It's always interesting to ask food people about their first memorable culinary experience. For Sergio Sanchez, owner of Sergio's Place, he was five years old and it was flautas, the rolled and usually filled and fried tortillas. As he tells it, "My Mother, Eva, who taught me how to cook, used to own a beauty parlor in Mexico City. When she wasn't looking, I'd go to the corner taco stand and pull on the apron of the taquero, a man named Chucho. He'd give me a barbacoa flauta with pasilla pepper sauce and lots of sour cream. Later, when my mother would go by the taco stand, Chucho would ask my mother to pay him."
On a trip to Mexico City last month, I was traveling solo, so I ate only street food. For less than $2US., I'd get three tacos, one of which usually was barbacoa, which along with menudo, Sergio told us, "either won't sell or the logistics are not favorable" for serving in his restaurant. Barbacoa is stewed meat and menudo is made of beef stomach, usually in a red pepper broth with cilantro and lime. Menudo has a relatively intense organ flavor, and I understand how it might be a hard sell at Sergio's Place.
On the topic of hard sells, a North Avenue location may be a hard sell for some Oak Parkers. Many Oak Parkers, some of whom are friends of Sergio's, don't feel like they want to cross North Avenue, it's a kind of invisible geographic barrier.
Of course, to own a restaurant is to suffer many adversities. Sergio remembers that he took over the restaurant space in 2013, and "I remodeled the kitchen, furniture, walls, and plumbing. By December, I was ready, only to find out that the zoning on the building had been changed to residential. There was no explanation from the city. For months, we were promoting the opening and all the people that knew me were ready! We were not able to open for another 5 months. That killed us because the restaurant was idle, just sitting there and people lost interest! Every time I remember, I get a pain in my stomach."
It was no doubt a blow to be held up for almost half-a-year, but it seemed to us, when we visited Sergio's Place last Saturday night, that he has hit his stride. Every table was full, and it was interesting to see that Sergio seemed to know everyone who came in, many by name; he would usually rush up to greet them at the door.
Sergio's Place is decorated with original works of art, Mexican folk art or high-quality reproductions of works by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, whose surreal works frequently feature visceral and grotesque images of herself. Sergio gave me his card, and on the back, was a drawing of Kahlo and the quote, "I hope the exit is joyful, and I hope never to return." I asked Sergio about this quote, and he explained that Kahlo "was in pain for many years due to an accident…and she never recovered from a spinal injury that kept getting worse. When she was on her death bed, she told her husband Diego Rivera that she hoped for a joyful exit from this life, without pain, and she hoped never to return because she had suffered so much for so many years. I agree! One life is enough."
Note: In Mexico City, I visited Frida Kahlo's house; click though the gallery above to see some intimate shots from her home.
Answer Book 2017
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