Papi’s Kitchen, a delivery-only restaurant focusing on Latin flavors, starts dinner service in Austin Wednesday, February 15, with lunch soon to follow.
Behind this exciting venture is Fernando Saralegui, a Cuban-American who moved from New York City to Austin 2001 and served as the executive director of the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival in 2002 and 2003. He followed with a cookbook, Our Latin Table, a wonderfully written account of how his family stays in touch with each other and their Cuban roots through food.
More recently, he traveled back to Cuba with his mother and became acquainted with the independent restaurants known as paladares. He was so impressed with these operators and their menus of traditional Cuban flavors married to many international influences that he is now working on a second book and will travel to the island several times this year to complete it.
Papi’s Kitchen follows in the steps of his two New York Times-starred restaurants, Alva and L-Ray. Stepping back into the kitchen, Saralegui sees the growing virtual restaurant trend as the new food truck, a model that keeps operations costs down and doesn’t rule out brick-and-mortar.
“I had been working on an app-based, delivery-only burrito model for over a year, and during my research I discovered the commissary model when reading about David Chang's Ando in NYC,” says Saralegui. “The model allows menu or concept tweaks, even wholesale changes that can be done quickly as a project finds its audience. It also allows the kitchen to concentrate on delivery, with no meal period rush siphoning off cooking time or kitchen space for traditional dining room customers, making to-go order times shorter.” Papi's Kitchen has partnered with GrubHub to launch ordering on their platform, and soon from their own website and Facebook page.
The menu at Papi’s Kitchen comprises Pan-Latino flavors from Saralegui’s former restaurants, travels, family, and life.
“First and foremost there are items that my family palate memory joneses for, like my grandmother's arroz con pollo, which morphs into my mother's paella with the addition of grilled shrimp and saffron. I put tostones on the menu just to offer my favorite flavor profile of all — my mom's garlic-drenched mojo. Of course, being Cuban, I always have a hankering for a Cuban sandwich/media noche, which I sold at both my restaurants in NYC and named 'Cuban Ruban' after the great Jewish classic.”
Some recipes are straight from his cookbook, like the guava pork baby back ribs; others are mash-ups like a matambre sandwich, a deconstructed version of a favorite Argentinian beef dish served with chimichurri and grilled fennel. The El Dog is a Cubanized version of a Sonoran hot dog that incorporates black beans and chicharrones, which he also uses as croutons on a salad. Menu items will come up seasonally, like gazpacho and perhaps ceviche, as well as specials like ham croquetas. “We’ll also reach out to our clients and ask what Latino dishes they’d like to see on the menu that they can’t find elsewhere in Austin.”
Saralegui is also researching a local nonprofit to support.
“The backbone of the hospitality industry is Latino, and it wouldn’t work without them. I am a Latino immigrant myself and I don’t like much of the recent anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric that has come to the fore, and I want to be sure that those less fortunate are defended. Once up and running, a percentage of monthly sales will be donated. The challenge is to establish a brand without brick-and-mortar, a truck, or any human interaction, which as a former bartender and restaurateur is my drug of choice. I hope to ameliorate this issue by getting out to farmers markets and other awesome Austin events to meet, greet, and feed people in person.”