WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS — Pictured is Sidecar and the Soda Room Kitchen building, located at 100 S. Woodland Blvd. in DeLand.

Life as a foodie often brings me to fun and funky places, where the most delicious food and interesting people reside. One such adventure began with a tip from a friend that a pop-up had opened in one of DeLand’s best bars. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Sidecar, located at 100 S. Woodland Blvd., right at Downtown DeLand’s busiest corner, is an eclectic bar, complete with fabulous midcentury modern décor, a small boutique, and, usually, old cartoons or anime playing on their TVs. Pop-up restaurant Soda Room Kitchen’s spunky vibes and eclectic menus, which have been known to go from East Asian to Russian cuisines all within the same day, fit right into the bar’s atmosphere.

MAGIC BAO BUNS — Jeremy Canova’s version of bao buns – a meat and bread adjacent dish of Chinese origins – are some of the best I’ve ever had. The buns are impossibly light and fluffy, the pork belly is both meaty and fatty, and the veggies add a refreshing lightness to the dish. But be warned, these are highly addictive.

Before I saw it in action, I couldn’t have told you what this kind of pop-up really was. Now I can say with confidence that it’s among the newest wave of exciting culinary trends.

Pop-ups are when a chef or other vendor sets up a temporary location — be it for a single day or on a recurring basis — in order to showcase their chops. For chefs, this model is an opportunity to experiment and try new things, establish a proof of concept for future endeavors and even to drum up some buzz about their work. Suffice to say that Soda Room chef and owner Jeremy Canova is accomplishing all this and more with his pop-up kitchen, based in the back of Sidecar.

He features a rotating menu of fresh and exciting meals like smoked cod under a fur coat and okonomiyaki (a savory Japanese pancake), all within Sidecar’s fabulous setting. One of Soda Room’s most interesting features, though, is that it’s truly a oneman band. Canova does everything — prep, cooking, taking orders, serving and taking payment. With all that responsibility on his shoulders, you’d think that he’d be more uptight or frazzled, but you’d be wrong.

“It’s like second nature at this point. I know what needs to be in the food and how the guest experience should be,” Canova said. “When I’m really busy, my mind just goes to making dad jokes.”

BEHIND THE SCENES — Pictured above is chef and owner of Soda Room Kitchen Jeremy Canova standing at his prep station in his kitchen. He hand-painted his pop-up’s name on the brick wall behind him for a pop of color and inspiration in his workspace.

That’s because he’s been in the industry since he was 15 years old, having worked locally at BakeChop and Mainstreet Grow and at joints across New York and Portland, Oregon.

Soda Room’s smaller scale adds to its air of exclusivity. Even its spontaneous nature makes the experience exciting, inventive and new.

The menu, which changes often, is written on a tall blackboard outside of Sidecar. When you’re ready to order, you’ll need to flag Canova down or shoot him a text, which gives you a great opportunity to chat with him and other hungry customers.

“It’s a quirky place. I like to joke with people, and it all goes together really,” Canova said.

He named his operation after a little piece of local history from the 1880s.

“There was a fire that burned 24 out of 29 buildings Downtown. And there was seltzer stored in the back room of the drugstore, which is right where this place stands today,” Canova said. “They used that seltzer water to fight the fire.”

And Canova’s food is really something special. To date, I’ve tried several versions of bao buns, a grilled chicken pita with the most amazing herbaceous dressing, and a chicken salad sandwich on homemade ciabatta bread. Everything is made from scratch, and it’s always full of flavor and dynamic textures.

ELEVATED SANDWICHES — This chicken salad sandwich was like no other. The ciabatta bread was freshly baked that morning, the cucumbers added the perfect crunch, and the chicken salad was tossed in the most spectacular dressing.

For Canova, every menu starts with the freshest in-season ingredients.

“I look at an ingredient, and I think of my favorite way to eat it,” Canova said.

Soda Room Kitchen is open noon-7 p.m. Saturday through Tuesday, specifically because many Downtown DeLand restaurants are closed then. He saw a gap in the market for great food during that time and decided to fill it. And thank the heavens for that, because I often find myself looking here for my fix these days.

Going forward, Canova is hoping to build upon the success of Soda Room Kitchen and expand. He’d love to hire additional staff, and possibly even open his own stand-alone restaurant.

“I would like to expand and get busier… And I would like to grow into something that can feed more people,” Canova said.

I hope to see that happen. Soda Room Kitchen has shown me the true magic of a pop-up. Showcasing new talent, experimenting with new things, and connecting with real people is the magic of the food scene.

— Editor’s note: Jeremy Canova is Beacon publisher Barb Shepherd’s son-in-law.


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