To say that Naomi’s Garden Restaurant & Lounge in Little Haiti is just a restaurant is an understatement.
The family-owned restaurant is more like a small community. Patrons have turned into friends and walk in as if it’s their second home. Some employees have been here for more than 20 years.
The lot where Naomi’s sits was purchased by Yaron Yemini Sr., an Israeli transplant, for $15,000 in the 1980s. He passed it down to his sons, Noam and Omaar, who closed the restaurant down last year for renovations and reopened it earlier this year. Their grand reopening celebration happens this Saturday.
Haitian cooks Melisane Craan, Janine Abraham and Dean Martin Fenelon use influences from all over the country in the cuisine, from Carrefour to Les Cayes. The secret to Naomi’s authentic taste is their use of seasoning bases called epis, a mixture of green onions, tomato, garlic and other spices and herbs that instantaneously transport you to the island.
“When my dad wanted to get some employees he went to a store nearby and the first person that was walking out was a Haitian lady, and he said, ‘Hey I need people to work for me. Do you know anybody?’ And she said, ‘Me! And I’ll go to my church and see about anybody else,’ ” Omaar recalled. “So she came back with three other Haitian ladies. Two of those ladies are here today, Melisane and Janine.”
Naomi’s has been feeding locals wholesome options with healthier cooking methods. They incorporate alternatives to frying such as steaming and baking. Locals rave about the food.
“We know how to cook really healthy,” Noam Yemini said. “Haitian food is generally healthy, but a lot of oil . . . is used. We said, ‘OK, let’s make Haitian food and take out that other stuff.’ We’re doing something that other restaurants that make the same type of food don’t do. It’s pretty cool.”
Plates run about $10 at Naomi’s and include diri ak pwa (rice and beans) and two sides. One of their best-selling dishes is beef stewed with a mix of carrots, eggplant and chayote. Naomi’s also serves vegetarian options.
Lin Liang, originally from Philadelphia, found out about the restaurant from a friend, and together they checked out Naomi’s recently. She ordered pwason fri, or fried fish, with steamed veggies and sat in the back garden as the landscapers buzzed away, listening to the elder Yaron Yemini regale them with stories.
“The atmosphere is really fun,” Liang said. “This is the beginning, and I feel so blessed that I was here and got to try the food while the changes were happening.”
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