Lexington Avenue diner goes festive
Calderons adding Mexican flavor to De Soto’s restaurant scene
In the makeover of the Lexington Avenue diner, vibrant, warm colors suggesting tropical climates have replaced the cool blues that graced the exterior of the former Maine Place.
The color scheme's message is reinforced by a new sign with the name El Habanero, the world's hottest pepper.
The soon-to-open restaurant's owner, Javier Calderon, admitted the sign doesn't depict a habanero. That pepper was good at burning the tongue but made a bad graphic, he said. But he did promise authenticity in the Mexican dishes he and his wife, Irma, will serve up.
"It's authentic Mexican," he said. "It's just homemade cooking."
Homemade in this case traces back to the Mexican state of Jalisco, the Calderons' birthplace. Irma, who served as the head cook at a Mexican restaurant in Iowa for two years, said many dishes served in De Soto would be from recipes she learned while helping her mother, aunts and grandmother prepare meals. Asked to identify her signature meal, Irma named steak and a concoction of green peppers, onions and tomatoes called steak ranchero.
Customers will see familiar menu items like tamales, fajitas and burritos, but also items unfamiliar to most Americans, Javier said.
"Some things will be a little bit different," he said. "Try them. You'll like them."
The Calderons moved to De Soto from Iowa with the intention of realizing what Javiar said was his 30-year dream of opening a restaurant. The community's growing Mexican population and the absence of direct local competition convinced the family the time was right to start the restaurant here.
"I've thought about it a long time," he said. "I came across this place and thought I'd give it a try."
Helping with the decision to open in De Soto were the many family members who have made De Soto home. Javier joked that their business of family alone would do much to make the business a success.
"Hopefully, they'll like it and keep coming back," he said.
But he said they wanted to attract De Soto's entire demographic. The menu won't be limited to Mexican fare, he said. An American-style breakfast will be offered in the mornings, Javier said.
Lunch menus concentrate on carry out items while larger meals will be offered in the evenings, Javier said.
The new sign advertises carry out and delivery, but as part of the family's step-by-step approach to the business, part of that message will be blocked out, Javier said.
"I'm not going to deliver until we have the right people to do it," he said.
Javier began painting the diner in July. The push to open was interrupted when he traveled to Jalisco to pick up the couple's three daughters, Myra, 15, Evette, 12, and Lisa, 8. The older girls will help out as wait staff, Javier said.
The Calderons goal is to open the restaurant sometime next week, depending on how final details play out. Once the doors are open to customers, they will find them unlocked more often than not. El Habanero would be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. everyday, Javier said.