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Points South Latin Kitchen, A Culinary Tour South of the Border

pslkHave you ever wanted to go on a culinary tour to Central or Latin America to taste the rich flavors and spices south of the border? A trip to Brazil, for example, for a true, original Caipirinha? Or maybe you have a taste for carimañolas — fried croquettes filled with yucca mash and ground beef — quite popular on the streets of Panama City and Bogotá. How about a visit to Machu Picchu to see the sacred Inca empire site and, perhaps, order some local pollo with a side of Huancaína- style potatoes? Can’t afford the trip? Can’t swing the time?
No hay problema! Não faz mal! No problem! You can experience cuisines from all across Central and South America by driving only as far as Fells Point in Baltimore. Points South Latin Kitchen opened in March in the space formerly occupied by Anastasia on Thames Street. While Anastasia catered to drinking and dancing, Points South has a different focus. Owner and managing partner Bryson Keens has turned his space into a new world, one based on his travels and love of all things south of the border.

Inspiration from Grandmother
Keens says his interest in Latin American foods began when he was a child. He writes: “While my mother would be at work, I would spend time at my grandmother’s Tex-Mex restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas. Watching my grandmother cook refried beans, hand stuff corn husks with masa for tamales, and roll enchiladas gave me an appreciation for the love and handwork that goes into creating delicious, high-quality Mexican cuisine. Being a ‘taste-tester’ for her delightful concoctions didn’t hurt either!”
Like many in the restaurant business, Keens started as a busboy to pay for college, rising up over the years to launch and manage several restaurants and bars. For the last ten years, he was a managing partner with Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine before moving on to the challenge of creating Points South. “We had many new ideas for the new restaurant,” he said. “We wanted it to be a casually elegant place where you could sample South- and Central American-themed drinks and food in a homey but upscale environment.”

Good Food and Good Art, Too
Diners can enjoy Points South upstairs or downstairs or on an outside patio. In both inside spaces, they are surrounded by original murals designed by artist Robin Morris. Morris met Keens when she was a server at Roy’s. Now an art teacher and muralist, with a master’s degree in painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Morris was ready and interested when Keens pitched the idea of murals in his new restaurant. Together, they considered different images that would touch on the traditions of Central and South American peoples. “We wanted something with a colorful, hip, modern feel — something graphic that would pop!” Morris said. “It had to be based on indigenous cultures and motifs important to those cultures.” One of the images that emerged was a man in a wolf headdress and a woman in a jaguar headdress, both important animal images in pre-Columbian America. “It makes the space memorable, Morris said. “I hope it draws people in and makes them want to come back!”
No doubt the good and interesting food will draw people back, too! Chef Scott Stauber is behind much of that. With a Panamanian grandmother as inspiration, he wanted to create unique dishes that would span the breadth of the southern hemisphere — including Mexico, of course — but also every other country from there south to Argentina and Chile. That’s a long way, with many flavors, cultures, and traditions along the route. Using ingredients and herbs most of us cannot even pronounce, he has created unbelievably delicious dishes that are “spicy but also savory and approachable.” Plus, he’s sharing what he knows through cooking classes and cocktail events. Anyone up to try a bottled Latin- inspired, handcrafted cocktail? Points South is the only place in Fells Point where you can do so! How about a South American wine tasting dinner? It just gets better and better!

But That’s Not Even All of It!
This restaurant is totally gluten- free! Totally! Owner Bryson Keens has celiac disease. He didn’t know it until his daughter Dylan was 11 months old and started to “whither away in front of us.” Keens and his wife tried everything natural and wholesome for their baby daughter, including whole wheat products. The problem got worse. Finally, a pediatrician diagnosed Dylan with celiac disorder, and Keens realized that is what had been bothering him his whole life, too.
“We didn’t set out to develop a gluten-free restaurant,” Keens said. “But since so many our recipes from Central and South America were based on corn and not wheat, we thought, why not?” Keens gave his pastry chef Mike Kelly a challenge: Make all the desserts gluten-free, too. Kelly tested a whole bunch of different ingredients including sorghum, tapioca, and cassava flours. “His cakes are amazing,” said Keens, “as are the pie crusts and the bread pudding!”
Keens is delighted that his daughter — now nine, growing like a weed, and in perfect health — can “eat in my restaurant and choose anything she wants!”
So should you be in the mood for an excursion to exotic places, with delicious food, a great atmosphere, and gluten-free, to boot, Points South Latin Kitchen may be your best bet — without ever having to pack a suitcase. Panama, Ecuador, Chile … here we come! And when you walk in the door, it will be welcome, benvenidos, and bem-vindo!

About the Author

LISA KEATHLEY is the managing editor of Foodservice Monthly.

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