As far as Colada Shop executive chef Mario Monte is concerned, the best part of the Cuban cafe’s new location on the Southwest Waterfront is the flat top grill. For the past three years, the perpetually busy Colada Shop on 14th Street NW has churned out Cubano and medianoche sandwiches using electric panini presses. With the bigger location, which opened this morning in the middle of the Wharf development (10 Pearl Street SW), Monte can flatten the sandwiches on a plancha. The kitchen also includes an Unox combi oven that gives Monte room to roast and braise meats besides the pork that gets stuffed in between sections of Cuban bread.
Monte is now making humongous batches of sofrito, the tomato sauce built out of garlic, onions, and peppers, to serve as a base for multiple dishes on the breakfast and all-day menus at the Wharf. A recipe that includes bay leaves, apple cider vinegar, and sherry was passed down through his father’s side of the family that hails from Santiago de Cuba. The sofrito serves as a starting point for a braised beef ropa vieja that was previously only available on Colada Shop’s catering menu. Now it’s one featured option in the customizable Santiago bowls ($13.25 to $14.50) that start with cilantro rice, quinoa, or salad, Other fillings are mojo pork, sofrito chicken, or romesco cauliflower and mushroom. All the bowls come with black beans, pickled onions, slaw, and cilantro aioli.
Monte says he’s been “spoiling himself” while refining his ropa vieja recipe, playing with versions of the dish that call back to the pabellon he ate during a childhood spent in Venezuela and short rib dishes he tried while spending summers in Italy with his mother’s family. For him, ropa vieja has to include plenty of green olives for their briny and acidic qualities. He’s particular about the consistency of his jasmine rice, too, saying it has to have the right “floof.”
“I’m a bit picky about the texture of rice,” Monte says. “I think every Latino is. There’s always mounds of rice at every meal. Even if they’re having pasta on the table, I think there’s rice.”
The chef isn’t straying far from tradition with his braised beef, but he’s taking more liberties in other areas. He recently came up with a vegan croqueta made out of coconut milk and arroz con gandules (rice and peas). Hearty breakfast dishes Monte is calling calderos, or stew pots, mix together elements from Middle Eastern shakshuka and traditional huevos con sofrito. One version of the egg bake is filled with chorizo and chickpeas, riffing on his father’s version of a Spanish bean stew called potaje. Instead of bread, it comes with smashed and fried plantain tostones.
The new Colada Shop will continue to serve a variety of Cuban espresso drinks and batidos (smoothies) with accompanying snacks of pastelitos, fried empanadas, and croquetas. Adding slushee machines allows the cafe to serve two frozen cocktails at a time, starting with pina colada and a guava-apricot frosé. Monte says versions of shaken teas, a frothy refreshment that mixes sweetened black tea with fruit purees, are served inside homes all over South America. Colada Shop has two flavors: lime mint and mango passion fruit.
Partners Daniella Senior and Juan Coronado collaborated on rum-based cocktails, the slushees, and a new selection of customizable highballs that offer a variety of spirits and mixers like Mexican Coke, grapefruit soda, or coconut water.
Colada Shop’s waterfront location is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday with a 9 p.m. closing time on Friday and Saturday. Monte says the shop is working out how to connect a Toast ordering system with QR codes that will allow customers to order, pay, and identify their tables for food runners. Colada Shop has 40 patio seats and is open for half-capacity indoor dining along with D.C.’s Phase 2 reopening guidelines. Floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides of the building will open up the interior as much as possible.
“There will be plenty of fresh air flowing through the space,” Monte says.