Friday, February 1, 2013
Herrera restaurant dynasty opens new Mockingbird Station location today
The Cafe Herrera menu will be the first to offer lighter fare.
DALLAS Dallas restaurantgoers rarely show resistance to change when it comes to fancy additions, but beloved brands are occasionally an exception. Friday, February 1, the Herrera family will open a new new Mockingbird Station location, Cafe Herrera, at 4 p.m. What will it mean for the long-time family restaurant group?
Let's look back: Amelia Herrera opened her original café on Maple Avenue in 1971, and for decades, the unpretentious establishment provided its diverse community – a mixture of locals from the surrounding, predominantly Hispanic neighborhood and the medical community at Old Parkland Hospital – with a reliably low-key environment offering consistently authentic Mexican fare. In the original 1930s-era adobe building, patrons would line around the corner, beer coolers in tow, waiting for a seat at one of only 9 tables. A fire forced the café to move across the street into the funky, 1950s-era diner in which it runs today, slightly larger in square footage, but no less charming in its gritty sincerity. Its website amusingly still refers to it as the “new” location, though its presence there pre-dates the days of obligatory online marketing.
In 1981, Amelia was able to open a second location on Denton Drive known as Herrera’s Tex Mex, and several satellite locations have since come and gone. Today, with the addition of the Mockingbird Station store, there are four total, all of which are owned by descendants of Amelia Herrera. Great-grandson Gil Bonifaz took ownership of Herrera’s Tex Mex in 2002, and he is the force behind the newest incarnation. Though in a drastically different environment, the newest Café Herrera will feature the same traditional recipes, many of which have not changed from Amelia's original menu. Guests will still be able to order slow-cooked meats -- like the restaurant’s signature brisket, which is hand-rubbed and roasted for eight hours -- as well as its high-heat salsa and hissing fajitas.
The new location will diverge, however, with the addition of lighter options, only available at Mockingbird. A shrimp and tilapia cerviche and a corvino fillet with house-made salsa cruda will offer a heretofore unknown side of Herrera's, and the new location will also emphasize the bar, which features scratch tequila cocktails and a comprehensive tequila list. Items will change seasonally, and eventual flight events are in the works.
Die-hard fans might reasonably find themselves concerned with what the new, dramatically different location will mean to the Herrera brand. After all, Mockingbird Station isn't exactly know for its unique character or authenticity, both of which helped define the Herrera's experience. According to reps, the space features “traditional” elements like iron fixtures, warm paint tones, and dark wood. “It’s meant to feel like you are in someone’s home in Mexico City or dining in an authentic restaurant in the heart of Cabo,” said Gina Lynn, head of Herrera’s media outreach.
In homage to the original, the entrance is finished out in stucco with "Café Herrera" painted above the doors. Family photos line the walls, and a special private dining room – named Amelia’s Room – features a family-style table in honor of the matriarch. Despite the newest location’s radically different, upscale neighborhood, Herrera’s is still a family-owned and operated company, with Bonifaz’s sister Nina Bonifaz running the show in the kitchen, said Lynn.
The new location already has the approval of one special member of the Herrera family. Amelia’s daughter, Rebecca Marquez, who is Bonifaz's grandmother, visited yesterday to take in the family's evolution in Dallas dining. One cannot imagine a more coveted endorsement.
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