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A Honduran restaurant with Central American soul

click to enlarge Elizabeth Olviedo and her daughter Daisy serve Latin comfort food at Telamar. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

The stencil on the glass door at Restaurante Telamar reads "Soul Food Kitchen," and though that's a remnant of a short-lived past tenant for this unusual property, it still seems apt for the food offered today. Now though, instead of the red beans and gumbo of the former restaurant, it's plantains, puffy tortillas, thick crema and crisp cabbage slaw that exude the soul of Honduran country cooking here.

  This is a rough-and-tumble cafe, a tiny, cluttered place where smiles come easy but a language barrier awaits customers unschooled in Spanish. Without much menu description, ordering can be a crapshoot, though the result was more often elation than regret on my visits.

  Telamar is run by Elisabeth Olviedo and her daughter Daisy, both natives of Honduras. They moved from Texas to New Orleans early in the Katrina recovery and rented an Uptown house where they prepared boxed lunches for crews of laborers and served hot food direct from their stove. This was during the period when food service options in New Orleans were slim, and this sort of bootstrap entrepreneurism was common. But as the situation in New Orleans began to normalize and the city reasserted some of its rules, officials shut down the Olviedo home business. By 2007, however, they were back in action with a sanctioned restaurant in Broadmoor, and last fall they moved to their current location on Earhart Boulevard, which had a long run as a daiquiri shop before its soul food stint and current Honduran flavor.

  Telamar's don't-miss dish is pollo con tajadas, or fried chicken with long, ribbon-like slices of fried plantains. It's all soaked down with aderezo, a mild, savory, creamy sauce, and topped with a generous salad of fresh cabbage and carrots, tomatoes and pickled onions stained the color of beets. The chicken tastes of garlic and everything piled over it, while the cabbage crunches, the tart onion crunches and the plantain outside the swath of sauce crunches, too. Honduran cooking from the Olviedo kitchen proves a very crunchy cuisine. Another audible example is Honduran tacos. Served six to an order, these fried, tightly-rolled tortillas are stuffed with chopped chicken and look like flautas covered with crumbled white farmer cheese, lots of cabbage slaw and that aderezo again.   I would recommend the chicharrones only to those seeking a true jaw workout. When the enormous, rock-hard wonks of fried pork skins arrived, I could not saw through them even with the serrated knife provided and had to resort to inelegantly gnawing the edges. I also would not mess again with the stewed pig feet — a gravy of bones, fat and cartilage with occasional moments of meat — but I'd order the very tender, unmistakably-textured tongue in red sauce anytime.

  Telamar doubles as a bar, a holdover from its daiquiri shop days, and it can draw a randy crowd at night. The scene is pretty mellow at lunch, though, and it's quite something to watch guys with hands stained black from work delicately pulling mussels from huge bowls of caldo mariscos and glugging down the milky broth between pulls of beer. Even if the menu lacks much description, it's clear Telamar serves comfort cooking incarnate for its target audience.

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