Heavenly Soul

Queen Trini Lisa

Lisa Nelson, a small business owner and mother of five, didn’t set out to be a chef. As the co-owner of a corner store in the St. Claude area, she was just trying to save some time when she started using the shop’s small kitchen to get a jump-start on cooking dinner for her kids. As a native of Trinidad and Tobago, her meals were steeped in the culture and flavors of the small island nation just off the coast of Venezuela. The aroma of plantains, coconut curry and BBQ jerk chicken soon filled her shop and people began to notice.

“Customers came in and looked around and asked, ‘Oh my goodness what is that heavenly smell?’” Nelson recalled. “They started asking me if they could buy it.”

Initially she resisted. (“This is my kids’ dinner, not yours,” she’d say, shooing them away.) But a lightbulb went off when she realized she could make a little extra selling it on the side. 

And this is how Queen Trini Lisa got her start. She began filling lunch orders, then catering orders, and soon after made a name for herself on the festival circuit. In 2019 she won first place at the 2019 Marley Gras Jerk Chicken Festival, and a splash at another event with her sandwich called ‘Bait’ – a frybread concoction stuffed with shark meat. (“People asked me, ‘Can we really eat that?’ I’d tell them, ‘Yeah! They eat us. We can eat them.’”)

She built on her following with a regular gig at the Portside Lounge, where the tropical vibe was the perfect fit with her intoxicatingly Creole-Caribbean soul food flavors. And now we are happy to report she has a brand-new brick and mortar tucked away just off of Carrolton Avenue in Mid-City. 

With her easygoing charm and her sense of humor, Queen Trini is less a chef than a charismatic food personality. This is no knock on the food, which speaks for itself. And it is her Doubles that speak loudest – savory packets of turmeric-spiced flatbread spilling over with curried chickpeas, cucumber and a trio of sauces including mango and tamarind. A street food staple in Trinidad, her “Doubles” pull off the rare trick of being bar food that will satisfy both a late-night drunken hunger attack as well as vegan sensibilities. 

Trinidadian cuisine has a pronounced Indian influence. Curried chicken is on the menu, and warm seasonings like turmeric abound. For the sides you will find delectably caramelized chunks of plantain and smothered Caribbean-style spinach. Her “Cocobread Fish Sandwich,” dressed with pineapple and plantain on coconut-sweetened bread, takes the po-boy in a whole new direction. And her award-wining BBQ jerk chicken benefits from sauce layered over the jerk seasoning. Portions are generous and prices are reasonable.

To drink try the sorrel, a sweet hibiscus tea with an emotional punch. “When I grew up it was something my mom would make around Christmas,” Nelson sayid. “But I love it so much I serve it year-round.” The menu is brief – not much longer than the pop-ups – prepared in the small open kitchen to the rear of the cozy, plant filled dining room. The fact that much of the menu happens to be vegan and vegetarian has helped boost her cred with the kids, and the local culinary set have embraced her as one of their own. “I started in a little corner store and now I’m cooking elbow to elbow with these great New Orleans chefs,” she said of her colleagues. “They’ve all been so supportive of me.”

Queen Trini Lisa, 4200 D’Hemecourt St., Mid-City. queentrinilisa.com

Heavenly Soul

About the Chef

A native of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Queen Trini’s love of cooking was instilled by her mother. It was a college student helping with her social media who came up with the moniker Queen Trini – Trini for Trinidad and Queen because it just felt right. “At first I said I can’t live up to that name. I don’t want it,” she said. “We spent some time fighting over it. But then when the phone started ringing and people asked, ‘Is the Queen in? Then I decided I liked it.”

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