Zoma Restaurant

Zoma Restaurant

In an increasingly fast-paced world, restauranteur Zeleke Belete of Zoma cherishes the Ethiopian tradition of communal eating. These customs create a welcoming space, where food is lovingly made and traditions kept vibrant. Zoma Restaurant boasts bright colors, sounds, and scents reminiscent of Zeleke’s home. Ethiopian music plays on a screen in the background, showcasing the elaborate dance routines of the country’s various tribes. Oil paintings of figures in traditional dress line the soft pastel green walls.

Zoma Restaurant
Zoma Restaurant

Zoma Restaurant

Lunch

For the lunch special, I selected the misir kik, a spicy red lentil stew, and the alicha wat, a mild beef stew. Both came on a bed of injera, the sour spongy bread that forms the foundation of each dish. A wreath of injera rolls surrounds the two mounds. The hearty portion satisfies both my greed and desire for leftovers. The first bite of the beef stew, pinched between a ravenously torn piece of injera, is pure savory warmth. Caramelized onion, ginger, and garlic permeate the tender beef cubes and infuse into the injera base. My first bite of lentils is a fiery hit of flavor, an instant exhilarating rush that brings sweat to my nose and upper lip. Only after tasting the lentils did I fully appreciate the milder, sweeter notes of the beef stew.

Ethiopian food uses lots of onions. Zeleke smiles, recounting the shock on distributors’ faces when they see the fifteen to twenty bags of onions he and his family purchase each week.

During his trips back to Ethiopia, Zeleke and his family stock up on organic spices from home. Spices are the essence of Ethiopian cuisine: among them, red pepper, cardamom, ginger, garlic, and turmeric in different combinations create complex warmth. The order of spices is essential in shaping the flavor profile of each dish. Zeleke explains that when you add garlic to the beef stew, it makes all the difference in the balance of flavors.

Injera is an Ethiopian restaurant’s barometer of success. The spongy starch is made of teff, an Ethiopian grain, and a unique fermentation process creates the signature sour flavor and tiny holes on the surface. Like sourdough, injera requires a starter, or a base culture of yeast, flour, and water used to flavor and ferment a bread product. Unfamiliar to many Western flavor palates, sourness in injera is embraced - in fact, the more sour, the better. Getting the flavor and texture is a finicky chemistry, so when a restaurant finds the right formula, it’s like striking gold. Zeleke shared that the starter for Zoma’s injera came an Ethiopian restaurant in Columbus, and the recipe for their injera is a trade secret. “I wouldn’t give away the recipe for a million dollars.”

In addition to their food offerings, every Sunday the restaurant hosts a coffee ceremony. Zoma roasts their own beans, adding additional depth of flavor with cardamom and cloves. Ethiopian coffee has a concentrated intensity and aroma foreign to many US coffee drinkers who have grown accustomed to sugar-loaded, venti brews. Its portions are served in small cups, inviting drinkers to savor each sip. “Back home, if your neighbor hears you setting up for coffee, you know they’ll be over in a matter of minutes to pay you a visit.” Zoma’s coffee ceremony hearkens back to the coffee shops that line the streets of Addis Ababa, inviting passersby to sit and share a moment of their day.

Zoma Restaurant

Zeleke

After applying for the immigrant visa lottery, Zeleke immigrated to the US in 2005 with his wife and family. Together with his wife, sister, and mother in law, they opened up Zoma in December 2016, taking the name from Zeleke’s mother’s birthplace. Zeleke’s roots are in the countryside, about 180 kilometers outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

For Zeleke and his family, hard work and long hours are essential. Language barriers, cultural differences, and social isolation were among the initial challenges Zeleke faced when he came to America. But as long as one is willing to put in the work, he believes success will follow.

For new immigrants, he emphasizes the importance of hard work and persistence. He recalls the initially struggling to learn English, but this attitude pushed him to improve. “Some people are afraid to speak English because they think people will judge them. I don’t care – I still try. How else do you learn?”

However, his best advice to new arrivals is to “know your limits;” in other words, to respect the boundaries of one’s physical and mental abilities. “You must not lose sight of family, relationships – the important things in life.”

Zeleke is hopeful for the future. Coming up on the two-year anniversary of its debut, Zoma has captivated locals looking for authentic Ethiopian fare. Zeleke plans to expand the restaurant and add additional traditional seating arrangements to accommodate more guests. Here at Zoma, his philosophy in life and in his food is to emphasize quality over quantity: “if you take care of your customers, they’ll come back.”

About the Author:

Valerie is a proud daughter of immigrants and she believes food is a powerful way to bring people together. She is a nurse based in the greater Cleveland area, and is looking forward to more meals and insightful conversations. Her email is valerie.bai4@gmail.com.

 

Visit:

Zoma Restaurant
2240 Lee Road Cleveland, OH 44118.
Phone: 216-465-3239
Telephone: 216.465.3239

La Chiva

La Chiva

Walking into La Chiva is like coming home. Winter is still in full force in downtown Denver, Colorado, and the drastic 20 (and sometimes, 30) degree difference between day and night makes the brisk evening air feel that much colder. But being greeted by the smell of hot oil and spices and feasting your eyes on the greenery and vibrant colors in the cozy little restaurant are enough to warm even the coldest hands and cause even the fullest tummies to grumble.

Spanish music plays softly over the speakers while Carmen dances and sings along in the kitchen. She gives prompt service behind the register to her guests and always with a bright smile. Her husband, Jorge, is busy cooking in the kitchen. The Colombian couple are the proud owners of La Chiva, a restaurant specializing in Colombian cuisine which originally started as a food truck.

La Chiva

La Chiva – A Brief History

“La chiva” is a Colombian party bus and the perfect name for their food truck, which still makes appearances around the city. The couple thought it best to start as a food truck and when the time came, open a brick and mortar restaurant. The food truck has been traveling around Denver for 4 years and the brick and mortar was opened about 8 months ago.

The story of La Chiva was many years in the making. From an early age, Jorge could always be found in the kitchen. “Growing up, I loved food, I loved going to the kitchen. My brothers…they would tease me because a man’s not supposed to be in the kitchen.” Jorge immigrated to the United States with his family as a junior in high school. He attended college where he met Carmen, who had immigrated to the U.S. in order to further her college education. Carmen went into the healthcare field, while Jorge started his career in IT. He worked in the IT field until retirement, but opening a restaurant had always been his dream.

Carmen and Jorge lived in New Jersey, Chicago, and Atlanta before settling in Denver to be close to their collegiate daughter. “Everywhere I went, I wanted to find Colombian food,” says Jorge. Jorge decided to attend culinary school in order to get the skills he would need to achieve his goal. While opening a restaurant seemed intimidating, a chef at the culinary school suggested that he first open a food truck in order to get a feel for the food industry. And the dream what was La Chiva finally came into existence.

La Chiva

While the name “La Chiva” has been humming around Denver for several years, the restaurant is only 8 months old. “Having the restaurant, it gives us the chance to explore other things and serve other foods that we just can’t from the truck” says Carmen.

Although both Carmen and Jorge are from Colombia, they grew up in different areas and their experience of food was very different. Carmen hails from a city called Cali, a city near the coast where the food is characterized by freshness and vibrancy. Carmen remembers enjoying a lot of fresh fruit and fish in her hometown. Jorge, on the other hand, comes from the capital of Bogotá, which is high in the mountains. The population there enjoys dishes that are heavier in carbs (mostly in the form of root vegetables, such as potato and yucca) and meat. Soups are also popular in this region. When opening La Chiva, they decided to represent recipes and dishes from all areas of Colombia, even researching recipes suggested by others, both native Colombian and visitor alike. “Culture influences a lot, not only what we’re trying to serve but how it’s being received and perceived,” explains Carmen, who represents the food she loves by using as much organic food as possible. She even grows her own herbs for the restaurant, some of which live on the window sill at the front of the restaurant. “I grow a lot of the herbs…I try to have that sense of freshness.”

La Chiva

Opening a Colombian restaurant was a brave endeavor indeed, considering the majority of Latin food eateries in Denver feature Mexican cuisine, which is a very different dining experience. But Jorge stands by his food. “I was confident that once people started tasting it, they would appreciate it a lot more and learn about it. Then, I would be OK.” While admitting that it was a risk, Jorge also knows that having a unique flavor would be an asset. “I certainly love it so I figure, why wouldn’t people love it?”

 La Chiva

The Meal

The meal starts with a Latin food staple: empanadas. Many Latin dishes that are well-known in America are usually as variegated among the Spanish-speaking world as barbeque recipes in the U.S., and empanadas are no exception. At their core, empanadas are a filling wrapped in dough. These fillings can be savory (meat or vegetarian) or they can be sweet (usually fruit or chocolate) and the choice of dough is meant to compliment the filling. While usually fried, these sumptuous Spanish bites can also be baked.

Tonight, the appetizers are beef and chicken empanadas. The meat is tender and well-seasoned, encircled in a crispy pillow of masa (corn flour dough), making for a very rich and decadent empanada. On the side is a simple vinaigrette, which cuts the richness and completes the dish by striking a perfect balance.

La Chiva
Meat Empanadas with vinaigrette

Reflecting Carmen’s desire for freshness, the menu at La Chiva boasts fruit beverages made with tropical fruits of the region. These frothy fruit blends cleanse and refresh the palate.

La Chiva
Front: Limonada Cartegenera, Back: Guava Juice

Arroz con camarones (translation: rice with shrimp) is a deceptively simple name for a very flavorful plate. The combination of yellow rice; plump, pink shrimp; and motley pick of vegetables makes this dish a celebration for the eyes and the taste buds. Spices from the rice combine with natural sweetness from the shrimp, peas, and carrots and earthiness from the onions and beans to give this dish a well-rounded flavor harmony.

The arroz con camarones is served with a side of both savory and sweet plantains. Plantains are plants that resemble bananas in appearance – they start out a vibrant green but turn yellow as they ripen. Both green and yellow plantains are cooked and eaten and while they are the same plant at different stages of ripening, the have an immensely different flavor.

Green plantains are usually fried twice and then dusted with salt. Their starchiness is closer to a potato than at banana at this stage and their taste and texture is similar to a thick French fry – salty and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Yellow plantains, on the other hand, are sweeter, yet still very starchy. They can be baked, but are also usually fried. The cooked yellow plantain tastes sweeter, like a caramelized banana with a toothsome texture, making it a harmonious side in both sweet and savory applications.

La Chiva
Arroz con camarones

The Bandeja Moñatanera (literal translation: “mountain tray”) is a traditional Colombian dish that arranges red beans, white rice, chorizo (Spanish sausage), sweet and savory plantains, arepa (flatbread made from cornmeal), chicharrón (pork belly), pork ribs, avocado, and a fried egg together. This dish is a deconstructed plate: the guest can combine each element in any way desired to experience a plethora of flavor combinations. The red beans are served in a deep, rich broth and the meats are charred and smoky with plenty of melty fat. The avocado and fried egg provide a complimentary creamy element, while the arepa is warm and homey. Any pairing of two or more elements creates a unique palate experience, new and exciting until the last bite.

La Chiva
Bandeja Moñatanera

Traditionally, flan is a Spanish dessert custard with a caramel syrup topping. The desserts served at La Chiva are specials – not on the regular menu. One of the special desserts tonight features this traditional favorite with a La Chiva twist: coconut flan.

The flan is a thick custard bursting with coconut flavor and a hint of almond extract. The warm, nutty flavor pairs with the milky consistency and light sweetness of the dessert – a rich, dark cup of coffee makes the perfect couple.

La Chiva

Culture

“Is it like you remembered?” inquires Carmen gleefully. The customer responds with an emphatic “Oh, yes!” and Carmen smiles brightly, then starts chatting in Spanish with another guest paying at the register. Jorge stands behind the kitchen counter, sporting his signature brown fedora. He waves at customers leaving the warm restaurant and venturing into the snowy and bleak evening air.

Indeed, culture is an important ingredient weaved into every recipe made here at La Chiva. A strong sense of connection with the community permeates this snug little restaurant, coupled with a comforting hospitality that breeds contentment – no wonder this restaurant is full when there’s 5 inches of snow on the ground. It’s an excellent place to find shelter from the weather – and also a strong cup of Colombian coffee.

La Chiva
Jorge and Carmen – Owners of La Chiva

VISIT:

La Chiva
1417 S Broadway, Denver CO 80210
(720) 389 9847

About the Author:
Colleen’s WordPress Blog
Born and raised a military brat, Colleen has always been passionate about cuisine and culture. Fascinated by infinite combinations of flavors, she uses every experience to influence her cooking and to hone her palette. Colleen currently resides in Denver, Colorado with her husband, Cecilio, and dog, Duncan.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe

Pine Island Getaway Cafe

Take a Voyage Down Pine Island

The journey down Pine Island is a sunny scenic route, traversing bridges and palm tree-lined paths, one gets a highlight of Florida's best attributes. The island is a retreat from Florida's more urban regions. Reaching the bakery requires crossing an aquatic preserve filled with dense tropic mangroves and beaches which span the road to Pine Island Getaway cafe. The main road is lined with easy-going vacationers meandering in and out of pastel colored art shops. The cafe itself is tucked away from the main road of the island, situated next to a small lake. Offering a view the shop is a short distance off from the more tourist dense portions. In this location the cafe shares the same essence of the island - remaining a retreat without being remote.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe
Stepping in, the cafe is lined with a counter seeped in sunshine, spanning the wall, windows face a small pine forest. Resort style chairs are arranged under quirky lightbulb lamps. The space is fresh and open despite the storefront being relatively small. But the space was needed to make way for an industrial sized kitchen, the whole place was built to suit the needs of the bakers. The bakery is brand new, opening its doors just over a month ago. "We opened on April, Friday the 13th, which is supposed to be an unlucky day. But it was not so unlucky for us. We had a line out the door."

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 2

 

The Origins of Pine Island Getaway Cafe

Brothers Thomas and Florent Brunet, originally from the French/Dutch island of St. Martin, then purchased land on Pine Island and constructed a bakery to match their dream. As Thomas explains it, they could have selected a space more central and more costly with a view that didn't parallel what the lake provides. A glance outside makes it clear why this location was the better choice. To the back, a screened in porch offers cozy clusters of seating and the authentic vacation atmosphere that the region is known for.

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The 'getaway' feeling is essential, "we don't like stress, we try to avoid it the most" jokes Florent commenting on the laid back attitude pervasive throughout the community. Originally a weekend trip destination, Florent fell in love. He came from Miami, where he had initially resided in the States while seeking to improve his English. Despite having lived in Miami for five years he found himself a place to anchor his dreams. "I never came back to Miami, I fell in love with it here, the beaches, the lakes, the nature" Florent gestures towards to the idyllic surroundings.

The business climate here is calm, but especially so when juxtaposed with the fierce competition of France. After turning eighteen Thomas left St. Martin and the Caribbean, and spent three years there studying pastry near Bordeaux. He gained exposure to a variety of cooking and management styles from over five bakeries. He describes the culinary work environment in France as harsh and high-strung. "I took the best of all and brought it here ”, cultivating recipes and techniques while abandoning the cutthroat attitude. "Here there are only a few places to compete with-- in France? There's a bakery on every corner. They're saturated.", remarks Florent. But there was a distinct absence of authentic French pastry and cuisine on the island. That fact drew him in, and led him to prompt Thomas to plant their cafe there.

But Pine Island wasn't always on the horizon. Thomas initially envisioned creating a bakery on an entirely different continent. While Florent had remained in St. Martin and then transferred to Miami, his brother moved from Europe to Asia.
Thomas (who appears to be drawn to a variety of islands) journeyed throughout southeastern Asia, where he spent a significant part of time in the Philippines. He originally got the idea to open a cafe while visiting the Pacific island. "The Philippines’ have no French bakeries," Thomas continues with the advantages, "We would have been the only one.".

Shunning stress doesn't signify lack of hard work, Thomas explains. "Some people think we come for vacations, that's not really the case because I'm in the kitchen for twelve hours a day, I go from six am to six pm." . Though the bakery remains a spot for patrons to get away, the Brunet brothers receive no breaks. "There are no vacations. If you come here to work, to make money, that's it. I cannot take holidays...just work, work, work."

Starting a business as an immigrant in the United States is taxing. Thomas recounts the biggest hurdle of opening the operation being obtaining his visa. Between acquiring permits for construction and negotiating with the US embassy there were no shortage of obstacles to getting the bakery off the ground. There is no guarantee that a business proposal will get approval of the embassy. Not having enough experience, not investing enough, or if the office doesn't believe in your project it can be denied. A foreigner working here has to be a creator of jobs and show clear contributions to the community. This adds pressure to do whatever it takes to support the business.


The Kitchen 

During the conversation rapid French interjections emerge from the kitchen, the brothers communicate through the walls to continue work. Despite being closed on Monday production doesn't cease. Making fresh pastries from scratch takes time. On top of that, the particular type of pastries themselves are quite labor intensive. French pastry, being known for its layers and complex flavors, require a lot of effort. Croissants, a popular French classic, take at least two days to prepare. Thomas reveals two lumps of dough on their second day, proofing in massive chillers that keep the butter intact despite the Florida heat.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 4

But the brothers are no strangers to heat, St. Martin's proximity to the equator make Florida seem moderate in comparison. "Here it can be cold and you see palm trees.", Thomas has fond memories of the warmth of his birthplace. He recalls the joy of the beaches, to which he testifies the Dutch half of the island has more fun. Growing up in the French section provided their introduction into the world of baking.

But baking French recipes with American ingredients can be hazardous. They lament over the horrors of bleached flour and its acrid effects. "You can taste the quality of the ingredients, it shows through. Florent states that his biggest challenge is sourcing ingredients that provide the level of flavor they seek. Not everything is American, with great pride they show off French butter, recently imported. On another counter Dutch chocolate rests, waiting to be incorporated into pain au chocolate. The butter and chocolate are both used in these batches of croissants.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 5

The pair is quite capable of multitasking, they work together, but separately. Florent prepares two plates as he discusses the best places to source items. Thomas contributes as he whips up meringue for the dessert.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 6

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 7
Pine Island Getaway Cafe 8

The Food

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 9

Make no mistake, much more than pastry can be found in Pine Island Getaway Cafe. The focus of the cafe is directed equally towards the meals and the pastry. The pastries rotate with a variety of French treats. Serving unfamiliar tarts, chocolate éclairs, flan, and mille feuille has posed some challenges. But the use of samples quickly puts any qualms to rest.

Pine Island Getaway Cafe 10

I am beyond eager to see what has been prepared for me. To ensure that we would have time for the interview I've been invited to dine on a Monday, when the cafe is closed. Periodically throughout our visit, potential customers approach the door. Thomas greets each one of them apologizing for the inconvenience, they reassure him they will be returning. He even sends one particularly passionate woman off with a few goodies.

Because they are closed they offered to make a special meal and dessert, asking my preferences. Having a deep love for all French food after my own experiences of working in a bakery and limited preferences I tell them to surprise me.

We make our selections from an array of high quality coffee drinks, as well as a variety of beverages such as juice. Florent prepares an iced latte, offering: almond milk, soy milk, and whipped cream as options. Returning to the front of house, Thomas brings out our meal, which he informs us is the Vol Au Vent Forestier.

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The plate consists of two main elements. There was a simple salad with mixed organic greens, sliced tomatoes, freshly shaved cheese and an olive oil based dressing. It was light and paired perfectly with the Vol au Vent. The Vol Au Vent Forestier had a perfectly crisped flaky puff pastry base topped by chicken and mushrooms prepared in a crème white wine sauce. The texture of the pastry is a result of a dough folded with no shortcuts, each paper-thin layer present. The richness of the sauce, the butter of the pastry, and the chicken, is elevated by the simplicity of the salad. The freshness speaks to the European ideals of high quality local ingredients. A portion that appeared moderate was very filling, but so deeply satisfying that one would forget they had another round of food coming. After cleaning and clearing our plates we advance to dessert.

 

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We're presented two toasted meringue swans sitting atop a glossy pool of lemon custard. These avian-esque edibles are their lemon tarts. The swans are made of a decadent marshmallow-y Italian meringue. The custard is smooth, full of citrus flavor and encased within a firm buttery crust. Every bite is consumed and we're left feeling full and content.

Bienvenue
Pine Island Getaway Cafe is the culmination of cross continental influences. It is the result of adventitious events guided by a vision and dedication. The brothers' roots in St. Martin, time in France, and inspiration found in the Philippines come together, expanding the palate of the community. The Brunet brothers welcome a challenge, they are aware continuing will not be a simple task. They await, earnest to serve and share with their new neighbors.

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Visit

Pine Island Getaway Cafe - Bakery
Address: 5281 Doug Taylor Circle.
Saint James City, FL
Phone: 239.283.3602

 

From the Author:

"Some of the biggest elements that comprise my identity are my passion for politics and activism. That focus stems from my position as a queer, biracial, first-generation American. I am interested in exposing disparity within our food systems and developing sustainable solutions to food scarcity. Captured by the concept of 'critical eating', I explore an intersection of anthropology and economics. This delves into the relationship between agriculture and food production. Part of my approach consists on educating consumers on the mechanics of how we provide for ourselves. My intentions are to improve conditions and cultivate an appreciation for those who feed us. I hope contributions to Uncle Sam's will help towards the goal of uniting communities around a common table."

Authors Blog