For Melika, Tashika and Michiko Honoré, The Verdict is a family affair that draws on years of experience.
The restaurant and lounge opened Oct. 5 in New Orleans East, giving a fresh start to a building that once housed the Roxbury strip club on Lake Forest Boulevard.
Melika Honoré is the driver and marketing maven behind the restaurant. Her sister Tashika Honoré-Holden is the operations manager, focused on managing a team of past employees and extended family running the cocktail lounge and restaurant. Their mother Michiko Honoré is the chef, bringing decades of experience in hotel banquet kitchens and as a corporate chef for House of Blues to the table.
The idea behind The Verdict came from Melika. “We are responsible to pass a verdict on our own lives,” she says. “I wanted to showcase people who made good and bad decisions throughout the restaurant.”
There’s a portrait of Griselda Blanco, a Colombian cartel queen pin and another of Melika in judge’s robes. “Because I’m the judge, jury and verdict of my own life,” Melika says. “We have to live with our choices, good or bad.”
The verdict theme carries through the menu with dishes like Not Guilty spinach dip, Indictment Fish Bites and cocktails such as the Plead the Fifth, mixed with Crown Royal, peach and bitters. The kitchen highlights fresh ingredients, such as spinach, crawfish and botanicals in a rich dip served with house fried tortilla chips. The menu specialty is egg rolls with locally inspired fillings.
“I had to figure it out,” Michiko says. “How am I going to stuff an egg roll with gumbo, with jambalaya? I realized you have to make it like a stuffing.”
The three Honoré women worked together in Melika’s original business, licensed 24-hour daycare centers that care for infants up to 12-year-olds when their parents are working nights. The sisters opened the business in 2006 because they saw a need in the market. Melika struggled with childcare herself as a nighttime worker at House of Blues. She now also runs a credit consulting business geared to helping women access the funds they need to start businesses.
With their mom’s kitchen skills, a restaurant was a natural progression. A decade ago, the trio ran the short-lived Cast Iron Rose soul food spot on St. Claude Avenue in the Upper 9th Ward. After taking a break, they believe the timing is right for a new start in New Orleans East.
A longtime resident of New Orleans East, the self-taught chef resisted the calling at first. “My mama kept after me to cook but I didn’t like it at first. I’d run out of the kitchen,” Michiko says. “Then I realized I could make a living in the kitchen.”
Michiko, who is the leader and company chef at the two-day care centers, was up for the additional challenge. “My daughters are always telling me, we aren’t running a restaurant at these daycare centers, but they’re all my babies and they need to eat good food. This restaurant gives me a chance to cook new dishes.”
The Crawbisque fried roll is filled with a savory dressing of crawfish, crabmeat, butter, breadcrumbs, celery, onions, garlic and herbs, bound with a crawfish stock and served with a side of ranch dressing.
Besides nightly specials and a Sunday brunch buffet, the menu includes head-on barbecue shrimp with garlic bread, Tabasco cream pasta with chicken or shrimp, fried chicken with mac and cheese and a fried seafood platter with hush puppies and fries.
“A lot of people don’t eat bread pudding, but I changed that with the egg rolls,” Michiko says. Her white chocolate bread pudding egg roll is a revelation, thanks to a crispy tempura coating and a moist, rich bread pudding center.
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The Verdict hosts live music on Friday nights, and there are game day specials — with a strict dress code and admission restricted to ages 30 and over. “I have kids,” Melika says. “But that’s not who I’m looking to hang out with when I’m out celebrating and having a good time.”
The Honorés say they could have opened this restaurant anywhere, but they opted to open it in their home neighborhood. “We know this as a place with good neighbors, a place we raised our families,” Tashika says.
The family say they are excited to bring a new gathering spot to the community.
“It’s not just about New Orleans East, it’s about a really cool place for professionals to hang out and have a good time,” Melika says.
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