Crossing culinary borders
I once overheard a conversation at a table near mine in a Chinese restaurant. The table on which I eavesdropped was occupied by what appeared to be a family of folks who — well, let’s just say they didn’t appear well-traveled. The topic of my fellow diners’ conversation was focused on another table which was populated by a Latino family who, unlike me, were minding their own business. The first group, who happened to be Caucasian, were marveling that — gasp! — Hispanic people apparently like Chinese food, too! Seriously? You’ve never seen anyone other than white or Asian folk in a Chinese restaurant? The diners’ remarks seemed far less mean-spirited or racist than just plain unobservant and maybe a little ignorant. Their words earned both a raised eyebrow and head-shake from me. And one overriding thought accompanied my wry head-shake:
Duh. Everybody likes Chinese food.
Broadly speaking, ethnic dining options have made the pleasure of eating a far more enjoyable event than if diners were limited to only traditional local recipes — I believe this is a universal truth. Looking at eating locally, as our population has grown and diversified, so have our dining options. Long a significant and crucial group in our local communities’ workforces and economies, Latino folks are well-known around these parts for bringing thoroughly enjoyable Latino food to the valley. Local folk of any hue may enjoy Latino menus at any number of popular local Mexican restaurants and even an excellent Central American eatery.
But as the conversation overheard in the Chinese restaurant illustrates, Latino people have widely varying tastes like anyone else. So it stands to reason that maybe a Latino entrepreneur might open a restaurant with a menu featuring — sorry, non-well-traveled table — other-than-Latino fare. At least two local Latino restaurateurs have done just that, one offering Italian selections, the other a French-themed bistro menu. Both are already proving popular with local folks and tourists alike.
“We wanted to open a restaurant,” said Juan Mora, Jr. “But we didn’t think McMinnville needed another Mexican restaurant.” Along with his wife, Arcelia, his father, Juan Sr., and his mother, Alicia, Juan Jr. opened Banner’s Restaurant in McMinnville’s Baker Street Square. And if weekend breakfast traffic is any indication, local folks have already learned Banner’s offers one of the best omelettes in town.
Featuring classic American diner favorites for breakfast and a blend of Italian and American fare for lunch and dinner, Banner’s is well-served by the cooking talents of Juan Sr., an experienced and talented chef. “Dad served for years as chef at an exclusive retirement community in Santa Maria, California,” said Juan Jr. “He learned a lot of different cooking styles to meet the demanding tastes and dietary needs of the community’s residents.”
A native of San Juan, Mexico, Juan Sr. has instilled a certain amiable discipline in his kitchen, ensuring a reliable consistency in the restaurant’s culinary repertoire. For a family-friendly diner, the Banner’s kitchen staff puts some greater-than-average effort into their meals. “The healthier you can make something, the better it is,” said Juan Sr. Customers with gluten-free dietary needs will find protocols in place which keep gluten-containing ingredients completely separate from gluten-free items. “Our omelettes and eggs are all cooked in separate egg pans, not on the grill,” said Juan Jr. “We really want to cater to the customer.” In addition, all meats are house-cut, using another of Juan Sr.’s specialized skills.
The Moras commissioned special presses for the restaurant’s popular grilled country fried steak and jigs to stuff ground beef patties for the menu’s signature stuffed hamburgers, all custom machined from food-grade stainless steel. “We really try to do things right,” said Juan Jr. The mushroom-and-sausage-stuffed burger from Banner’s is evidence of that statement, certainly one of the better burgers in the valley.
Make no mistake — Banner’s restaurant is a casual family-friendly diner. But the Moras offer some great diner food, perfect for a lazy weekend brunch or a hearty midday or evening meal. Check it out for yourself at 1310 N.E. Baker Street in McMinnville’s Baker Street Square — the Dollar Tree shopping center. Visit www.bannersmac.com for menu options.
Down the street about 20 blocks is McMinnville’s newer Latino-owned eatery with its French-themed fare. The Eiffel Grill sports a menu built around a two-dozen-strong array of crêpes in addition to more familiar favorites. “We have sweet crêpes, savory crêpes and breakfast crêpes,” said co-owner and manager Servando Uribe, a lifelong restaurateur originally from Medellín, Colombia. “Something for every taste.”
With breakfast served all day, the sweet, savory and breakfast crêpe choices are available any time and are surprisingly appropriate for any meal. “Customers love the fresh fruit, the chicken cordon bleu and the salmon Alfredo crêpes,” said server Gloria Lucio. “The breakfast chorizo and maple bacon crêpes are popular, too.” But those who hunger for more traditional homegrown dishes also have plenty of options. Hearty sandwiches and burgers round out the menu in addition to soups and salads. “We also have dinner entrées like meat loaf, coconut shrimp and even grilled steak,” said Servando. Chefs Arsenio Santarosa and Chris Hernandez are adept at making sure customers’ tastes are met.
“I love French dips, but not in most American restaurants,” said customer Anniedear Chappell, who was raised in Spain and has traveled Europe extensively. “My French dip at Eiffel Grill was perfect!” Anniedear said her travels through Paris, Nice and Monaco taught her that thin crêpes are common for dessert offerings and her visit to Eiffel Grill didn’t disappoint. “They have a lot to choose from,” she said.
The Eiffel Grill is located in McMinnville at 913 N.E. Highway 99W, in the space formerly occupied by Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen. Its French-themed menu is straightforward and will appeal to diners seeking a casual and satisfying meal — visitors won’t find words they have trouble translating on the menu. Visit on Facebook at www.facebook.com/eiffel.grill for more information.
All the world’s major cities — and most of the minor cities across the globe — abound with non-indigenous restaurants. In Amsterdam, you can enjoy great Mexican, Greek or even Libyan food in addition to traditional Dutch cuisine. While visiting Morocco, you can dine on French, German or, yes, even American food at Rick’s Café — although in far away places, U.S. fare could be the “exotic” option. Even in England, a certain non-native spice has come to define an entire class of food from a former colony: “Going out for a curry” means “let’s get some delicious Indian food.”
Closer to home, I’ve dined with Asian folks at Mexican restaurants and with Latino people at Asian eateries right here in McMinnville. Whether you’ve noticed it or not, you’ve almost certainly done so, too. And in the verdant and increasingly diverse Yamhill Valley, the options for diners — diners of every racial, ethnic and cultural background — are only getting better.