Colada Shop, the upcoming Cuban cafe from ThinkFoodGroup vets Juan Coronado and Daniella Senior, may be a few months away from opening. But chef Mario Monte has already spent plenty of time developing traditional Cuban items with a contemporary twist for the restaurant.
Monte, who relocated from the Miami area to spearhead the menu for the cafe, comes from a Cuban and Italian family, so the pressure is on for the new shop. "They're highly critical food people; we're artisans in that way," he said. The Culinary Institute of America graduate was working for Whole Foods in Florida when he was recruited by Senior for the project. "I learned a lot about the culture there, which made me passionate about the project and passionate about the idea of Caribbean hospitality and what it means," the 28-year-old chef said.
The traditional Miami cafes (ventanitas) may not be as familiar to D.C. audiences, but Monte sees that as freeing, allowing him to divert from tradition when creating menu items when it makes sense for a recipe. The pastelitos, or Cuban pastries (made with a vegetable shortening-spiked puff pastry) he has been developing include such fillings as guava and cheese, plain guava, sweet cream cheese, and even a meat filling. Some of his recipes come from family — his mother's tres leches cake will be on the dessert menu alongside items like flan and x — and his father is even growing an aji cachucha pepper in his own garden for Monte to use in his sofrito cooking base.
Colada Shop, which will open locations in Logan Circle and Sterling around the same time, will also serve Cuban sandwiches (including a sweeter twist called a Medianoche sandwich often served after-hours post-drinking). Monte is working with Uptown Bakers to source his bread and slow-roasting the pork himself for the filling. Expect empanadas with fillings like picadillo, chicken, and vegetable, croquetas, Spanish tortilla, and more. He's working on a breakfast sandwich as well. "This food should be fun and easy to understand," Monte said.
Colada Shop will open later this summer.