CRESTVIEW — Yanira Alvarez-Ortiz says her new eatery is more than a place for a hearty, home-cooked Puerto Rican meal.
She and her husband, Jorge Alvarez, a 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldier, created Puerto Rico in Crestview to be a gathering place where lively music plays, family members of all ages can gather and domino games can run nonstop.
Such culture is special for the couple, who met at a chinchorro in Jorge's Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, hometown.
"The food at a chinchorro is special because it is homemade," Alvarez-Ortiz said.
"The 7th Group families love chinchorros," Alvarez said. "They've been waiting so long for someone to start the concept here. It's our way to share a little of our culture with Crestview."
Caribbean comes to Crestview
"There is no one in the area who does Caribbean food," Alvarez-Ortiz said. "People know dishes from Mexico or South America, but they are not the same.
"We speak the same language but the food is completely different. It is less spicy but it has a special taste that makes it Caribbean."
The restaurant, which held its grand opening Sunday, features a simple menu of island dishes.
Combos include yellow or white rice with chicken, pork chops or beefsteak, and sides including red beans, sweet yellow plantains, and fried mashed green plantains called tostones.
Specialties include chicken or pork mofongo — mashed, seasoned green plantains — and pork or chicken skewers.
Flan, a light custard with caramel sauce, is Alvarez-Ortiz's special dessert, available in vanilla, cream cheese, Nutella, guava, coconut and pineapple.
"I spend a lot of time making sure the caramel sauce is just right," she said. "If you cook it too long, it is bitter."
Locally grown, locally made
Purchasing fruit and vegetables from local growers was an easy business decision, the couple said.
"It is important for the economy of Crestview," Alvarez-Ortiz said. "I'm buying from people who work the land here. They're going to come eat at my place and I want to contribute to their business.
"If someone sells honey, I want to buy their honey for my flan. If they sell peppers and other vegetables, I want to buy them for my dishes."
The restaurant shares outdoor covered dining with the adjacent Hot Spot, where patrons may also buy drinks.
That kind of neighborly collaboration is one reason the couple chose Crestview for their business.
"Crestview is a nice and quiet town compared to the big cities, and we absolutely loved it; so we said to ourselves, 'Why not stay and bring our food and make Crestview our home?'" Alvarez-Ortiz said.
WANT TO GO?
Puerto Rico in Crestview brings a taste of the Caribbean to the Hub City 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays at 5155 S. Ferdon Blvd. Catering is available.