At Home with chef Nick Melvin of Poco Loco



Nick Melvin fell in love with food as a child. He grew up in New Orleans, and food, whether cooked by his mother or served at a special occasion restaurant, brought him joy. “I had a little box TV and I grew up watching Julia Child, Graham Kerr, Justin Wilson — all of them,” Melvin recalled. “It was something that brought comfort.”

A desire to share that comfort with others led Melvin, 40, to become a chef. He started as a dishwasher in a New Orleans restaurant as a teen, before moving to Atlanta in his 20s. Stops in the city’s kitchens included Murphy’s Restaurant, Tap in Midtown and Empire State South. In 2013, he founded pickling company Doux South, whose product line includes spicy cucumbers, “drunken” tomatoes, relishes and mustards. And in 2015, Melvin opened Venkman’s. It was there, facing burnout and alcoholism, that Melvin realized he needed to reevaluate his work-life balance — so he briefly stepped away from the kitchen.

Melvin found equilibrium during the pandemic through breakfast burritos. He ran a weekly Saturday pop-up, called Poco Loco, out of his house. It was so successful that Melvin opened a restaurant by the same name in March 2021 in the space formerly occupied by Dish Dive. His streamlined concept, which serves limited quantities of burritos and provisions like salads, dips and proteins on the weekends, allows him time to cook with his wife, Kristen Melvin, and sons, Pern, 9, and Lyle, 7. Here’s how he cooks at home.

What are your favorite ingredients to cook with at home?

We’ll get a nice piece of meat from Pine Street Market or Evergreen (butcher shop and bakery) and put it on the grill. Then we’ll air fry some broccoli or asparagus and get some good bread and make a little bit of butter noodles. It’s simple, but it’s the best thing.

What is your go-to dish for a quick dinner?

I have to say it’s a quesadilla on our (Poco Loco’s) tortillas. With quesadillas, they’re just like a “dump the fridge out” thing, with what we have, and it all works really well. Usually with a blend of chihuahua and low-moisture mozzarella.

What’s the dish you make if time isn’t a factor?

Gumbo. The number one smell in the world to me is an almost black roux, and then you stop the cooking when you throw in your trinity (onions, celery and bell peppers). When that smell hits, it’s the best. The roux alone can take two to three hours.

What do you cook for yourself at the end of a long workday?

I don’t. After a long day, honestly, I love a good sandwich. Some good bread, some ham, bologna, Duke’s mayo, a little bit of yellow mustard and some chips inside of it, that’s perfect. And a pickle.



What are the three kitchen gadgets you can’t live without?

A Vitamix, a nonstick pan and toaster oven. For the longest stretch, that’s all we had for Poco Loco at our house because I broke our oven twice. So at one point we literally had three or four toaster ovens plugged in different parts of the house to hold burritos.

What’s your favorite kitchen hack?

Always vinegar. Some are sweeter, some are rounder, some are sharper. It can break a sauce, elevate vegetables, and wake up a short rib.

What’s the most underrated food?

Ranch dressing seasoning packets. It’s fire. Don’t knock it, they’ve crushed it. So why not incorporate that into stuff? It’s sneaky as hell. Put it in your grits or rub a steak in it. Or put it in your fried chicken breading.

What’s your best advice for home chefs?

A recipe is just a guide. You’re going to have all the people in the world who have the same recipe, it’s all going to be different. Just use all your senses. It is science, but don’t treat it like school, have fun.

Poco Loco. 2233 College Ave. NE, Atlanta.



OG Taqueria Salsa

This salsa reminds Melvin of a Mexican restaurant he frequented during his youth. “They just had drinkable salsa,” said Melvin. “The kind you would try to grab five chips just to make a scoop.” These days, he often makes the salsa with his sons. “We just eat it with chips, and they’ll eat it by the cup-load,” he said.

4 to 6 ripe Roma tomatoes

1/2 large white onion, peeled and cut in half

1 large Serrano pepper, stemmed and seeded

3 to 4 garlic cloves

8 to 10 fresh cilantro sprigs

1 tablespoon guajillo chile powder

Salt to taste

Splash of vinegar or lime, to finish

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add whole tomatoes, onion, pepper and garlic. Boil for 6 to 8 minutes, until softened. Drain the water and let vegetables cool. Once cool, add the vegetables to a blender or food processor along with cilantro and guajillo powder. Pulse until the salsa is nice and chunky. Pour into a container and season with salt and a touch of vinegar or lime to brighten it up. Refrigerate leftovers in a sealed container for 3 to 5 days.

Makes 3 cups.

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 6 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace total sugars, trace fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 17 milligrams sodium.



Fresh Tortilla Chips

6 5-inch corn tortillas, each cut into 6 pieces

1 cup neutral oil such as grapeseed or canola

Salt to taste

Add oil to a medium-sized skillet. Heat over medium-high to 350 degrees.

Working in batches, gently place tortilla pieces into the oil using a pair of tongs or strainer. Make sure you don’t overcrowd the pan, leaving enough oil for the chips to swim in. Cook 4 to 6 minutes, until golden. Remove and place on a paper towel-lined plate and immediately season with salt.

Serves 3.

Per serving: 317 calories (percent of calories from fat, 70), 3 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, trace total sugars, 3 grams fiber, 25 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 71 milligrams sodium.



Poco Goddess Verde

This is another favorite, easy, dressing of Melvin’s. He’ll serve it alongside the salsa with tortilla chips or use it as a dressing for salad.

1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise

1 garlic clove

1 cup fresh parsley, leaves only

1/4 cup fresh dill

1/4 cup fresh tarragon

1/4 cup fresh basil

1/4 cup fresh mint

1/2 cup cilantro, leaves only

4 white anchovies

Juice and zest of 2 lemons

2 teaspoons capers

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt to taste

Place all the ingredients except salt into a food processor and puree until smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate leftovers in a sealed container for 2 to 3 days.

Makes 3 cups.

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 72 calories (percent of calories from fat, 93), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace total sugars, trace fiber, 7 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 4 milligrams cholesterol, 101 milligrams sodium.

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