Restaurant menu

Menu inspired by family recipes

Edgar Gamez grew up hearing about the days when his mother and grandmother would sell their homemade tostadas after the sun went down 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 at La Plaza at night. As a young girl, her mother, also named Maria, would run to 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 would gather at night,” said Gamez, co-owner of Maria Maria on North Monroe Street. “Food was sold in the streets and people brought tables and chairs, sharing time with families and friends.”

Sopas are one of the menu offerings available at Maria Maria.

Gamez now wants to share those recipes, and that sense of community, at Maria Maria, who is aptly named after her mother and grandmother.

Gamez is one of six children, four sisters and one brother. When he was 6, his family moved from Mexico to Moore Haven, Florida, where they were raised in the dishes of their homeland.

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Gamez said he missed the authentic flavors of his mother’s cooking when he moved to Tallahassee. He attended Florida State University, where he studied criminology, then later worked at restaurants in the area — although one of his first jobs was working at a deli at age 16. In addition to 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 many people attended his funeral,” Gamez said. “He was loved because of the way he interacted with people and showed them how much he cared. I asked myself ‘How can I reach out to people and touch their lives and have a positive impact?’

He found that in catering 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 path has not always been easy.

Survive the pandemic

After 10 months of planning and hard work, Maria Maria opened its doors in July 2019, in the former house of Crepevine. Like so many new restaurants in town, the place was initially closed. After a few months, the restaurant settled in with “a good flow of people,” Gamez said. “We were building a steady clientele when the pandemic hit and there was a huge drop in business.”

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“We never left the early, baby stages when we were trying to get up,” he said. “It was really difficult.”

Maria Maria struggled but survived, adding platforms for online ordering, building a takeout business and being vigilant about security measures. Now slowly more and more people are coming back for dinner.

Dig! Praiseworthy menu

My husband and I have visited Maria Maria several times. We dined here at the start of the restaurant’s opening and enjoyed our meals, but decided to wait until the crowds had thinned out. We waited too long because the pandemic hit. We have recently returned to Maria Maria a few times for take out meals.

One of our favorites here is Maria’s Tostadas, based on this family recipe made by Gamez’s grandmother years ago. Listed under Small Bites, it’s a hearty, flavorful dish built on a flat, crispy tortilla with your choice of protein topped with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, cream, pickled jalapeno, cheese, and salsa.

Chef Seth Rumsey prepares a tostada in Maria Maria's kitchen on Tuesday, July 9, 2019.

The salsa here is pleasantly zesty, bright and fresh, with a slight kick. We enjoyed it whether served with fries or as an accompaniment to our dishes.

We were also happy to find an intimate tamale at Maria Maria, made the traditional way, with a filling of steamed corn dough inside a corn husk. You can order the tamale with chicken or cheese and salsa verde, served with a side of cream.

Also favorites here are dishes made with mole, a complex sauce that can be “too sweet, too smoky or too spicy,” Gamez said. “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, including roasted nuts, dried seeds, peppers, and chocolate. It’s a long process.

The tamale at Maria Maria is made with a filling of steamed corn dough inside a corn husk.  You can order the tamale with chicken or cheese and salsa verde, served with a side of cream

Also worthy of praise: the enchiladas caseras, one of the dishes marked “family recipe”. It is indeed a comforting rendition with three enchiladas, which we had with chicken. It comes with lettuce, tomatoes, 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 be happy to order it again. I agree.

Other highlights include the carne en chile, with slow-cooked pieces of pork; rich shrimp alambre with sautéed peppers, onions and bacon; and chicken in a rich cream sauce (pollo en crema).

You’ll also find tacos, burritos, and fajitas, a few breakfast items, 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 made from three milks) and some baked goods.

No cocktails, but wine and beer

Gamez doesn’t 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 casual, friendly place for a traditional Mexican meal at reasonable prices, run by a family dedicated to sharing homemade family recipes.

Maria Maria, a new Mexican restaurant and bakery, opened on North Monroe Street on Friday, July 5, 2019.

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 plenty of company.

Rochelle Koff writes about food and dining on, on [email protected] 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: Breakfast $9; small bites $3 to $9.50; entrees $2 to $10; entrees $6 to $14 (additional charge for add-ons); 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; From 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from noon to 3 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday. Closed on Mondays.