An intimate crowd of two dozen gathers in a small yellow Cajun cottage on a balmy Louisiana Saturday night. Fading light flickers through paned windows as reserved whispers become roaring laughter over steaming cast-iron pots of rich seafood gumbos, crispy boulettes, and Mason jars filled with Pop Rouge ice cream and fruity dumplings.

Friends are made and stories are shared, but the best one of all is told with each scrumptious bite. It’s a story of early morning casts into the Gulf and long hours spent tilling land and praying for rain. For founder and chef Melissa Martin, Mosquito Supper Club is also the story of her upbringing and the traditions she’s working to preserve.

Photography by Randy Schmidt

“It’s about celebrating fishermen and farmers and this sustainable life,” Melissa explains. “That’s my life’s work: trying to take all the hard work of so many people and nudging it onto a plate, knowing that I am supporting a wonderful collective of people.”

A native of Chauvin, Louisiana, Melissa grew up completely immersed in the seafood industry thanks to her family of fishermen. “My grandfathers and great-grandfathers were oyster fishermen, and all of my uncles were trawlers,” Melissa says. “We were living of of the water and the land. I didn’t realize how special the place was until much later when I was cooking in other places and people were so jealous that I grew up in this sort of culinary legacy.”

Photography by Randy Schmidt

While honing her craft cooking in restaurants, Melissa dreamed of owning her own place where she could do things her way. Rather than obsessing over money or popularity, she wanted to bring Cajun cooking back to its glory of yesteryear. Her food would be simple, sustainable, and local—like her grandparents and great-grandparents grew up eating. This meant she’d have to spend her days hand-picking ripe tomatoes and okra from local farmers’ markets and making trips to fishing docks to retrieve crates of just-caught shrimp and crabs.

She’d have to find a local bakery whose freshly milled grains were perfect for her skillet pies and then fill them with the juiciest berries from a nearby farm. She’d have to change her menu weekly—or sometimes even nightly—according to what fresh foods were available. In a traditional restaurant, this kind of care and attention was virtually impossible. So in 2014, Melissa traded in her executive chef position to embark on a new culinary journey: Mosquito Supper Club.

Photography by Randy Schmidt

“We took the model and threw it against the wall, and this is what we came up with,” Melissa says. “I knew I was leaving the culinary industry in a way, but I wanted it to feel different. I set out to figure out how I could put the best products on the table and how I could make it feel like being at my grandmother’s.”

At her New Orleans dinners, Melissa does just that. From the long and simply set wooden tables with sturdy benches for seating to the family-style service, the atmosphere is comfortable and familiar, like dining with kin. But it’s what Melissa calls her “Gulf Coast–swamp–Cajun cuisine” that sets Mosquito Supper Club apart. “It’s what I grew up eating,” she says.

Photography by Randy Schmidt

Boasting everything from hearty shrimp and okra gumbo kept warm in cast-iron pots to fresh strawberry pies with crusts perfectly crisped in nine-inch skillets, the ever-changing menu at this Crescent City supper club is a true reflection of Louisiana culinary history. And thanks to its heat retention and classic look, cast iron remains a frequent guest. “We probably clean 25 pieces or more at the end of the night,” Melissa says. “We properly clean them and put them on the stove to dry out. Then they get greased in leaf lard.”

For Melissa, Mosquito Supper Club isn’t just a job; it’s a passion and an opportunity to teach diners about the hard work that goes into every meal.

Photography by Randy Schmidt

“You have to think about every decision you make, and every purchase you make, and every person you support,” she says. “At Supper Club we force everyone to slow down, and we want people to think about where their food is coming from. It’s very important to us. We’re not following a fad; we’re trying to eat the way people used to eat.”

Photography by Kate Thompson
Pontchatoula Strawberry Pie
Author: 
Serves: Makes 1 (10-inch) pie
 
I went to Smoke Signals to learn about wood-fired baking from Tara Jensen. She quickly became one of my best friends and really opened my eyes to the possibility of going all in with freshly milled grains. I use grains from Bellegarde Bakery in New Orleans, but you can order freshly milled grains from Carolina Ground or other mills around the country. Look locally first then branch out.
Ingredients
  • 3 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced (about 6 cups)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup organic tapioca starch
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
  • Pie Dough (recipe follows)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon heavy whipping cream
  • Coarse sugar, for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, macerate strawberries by combining strawberries and granulated sugar. Let rest for at least 45 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°.
  3. Drain strawberry juice (and reserve for another use). To strawberries, add tapioca starch, lemon juice, and vanilla, and stir just until combined.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll half of Pie Dough into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, pressing into bottom and up sides. Fill with strawberry mixture. On a lightly floured surface, roll remaining dough into a 10-inch circle. Cut dough into strips, and arrange in a lattice design on top of filling. Fold edges under, and crimp as desired.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolk and cream. Brush dough with egg wash, and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet.
  6. Bake until crust is browned and filling is bubbly, about 1 hour.

Pie Dough
 
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup cold water
  • 2½ cups freshly milled or all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup cold unsalted European-style butter, cubed
Instructions
  1. Place ¾ cup cold water in freezer to chill.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, and salt. Add cold butter, and cut in with fingers. (Press butter pieces between thumb and pointer finger, and smear to create flat disks.) Folding with a fork, add cold water, 2 tablespoons at a time, until a cohesive dough forms. (You may not need all the water.)
  3. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface, and divide in half. Shape each half into a disk, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

 

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