Filipino Chef Nicole Ponseca Opens Jeepney and Tita Baby’s in Miami
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James Beard-nominated writer and restaurateur Nicole Ponseca has a New Years resolution: Make Miami fall in love with Filipino food.
Ponseca, a Filipino-American cook best known for her popular New York restaurant Jeepney and Tita Baby’s, recently opened curated versions of both concepts at 1-800 Lucky Food Hall in Wynwood. They were viewed as an extension of their New York restaurants and officially opened on Saturday, January 2nd.
The start coincided with the 10th anniversary of Ponseca’s career as a restaurateur and happened to land on the same day that she unveiled her first concept, Maharlika (on January 2, 2011). The hugely popular pop-up at Restro Leon in the East Village prompted the chef to open a standalone restaurant of the same name in 2012, followed by her Kamayan-style jeepney a few months later. Her newest company, Tita Baby’s Panciteria, opened in 2018 and offers quick-casual Filipino noodles and grilled dishes.
Now Ponseca wants to share her love of Filipino cuisine with South Florida, a community she says will find much of the familiar food she will find.
“Getting to Miami was a breeze,” Ponseca tells the New Times. “Even amid the pandemic, I feel blessed to be able to create something new. Filipino culture is very Latin American and includes dishes such as flan, lechón, chicharrón, tamales, and adobo. I’m delighted to introduce these dishes to Miami that may seem familiar but is also new and unique. “
Ponseca says she named Jeepney after the converted WWII jeep taxis found in the Philippines, while Tita Baby is a loving Filipino word for “aunt” or an older generation woman. At 1-800-Lucky, the chef defines both concepts as “fast fancy” – a restaurant that creates a balance between fast food and dinner.
“I thought, ‘How can I maintain an efficient business operation that makes sense as an entrepreneur but doesn’t deviate from the customer experience?’ This market model is the perfect answer, “says Ponseca. “It’s affordable to use, but has the added benefit of offering guests a real culinary ambience.”
Miami’s Jeepney and Tita Baby’s offer a variety of dishes that were once on NYC’s menu (now with limited food and takeaway options due to ongoing pandemic restrictions). In addition to fresh juices, artisanal breads, pastries and desserts, Miami guests can expect a variety of authentic Filipino street and grilled dishes from Ponseca.
Tita Baby’s menu features popular grilled dishes from the Philippines, including a short list of skewers called sisig – juicy cubes of meat (or jackfruit) that are kissed with smoke from a charcoal grill and served with traditional banana ketchup. Guests can also choose to add this meat on silog (a dish of fried rice and eggs usually served for breakfast) known as “sister-in-law’s egg” to Ponseca’s reef. It contains a fried sous vide egg to give the dish its traditionally crispy component alongside the egg yolk.
In the jeepney, baked goods and sweet treats like halo-halo, a popular Filipino dessert made from shaved ice, condensed milk and toppings like sweetened beans, cooked taro, fruit slices and desiccated coconut, feature on the menu. To keep the food as authentic as possible, Ponseca works with a local Filipino baker to create homemade products like bibingka (a traditional rice cake served in a cast iron pan), pandesal (buttered bun), and ensaymada (a sweet pastry made from) make pork fat).
The restaurateur tells the New Times that she plans to launch a special menu that will only be available on Saturday and Sunday. from the end of January; The chef prepares a changing selection of regional Filipino as well as more time consuming dishes. Several new dishes are offered each week and are subject to availability.
“These will be very limited, but should give Filipinos who yearn for home – or adventurous locals – a real treat,” says Ponseca. “Just be sure you show up early because when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Jeepney and Tita Baby are at 1-800-Lucky. 143 NW 23rd St., Miami; 1800Lucky.com.
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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who has been reporting on the South Florida food scene for the New Times since 2011. She also enjoys drinking beer and writing about the growing craft beer community in the region.