El Ponce sticks with pickup and delivery

Jarina Naone (left) and Rosa Thurnher are the co-owners of El Ponce restaurant and El Bar, a dance club located in the rear lower level of the building at 939 Ponce de Leon Ave. El Bar remains closed due to the pandemic, but the owners are building an outdoor patio in back that they hope to debut later this summer. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
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Jarina Naone (left) and Rosa Thurnher are the co-owners of El Ponce restaurant and El Bar, a dance club located in the rear lower level of the building at 939 Ponce de Leon Ave. El Bar remains closed due to the pandemic, but the owners are building an outdoor patio in back that they hope to debut later this summer. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Owners of Midtown Tex-Mex restaurant and dance club not in a hurry to reopen

Normally bustling boulevards like Ponce de Leon Avenue practically were empty from late March through April, as people hunkered down to evade the highly contagious COVID-19 virus. Now that businesses have been cleared to reopen, traffic is picking up, and diners are heading to restaurants, particularly those with outdoor eating areas.

One patio not seating patrons is Mexican restaurant El Ponce in Atlanta’s Poncey-Highland neighborhood. Owners Jarina Naone and Rosa Thurnher don’t think it’s safe, especially for their employees.

“Rosa and I feel a huge sense of responsibility toward our employees,” Naone said. “Our philosophy: If we wouldn’t put ourselves in that position, we would not put others in that position.”

ñEl Ponce offers regular lunch and dinner menu items, as well as Quarantine Provisions that feature oven-ready single-portion and family-size meals, like enchiladas (pictured), which come with an order of beans and rice. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
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ñEl Ponce offers regular lunch and dinner menu items, as well as Quarantine Provisions that feature oven-ready single-portion and family-size meals, like enchiladas (pictured), which come with an order of beans and rice. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

ExploreInstead, they are sticking to takeout, which they’ve done since the start of the pandemic.

They set up online ordering, offering regular lunch and dinner menu items, as well as a special section called Quarantine Provisions that features oven-ready single-portion and family-size meals.

The takeout model has been successful enough, but now that numerous restaurants have reopened for on-premises dining, Naone and Thurnher said they’ve noticed a drop in carryout orders.

Round out your El Ponce meal with an order of escabeche (foreground), a spicy mix of pickled jalapeños, carrots, radishes and onions. All orders come with a serving of chips and house salsa. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
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Round out your El Ponce meal with an order of escabeche (foreground), a spicy mix of pickled jalapeños, carrots, radishes and onions. All orders come with a serving of chips and house salsa. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Problems at El Ponce are only half their predicament. Naone and Thurnher also own El Bar, the bar and dance club in the building’s rear lower level that has been shut since mid-March. There are no immediate plans to reopen the space.

Thurnher called it a “dance dive club.”

“The things that made it fun — sweating — are not happening,” she said. “I don’t see how people can come in and have a good time and let loose.

“The future of El Bar as it was is currently a question mark,” she continued.

The day I picked up my to-go order from El Ponce, Thurnher and Naone pointed to the new wood fence they were building. It was the first step toward a makeshift back patio with a tight menu of Mexican fare and a cocktail program that culls from Naone’s years of bar experience.

It’s another move being made out of necessity, Thurnher said, but “it’s an opportunity to do something we’ve always want to do.”

El Ponce sells single-serving and family-size portions of Oaxacan-style tamales. Filled with pork, chicken or mushroom-poblano, the tamales are tightly wrapped in banana leaves, frozen, and packed in a zip-close bag. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Caption
El Ponce sells single-serving and family-size portions of Oaxacan-style tamales. Filled with pork, chicken or mushroom-poblano, the tamales are tightly wrapped in banana leaves, frozen, and packed in a zip-close bag. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

They hope to debut the space in July.

The women find it ironic that they’re now working to save El Bar, because, when they took over El Ponce in 2016, it was the El Bar revenue that kept El Ponce alive.

“Without the restaurant we wouldn’t be surviving this right now,” Thurnher said. “And, without the bar, we wouldn’t have been able to take over the restaurant.”

“Everyone has a different situation in this town,” Naone said of the pandemic’s impact on bar and club owners.

But, she said, “I’m sure everyone could use a good dance session right now.”

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured in Atlanta Orders In? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

EL PONCE

Menu: burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas, tacos, tamales, tortas and other Tex-Mex and Oaxacan favorites

What's new: oven-ready single-portion and family meals; frozen posole, tamales and empanadas; taco and nacho kits

Alcohol: batched margaritas, daiquiris and sangria, cocktail kits, beer

What I ordered: a baker's dozen frozen tamales; oven-ready beef enchiladas, with guajillo sauce, for four; pint of frozen pozole; pint of escabeche (pickled vegetables). The Oaxacan-style tamales were tightly wrapped in banana leaves, frozen and packed in a zip-close bag. Tamale options include pork, chicken or mushroom-poblano. The veggie version was outstanding. All tamales came with salsa verde. A take-and-reheat tray of enchiladas was filled with 10 enchiladas. You can have them stuffed with your choice of chicken, beef, cheese or, for an upcharge, Impossible beef. You can choose your enchilada sauce (make it the spicy guajillo sauce). An order also comes with a family-size portion of beans (refried or black) and rice (Mexican or lime-cilantro). Tamales and enchiladas both come with heating instructions. The posole was laden with ample hominy and shredded chicken. Escabeche was addictive. All orders came with chips and house salsa.

Service options: to-go sales only; order on website, walk-up also available; no phone orders; line up with social distancing for ordering and pickup; delivery within 5 miles of restaurant via DoorDash

Safety protocols: following CDC guidelines; staff wears masks and gloves; pickup table set up on patio; patrons not allowed inside

Address, phone: 939 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta; 404-881-6040

Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily

Website:elponce.com

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