Food

Together at the table

Ansanm to open new restaurant space in Milford

After a year and a half of hosting successful monthly pop-up dinners, the Viaud family is gearing up to open a brick-and-mortar spot in Milford, where you’ll soon be able to get their authentic Haitian meals on a regular basis for the first time, along with some new spins on classic flavors.

Ansanm, which gets its name from the word meaning “together” in Haitian Creole, is due to open on Thursday, Sept. 29, in the former Wicked Pissah Chowdah storefront, just a stone’s throw away from the Milford Oval. It’s the latest phase of a venture that started back on New Year’s Day 2021, when Greenleaf owner and chef Chris Viaud and his mother, Myrlene, ran a menu special of soup joumou, a traditional Haitian squash soup widely referred to as “freedom soup.” The response was so positive that it inspired Viaud, a James Beard Award nominee and a featured contestant on Season 18 of Bravo’s Top Chef, to turn it into a dinner series, bringing his entire family together to share their Haitian heritage with authentic dishes presented at Greenleaf each month.

Myrlene — who is originally from the Port-au-Prince suburb of Pétion-Ville and whom Viaud endearingly refers to as “Chef Mom” — has been the primary head chef of the series, while his dad, Yves; siblings Phil, Kassie and Katie; wife, Emilee, and sister-in-law Sarah have all also taken part. Most of the dinners have been at Greenleaf, although Ansanm has participated in a number of other local events since its inception, most recently at the Concord Multicultural Festival.

Expanding Ansanm into a full-service restaurant first entered the conversation a few months ago, when Myrlene Viaud came across a video online featuring a Haitian food truck in New York.

“I sent the video to Chris and I said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be cool!’ We can go to different places, park our truck and sell our food,” she said. “So he was like, ‘Sure, yeah, let me look into it.’ So he started looking around online for a food truck and then this building popped up on his feed.”

Coincidentally, the available space not only ended up being within walking distance of Greenleaf, but it was already outfitted as a restaurant. Wicked Pissah Chowdah, as it turned out, had been operating out of the storefront seasonally and was temporarily closed for the summer — it became vacant once the owners moved across the Oval to rebrand as Bouillon Bistro.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but once I came in here, I was like, ‘Oh, this is really neat,’” Myrlene Viaud said. “It’s already all set up. We don’t have to do much work. … It’s not a huge space, but it’s good enough, and then kitchen-wise I was like, ‘OK, we can do this.’”

Upon walking into the restaurant, you’ll likely immediately notice a transformation, with bright and vibrant colors, hanging artwork and thatch roofing. Myrlene Viaud’s younger sister even brought back all kinds of items she purchased in some Haitian markets that are displayed inside.

Ansanm’s menu will continue to include items that have been main staples at the pop-ups — the griot, or a marinated twice-cooked pork, and the poule nan sós, or braised chicken in Creole sauce, to name a couple — as well as all kinds of authentic dishes totally new to the space.

“I was always telling Chris that there is so much more that we can offer,” Myrlene Viaud said. “[With] the once-a-month thing we were doing, we were limited to two proteins and then the rice and the plantains. So it’s kind of exciting in a way to start opening it up to more and showing off more of the Haitian food that we actually eat on a daily basis, not just the chicken and the griot.”

She has plans to expand into offering Haitian oxtail, stewed goat and stewed fish in a Creole sauce, for instance, in addition to all kinds of options that appeal to vegans and vegetarians, from legume, a stewed vegetable dish made with eggplant, squash, watercress, carrots and spinach, to espagheti (Haitian spaghetti) and macaroni au gratin (Haitian baked macaroni and cheese).

For drinks, there will be some traditional Haitian juices and sodas, including bottles of Cola Couronne, a tropical fruit soda known as the oldest manufactured soft drink from Haiti.

Akasan, which Myrlene Viaud described as a milkshake that’s made from cornmeal flour and served either warm or cold, is also a drink she’s excited to offer. Soon, she said, she’d like to also begin serving menu specials of Haitian fritay, or an assortment of various fried foods.

“Basically what it is is a platter of fried everything. It could be the griot, it could be a fried turkey or beef, but your proteins and everything else on that platter is always fried,” she said.

One facet of Haitian cooking she said is universal is the epis, or a blend of herbs and spices that’s used as a seasoning base for almost everything. Epis is made with scallions, onions, parsley, garlic, peppers, thyme and cloves. Additionally, one of the more hot-ticket items during Ansanm’s pop-ups was pikliz, a spicy pickled vegetable slaw consisting of cabbage, carrots, onion and peppers — just like before, jars of fresh pikliz will be available for purchase.

Ansanm will also feature some of its own sandwich creations that uniquely embrace Haitian ingredients and techniques. The “V.O. Griot,” for example, will feature pork shoulder that’s marinated in epis before it’s roasted, sliced and served on a house adobo-seasoned brioche bun with smoked ham, cheese, spicy pickled cucumber and a pikliz aioli.

“A lot of the sandwich inspiration is going to be just based on the same ingredients … or cooking processes that we use for the meats, but applied to sandwich form,” Chris Viaud said.

As for dessert, you can expect Myrlene Viaud’s famous scratch-made pineapple upside down cake, another favorite from Ansanm’s pop-ups. Tablet, commonly referred to as brittle but described by Chris Viaud as being more like a praline-style treat, will also be available — that, he said, is typically made with either peanuts, cashews or shredded coconut.

To start, Ansanm will be open Thursday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, and while there is available seating inside, Myrlene Viaud said she expects most of the service to be takeout. Limited hours on Sunday mornings will also likely be coming soon.

Even though she never thought she’d open her own restaurant, Myrlene Viaud said she’s humbled by the interest and support that Ansanm has received.

“The evolution has been something special … and it’s been very exciting to offer and to see the interest that people have and the willingness to try the food,” she said.

Ansanm
Opening Thursday, Sept. 29, at 11 a.m.
Where: 20 South St., Milford
Anticipated hours: Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with expanded hours likely early on Sunday mornings
More info: Visit ansanmnh.com, find them on Facebook and Instagram or call 605-1185

Featured photo: Braised chicken in a Creole sauce, with plantains, rice and pikliz, a spicy slaw. Photo courtesy of Ansanm.

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