It's been over a year in the making, but a highly anticipated new Brazilian restaurant Mulata has opened its doors at the high-traffic corner of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street.
Owner Christiane Pereira was all smiles last week as customers, new and old, lined up to order from the corner store's espresso and coffee menu, Brazilian sandwiches and empanadas.
The restaurateur is the former owner of Taste of Brasil, 906 S. Oak Park Ave., which closed in August of 2017 because the landlord declined to renew the lease.
Pereira said Taste of Brazil fans already are stopping in to check out her new eatery. She said the Turkey Meltdown sandwich — Chihuahua cheese, smoked turkey, bacon, avocado and chimichurri — is a big hit already, along with the eggplant and portabella sandwich known as the Mulata Bella and the Carne Louca sandwich, which includes mozzarella, braised beef, carmelized onions and bell peppers.
"The empanadas are a hit; I can't make enough of them," she added, noting that they are making as much of the food from scratch as possible. "We are taking the time to bring the best quality," she said.
Making menu items from scratch isn't the only thing that took Pereira time — building out the store, much of the work also done from scratch, took longer than expected. In May of 2018, Pereira said she hoped to open Mulata in about a month.
"We hired a plumber and a carpenter and that's it," she said. "We were the people putting things on the wall, making the counter, making the table legs from scratch," she said.
When Taste of Brasil closed, she sold off all of the equipment and cooking supplies.
"Everything here is new and fits the concept," she said.
The new space at 136 N. Oak Park Ave., which most recently was occupied by the yogurt and smoothie restaurant Fresko, has a smaller kitchen, which precluded having a gas stove or fryer. "We had to buy an expensive oven with its own filtration system," she said.
Pereira already is thinking of expanding the menu to include some of the traditional Brazilian dishes once available at Taste of Brasil, such as the popular chicken croquettes, known as coxinhas, and a Brazilian black-bean stew called feijoada.
Former customers are already asking for them, she said. "They're really sad that we don't have [feijoada] right now."
As far as the restaurant's name goes, Pereira acknowledged that some people are offended by Mulata, which is the Spanish word for mulatto, which, in the United States, has a derogatory history, referring to a mixed-race person.
"In the Latin world, 'mulata' can be viewed in a very different light," she said, adding that she does not intend to make a political statement with the name.
"I'm not here to say your truth is not valid," she added. "If somebody wants to get into the conversation, I'm just going to give them an empanada."
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