The languid pace and the flavors of the tropics always have been welcome to New Orleans palates. That connection is the driving principle of Carmo, a restaurant in the CBD where patrons can sample drinks and dishes from over 40 tropical countries.
What distinguishes Carmo’s bar program is the way it utilizes a variety of tropical juices, most of which are sourced straight from the Amazon and, in New Orleans, available only at Carmo.
My date and I headed to Carmo eager to try drinks made with these unusual juices. Before diving into the cocktail list, owner Dana Honn insisted we sample the featured juices on their own, starting with locally sourced cane juice.
We watched Honn feed juicy stalks into a cane-grinding machine to extract the sweet nectar. He served it over ice, and as we sipped it, we were surprised to discover it had a subtle citrus flavor, though there was no lemon or lime in sight.
Carmo uses the cane juice both as a featured ingredient in some drinks and as a replacement for simple syrup in others. We tasted our way through the rest of the exotic juices, deciding that acerola, also known as “Barbados cherry,” was our favorite, both for its tart flavor and its lively color.
Then it was time to taste the cocktails. Current cocktail trends focus on house made ingredients like bitters and other infusions, or the use of single barrel spirits. Fresh-squeezed juices, while important, aren’t as sexy as the bitters it took you months to make. So it was refreshing to see juices, usually seen as mere mixers, take center stage.
The Cajulia is a refreshing mix of cashew fruit juice, vodka and lemon. The juice comes from the fruit of the tree, not the nut, and is one of the most popular fruits in Brazil. It tastes nothing like the cashew nut but instead has an astringent, tannic flavor that was complemented by the lemon.
We also sampled a Caipirinha, a lime and sugar drink featuring cachaça, Brazil’s answer to rum. Honn noted that each bar in Brazil has their own take on the Caipirinha, in the way that many American bars feature their version of an Old-Fashioned or Manhattan. One way to change its flavor it to use different brands of cachaça, an easy option because Carmo has the largest selection of cachaça in New Orleans.
The winner for the night, though, was the batida. This luscious combination of fresh coconut milk and rum, thickened with peanut butter, was described by bar manager Drew Kurzwel as “crack,” and my date and I playfully bickered over whether we were each getting our fair share. The peanut added richness without tasting at all like the nut, and when mixed with the creamy coconut milk and spicy rum, it tasted like a boozy milkshake. We should have ordered two.
The well-priced menu at Carmo dovetails perfectly with the drinks, featuring vibrant, fresh flavors from around the globe.
Carmo is welcoming and warm, recreating the vibe of a tropical café. Verdant murals adorn the walls. The tropical atmosphere is enhanced by the potted plants of tea, ginger and peppers scattered through the room. Its tables and cozy bar are constructed from reclaimed wood by local artist Eric Lind.
World music trickles through the speakers, wafting on the soft breeze created by its brightly colored ceiling fans. Sidewalk tables beckon diners to enjoy the fine weather while sipping on flavors both foreign and familiar.
It’s an easy and delicious way to visit the tropics without ever leaving town.