It began with bubbles. In 2017, after opening a size-inclusive swimwear store in St. Petersburg, Florida, Desiree Noisette decided she wanted to start serving wine and mimosas to her customers. However, Noisette found making mimosas at the store was messier than she’d hoped, and the ready-to-drink mimosa blends “were all too sweet — embarrassingly, crash-on-the-couch-and-take-a-nap sweet,” in her words. So Noisette decided to create her own ready-to-drink mimosas, made using Pacific Northwestern wines.
That decision, born out of frustration, inspired a nationally distributed line of bottled and canned wines, as well as a new Northwest Portland bar. Mermosa PDX, which opened earlier this summer on Northwest 23rd, pairs citrus-sweetened wine cocktails with dishes like coq au vin and Haitian griyo, in a beachy, azure-toned space. From the outside, the bar may seem like a relaxed, vacation-vibed bar for fun drinks and food; for Noisette, it’s the culmination of years of work, generations in the making.
Mermosa opened in Portland as a way for Noisette to connect with her clientele, but also to stay connected to the region that helped her start her business. The Mermosa, her first canned mimosa, blends orange and pineapple juice with Oregon pinot gris, chardonnay, and riesling. However, finding the right wine for the Mermosa was a challenge. Noisette called wineries along the West Coast to collaborate, but the Californian wineries “wanted nothing to do with the project,” in her words. Fortunately, Noisette read an article about Joe Dobbes, who purchased a mobile bottling line that could produce sparkling wines. Desiree called Dobbes directly, and he helped her get connected with the industry and begin making wine.
A few months later, Mermosa Bubbles hit the market in Florida, and Mermosa became the state’s first Black woman-owned wine company. In addition to her mimosas, she expanded her line to include rosé and sparkling pinot gris. Two years later, Wetzel Estate in Dallas, Oregon licensed the Mermosa brand for distribution in 19 states. Throughout the process, Noisette, her children, and her husband, Aaron Davis, visited Oregon, hiking and falling in love with the community. After a while, it felt right to settle more permanently in the Pacific Northwest.
Noisette and Davis opened their bar and restaurant not only to showcase Mermosa wines, but to honor the couple’s French Haitian and Lowcountry roots. Noisette is a descendent of Celestine Noisette, a significant figure in Charleston, South Carolina history. In the late 1700s, Celestine, a Black, Haitian-born woman, married white Frenchman Philippe Stanislas Noisette, the creator of the Noisette rose. The couple moved to Charleston and, due to the anti-miscegenation laws of the time, Celestine and their children were legally considered Philippe’s slaves. Philippe petitioned to emancipate his family up until his death, after which time Celestine and her children were freed and able to retain their inheritance. Celestine created a legal way for herself and children to stay in Charleston and act as free people of color and control the land, paving the way for freedom for her children. “[We wanted] to open a space where our family’s history would inspire people of all walks of life,” Noisette says.
While Noisette’s lineage appears in various ways within the wine label — Mermosa’s rosé is named for Celestine, for instance — the family heritage is most clearly reflected in the bar’s food menu. To help capture the right blend of French Haitian and Lowcountry cooking, Noisette and Davis hired Philip McAlister as executive chef and “kitchen choreographer,” in Noisette’s words — McAlister once worked as a touring back-up dancer for a rap group. “He commands a kitchen team like running a professional dance company,” she says.
A classically trained French chef, McAlister is an alumnus of Charleston, South Carolina’s Momo, which similarly blended Lowcountry standards with French techniques. At Mermosa, McAlister often incorporates Haitian ingredients into French or Southern dishes. For example, McAlister marinates shrimp in Haitian epis, a house-made blend of spices and herbs; they arrive on top of creamy Carolinian white grits with a tomato sauce bolstered with a dark roux. Similarly, for the restaurant’s steak frites, he marinates culotte steak in epis and swaps the potatoes for smashed plantain chips.
However, some dishes are more rooted in Haitian culinary tradition: The brunch menu includes the chef’s take on griyo, a double-cooked pork with plantains often considered the country’s national dish, and sos pwa, a black bean-coconut milk puree, appears on the dinner menu with Carolina Gold rice or as an accompaniment to a whole fish. That love of Haitian culinary tradition appears on the cocktail menu as well; for example, the ‘Haitian Liberation’ is a twist of a Cuba Libre, featuring Barbancourt Haitian rum, Jones Cola, house-made epis sugar tincture, and an epis rim.
And as a direct homage to the family, the ‘Noisette’ dessert — meant to pair with the Noisette Rosé — plays off the English translation of noisette, “hazelnut.” Dark chocolate mousse made with West Ghanan dark chocolate arrives in a house-made hazelnut-cinnamon crust, topped with bruléed bananas.
Mermosa PDX is open for dinner Wednesdays through Sundays and for brunch Fridays through Sundays. The bar is located at 1422 NW 23rd Avenue.