Through Oct. 15, our nation is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced our nation and our society. In the New Orleans area, we owe a particular debt of gratitude to the many Mexican and Central American immigrants who came to our aid in rebuilding our shattered region after the “Big Bath” in 2005. Those hard-working people brought their culinary traditions with them , a fact which we, and our stomachs, are grateful. In doing so they radically elevated the standards by which we regard Hispanic cuisine. In the 16 years since Katrina passed, taquerias have exploded in popularity to the extent that there are four brick-and-mortars within a mile of my Uptown home, not including the additional taco trucks that are often rolling around hosting pop-ups.
In 2012, Luis Javier Rodas, managing director and COO of Pollo Campero, observed our region’s embrace of Hispanic cuisine and opened a franchise in Kenner on Williams Blvd right next to the Interstate. Pollo Campero was founded by the Gutierrez family in Guatemala in 1971 upon a closely guarded recipe for a uniquely flavorful chicken preparation that had been passed down through generations. Over the past 50 years, Pollo Campero expanded to other parts of Latin America, including Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Ecuador, and, in 2002, the United States. Since its beginnings as a tiny, family-owned restaurant, Pollo Campero has grown to more than 350 restaurants around the world and its explosive growth continues. When a new franchise opens, lines are customarily very long for the citrus and spice-infused fried and grilled chicken varieties that represent at taste of home for immigrant populations. Rodas attributes this to the company’s tactic of breaking into new markets by following its customers, which is easy to do given that they were the people cramming boxes of Pollo Campero’s chicken into overhead bins on airplanes and carry-ons when traveling home from a market where the chicken was available to a market where it was not.
I am embarrassed to admit it, but until last weekend I had not been to Pollo Campero. Like a typical New Orleanian, I eschew chain restaurants as unhealthy or cheesy or both but I was fascinated when I started researching Pollo Campero, which has not a taco to be found. Instead, it is based entirely on the concept of feeding fresh, flavorful foods Hispanic families would enjoy around the dinner table, as opposed to standing in the street. The fried chicken was delicately battered and clearly cooked to order as was the citrus grilled chicken. The Campero rice is cooked in chicken broth with an abundance of vegetables and the Campero beans were light, brothy and flavored with chorizo, poblano peppers and tomatoes. Fried plantains were crisp at the edges with a caramelized exterior that gave way to a soft, buttery interior. When we visited, the Kenner location was still operating in post-hurricane mode so the menu was limited. We will be returning soon to check out the empanadas, yucca fries and flan we missed out on.
It seems I have now joined a growing statistic. Today, the majority of Pollo Campero’s customers come from the crossover market, with 45% of customers being Latino, and 55% being White, African-American, and Asian.
Right now, Pollo Campero is running a special on Family Flavor Combos, which are offered in three sizes that feed a crowd (4-5 people, 6-8 people, or 9-10 people). Guests can mix and match their selections starting at $4 per person. The portions are generous, the food is delicious and super fresh, and the prices are thrifty. It ticks all the boxes for a Mardi Gras parade buffet at my house when we get back to that level of “normal.” What’s more, if you download the Pollo Campero app and sign up for the rewards and loyalty programs the company will welcome you with $10 off your first order and you will get free delivery for all orders over $15.
Mea culpa. Last week, I wrote about Windowsill Pies and lamented the upcoming seasonal end of the bakery’s Amaretto Pear & Dried Cherry Pie. I screwed that up. It is the Brandied Cherry Pie (fresh & dried cherries with star anise, orange, and a splash of kirsch) that is soon to leave to make way for the Amaretto Pear & Dried Cherry Pie, which is incoming for November. So, while we cry over the demise of one cherry pie, we can cheer the arrival of another. Both are simply amazing. So, yes, Nirvana is attainable for $7 a slice.
That’s it from me. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your neighbor. Everyone needs it. We have been through enough.