For Anna and Vicente Serrano, the melding of cultures and cuisines is an opportunity to bring healthy, flavorful food to the area.
That’s what happens at Spanglish, the cozy eatery the two own at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City.
Anna is a native of Traverse City, while her husband Vicente hails from Mexico. The two met at a spa in California, where both worked in the kitchen. Soon their personal and professional lives were intertwined. The two decided to move back to Anna’s hometown, and began selling their tamales at the farmers’ market at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
“When we started, I thought they’d be like an edible business card,” said Anna Serrano during a break in the morning business. “I was surprised what a big deal they were. We sold more than I ever thought we would.”
How much more? Try 300 tamales and 40 pounds of their homemade salsa.
That much business meant they were outgrowing their prep space at the Children’s House, so they began looking for a more permanent location. Given their presence at the Village, the Serranos approached the Minervini Group about permanently locating there. They eventually opened at 1333 Yellow Drive, the former location of the Underground Cheesecake Company, which moved its entire operation to the next building back.
“The tamales were so popular, we already had a good following,” said Serrano.
Opening their own restaurant gave the Serranos a chance to showcase more than just their salsa and tamales. Spanglish’s menu includes tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tostados, and daily specials, along with sides like rice, beans, guacamole, even polvorones (orange shortbread cookies).
One of the most interesting things about the menu is the absence of things like lettuce and yellow cheese. In their place are shredded cabbage and feta cheese, respectively. Anna Serrano says those choices were made with both healthiness and flavor in mind.
BENDING THE RULES
For those who might decry those choices as less than traditional, Serrano has a simple rejoinder: “It’s not Mexican, it’s Spanglish.” Indeed, their web site even states “Traditional Mexican Food is our starting point but we will bend the rules to make a recipe better.”
Part of that impetus comes from the duo’s desire to make their food not only tasty but healthful. To that end, not only did they substitute cabbage for lettuce, but they use less oil than many Mexican-themed restaurants.
They also use as much local and regional foods as possible. That includes local cabbage, tortillas and chips from a supplier in Grand Rapids, peppers and potatoes from Michigan, even locally sourcing their paper products.
In pursuit of freshness and flavor, the Serranos prepare much of their food and ingredients in-house. In addition to their own salsa, they grind their own spices, and even use Michigan pork to make their own sausage.
The two opened the restaurant in late June this past year. Serrano says business was excellent during the summer, and despite the expected seasonal fall-off, continues to be strong. One of the reasons is a robust take-out business. “We only have 18 seats, so we need to do take-out. With the proximity to Munson and TBAISD, a lot of people call in their orders and walk from work and pick them up,” Serrano said.
Another part of their business is catering.
Serrano says they can provide food for small groups that is casual and fun, with a few options not on the regular menu.
While their burritos, tacos and tamales are full of ground beef and pork, Spanglish also offers vegetarian versions. That way they hope to provide for both meat lovers and herbivores.
“We have lots of meat-eaters and lots of vegetarians,” Serrano said. “There’s no lard in the beans or chicken stock in the rice.”
Simple, healthful food that is colorful and tasty. What’s not to like?
Spanglish is open 9 to 6 Monday through Saturday. Now offering breakfast burritos, filled with sausage, eggs, cheese and potatoes. They can make them sans sausage, or even a vegan version with onions, potatoes, poblanos, avocados and corn.
Online, go to www.SpanglishTC.com or visit its Facebook page. Call 943-1453 for more information or to order.
DON’T MISS: The signature tamales come in four versions: Roasted pork with tomatillo, chicken with a mild red chili sauce, and two vegetarian options. Three Sisters includes butternut squash, corn, beans and red bell pepper, while New World is zucchini, roasted tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and toasted pumpkin seeds.
PRICES: Tamales are $3, tacos $9 for three, burritos $6 and $9, two tostados for $6.50.