Edgar Gamez grew up hearing about the time when his mother and grandmother sold their homemade tostadas after sunset in the plaza of a small town called La Yerbabuena in Mexico.
Gamez explains that his grandmother, Maria, made tostadas during the day and sold them in La Plaza at night. As a young girl, her mother, also named Maria, would run home during recess to help peel the tostadas so they could dry in the sun and be ready in the evening.
“The plazas were a place in town where people gathered at night,” said Gamez, co-owner of Maria Maria on North Monroe Street. “Food was sold on the streets and people brought tables and chairs, sharing time with families and friends. “
Gamez now wants to share these recipes and sense of community with Maria Maria, who is aptly named after her mother and grandmother.
Gamez is one of six children, four sisters and a brother. When he was 6, his family moved from Mexico to Moore Haven, Florida, where they grew up with the dishes of their native country.
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Gamez said he missed out on the authentic flavors of his mother’s cooking when he moved to Tallahassee. He attended Florida State University, where he studied criminology, and then later worked in area restaurants, although one of his first jobs was to work at a delicatessen in the age 16. Besides wanting to bring his family’s cuisine to the capital, he had an experience that changed his path.
“I lost an uncle who was very much loved and he had a lot of people at his funeral,” Gamez said. “He was loved because of the way he interacted with people and showed them how much he cared for him. I asked myself, “How can I touch people, touch their lives and have a positive impact? “”
He found that in the restaurant business he could talk to a lot of people and lead a team that would go in the right direction.
“I’m on a trip,” Gamez said. “I think I’m on the right track.
The road has not always been easy.
Survive the pandemic
After 10 months of planning and hard work, Maria Maria opened in July 2019, in the former home of Crepevine. Like so many new restaurants in town, the place was slammed at first. After a few months, the restaurant settled in to “a good flow of people,” Gamez said. “We were building a steady customer base when the pandemic hit and there was a huge drop in business.”
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“We never left the beginning, the baby stages when we were trying to get out of the ground,” he said. “It was really difficult.”
Maria Maria struggled but survived, adding platforms for online ordering, establishing a takeout business and being vigilant about safety precautions. Now, slowly more and more people are coming back for dinner.
Dig! Menu worthy of raves
My husband and I have visited Maria Maria a few times. We had dinner here at the start of the restaurant opening and enjoyed our meals but decided to wait until the crowds cleared up. We have waited too long because the pandemic has struck. We recently returned to Maria Maria a few times for take out.
One of our favorites here is Tostadas de Maria, based on this family recipe made by Gamez’s grandmother years ago. Listed under Small Bites, it’s a generous and flavorful dish, built on a flat, crisp tortilla with your choice of protein topped with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, cream, pickled jalapeño, cheese and salsa.
The salsa here is pleasantly tangy, bright, and fresh, with a slight kick. We appreciated it whether served with fries or as an accompaniment to our dishes.
We were also happy to find an intimate tamale in Maria Maria, made in the traditional way, with a filling of steamed corn dough in a corn husk. You can order the tamale with chicken or cheese and salsa verde, served with a side of cream.
Mole dishes, a complex sauce that can turn out to be “too sweet, too smoky or too spicy”, was also popular here. “We have a pretty well balanced recipe, that’s what you’re looking for in a mole.”
The delicious mole recipe uses at least 20 ingredients that include toasted nuts, dried seeds, peppers, and chocolate. It’s a long process.
Also worthy of raves: enchiladas caseras, one of the dishes marked “family recipe”. It is indeed a heartwarming interpretation with three enchiladas, which we had with chicken. It is served with lettuce, tomato, cream, cheese and your choice of salsa. The red color comes from the guajillo peppers in the sauce. A friend who also ordered the dish said she would happily order it again. I would agree.
Other highlights include the chili meat, with slowly cooked pieces of pork; a rich shrimp alambre with sautéed peppers, onion and bacon; and chicken in a rich cream sauce (pollo en crema).
You’ll also find tacos, burritos, and fajitas, a few breakfast entrees, a kids’ menu, and several sides like charro bean soup, refried beans, rice, and hand-cut fries.
For dessert, we enjoyed the churros, which are not yet made on site, and the flan – if you’re used to the Cuban version, the Mexican flan is a bit thicker. You will also find tres leches (light cake with three milks) and some pastries.
No cocktails, but wine and beer
Gamez does not yet have a liquor license to sell cocktails, but you can order wine or beer and tropical juices like hibiscus.
At the end of the line
Maria Maria is a relaxed and friendly place for a traditional Mexican meal at reasonable prices, run by a family dedicated to sharing homemade family recipes.
Gamez’s grandmother is deceased but his mother, Maria Guadalupe G. Gamez, visits him every four months. She was indeed delighted with the name of the restaurant and, of course, the familiar family recipes. “She’s the biggest fan of all time,” Gamez said.
I bet she’ll have a lot of company.
Rochelle Koff writes about food and dining on TallahasseeTable.com, on Facebook @ TheTallahasseeTable and Twitter @tallytable. Contact her at [email protected]
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If you are going to
What: Maria Maria is at 1304 N. Monroe St .; 850-270-9057
Prices: Lunch $ 9; small bites $ 3 to $ 9.50; appetizers $ 2 to $ 10; entrees $ 6 to $ 14 (supplement for additions); children’s meals $ 5 to $ 7; bakery / desserts $ 4.25 to $ 20.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed on Mondays.