Melissa Martin, chef and owner of the famous Mosquito Supper Club restaurant, not only serves the Cajun home cooking she grew up on, she is also working towards a more sustainable future for the restaurant industry.
Martin was born and raised in Chauvin Bayou, Louisiana. She created the Mosquito Supper Club as a way to bring people together, taste the food of its people, and share stories about Cajun culture.
The restaurant, located in an old Uptown New Orleans house, is unique in that it only has two seats each evening, one private and one common, and reservations must be made and paid for in advance. It’s how Martin takes care of his staff and creates a lively atmosphere for restaurant patrons.
“I wanted to get small groups of people together so they could sit together at a table and talk,” Martin said. “I wanted to share stories with people about growing up in the bayou and being Cajun.”
Martin’s menu is unique in that it is true Cajun cuisine. The ever-changing pre-set menu includes bayou specialties such as okra with shrimp and okra and oyster soup from Velma Marie, which is named after Martin’s grandmother. She also enjoys making salads from fresh, local ingredients that she can find at farmers’ markets.
“People have always asked me where they can find Cajun food in New Orleans, and I’ve never really had a place to lead them,” Martin said. “I wanted to take the delicious food that is usually found behind the kitchen doors and put it on the table. “
At the Mosquito Supper Club, the atmosphere is relaxed. There is no table rotation and there is no rush to finish the meal as quickly as possible. Dinner is an experience where customers are encouraged to take their time and enjoy the food and the moment. The experience is akin to a large family table, although Martin was forced to temporarily abandon this concept during the pandemic.
Another of Martin’s priorities is to take care of his employees. The restaurant is only open four days a week and the staff are given time off and a summer break.
“We strive to pay above the minimum wage and it is important that we provide a living wage,” she said. “I was a single mom in the restaurant industry and my salary was ridiculous. I know the price of living in New Orleans has changed dramatically since Katrina; we want our employees to earn a living wage.
Prepaid reservations not only ensure that staff will be paid well, but the right amount of food will be prepared for the expected crowd. The aim is also to reduce food waste as much as possible.
Martin explained, “It’s prepaid and we choose the menu, so when you get here there won’t be a lot of decisions to make. You can just enjoy the meal.
If you’re not ready to make the financial commitment of a full reservation, the Mosquito Supper Club allows people to come and sit at the bar and enjoy a snack. The bar menu includes five to six items that guests can enjoy with a cocktail.
In April 2020, Martin took her culinary expertise from cooking to the print page when she published her cookbook, Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from an Endangered Bayou, via Artisan Press. The book is packed with recipes and Cajun stories from Martin. In October, it was named Best American Cookbook and Cookbook of the Year by the International Association of Professional Cooks. It serves both as a tribute to her parish roots in Terrebonne and as a testimony to the culture and the women who made Martin what she is.
“It was a process of writing all the stories I would tell at the Supper Club and including all the recipes that were important to me and where I grew up,” she said. “Chauvin was hit very hard by Hurricane Ida and the book is a way to ensure that this place and this culture is remembered. “
Mosquito Supper Club, 3824, rue Dryades, (504) 494-9777.
Hours: Thursday to Sunday, two private sessions at 7 p.m. a common seat at 7:30 p.m. The Mosquito Bar is open from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Reservations for the Mosquito Supper Club can be made here. The recipe book Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from an Endangered Bayou can be ordered through the Garden District bookstore here.