By Elizabeth Fields Hogue Kenerly
Courage in the face of the current eco-nomic climate is always to be admired. I have found the restaurant commun-ity in the Miami Valley almost fearless in its determination to forge ahead in these tough times.
Such is the case with Las Americas. Opened June 15, the restaurant is a reincarnation of the food stand previously located in the 2nd Street Market. Owner Dolores Quinonez successfully operated Las Americas as a vendor for nearly eight years, at the market location, translating Puerto Rican specialties into hand held versions consumers could easily relate to as “street food.” Looking to retire from the market, Quinonez was ready to sell to Roxanne Torres, who had tired of jewelry making as a vendor at the same location.
The two Puerto Rican women hit it off immediately, bonding over their shared heri-tage, entrepreneurial spirit, relocations to the Miami Valley and their love of food. Quinonez has been in Dayton since Wright-Patterson Air Force Base had one single building, nearly 50 years since giving birth to her first child there. Torres is a new resident, moving from Puerto Rico three years ago to be near her brother. Both women have a love of their native homestyle cooking as well. Quinonez rel-ishes more savory dishes while Torres is extremely passionate about pastry. Torres’ degree in accoun-ting holds her in good stead in these hard eco-nomic times but she looks forward to attending culinary school where she can unleash her desire to study pastry. This is an ambitious woman who has started a new business while parenting two small children.
Las Americas is a melding of two visions. True, its foods are classically Caribbean though I do think it’s making an error in advertising more of the region’s foods than is delivered. If this is a Puerto Rican restaurant, then come out and say that… the sprinkling of other Mexican dishes is too little to cover the name “Las Americas” unless the owners are willing to expand their menu to include items like Jerk (uniquely spiced meats and seafood indicative of Jamaica), Conch (a Bahamian shellfish specialty), more diverse seashore specialties of Mexico, Cuba, and even more selections from Puerto Rico. I just saw an Anthony Bourdain No Reservations television show spotlighting Puerto Rico… a lot of the cuisine that is not featured on the Las Americas menu should be and hopefully will be. Even so, the restaurant is still very new, yet red hot and sure to be a local favorite as was the food stand at the 2nd Street Market.
Notable are the efforts to which Torres and Quinonez are willing to go to deliver authentic flavors, with Torres’ mother delivering Puerto Rican food stuffs from home to Dayton every few months. Quinonez uses these flown in spices in such classics as the Cuban Sandwich – roast pork, with ham, cheese and dressing, pressed between artisan bread and served hot. While other restaurants in the area rely on shredded pork, Las Americas uses delicious herb sliced pork. The one draw back is the overpowering bread and butter pickles used in place of the more common dill pickles. While Quinonez says this, her version, is original to the cuisine, the taste of the bread and butter pickles, heavy with sugar, tumeric, and mustard seeds, totally overwhelms her delicious pork and even overpowers the bread. When ordering, ask for the pickles on the side.
Another dish to try is the traditional Mofungo, a dish of fried plantains, beaten with mojito – Caribbean sauce combi-na-tion, not the tropical drink named after it – offered in three versions including chicken and shrimp.Las Americas serves breakfast and lunch with dinner currently offered only on Fridays. The restaurant particularly shines when it comes to its pastry selection. It is well worth stopping in for coffee and a dessert on break from your job or after lunch and certainly after catching entertainment downtown. I adore the whole concept of Tres Leches – three different kinds of milk – simply because I completely adore anything dairy. Las Americas’ Tres Leches Cake is just plain sinful. Seriously. I can’t eat a lot of sweets but I can dream. Other delights are the Flan, especially the coconut version and the Tembleque – coconut pudding squares dusted with cinnamon. Try the Pastellitos – guava filled puff pastry delights. I love guava. The fruit is a mystery to a lot of Midwesterners worthy of exploration.
Seasoned with time and an ex-panded menu, Las Americas is sure to be a Dayton staple for the foods of the Caribbean. Traditional Puerto Rican food served to order, mild to spicy, is the hallmark of this up and coming restaurant expanding its hours slowly with a possible new Sunday brunch coming soon. The owners dream of El Junque – a tropical forest … a lush paradise of food …in the New World.
Las Americas is located at 524 E. Fifth St. in the historic Oregon District. Hours of operation are Tuesday-Saturday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the first Friday of each month until 8 p.m. Catering also available. Price point: $5-$10. For more information, call (937) 286-8007.
Reach DCP dining critic Elizabeth Fields Hogue Kenerly at firstname.lastname@example.org