With rumours of an Adelaide offshoot taco spot circulating this year, but yet no tacos in mouth, and attempts at Mexican food being indiscriminately devoured at Hitchen the Kitchen and Poyo, the long absence of this particular cuisine from our scene weighs heavily.
The Overcast’s taco challenge highlighted our rapacious appetite for all things tortilla-wrapped, and now we cannot go back to a dearth. While Zapata’s is consistent in what it does and has a nice atmosphere for long talks with old friends (without too many prying ears), Burrito Jax is franchising its way closer to town with a new Mt Pearl location, and Quintana’s continues to pump out the decent basics of tex-mex fresh salsa that have kept us alive whilst we wait for an infusion of true meat and masa. Still, St. John’s does not have Mexican food. Not really.
Or does it? “Soul Azteca,” whispered a friend of a friend’s comment on Facebook. “Tamales,” a mysterious event promised. Thirty-five dozen tamales were made and sold out in one day in August confirming the power of word of mouth for even first time pop-ups. Newfoundland may not have a long culture of diverse cuisine but, with its storied history of irresistible locals, it is bringing in international experts the old fashioned way, love and marriage.
Mike Wozney, from town, says he met his future mother-in-law while working as an executive chef in Alberta. She introduced him to her youngest daughter, Cinthia, originally from Guadalajara, and to the family’s tradition of home style cooking passed down from mother to eldest daughter through the generations. Though both his more classic European culinary training and embrace of “new ways” led to many exclamations of, “Asi no es!” from Cinthia’s mom, a strong familial partnership was formed.
He says he was looking to spend more hours with his growing family, and so left “corporate” cooking in steakhouses and opened a small dive-y but popular spot, Cafe del Sol, in a strip mall in Edmonton with Cinthia as “the angel at the door” operating front of house. Five years later, with a trove of good (though mixed) reviews they have closed up shop and moved to St. John’s to be closer to Mike’s older relatives. After a string of very short gigs at restaurants around the Avalon, Mike is looking to work under his own direction again.
Until he opens his storefront on 11 Freshwater Road (In the old Saigon Bistro Space, near Ches’s an Leo’s), Soul Azteca can be ordered from their Facebook page. They’ll be cooking as best they can from rented commercial kitchens. Currently available for catering (served 100+ people last month at a quincinera), they plan on weekly pop-up meals for pick-up, and have applied to vend at the St John’s Farmers’ Market in September.
At the Market, they will serve fresh chips and salsa and, pending licensing, tacos, aqua frescas and those tamales that caused such frenzied scuttlebutt in early August. The tamales are traditional mother-in-law approved and their salsa, with hand roasted tomato base, cascades flavours with real smoke and heat lingering after each bite.