No Place Like Home

Opened just before Christmas, Larder Gourmet Market and Eatery in Metairie reunites two culinary families

ILLUSTRATION BY TONY HEALEY

A native New Orleanian, Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.


 

Hometown girl Alison Vega Knoll travels the world in her kitchen.

Knoll’s renowned culinary flights of fancy all began at the Little Greek restaurant on Metairie Road, just down the street from where she grew up. While on a dinner date during college, she noticed a “Waitress Wanted” sign in the restaurant’s window. Knoll got the job, but one night she was asked to help out in the kitchen, and it was there that she found her true calling.

After acquiring a working knowledge of Greek food, Knoll apprenticed with Susan Spicer at Bayona, learning the value of fresh herbs while exploring Spicer’s international flavor palate. Next, the budding chef headed to the kitchen of Spicer’s early mentor, Chef Daniel Bonnot, soaking in his classical French style and technique.

At the young age of 22, Knoll opened her first restaurant, acting as chef/partner of Zissis, located coincidentally in the same Metairie Road spot formerly occupied by the Little Greek. The Zissis partnership didn’t last, but with help from her parents, she took over the lease and opened Vega Tapas, where her Mediterranean-inspired dishes served small plate style caused an immediate sensation.

During the early Vega Tapas years, she married Drew Knoll, chef de cuisine at Emeril’s Delmonico. Two sons, Jake and Delery, born barely one year apart, quickly followed. When Drew Knoll was hired as executive chef at a Caribbean resort in 2003, Alison Knoll quickly sold Vega Tapas and moved her young family to the island of Antigua. Sons Zach and Sam both arrived during that idyllic time on the beach.

For five years, Knoll was “just a mom” to the four boys, while entertaining fantasies about opening a coffee shop. When her husband resigned from his corporate chef’s job, he contemplated opening a pizza place. With neither ready to leave island life behind, they opened the Larder, a gourmet market and deli. A smashing success from the start, the Antigua Larder became a local hub favored by American ex-pats.

“It was certainly the only place on the island you could get Better Cheddar!” Alison Knoll laughed.

When their eldest son, Zach, was ready for middle school, the two New Orleanians realized it was time to go home.

“We wanted our boys to have all the wonderful advantages Drew and I enjoyed growing up in New Orleans,” said Knoll.

Back home, the chef duo combined beloved childhood food memories with recent island favorites at their casual Bucktown restaurant, Station 6.

“The restaurant is all about our family and our shared experiences — the fishing and shrimping we love to do with the boys … there’s even a photo of my dad right at the front door!” Alison Knoll said.

During Drew’s days at Delmonico’s in the 1990s, he enjoyed a fast friendship with fellow chef Chris Wilson that has continued unabated since. Wilson’ wife, Amy Hollister Wilson, and Alison formed a partnership with Alden Lagasse, Emeril’s wife, purchasing and expanding the Cajun Caviar brand in 2011, the same busy year Station 6 debuted. A clue to the families’ friendship can also be found in “Wilson’s Chowder,” a Wilson family classic that’s a mainstay at Station 6.

Chris Wilson rose to the position of Emeril’s chief culinary officer but was laid off due to the pandemic in June 2020, ending a 28-year career with the company.

“Our families did a lot of cooking and drinking wine in our backyards together last summer,” he recalled. “We talked about a Larder style concept — something I’d wanted to do myself for 30 years — and how perfect it would be in today’s world.”

When a former Burger King in a prime Metairie location became available, they jumped into action, opening the Larder before Christmas.

The new spot showcases everything the Wilsons and the Knolls love about food. From a morning cup of coffee to carefully curated wines and cheeses and family dinners to go from their drive-through window, the Larder has it all. But for Alison, it especially represents home.

“When a long-time friend and customer learned our youngest, Sam, was going to Jesuit this fall, she brought me a little blue jay on a silk cord and said, ‘I got this when my son went to Jesuit, but I want you to have it now.’ You can’t get that kind of love anywhere but New Orleans!”

 

Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.