In case you missed my last Abuela Approved series, here’s what you need to know: My abuela is my best friend, she is all knowing and VERY up with the times, and she absolutely loves food. We’re literally neighbors and we still talk on the phone at least an hour a week. She constantly asks about my food writing, and when I tell her about a life changing hamachi crudo I recently enjoyed, she scoffs. Now, as I’m sure many of my Hispanic millennial contemporaries can relate, our grandparents (and even parents) aren’t as adventurous eaters as the Instagram foodie generation.
Let’s put it this way— my abuela doesn’t believe in vegetables. Kale is barely a part of her vocabulary, let alone her diet. If she wants to eat healthy, she cuts up a banana to go with her meal, or fry a platano (if she has a ripe one on hand). Raw fish, like the sashimi and poke we’re accustomed to, will never entice her like it does me. But you know what, who cares?!
When my abuela came here in 1962 with nothing to her name, she ate plenty of food she didn’t enjoy because she couldn’t afford anything else. Now, she’s almost 80 years old and she’s worked hard to make a life for herself in this country. So, she eats what she wants and appreciates every bite. I can’t blame the gal.
When I was invited to experience the new Mojito Bar & Plates by Douglas Rodriguez at Sawgrass Mills, I knew JUST who to call. Renowned as the “godfather of Nuevo Latino cuisine,” Chef Douglas Rodriguez has made a name for himself in the South Florida community and beyond. The James Beard Award Winner was a part of Top Chefs Masters as well as numerous other programs.
Mojitobar has had great success in bringing its Latin flair with high energy events and entertainment to Bayside Marketplace for over five years. The space at Sawgrass features ample indoor and outdoor seating with mint LED accents.
We visited on a Saturday afternoon for lunch and Abi continued to marvel at the space insisting that this must be such a fun place “para los jovenes.” Although if her back were in better condition, she would be the first one on the dance floor and the last one out the door next weekend.
We selected a couple appetizers to start the meal: Cuban sandwich on a stick and mini arepas with smoked ropa vieja. When the Cuban sandwich arrived, it was sleek presentation embodied — four perfectly squared, golden brown mini sandwiches on a stick atop a healthy dollop of mustard. Without hesitation, Abi reached in and grabbed the first stick. Her face absolutely lit up. “It tastes just like a Cubano, but it’s mini and on a stick.” To me, this dish is absolute nostalgia. For someone like my abuela, who has enjoyed countless good (and less good) Cubanos in her day, Chef Douglas gave her something unforgettable with this innovative dish: imaginative nostalgia. The arepa appetizer is perfect down home cooking with supple corn cakes, and smoky ropa vieja chock full of traditional sofrito flavors.
For entrees, I went with the Cuban shrimp and grits and Abi chose the platano encrusted chicken. The shrimp are expertly cooked and served a top flavorful Cuban corn polenta and spicy tomato sauce. This dish perfectly exemplifies Chef Douglas’s approach to cuisine to combine traditional techniques and flavors with modern dining trends. One of Chef D’s signature classics, the platano encrusted chicken is delicious. Another dish that presents itself as classic Cuban, with a unique twist of crusting the chicken with plantains, instead of serving them on the side as expected. Let’s just say, this dish came with salad and Abi had a few bites of it. “Wow, even the salad is good,” she proclaimed.
When it comes to dessert, I’m convinced that sugar runs through my abuela’s veins, not blood. So she didn’t even consult me on my dessert choice before ordering a vanilla flan. Served with dollops dulce de leche, Abi’s face lit up with her first bite. It’s well known in my family, that while my abuela’s cooking is legendary, and her mother’s desserts were incredible. This flan brought her back to her childhood, licking the spoon as her mother whipped together unforgettable Cuban classics.
At the end of the day, the “fancy” food I get to enjoy as a food writer will come and go. I have had great meals in my lifetime, and I will have many more. I approach food from a very cerebral point of view, diving into the inspiration of the chef and building the story of the ingredients in my brain. But few moments in my culinary career will be as special as sharing a Cuban sandwich on a stick with my best friend, and watching her face light up at familiar flavors presented with innovation.
Ultimately, the greatest compliment I can give to Mojitobar & Plates by Chef Douglas Rodriguez is this: #AbuelaApproved.
2602 Sawgrass Mills Circle
Sunrise, FL 33323