cuban food is too greasy. Jamaican food is too spicy,” he said. In his opinion, Haitian cuisine is well balanced. But more importantly, he said, he’s sure to come back to Chef Nicole in the future.
Photo by Rochelle Oliver. Chef Nicole
IF YOU GO
Address: 5932 NE Second Ave., Little Haiti, FL 33137, open daily.